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10 amazing facts from Red Sox's historic start

MLB.com

Can anyone stop the Red Sox?

Boston kept rolling Thursday night, beating the Angels by an 8-2 score to win its seventh game in a row and complete a three-game sweep over the team with the next-best record in the American League. The Red Sox are now 16-2, extending the best start in franchise history.

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Can anyone stop the Red Sox?

Boston kept rolling Thursday night, beating the Angels by an 8-2 score to win its seventh game in a row and complete a three-game sweep over the team with the next-best record in the American League. The Red Sox are now 16-2, extending the best start in franchise history.

View Full Game Coverage

As the team's incredible run continues, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the most impressive facts and figures about Boston this season.

1. The 2018 Red Sox are just the fifth team in the live-ball era, which began in 1920, to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. And they're the first team in over 30 years to do so. The other four teams:

• 1987 Brewers: 17-1
• 1984 Tigers: 16-2
• 1981 A's: 17-1
• 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers: 16-2

Two of those four teams -- the 1984 Tigers (who would win an incredible 35 of their first 40 games that year) and the 1955 Dodgers -- went on to win the World Series.

2. Even if you expand the time period to baseball's entire modern era -- that is, since 1900 -- this Red Sox team is just the seventh to start its season 16-2 or better. The two other entries to the list: the 1918 New York Giants (17-1) and the 1911 Tigers (16-2). Including Boston, that means five AL teams have accomplished the feat, compared to two National League teams.

3. It's hard to believe this team lost on Opening Day. Since then, the Red Sox have won 16 of 17 games. The last time Boston went 16-1 in any 17-game stretch? That would be 2004, when the Sox went 16-1 from Aug. 16 to Sept. 3. You might remember that history-making Red Sox team, which shattered the Curse of the Bambino and won the franchise's first World Series since 1918.

4. Boston has already outscored its opponents by 66 runs this season, by far the best run differential in baseball. The Red Sox have scored 116 runs -- the most in MLB, with the Blue Jays next at 106 -- and they have allowed just 50, the third fewest of any team. Toronto is the next-closest team to Boston by run differential, and the Jays are nearly 30 behind, at plus-37.

Video: BOS@LAA: Martinez lines an RBI double to left

5. The Red Sox plus-66 run differential is actually historically good. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's tied for the fourth-highest run differential through a team's first 18 games in the entire modern era (since 1900). It's the best run differential by any team through 18 games since the 1993 Tigers.

Best run differential through 18 team games
Modern era (since 1900)
1. 1905 New York Giants: +80
2. 1918 New York Giants: +72
3. 1993 Tigers: +67
4. 2018 Red Sox: +66
4. 1902 Pirates: +66

6. Alex Cora is having unprecedented success for a rookie manager. Per Elias, in the modern era (since 1900), the only other skipper to win at least 16 of his first 18 games as an MLB manager was Joe Morgan -- also for the Red Sox, in 1988. (Morgan won 17 of his first 18 games.)

But Morgan was a midseason replacement for John McNamara, and those wins came in July. Cora is the first manager since 1900 to start a season with a new club by winning at least 16 of the first 18 games.

7. The Red Sox offense is clicking on all cylinders. As a team, Boston leads the Major Leagues in batting average (.292), on-base percentage (.362), slugging percentage (.496) and OPS (.859). The Sox have also struck out in just 16.3 percent of plate appearances, the lowest rate of any team.

In the just-completed sweep of the Angels, the Red Sox mashed 11 home runs, with the highlight a six-homer game in the series opener, including three by Mookie Betts. Those 11 home runs are the most the Sox have hit in a three-game series since 1977, when they hit a team-record 16 against the Yankees from June 17-19.

Video: BOS@LAA: Benintendi blasts first homer of the season

8. The pitching has been almost as good as the hitting. Red Sox starting pitchers are now 12-1 with a 1.98 ERA, the lowest by any rotation in the Major Leagues. Their relievers, meanwhile, have not allowed a run in their last 14 innings pitched, and just one run in their past 20 innings. Hitters are just 3-for-their-past-48 against Boston's bullpen.

Video: BOS@LAA: Rodriguez gives up three hits in six innings

9. Betts is providing the Red Sox a huge spark at the top of the order. He leads the Major Leagues with a .391 batting average, a 1.277 OPS and 22 runs scored -- the most runs by a Red Sox player in the team's first 18 games since at least 1908. (Johnny Pesky had 21 runs scored through 18 games in 1950, and Ted Williams had 21 in 1942.) In the Angels series, Betts twice led off the game with a home run, extending his own franchise record for most leadoff home runs to 13.

Video: BOS@LAA: Betts belts 13th leadoff home run of career

And, of course, there was Betts' three-home-run game, which was the third of his career. The 25-year-old is just the third player in Major League history with three three-homer games before turning 26. The others: Boog Powell and Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

Video: Must C Crushed: Betts HRs off Ohtani, slugs two more

10. The previous franchise record for most wins in the team's first 18 games was 15, established by the 1946 Boston club. The 1946 Red Sox moved to 15-3 by beating none other than Hall of Famer Bob Feller -- and they kept on winning after that. Actually, their 18th game came in the middle of a 15-game winning streak that took them from 7-3 to 21-3. In other words, the 2018 Sox will actually have to keep winning if they want to match their predecessors' pace.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Boston Red Sox

These 11 additions are making huge impacts

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Some of the offseason's best moves have worked out just the way we thought they might. Shohei Ohtani has been as good as advertised in his new digs in Southern California, and no one should be surprised by what Todd Frazier and J.D. Martinez have done with the Mets and Red Sox, respectively.

Among the more interesting moves are the ones that got less attention: Ryan Flaherty to the Braves, Bud Norris to the Cardinals and Corey Dickerson to the Pirates. And they've all had an impact on the division races.

Some of the offseason's best moves have worked out just the way we thought they might. Shohei Ohtani has been as good as advertised in his new digs in Southern California, and no one should be surprised by what Todd Frazier and J.D. Martinez have done with the Mets and Red Sox, respectively.

Among the more interesting moves are the ones that got less attention: Ryan Flaherty to the Braves, Bud Norris to the Cardinals and Corey Dickerson to the Pirates. And they've all had an impact on the division races.

So let's take a look not just at the good players who have changed teams in the past few months, but the players who have impacted the races in the first weeks of this new season:

1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
.324 BA, 1.055 OPS, 3 HR
3.60 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 3 GS

Even those of us who were thrilled at the possibility of baseball getting a true two-way player did not envision the 23-year-old Ohtani being this good. Our MLB Pipeline folks told us the guy was a No. 1-type prospect as both a hitter and a pitcher. Would he have time to hone both skills? So far that hasn't been a problem, and apart from the things that can be measured, the energy Ohtani brings to the ballpark and clubhouse surely is part of the reason for the Angels' fast start.

2. Gerrit Cole, Astros
0.96 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 13.2 K/9
The Astros believed they were adding a third ace to a rotation that already had Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, and Cole has been just that. Yes, his pitch usage has changed -- fewer fastballs, more curves and sliders -- but the bottom line could be that he's feeding off the vibes of a winning environment, and that he was ready for a change in scenery, whether he knew it or not.

Video: TEX@HOU: Cole sets a career-high with 14 strikeouts

3. Todd Frazier, Mets
.969 OPS, 3 HR, 5 2B

It's never about one guy, and Frazier would be the first to say that. Besides, he's not the only addition who has helped the Mets climb to the top of the National League East. But Frazier brings plenty that has contributed to one of baseball's early feel-good stories -- from his offense to his performance at third base to the professionalism and approach that play well over a long season.

4. Corey Dickerson, Pirates
.313 BA, .838 OPS
No team has been a bigger surprise than the Pirates, and it begins with an offense that has gone from near the bottom in 2017 (4.1 runs per game) to near the top of the NL in 2018 (5.2 runs per game). Some of that improvement is the growth of young players like Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco, but Dickerson, who'd been designated for assignment by the Rays, has added depth to an offense that didn't have much of it last season.

5. Ryan Flaherty and Preston Tucker, Braves (tie)
Flaherty: .352 BA, .935 OPS
Tucker: .872 OPS, 3 HR, 4 2B
Two significant under-the-radar acquisitions by new general manager Alex Anthopoulos have helped jump-start the Braves. Tucker was caught in a numbers crunch with the Astros, while Flaherty opted out of his contract with the Phillies at the end of Spring Training. No NL team has scored more runs.

Video: PHI@ATL: Flaherty hits a three-run HR to right-center

7. Bud Norris, Cardinals
4 saves, 1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 16.4 K/9
The Cardinals thought they had their closer when Greg Holland was signed at the beginning of the regular season, and he may end up with that role at some point. For now, though, Norris has emerged as the guy getting the ball from manager Mike Matheny late in games. His fastball is sitting at 95 mph, the fastest in his 10 seasons.

8. J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
.983 OPS, 4 HR, 5 2B
Martinez has done everything the Red Sox hoped he would, and that's not what you often hear about big-ticket free agents in their first month with a new team. While he's only one part of a team that looks like baseball's best at the moment, his impact should not be underestimated.

9. Wade Davis, Rockies
8 saves, 10.8 K/9, 0.72 WHIP

The Rockies invested $106 million in creating a super bullpen, and Davis' signing followed those of Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw as the finishing touch. Davis has arguably been baseball's best reliever the past five seasons, and some wondered if the workload -- 244 appearances between 2014-17 -- would impact his stuff. He has been as good as ever.

Video: COL@WSH: Davis retires Zimmerman to earn the save

10. Addison Reed, Twins
7 games, 0.89 WHIP

The Twins signed veteran Fernando Rodney to close games, which allows Reed to pitch multiple innings. He has been among baseball's best relievers the past four seasons, and he is off to a good start with his new team.

11. Jake Arrieta, Phillies
2.04 ERA, 0.96 WHIP

Arrieta was signed because he gives the Phillies a bona fide top-of-the-rotation pitcher to solidify the starting staff. Beyond that, he was brought in as a role model for a young unit, to set an example with his preparation, game management and poise. So far, Arrieta has done just that.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Should the Yankees trade Dellin Betances?

Assessing New York's options for struggling All-Star reliever
MLB.com

While Dellin Betances has been one of the most dominant relievers in the game since 2014, his performance this season has left much to be desired for new manager Aaron Boone and Yankees fans alike.

Betances' command problems actually date back to last year, when the right-hander averaged 6.6 walks per nine innings. Although he made the American League All-Star team for the fourth straight campaign, he posted a 5.68 ERA with a 7.8 BB/9 rate over his final 16 games of the regular season and wasn't among former manager Joe Girardi's most trusted bullpen arms in the playoffs.

While Dellin Betances has been one of the most dominant relievers in the game since 2014, his performance this season has left much to be desired for new manager Aaron Boone and Yankees fans alike.

Betances' command problems actually date back to last year, when the right-hander averaged 6.6 walks per nine innings. Although he made the American League All-Star team for the fourth straight campaign, he posted a 5.68 ERA with a 7.8 BB/9 rate over his final 16 games of the regular season and wasn't among former manager Joe Girardi's most trusted bullpen arms in the playoffs.

Betances, 30, told me during Spring Training that he spent the offseason trying to perfect his pitching mechanics so he could be more consistent in the strike zone. Sure enough, he has trimmed his BB/9 rate in 2018 (3.1) and is still racking up strikeouts (15.6 K/9 rate). However, Betances' velocity is down -- he was averaging 96.7 mph with his four-seam fastball entering Thursday's game, down from 98.1 mph over 2015-17, according to Statcast™ -- and he's yielded six runs on 11 hits (including three homers) in 8 2/3 innings. Before he threw a scoreless inning vs. the Blue Jays on Thursday, opponents were slugging .571 against his four-seam fastball, up from .396 from 2015-17.

Video: NYY@TOR: Solarte belts a go-ahead homer in the 8th

The Yankees have several options to consider as they attempt to weather Betances' struggles.

1. Use him in lower-leverage outings
The Yankees were seemingly reluctant to utilize this strategy last season, as 56 of Betances' 66 appearances came in the eighth inning or later and only one began earlier than the seventh. Boone, however, appears to be open to this option. Betances was called upon to close out a 12-1 win vs. the Marlins on April 16, and prior to that he was utilized in the eighth inning with the Yanks leading, 8-3, against the Tigers. With Chad Green, Adam Warren, Chasen Shreve, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman at his disposal, Boone can afford to let Betances work on refining his delivery away from pivotal situations.

Video: BAL@NYY: Betances fans Mancini, K's the side

2. Use him in shorter stints
If the Yankees want to continue challenging Betances by using him in key spots, they could find advantageous moments to do so by limiting him to one to three batters, especially against the lower and more forgiving part of opponents' lineups. The idea is to limit the effects Betances' early struggles have on the team's record but also give him the opportunity to pitch in situations that matter to build confidence.

3. Focus on pitch usage
Betances has been particularly ineffective against left-handed hitters this season, yielding a 1.722 OPS. Last season, when lefty batters posted a .441 OPS against him, Betances used his curveball nearly 66 percent of the time on the first pitch in those matchups, according to Statcast™. This season? Only 50 percent. Bumping that up may allow him not only to get ahead of hitters but also to use his fastball later in the count with greater success.

Video: NYY@DET: Candelario launches 440-ft. homer vs. Yanks

4. Trade him
Finding a match for a deal would be difficult. Other general managers will likely be hesitant to give the Yankees a major haul for the volatile hurler, even though Betances is earning a reasonable $5.1 million salary this season and has another year of arbitration eligibility before free agency. One option for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman could be to try to work out a trade with current Angels GM (and former Yanks assistant GM) Billy Eppler, who saw Betances up close at his peak and might be willing to pay more than others in hopes of acquiring a potential closer. A back-end starter such as Parker Bridwell might be a fair offer, giving the Yankees much-needed pitching depth. Of course, if the Yanks trade Betances at this point, they would be selling low. That usually isn't a wise move, especially with a player of Betances' caliber. With all things considered, the Yankees would be best served to hold onto him and allow him to work out his command problems in hopes that he will regain his All-Star form.

Yankees fans, take heed; there may be more rocky appearances in the near term. But based on the right-hander's track record and some of the encouraging signs he's shown this season, I'm expecting a rebound.

Jim Duquette, who was the Mets' GM in 2004, offers his opinions as a studio analyst and columnist for MLB.com.

New York Yankees, Dellin Betances

Here are 7 future managerial candidates

MLB.com @feinsand

The Reds' dismissal of Bryan Price has created the first managerial opening of 2018, prompting speculation about who will become the next skipper in Cincinnati.

As is the case with nearly every opening, we'll hear plenty of familiar names such as Joe Girardi, Brad Ausmus and John Farrell, all of whom have recently managed in the Majors. Farrell's name figures to surface on the Reds' list of candidates after he was hired as a scout by Cincinnati this offseason. Jim Riggleman was moved from his role as bench coach to serve as the Reds' interim manager.

The Reds' dismissal of Bryan Price has created the first managerial opening of 2018, prompting speculation about who will become the next skipper in Cincinnati.

As is the case with nearly every opening, we'll hear plenty of familiar names such as Joe Girardi, Brad Ausmus and John Farrell, all of whom have recently managed in the Majors. Farrell's name figures to surface on the Reds' list of candidates after he was hired as a scout by Cincinnati this offseason. Jim Riggleman was moved from his role as bench coach to serve as the Reds' interim manager.

But as we saw this past winter, teams are routinely looking for the next big thing, with five of the six new managers -- Aaron Boone, Mickey Callaway, Alex Cora, Gabe Kapler and Dave Martinez -- all landing their first managerial jobs this season.

Here are seven candidates that could find themselves in contention for a managerial job in the coming months.

Sandy Alomar Jr. (Indians' first-base coach)
The former All-Star catcher has put together a solid coaching résumé since retiring in 2007, serving as a catching instructor with the Mets in '08 before joining the Indians as the first-base coach in '09. He's been with Cleveland ever since.

Alomar, who became the bench coach in 2012, served as Cleveland's interim manager for the final six games that season following the dismissal of Manny Acta. He was one of only two candidates for the permanent job after the season but lost out to Terry Francona. Alomar spent '13 as Francona's bench coach before moving back to first-base coach, where he remains today.

In addition to his interview with the Indians, Alomar has been a candidate for openings with the Cubs, Red Sox and Blue Jays, falling short each time.

Video: Alomar Jr. on importance of series in Puerto Rico

Jay Bell (Yankees' Double-A manager)
Bell played 18 years in the Majors for five teams and has coached for four organizations since 2005, giving him a wealth of knowledge about much of the league.

Known as a great teacher of young players, Bell is managing the Yankees' Double-A affiliate in Trenton. He had his first taste of the job last season with the team's Class A Advanced team in Tampa, where he was named the Florida State League's Manager of the Year.

Bell has been a hitting coach with the Pirates and a bench coach with the D-backs and Reds, giving him a big league coaching résumé to go with his Minor League managerial experience.

Carlos Beltran (Retired player)
The nine-time All-Star hung up his spikes after winning his first World Series championship last fall, closing out an accomplished 20-year career that could land him in the Hall of Fame five years from now.

But weeks after riding in the parade through the streets of Houston, Beltran found himself meeting with Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankees' front office, interviewing for the team's vacant managerial position. He lost out to Boone, and although Beltran would have been a welcome addition to many coaching staffs, he opted to spend 2018 with his family before considering his future.

Whether Beltran opts to pursue potential coaching opportunities as early as next season remains to be seen, but the soon-to-be 41-year-old has made it clear that he envisions a future in that arena.

Video: Carlos Beltran is a fan of advanced metrics

Gary DiSarcina (Mets' bench coach)
DiSarcina is in his first season as the Mets' bench coach, having served in the same capacity for the Red Sox in 2017. DiSarcina also coordinated Boston's entire Spring Training program, just the latest entry on an impressive résumé.

The 50-year-old -- who has been a candidate for openings in Seattle and Philadelphia -- managed four years in the Boston organization at the Class A (2007-09) and Triple-A ('13) levels, winning three division titles in those seasons.

DiSarcina has also been a member of a front office, serving as a special assistant to the general manager with the Angels in 2011. He later held the third-base and first-base coaching jobs on Mike Scioscia's staff from 2014-16.

Joe Espada (Astros' bench coach)
The Astros' bench coach spent three years on Girardi's staff with the Yankees from 2015-17, though he wasn't given an opportunity to interview for New York's managerial job after Girardi was not brought back. Espada also spent a year working in Cashman's front office as a pro scout.

Prior to joining the Yankees, Espada spent eight years with the Marlins' organization, the last four (2010-13) as the team's third-base coach. Having worked with the Yanks and Astros, the 42-year-old is well-versed in analytics, a plus for any potential managerial candidate.

Espada has also managed in the Puerto Rican Winter League and has served as Puerto Rico's third-base coach in both the 2013 and '17 World Baseball Classic.

Kevin Long (Nationals' hitting coach)
Long was a finalist for the Mets' managerial job this winter, finishing as the runner-up to Callaway. Having spent three seasons (2015-17) as the Mets' hitting coach and eight years (2007-14) in the same role with the Yankees, the 51-year-old has been a part of one World Series champion and another pennant-winning club.

Although Long -- now in his first year as the Nationals' hitting coach -- has spent the past 12 seasons as a Major League hitting coach, he managed in the Carolina League and Northwest League in 1998-99, giving him bench experience.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Conforto, Long on hitting drills

Chris Woodward (Dodgers' third-base coach)
Woodward was one of six candidates interviewed by the Yankees this offseason, furthering his reputation as a future Major League manager.

The 41-year-old played for five teams during his 12 seasons (1999-2011) in the Majors, starting his coaching career in 2013 as the Mariners' Minor League infield coordinator. Woodward went on to serve as Seattle's infield coach in '14 and first-base coach in '15 before joining Dave Roberts' Dodgers staff as the third-base and infield coach in '16.

While Woodward hasn't managed in the Minors, he did serve as manager of New Zealand's World Baseball Classic qualifier team in 2013.

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.

Marvelous Mookie: Betts an underrated star

Red Sox right fielder putting himself into AL MVP Award discussion
MLB.com @MikeLupica

You can start, if you want to, just for fun, with some of the things Mookie Betts is not, right before you get to all the pretty wonderful things he is on a baseball field. Betts is not Mike Trout, for example. He's not ever going to make the kind of money Bryce Harper is going to make after this season. Betts has not been past the first round of the playoffs yet in his Red Sox career. He's not an American League MVP Award winner, at least not yet, even if he did finish second in the voting once.

You want one more? Betts is not included nearly often enough in the conversation about the best young players in the deepest and best crop of young players in all of baseball history. But now we're talking. Because when you add it all up with Betts, when you look at his offense and at his defense, you need to ask yourself a question:

You can start, if you want to, just for fun, with some of the things Mookie Betts is not, right before you get to all the pretty wonderful things he is on a baseball field. Betts is not Mike Trout, for example. He's not ever going to make the kind of money Bryce Harper is going to make after this season. Betts has not been past the first round of the playoffs yet in his Red Sox career. He's not an American League MVP Award winner, at least not yet, even if he did finish second in the voting once.

You want one more? Betts is not included nearly often enough in the conversation about the best young players in the deepest and best crop of young players in all of baseball history. But now we're talking. Because when you add it all up with Betts, when you look at his offense and at his defense, you need to ask yourself a question:

How many two-way players are better than the leadoff man for the Red Sox who, oh by the way, has been the best player in baseball this April?

Here is what Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who has seen plenty of Betts in the AL East, says about him:

"I've told anyone who will listen. He's the best right fielder I've ever seen in person. The dynamic he creates for them defensively in right field at Fenway is a big advantage for Boston. Special player. Game changer. The term five-tool player is used loosely. But it aptly describes him. One of my most favorite players in our game."

Here is what AJ Hinch, whose Astros beat Betts' Red Sox in the AL Division Series last season, says about Betts:

"He is an incredible talent. I love his energy, and impact. Offensively, he is never off the fastball, and can time up any velocity. A dangerous hitter because of how he barrels up pitches. Defensively, he has every skill you look for. He's a premier player in this league. He can do it all on any given day."

Again: We talk a lot, and properly so, about Trout and Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, about Harper and Manny Machado and Hinch's gifted shortstop, Carlos Correa -- another wonderful two-way player, at bat and in the field. But we do not talk nearly enough about Betts, except perhaps right now, when he is hitting .391 and hit three home runs the other night and might have had a chance for four if there hadn't been a double play before his last at-bat.

Betts has now hit three homers in a game three times already in his five-year career. It happens to be something that Willie Mays also did three times, and Joe DiMaggio did three times. Babe Ruth did it twice. So did Ken Griffey Jr.

Video: Mookie Betts collects a trio of three-homer games

These are Betts' stats for his four full seasons in the big leagues, starting in 2015 (he played 52 games in '14, hit .291, with five home runs and 18 RBIs), all the way through Thursday night's game against the Angels:

2015: .291 AVG, 18 homers, 77 RBIs, 92 runs, 21 stolen bases, .820 OPS.
2016: .318 AVG, 31 homers, 113 RBIs, 122 runs, 26 stolen bases, .897 OPS.
2017: .264 AVG, 24 homers, 102 RBIs, 101 runs, 26 steals, .803 OPS.
2018: .391 AVG, 6 homers, 14 RBIs, 22 runs, 1.277 OPS.

In addition to his six homers, Betts has scored 22 runs -- the most through 18 games in Red Sox history. And then there is his play in right field, which is as good as you will ever see with your own eyes, just as Showalter, who has seen plenty in his baseball life, said.

Of course with a player's defense, we now have better tools than ever to measure performance, and Betts is clearly the No. 1 right fielder in this area. According to Statcast™'s Outs Above Average (OAA) metric, Betts has 36 OAA since the start of 2016, which is 10 more than anyone at that position. That's right, even better than Jason Heyward, who is second to Betts with 26 OAA in that time, and was pretty much given $184 million because he is a terrific fielder himself.

Video: TB@BOS: Statcast™ measures Betts' five-star catch

Since the start of 2015, Betts has a WAR of 23.4 (per Baseball Reference), behind only Trout at 28.1. He is a force of baseball nature. Betts has come into 2018 swinging, being more aggressive than ever at the urging of new Red Sox manager Alex Cora. He is, in Hinch's words, "barreling up" on just about everything he sees, as the Red Sox have barreled to the top of the standings for all of baseball so far. Betts does not hit home runs the way Harper does, or Judge does. But among the sport's biggest stars in the outfielder, only Trout is in the same conversation with him. 

"There's a different approach [this season]," Cora said of Betts on WEEI radio on Thursday. "I think [Betts] set the tempo on the first-pitch fastball of the season when he almost took it out of the ballpark in Tampa against [Chris] Archer. Instead of just working the count, taking pitches right down the middle and falling behind, he's ready to attack from the get-go. You can see now pitchers, they know what's going on so they have to grind from the first pitch with every at-bat. I don't think it's a hot stretch. I think this is the guy. Obviously his OPS is not going to be 1.400. He'll be over .900, and that's a good leadoff hitter. I mean, that's elite. That's what we wanted from the get-go, and he's done an outstanding job."

Video: BOS@TB: Kiermaier robs Betts of extra bases in 1st

Yeah. Betts has done that, before the age of 26. He is that good, well on his way to being one of the great players of his time. Silly to talk about what Betts is not for even five more minutes. Only what he is. Right there in front of everybody's eyes. 

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts

These division favorites must step it up

MLB.com @JPosnanski

This was going to be the season of inevitability. Everybody thought so … and was depressed by the realization. One of the wonderful things about baseball is that it resists predictability. No team has repeated as champion in almost two decades. Surprising and disappointing teams always come along to give the season some buzz.

This year, though, was going to end all that.

This was going to be the season of inevitability. Everybody thought so … and was depressed by the realization. One of the wonderful things about baseball is that it resists predictability. No team has repeated as champion in almost two decades. Surprising and disappointing teams always come along to give the season some buzz.

This year, though, was going to end all that.

We all knew, before it ever began, that the Yankees would win the American League East, Cleveland would win the AL Central, Houston would win the AL West, Washington would win the National League East, the Cubs would win the NL Central and the Dodgers would win the NL West. We all knew it.

• MLB standings

The season has barely begun -- we are only three weeks in. Making judgments now would be absurd.

Still, it's a bit striking that at this moment, not one of those teams leads its division.

It's a nice reminder of baseball's temperamental nature. Yes, maybe the mathematical density of 162 games will bring order to the world and all those sure-thing teams will rise to the top, while all those early season surprises -- the Pirates, Angels, Mets, Braves, Phillies and Blue Jays -- will melt away.

But maybe not. Let's take a look at where are our favorites are now … and what the future looks like after only a few weeks.

AL East favorites: New York Yankees (9-8)
Unlike the other five divisions, the Yankees were not prohibitive favorites. Most people expected the Red Sox to be a sturdy challenger. All right, nobody expected Boston to get off to a 16-2 start -- the best in baseball since the 1987 Brewers -- but there were some who thought the Red Sox could beat out the Yanks.

More picked the Yankees though. It's tempting to pin New York's sluggish start on the early season slumps of Giancarlo Stanton (.203 average with 29 strikeouts in 17 games) and Gary Sanchez (.219 on-base percentage) but the Yanks' real problem has been pitching. The rotation was viewed as a potential Achilles' heel, and so far that has been true; even with the excellence of Luis Severino, the starters' ERA is 4.47.

Video: Verducci on moving Stanton in order, Tribe's rotation

But it's the bullpen that has been the bigger disappointment. Coming into the season, people were talking about the Yankees' bullpen being the best in baseball history, but they've been a bit vulnerable in the early going. David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Tommy Kahnle have all been startlingly hittable.

Key player going forward: Sonny Gray. He has a 6.92 ERA through three starts, but he has pitched much better than that. Gray has not allowed a home run yet, and he has 15 strikeouts in 13 innings, but he has been absurdly unlucky. His FIP is 2.65, more than four runs better than his ERA, which is freakish. This is what happens when you give up a .409 average on balls in play. Put it this way: Hitters are batting .310 against Gray; Statcast™ has his his expected batting average against at .260. That's one of the biggest gaps in baseball. If you're a Yanks fan, you would expect that to even out.

Chances of still winning the division: Moderate. Stanton will heat up. The bullpen is too overpowering to be mediocre. But we can say this: This division is no longer in their control. The Red Sox are playing otherworldly baseball. One point in the Yankees' favor: Yes, the 1987 Brewers started 17-1 (and 20-3) and then promptly lost 12 in a row and 18 of 20 to fall into fourth place; they were never heard from again in the pennant race.

AL Central favorites: Cleveland (9-7)
Cleveland isn't scoring runs. The Tribe came into 2018 expecting to have the best rotation in the AL, and that rotation has delivered. Corey Kluber is in the midst of a legendary pitching stretch, Carlos Carrasco is healthy, Trevor Bauer seems to have figured things out and Mike Clevinger looks pretty darned good.

In the bullpen, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller have pitched 16 1/3 innings without giving up a run.

Video: DET@CLE: Kluber, Miller shine on mound, Zimmer homers

But where will the runs come from? Cleveland's Infield is hitting .174. The whole infield. And that's supposed to be the strength of this lineup, with Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez at the heart of the order.

Here's the thing, though: You expect that to turn around -- Statcast™ numbers show that Cleveland has been by far the unluckiest team in baseball, underperforming by .36 points in batting average (highest in baseball), by .100 in slugging (highest in baseball) and by .054 in weighted on-base average (highest in baseball).

Key player going forward: Lindor. He is the Tribe's beating heart.

Chances of still winning the division: They're only a half-game back of Minnesota; the Tribe is still the heavy favorite to take the Central.

AL West favorites: Houston (13-7)
The Astros do not fit in with the other five favorites -- they are playing extremely well. Still, for the moment, they find themselves a half-game behind the crazy mojo of the Los Angeles Angels.

Video: TEX@HOU: Verlander K's 11, hurls eight one-hit frames

The Astros' roster is so absurdly loaded -- especially if Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander decide to be unhittable all year -- that you can't imagine the Angels keeping pace. But let's not discount the Shohei Ohtani factor. Everybody knows the Halos have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout. They have numerous other interesting players: a future Hall of Famer in Albert Pujols, the best defensive shortstop of our time in Andrelton Simmons, a bunch of very good veteran hitters, a fascinating pitcher if he could ever stay healthy in Garrett Richards, etc.

But the sheer dynamism of Ohtani -- his power pitching, his power hitting, his rather absurd speed, his extraordinary charisma -- can have a huge impact. Remember what a sensation Ichiro was when he came to America in 2001? Full ballparks … crowded press boxes … the nation watched. And that Mariners team (even after losing their best player in Alex Rodriguez) played out of their minds all season and won 116 games with basically 90-win talent.

Key player going forward: Jose Altuve. The Astros don't really have a single key player; this roster is so loaded that I suspect they could overcome just about any setback. But Altuve means so much to the team and the city that he remains their key.

Chances of still winning the division: I'd be shocked if they didn't win the division, even with the Ohtani factor.

NL East favorites: Washington (9-10)
The firing of Dusty Baker made no sense to me. I get that the Nationals had another monumental playoff collapse, and Baker's unfortunate postseasons are well known. But this Nats team won 97 games last year, they are a locked-and-loaded veteran team nearing the end of their window, this just seemed an odd decision to break away from a manager who, for all his faults, has won 1,863 big league games and go with a bright but entirely untested new manager in Dave Martinez.

The switch might have nothing at all to do with the Nationals' listless start, but, yes, they do look listless. The bullpen is a raging forest fire. The offense doesn't seem cohesive at all, even with Bryce Harper crushing every good pitch he sees. Injuries have taken an early season toll. There's just a feel of blah in Washington.

Video: WSH@NYM: Harper breaks bat, launches 406-ft. smash

Meanwhile, the Mets, Braves and Phillies are all off to what you would have to call thought-provoking starts -- Atlanta and Philadelphia in particular are young and promising, and just maybe one of them will arrive earlier than expected.

Key player going forward: Harper. Nobody pitches to him. He has 22 unintentional walks in 19 games, which is a ludicrous pace. The most unintentional walks in a season (since they started keeping tabs of intentional/unintentional) is 142. Harper could break that if pitchers keep staying away from him. And they will keep staying away from him. How will Harper deal with the frustration?

Chances of still winning the division: They still have the best talent, and the younger teams should wear down eventually. But three weeks ago, I thought the Nationals would run away with things. I'm more dubious now.

NL Central favorites: Chicago Cubs (8-8)
The record might be a little fluky: They are 0-4 in games decided by one or two runs. The bad weather has also had an effect. But here's what you can say: The Cubs played languid baseball for the first half last year before kicking it into gear. And early signs are they doing it again.

The rotation has been … not good. Yu Darvish was supposed to have a huge impact, but he has been getting knocked around. So has Jose Quintana. The offense has somewhat bizarrely underachieved: The Cubs are second in the NL in OPS, but ninth in runs, which is strange. A .213 batting average and a .300 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position isn't helping.

Video: ATL@CHC: Darvish retires Albies, strands bases loaded

Key player going forward: Anthony Rizzo. He has been hurt and struggling, but he had three hits Thursday night against the Cardinals. When Rizzo hits, the Cubs score.

Chances of still winning the division: It's shaping up to be a good race, maybe the best in baseball. The Pirates seem to be coming back to earth after their hot start, but they have some young pitching. The Cardinals and Brewers are both quite good. The Cubs remain the most talented group, but they need to kick into gear; I don't think they can wait around until the All-Star Game like last year and still win this division.

NL West favorites: Dodgers (8-9)
What the heck has happened to Kenley Jansen? No, seriously: What? Jansen's consistent dominance the past few years has been one of baseball's sure things. Yes, this is only a few innings, but that's the point: He never had bad stretches before, not even for a few innings. Then you see that Jansen's cutter velocity is down, his slider velocity is down, he has given up three home runs (he gave up only five all of last year) … it's troubling.

Video: 'Big Deal or No Big Deal' on Intentional Talk

Then everything about the Dodgers' start has been troubling. Justin Turner is out with a left wrist injury. Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig have a combined for one home run. Chris Taylor has fallen back to earth after an amazing season. Rich Hill has struggled, and now he's out with a cracked fingernail. And Jansen. It's a problem. If the Dodgers had not gotten unexpectedly fantastic starts from veterans Matt Kemp and Chase Utley, there would be even more panic in Los Angeles.

Key player going forward: Seager. I mean, sure, it's easy to say Jansen, but that will work itself out one way or another. The Dodgers need for Seager to play like Seager again. He had a terrible September, a trying postseason, and now he's struggling to hit with authority.

Chances to still win the division: You would expect the Dodgers to right things -- Turner will be back soon, some of the early slumping players should turn things around, etc. But it should be said: The D-backs are off to a 13-5 start, and that team is for real. Early signs say: Look for this to be competitive all year long. 

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.

New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros

Weekend plans? How about a Max-Kershaw duel

Aces to face off in LA; Boston to get Pomeranz back; Colon set for encore
MLB.com @castrovince

In the battle of weather vs. schedule, Mother Nature is throwing the equivalent of a no-hitter in the early going. She's not quite perfect, what with the West Coast climates that are often oblivious to her sick stuff. But just as seemingly every no-hitter needs a defensive gem attached to it, she got some big assistance when that ice punctured the Rogers Centre roof and postponed a game between the Blue Jays and Royals this week. When even domed stadiums are serving as easy outs, you know Mother Nature is feeling it.

Perhaps this will be the weekend in which her icy grip on the schedule relents. We sure hope so, because there are plenty of storylines to settle in a season that so far has been devoid of real rhythm.

In the battle of weather vs. schedule, Mother Nature is throwing the equivalent of a no-hitter in the early going. She's not quite perfect, what with the West Coast climates that are often oblivious to her sick stuff. But just as seemingly every no-hitter needs a defensive gem attached to it, she got some big assistance when that ice punctured the Rogers Centre roof and postponed a game between the Blue Jays and Royals this week. When even domed stadiums are serving as easy outs, you know Mother Nature is feeling it.

Perhaps this will be the weekend in which her icy grip on the schedule relents. We sure hope so, because there are plenty of storylines to settle in a season that so far has been devoid of real rhythm.

Here are five key topics to track this weekend.

1. Hollywood hype: The finger inflammation issue that sent Rich Hill to the disabled list is a brief bummer for the Dodgers. But for the rest of us, it has brought the benefit of the precious pairing that is Clayton Kershaw vs. Max Scherzer on Friday night at Dodger Stadium (10:10 p.m. ET).

Responsible for four of the last five National League Cy Young Awards (and six Cy Youngs overall), Kershaw and Scherzer are the Senior Circuit gold standards, and they've pitched like it in the early going. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and 0.67 WHIP through 27 innings, while Kershaw, despite some tough luck that has led to a 1-2 record, has a 1.73 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 26 innings.

The rare matchup of these Cy guys is a strong start to what ought to be an interesting weekend series between two NL heavyweight clubs that have been dragging a heavy weight so far. Affected by some big absences (Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton) and some unexpected bullpen issues (Kenley Jansen, especially, hasn't looked right), the Dodgers and Nats lug sub-.500 records into this series. It very well may be an NLCS preview. For Bryce Harper, it very well might be a free-agency preview. But for right now, this series is just an opportunity for two talented teams to get real traction, and what better way to kick it off than with a Kershaw-Scherzer duel?

Video: Outlook: Pomeranz consistent despite control issues

2. Pom wonderful: The Red Sox have posted baseball's best record in the early going with baseball's best rotation in the early going. That's no coincidence. Entering Thursday, Boston's rotation ERA of 1.91 was nearly half a run better than the next-closest club, and that -- even more than the magic of Mookie Betts -- has been the backbone of the Red Sox's success.

And now, the Boston rotation could be getting better. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz will make his season debut Friday in Oakland (10:05 p.m. ET) after a flexor strain sidelined him the vast majority of Spring Training. Pomeranz was an All-Star in 2016, but by some metrics 2017 was his most complete season -- a 17-6 record, 3.32 ERA and 140 ERA+. If the Sox can get similar numbers out of Pomeranz in a unit already featuring a rejuvenated David Price and Rick Porcello and some guy named Chris Sale, that'll be, uh, just the way they Drew it up.

3. Class of '11: Seven years ago, Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy were taken back to back with the third and fourth overall picks in the MLB Draft by the D-backs and Orioles, respectively. They instantly became two of the more interesting pitching prospects in baseball, with the unorthodox nature of their aggressive long-toss programs (Bundy was out to 120 feet as young as 7 years old, and Bauer's foul-pole-to-foul-pole tosses were a pregame routine) a particular point of intrigue.

Both Bundy and Bauer have experienced their share of ups and downs in the years since (Bundy with Tommy John surgery, Bauer with a trade to the Indians), but it's possible each guy has turned the corner in his career and is now reaching the full potential and promise of that prominent Draft position.

Bauer has a 2.25 ERA through 20 innings over three starts and has been getting some good results with a slider he refined over the winter. Bundy's reformed slider allowed him to make significant strides in 2017 that he's built on with a sparkling 1.40 ERA through 25 2/3 innings over four starts this year. They'll oppose each other Friday night at Camden Yards (7:05 p.m. ET) in the opener of a four-game set between the Tribe and O's, and, if a pitching duel breaks out, it'll be just the way it was drafted up all those years ago.

Video: TEX@HOU: Colon takes perfect game into 8th vs. Astros

4. Age before beauty: Where were you when Bartolo Colon took a perfect game into the eighth inning against the defending champion Astros? It was one of those sports moments that felt worthy of broadcast signal intrusion across the television spectrum.

Alas, Big Sexy had to settle for 7 2/3 innings in which he allowed just a run on one hit with a walk and seven strikeouts. But for the 44-year-old Colon, that outing ranked 11th in game score (79) among his 530 career starts.

What will he do for an encore? Well, Saturday's start against Seattle (8:05 p.m. ET), opposite the Mariners' James Paxton, is a good opportunity for Colon to continue to defy age. In his inimitable and seemingly infinite career, Colon has faced the Mariners more than any other team (37 appearances). He's held them to a .655 OPS -- the lowest of any of the 14 clubs he's faced at least 20 times.

Perhaps the biggest question: Will Colon get to face fellow 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki? Ichiro has been logging playing time against right-handers this year. But with Ben Gamel recently activated off the DL, the Mariners might not be able to maintain Ichiro on the active roster much longer.

5. Red(s) Scare: The Reds weren't the fastest team in history to pull the trigger on a managerial switch in a given season (the '88 Orioles, with Cal Ripken Sr., and '02 Tigers, with Phil Garner, hold that dubious record, at six games). But 18 games was all it took for the Reds to punt on Bryan Price, and now it's interim manager Jim Riggleman at the helm as the Reds enter a weekend set in St. Louis.

No one was expecting the Reds to vie for an October entry, but a 3-15 record and minus-46 run differential are certainly south of their capability. The offense -- especially the brilliant Joey Votto (.588 OPS) -- has drastically underachieved, and some young starting arms with upside (Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano) have not yet panned out as planned. Against a good Cardinals club that has begun to play to its potential this week, we'll see if the Reds can start to turn their season around under new leadership, with Double-A pitching coach Danny Darwin joining the Major League staff and Triple-A manager Pat Kelly becoming Riggleman's bench coach.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Clayton Kershaw, Drew Pomeranz

Perez, Gordon close to returning to Royals

Catcher, outfielder progressing well in Minor League rehab
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

DETROIT -- The Royals could get two valuable American League Gold Glove Award-winning reinforcements back in their lineup as early as Tuesday.

Royals manager Ned Yost said Friday before the day-night doubleheader with the Tigers that both catcher Salvador Perez (left knee sprain) and left fielder Alex Gordon (left hip labral tear) could be activated from the disabled list soon.

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DETROIT -- The Royals could get two valuable American League Gold Glove Award-winning reinforcements back in their lineup as early as Tuesday.

Royals manager Ned Yost said Friday before the day-night doubleheader with the Tigers that both catcher Salvador Perez (left knee sprain) and left fielder Alex Gordon (left hip labral tear) could be activated from the disabled list soon.

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Perez had been rehabbing with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and he was transferred to Triple-A Omaha on Thursday; he went 1-for-4 with a single and caught seven innings. Gordon is expected to start his rehab with Omaha on Friday night.

"Salvy and Gordy are close," Yost said. "We're hoping to have them for the Milwaukee series when we get home [Tuesday], and if not, for sure the Chicago series [Thursday]. Salvy caught seven innings and feels great. He's going to DH today, and then catch tomorrow and catch Sunday. We'll evaluate then.

"Salvy wants to get back-to-back days under his belt. We'll see how his knee reacts, but it's been positive every day.

"With Gordy, it should be fairly quick as well. There was no original bruise, so it was just a matter of getting the inflammation out of there and he'd be good to go. We didn't think it would be long."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez

Mariners activate slugging catcher Zunino

MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

The Mariners have gotten their primary catcher back, as they activated Mike Zunino from the 10-day disabled list and recalled him from his rehab assignment at Class A Advanced Modesto on Friday. Backup catcher Mike Marjama was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma.

Zunino has been sidelined with a strained left oblique muscle since he sustained the injury during a workout on March 28, the day before Opening Day. The backstop enjoyed an excellent Spring Training in which he belted five home runs and compiled a 1.249 OPS over 43 at-bats. Zunino hit a career-high 25 homers and also set a career-best .840 OPS in 124 games with the Mariners last season.

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The Mariners have gotten their primary catcher back, as they activated Mike Zunino from the 10-day disabled list and recalled him from his rehab assignment at Class A Advanced Modesto on Friday. Backup catcher Mike Marjama was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma.

Zunino has been sidelined with a strained left oblique muscle since he sustained the injury during a workout on March 28, the day before Opening Day. The backstop enjoyed an excellent Spring Training in which he belted five home runs and compiled a 1.249 OPS over 43 at-bats. Zunino hit a career-high 25 homers and also set a career-best .840 OPS in 124 games with the Mariners last season.

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Zunino will likely be in Seattle's starting lineup against the Rangers in Arlington on Friday. David Freitas will serve as the Mariners' backup catcher.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Mike Zunino

This is the most entertaining pitcher-hitter rivalry

Former teammates Beltre and Hernandez have a history of antics
MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

Among the many thousands of possible batter-pitcher matchups, there may not be a more entertaining one than Adrian Beltre vs. Felix Hernandez.

Merely calling it a matchup feels insufficient. It's a friendly rivalry between former teammates, a battle of wits between two intense competitors, and frequently, a comedy act surpassing any between-innings mascot hijinks.

Among the many thousands of possible batter-pitcher matchups, there may not be a more entertaining one than Adrian Beltre vs. Felix Hernandez.

Merely calling it a matchup feels insufficient. It's a friendly rivalry between former teammates, a battle of wits between two intense competitors, and frequently, a comedy act surpassing any between-innings mascot hijinks.

It is scheduled to resume on Friday, when Hernandez is lined up to take the ball as his Mariners face Beltre's Rangers for the first time in 2018, at Globe Life Park.

What will these two legends have in store for this latest edition of their long-running two-man show?

"For me, it's fun because obviously we have a little friend/enemy-type thing going on," Beltre said. "We both like to face each other. I know he is going to come after me. He wants to get me out, and I want to make sure I get a good at-bat against him."

Video: TEX@SEA: Felix, Beltre poke fun at each other

Beltre and Hernandez developed a bond as teammates in Seattle from 2005-09, and each of their 67 plate appearances against each other have come since then. They have been division rivals since Beltre joined the Rangers in '11, their rapport with each other remaining clear even as professional pride and competitive fire demand that they clash with nothing less than full effort.

Video: SEA@BOS: Beltre, Francona tossed between innings

This dynamic has led to a bounty of exquisite improv comedy skits. They have playfully jawed at each other as Beltre runs down the first-base line, back to the dugout after a long out, or over by the Mariners' dugout to chase a foul popup. Once, back in 2010, their good-natured trash talking over a friendly bet even got Beltre ejected due to a misunderstanding with an umpire. Another time, Hernandez caught a Beltre line drive to end an inning, then underhand tossed the ball back to his friendly rival. It's always something.

Video: SEA@TEX: Felix throws ball back to Beltre after liner

"It's just between me and him," Hernandez said. "After that, I just flip the switch. It's special to play against him. He's like my big brother. It's always fun to face him."

As entertaining as those episodes are, they are just part of a fierce head-to-head competition. Hernandez may have embraced Beltre by home plate last July 31 -- before their first confrontation after Beltre joined the 3,000-hit club -- but it was quickly back to business afterward.

"It is fun, but I always want to beat him even though I know if he gets the best of me, I'm going to hear from him after the game," Beltre said.

"I always hope, even though I love the guy, I am always going to try and beat him."

Video: SEA@TEX: Felix embraces Beltre before first at-bat

In one way, Hernandez has enjoyed the clear upper hand. The 39-year-old Beltre is batting only .232 and slugging .304 against him, hitting his only home run back in 2011 and his only other extra-base hit (a double) two years later. Since going 7-for-14 in '13, Beltre is just 3-for-27 (.111).

"You know why?" Hernandez asked. "Because he just wants to hit a homer against me. He just wants to swing hard."

Beltre vs. Hernandez, career
BA/OBP/SLG: .232/.358/.304
HR: 1
RBI: 3
SO: 9
BB: 10 (plus 1 HBP)
Whiffs/pitch: 17/284 (6.0 percent)

Beltre vs. Hernandez, since 2015
BA/OBP/SLG: .136/.367/.136
HR: 0
RBI: 1
SO: 1
BB: 7 (plus 1 HBP)
Whiffs/pitch: 1/121 (0.8 percent)

But those basic numbers obscure a much more interesting and hotly contested duel being waged between the two.

For one thing, the 21 batted balls that Beltre has put in play against King Felix since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015 have averaged a sizzling 90.4 mph exit velocity, with 42.9 percent classified as hard-hit (95+ mph). At least a few have been long, loud fly balls. Factoring in his quality of contact, based on exit velocity and launch angle, Beltre has posted a .325 expected batting average and .457 expected slugging percentage against Hernandez during that time.

Those metrics support the unique caution with which Hernandez has approached Beltre in recent years. Consider these facts, which date back to 2015:

• Beltre has walked seven times in 30 plate appearances. During that span, Hernandez hasn't walked another batter more than five times; Beltre hasn't drawn more than five walks against another pitcher.

• Just 34.7 percent of pitches between the two have been in the strike zone, compared with Hernandez's average of 45.1 percent, and Beltre's average of 46.9 percent.

• Beltre has swung at just 30.6 percent of pitches from Hernandez, compared with his overall average of 47.5 percent, and Hernandez's overall average of 46.8 percent.

Gif: Beltre vs. Felix

"He's a tough out," Hernandez said, hinting at the thinking behind his nibbling. "Before, he had some holes, but now he's getting older and he's a better hitter now. You just can't miss with anything. You cannot make any mistakes, because he's going to hit it out of the ballpark or hit a double. He's tough to pitch against."

These factors have helped produce the duel's most eye-popping number: Of the 121 pitches that Hernandez has thrown Beltre since the start of 2015, he has swung and missed at one. Yes, one.

That's a swinging-strike rate of 0.8 percent. Even as his performance has faded somewhat in recent years, Hernandez has posted an overall rate of about 11 percent -- near the MLB average. Beltre, not a prolific whiffer, is at about 8 percent during that time.

Video: TEX@SEA: Beltre, Felix jokingly exchange words

Since 2015, 30 hitters besides Beltre have seen at least 50 pitches from Hernandez, and each has missed on a swing multiple times. Beltre has seen at least 50 pitches from 20 pitchers besides Hernandez and whiffed multiple times against each one.

"He doesn't swing and miss that much," Hernandez explained. "You can throw it in the dirt, and he'll just foul it off. He's a tough out. He's a great hitter."

So how did Beltre's one miss -- out of 37 total swings -- come about? In true Felix-vs.-Beltre fashion, it was one chapter in a playful back-and-forth.

On Aug. 31, 2016, the first pitch Hernandez threw to Beltre was a wild slider that backed up and nearly hit Beltre, who got a good laugh out of it while staring back at Hernandez in mock disbelief. On the very next pitch, Hernandez came back with a pitch below the zone and less than a foot off the ground. Beltre swung over the top of it. Four pitches later, he golfed a low slider for a long out to center field, as the two yelled at each other until Beltre made it back to the dugout.

Video: SEA@TEX: Beltre, Hernandez exchange playful banter

These "frenemies" will face off again on Friday, but it's possible there won't be many of these duels left. Hernandez, with more than 2,500 big league innings on his arm, has battled health issues, declining velocity and bouts of ineffectiveness over the past few years. As productive as Beltre remains, he turned 39 in April and is in the final year of his current contact.

So when it comes to this magnificent matchup, appreciate it while you can.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

MLB.com reporters Greg Johns and T.R. Sullivan contributed to this report.

Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Adrian Beltre, Felix Hernandez

Blue Jays add Gurriel, activate Morales

MLB.com

The Blue Jays on Friday activated first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales from the 10-day disabled list and recalled infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from Double-A New Hampshire.

In the corresponding roster moves, Toronto optioned infielder Gift Ngoepe and left-hander Tim Mayza to Triple-A Buffalo.

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The Blue Jays on Friday activated first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales from the 10-day disabled list and recalled infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from Double-A New Hampshire.

In the corresponding roster moves, Toronto optioned infielder Gift Ngoepe and left-hander Tim Mayza to Triple-A Buffalo.

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Manager John Gibbons told MLB Network's Jim Bowden that Gurriel will start at second base on Friday against the Yankees in New York. Gurriel, 24, was hitting .347/.382/.510 (17-for-49) with five extra-base hits and 11 RBIs through 12 games with the Fisher Cats.

Morales has been sidelined for the past 10 days with a strained right hamstring. He's played in eight games for the Blue Jays this season, batting .227 with one home run and RBIs.

Morales' return created a roster dilemma for Toronto, which opted to option left-handed reliever Tim Mayza instead of hot-hitting outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, leaving the club with a seven-man bullpen and a five-man outfield.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Toronto Blue Jays

Napoli to have season-ending knee surgery

Slugger sustains torn ACL, meniscus running down foul popup in Triple-A game
MLB.com @MLBastian