Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Hot market for hot corner: Machado leads buzz

MLB.com @jonmorosi

How intriguing is the trade market for third basemen right now?

Consider this: The Indians have the best production at the position in the Majors this year, thanks to Jose Ramirez's historic season. With 22 home runs, he is on pace to eclipse Adrian Beltre's single-season Major League record (48) among third basemen 25 and younger.

How intriguing is the trade market for third basemen right now?

Consider this: The Indians have the best production at the position in the Majors this year, thanks to Jose Ramirez's historic season. With 22 home runs, he is on pace to eclipse Adrian Beltre's single-season Major League record (48) among third basemen 25 and younger.

More Trade Talk

Yet the Tribe is among the teams considering the acquisition of a third baseman.

How is that possible? Well, if the Indians land Manny Machado, Ramirez can move across the diamond to second base -- his best defensive position, and where Jason Kipnis has a .610 OPS this season.

Machado has a trade market unto himself, because of his power (18 home runs, .925 OPS) and defensive versatility. The Orioles' three-time All-Star is the best player available at both third base and shortstop. If the O's act decisively in their trade conversations, they'll draw multiple compelling offers for Machado; if they wait until shortly before the non-waiver Trade Deadline to establish a clear direction, they could stifle the activity on third basemen around the Majors.

The D-backs' interest in Machado goes back to last offseason, and sources told MLB.com this week the sides have been in contact about a possible trade at least once since Opening Day. The Braves have yet to seriously pursue Machado, but they have the prospects to entice the Orioles. Atlanta also leads the National League East and has shown no sign of fading, giving new general manager Alex Anthopoulos plenty of motivation to make the sort of bold moves for which he was known in Toronto.

Along with Machado, one future Hall of Famer (Beltre) and two recent All-Stars (Mike Moustakas and Josh Donaldson) are available at third base. All four are free agents after the season, increasing the chances that trades will occur.

Beltre has a full no-trade clause, and it remains unclear if he'd waive it for the chance to play on a contender. Beltre, 39, has yet to win a World Series ring. A trade in the coming weeks could represent his last chance at one.

Crucially, Beltre is playing well enough that teams are interested. He's batting .302 and is revered for his clubhouse influence. At least some within the Indians organization would like to acquire Beltre, particularly given his history playing for Cleveland manager Terry Francona during his one season in Boston.

The Phillies also have interest in Beltre, sources say, as much for his professionalism as his production. The Phils have the youngest group of position players in the Majors, and team officials see long-term value in Beltre's influence on an emerging core. Plus, the recent injury to J.P. Crawford has opened up more at-bats on the infield.

Moustakas isn't on track to equal last year's Royals record-setting home run pace, but his OPS+ is nearly identical to where it was in 2017. Improved health also has allowed Moustakas to return to his high defensive standard, according to Kansas City manager Ned Yost. Moustakas is a 2015 World Series champion who is regarded as an excellent teammate and is on a priced-to-move team-friendly contract. Especially after the Royals traded reliever Kelvin Herrera and outfielder Jon Jay, it will be a major surprise if Moustakas isn't dealt. 

Donaldson is a different case: His lack of playing time due to multiple injuries (only 36 games this year) is creating uncertainty in the minds of suitors about the 2015 American League MVP Award winner. Teams will want to see Donaldson play every day for multiple weeks before investing prospects and money in acquiring him, and he's running out of time to do so.

In fact, it's possible that Donaldson could clear August trade waivers if he's still on the disabled list then, by virtue of his $23 million salary. As a result, we still could be two months away from a Donaldson trade.

One more name to monitor: Matt Duffy of Tampa Bay. While there hasn't been much national buzz surrounding his season, Duffy is having a career offensive year. He also is in his salary arbitration years. Given the Rays' precedent, they'll be open-minded if a strong offer comes.

This season, though, Tampa Bay may find the supply of third basemen is simply too great to receive the right return for Duffy. At the 2018 Trade Deadline, there's no corner of the market quite like this.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network

Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas

A case for Realmuto as MLB's best catcher

Leads catchers in pop time, caught stealing, wRC+ and WAR
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Last year, we crowned Miami's J.T. Realmuto as baseball's "most athletic catcher," thanks to a combination of Statcast-based metrics that showcased his speed on the bases and skill behind the plate.

A year later, it's becoming clear that title might not have been enough. What if Realmuto is simply 2018's best all-around catcher? He may not have the name recognition of Buster Posey or Yadier Molina, but it's actually an easier case to make than you might think. Let's count down all the things Realmuto is shining at, shall we?

Last year, we crowned Miami's J.T. Realmuto as baseball's "most athletic catcher," thanks to a combination of Statcast-based metrics that showcased his speed on the bases and skill behind the plate.

A year later, it's becoming clear that title might not have been enough. What if Realmuto is simply 2018's best all-around catcher? He may not have the name recognition of Buster Posey or Yadier Molina, but it's actually an easier case to make than you might think. Let's count down all the things Realmuto is shining at, shall we?

It matters that Realmuto has been baseball's best hitting catcher this year (he has) and that he's baseball's fastest catcher (he is), and we'll get to those. Let's start with what's happening behind the plate, about how he's been cutting down opposing baserunners, since that's what people think of when they think of catchers. Let's start with pop time.

Realmuto has the fastest pop time and the best caught-stealing percentage.
There's a lot that goes into being a good catcher. Some of it we can quantify very well, and some of it, like calling pitches or handling pitchers, we can't. (Realmuto is "the leader of the team ... the leader of the staff, the hitters," said Marlins reliever Kyle Barraclough. "Not much more I can say.")

One of the things we can measure very well is pop time, which is simultaneously very new and extremely traditional. It's only been available publicly via Statcast™ leaderboards for about a year, but it's something scouts have been hand measuring with stopwatches for decades. It's intended to express how quickly a catcher gets the ball out of his glove (referring to the "pop" of the pitch hitting his mitt) to the infielder receiving the throw on a steal attempt (another "pop" of the throw reaching the fielder), though it's technically measured to the midpoint of the intended base.

It's a combination of two things, really: "How fast can you get the ball out of your glove?" which we call "exchange"; and "How fast can you throw it to the base?" -- which we express as "arm strength." This doesn't capture every facet of preventing steals (like throw accuracy, for example), but it's a good way to measure skills.

Among catchers who have faced five steal attempts of second base, Realmuto has 2018's fastest pop time, at 1.86 seconds, well below the Major League average of 2.01 seconds. While he's been above average from the day he arrived in the big leagues, he's actually gotten faster, dropping from 1.92 seconds in 2015 to 1.91 in '16 to 1.90 last year, then to 1.86 this season. Since '15, Realmuto is tied with Austin Hedges for first among those with 50 steal attempts, at 1.91. He's been in the top two every year.

Of catchers with at least 20 steals attempted against them, Realmuto has the best caught stealing percentage at 44 percent. We know that a catcher is not entirely responsible for that -- a pitcher's ability, or lack thereof, in holding a runner on plays a big part -- but we also learned last year that 0.1 seconds of pop time changes the caught stealing rate by 10 percentage points, so it matters.

So how does a catcher get to be good in pop time? You can have a cannon of an arm like the Phillies' Jorge Alfaro, who leads the Majors with a 90.4-mph average on his throws. You can have an elite exchange time like Welington Castillo of the White Sox, who got rid of the ball in just six-tenths of a second. Or you can be Realmuto, who's good at both. He's got the third-best arm strength, 87.6 mph, behind only Alfaro and Martin Maldonado. He's got the third-best exchange time too, at 0.68 seconds, behind Castillo and Carlos Perez.

Thanks to that combination, Realmuto has three of the five fastest individual pop times to catch a runner at second base this year, led by this 1.76-second laser to catch Amed Rosario on May 23.

Video: MIA@NYM: J.T. Realmuto throws out Amed Rosario

Realmuto has been baseball's best hitting catcher.
In 2016-17, Realmuto (.290/.337/.440) was the fifth-best hitting catcher among the 17 who had at least 750 plate appearances. This year (.300/.358/.531), he's been the best of the 14 catchers with at least 200 plate appearances so far. It's not that Realmuto has changed his strikeout or walk rates, because they've stayed similar to his past years. It's that he's hitting the ball much harder, and he's hitting it off the ground.

Realmuto's hard-hit rate has hovered in the 34-35 percent range for each of the past three years. This year, that's up over 43 percent, similar to Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez. He's also cut his ground-ball rate from 49 percent to 43 percent, allowing him to take more advantage of that power.

Video: MIA@BAL: Realmuto belts 2 homers, notches 4 RBIs

We can't guarantee that Realmuto will outhit Posey, Gary Sanchez, Yasmani Grandal and the rest all year. But he has so far.

Realmuto is baseball's fastest catcher.
"I've always been fast, from playing football, basketball," Realmuto said last year. "It didn't matter, whatever sport I was playing, I was always running. I tried to do my best to keep my athleticism with where it's at."

We have four years of data in Statcast™'s speed metric, Sprint Speed, and Realmuto has been the fastest catcher every year. This year, his average top speed has been faster than Yasiel Puig, Mookie Betts or Albert Almora Jr. While he stole 20 bases over the past two years, this speaks more to his overall athleticism than anything else.

Realmuto may be baseball's best all-around catcher.
Putting it all together, Realmuto leads all catchers in two very different versions of Wins Above Replacement. He's No. 1 at FanGraphs, just ahead of Francisco Cervelli, in a version of WAR that does not account for pitch framing. Realmuto is No. 1 at Baseball Prospectus, just ahead of Grandal, in a version that does. (While he's never been considered an elite framer, he was solidly above average last year, 13th, at plus-nine runs.)

So is Realmuto baseball's best catcher? It helps him that it's been a down year for backstops, that Salvador Perez, Molina and Tyler Flowers have been injured, that Sanchez has struggled, that Posey is now 31 and Russell Martin is 35.

But Realmuto will almost certainly represent the Marlins in the All-Star Game, and he's got a strong case to be the National League's starter, even though he's unlikely to win the vote. He's a pop time star, and he's good at almost everything. Realmuto is almost certainly the best catcher that not enough people know about.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Miami Marlins, J.T. Realmuto

MLB Buzz: Will Beltre land with Phillies?

MLB.com

As the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, we'll keep you up to date with the latest news, buzz, rumors and more.

Phillies a potential landing spot for Beltre
June 21: With J.P. Crawford set to miss 4-6 weeks due to a fractured left hand and both Maikel Franco and Scott Kingery carrying sub-.700 OPS marks, the Phillies will likely look to acquire a veteran to upgrade the left side of their infield, according to MLB Network insider Jon Paul Morosi.

As the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, we'll keep you up to date with the latest news, buzz, rumors and more.

Phillies a potential landing spot for Beltre
June 21: With J.P. Crawford set to miss 4-6 weeks due to a fractured left hand and both Maikel Franco and Scott Kingery carrying sub-.700 OPS marks, the Phillies will likely look to acquire a veteran to upgrade the left side of their infield, according to MLB Network insider Jon Paul Morosi.

While the Phillies have long been linked to the Orioles' Manny Machado, Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is another option the club could pursue, per Morosi.

Morosi: Hot market for hot corner

Beltre will be a free agent after this season, making him a prime candidate to be moved by the Rangers, who are in last place in the American League West and sit 15 games behind in the race for the second Wild Card spot.

Beltre has spent substantial time on the disabled list with various leg injuries over the past two years, but he remains a productive hitter. Over 45 games this season, the 39-year-old owns a .302/.357/.428 slash line.

And while the Rangers have used Beltre as the designated hitter more often lately, the five-time Gold Glove Award winner can still handle himself at the hot corner. In 32 games at third base this season, Beltre has recorded three defensive runs saved.

Of course, Beltre has a full no-trade clause, and it remains to be seen if he'll waive it to join a contender.

• Non-waiver Trade Deadline explained

Red Sox looking to upgrade bullpen; Hand an option?
June 20: The Red Sox are interested in bolstering their relief corps, according to MLB Network insider Jon Paul Morosi, and Padres closer Brad Hand may be a target for the club.

However, San Diego's asking price for Hand could be prohibitive. Per Morosi, the Padres are expected to seek a young everyday player, such as Rafael Devers, in exchange for the left-hander.

Hand, who has a National League-leading 21 saves with a 2.43 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP this season, is signed through 2020 with a team option for 2021, so the Padres are in no rush to deal him.

Boston has the sixth-best bullpen ERA (3.17) in the Majors, but the club's 'pen lacks depth with Carson Smith out for the season following shoulder surgery and Steven Wright currently starting in place of the injured Drew Pomeranz (left biceps tendinitis).

Video: Brian Kenny looks deeper at dominance of Brad Hand

O's, D-backs have talked Machado trade
June 19: The Orioles and D-backs have engaged in discussions regarding a potential trade for Manny Machado, according to MLB Network insider Jon Paul Morosi, and dialogue remains open between the two clubs.

Morosi described the trade talks as "due diligence on Arizona's part as the team's needs become clear." The two clubs also reportedly discussed a Machado trade this past offseason. Arizona currently holds the top spot in the National League West, but the second-place Dodgers narrowed the gap when they defeated the Cubs in Game 1 of a doubleheader Tuesday afternoon.

Video: Morosi discusses Machado trade possibilities and more

It's unclear whether the D-backs are interested in acquiring Machado to play shortstop or third base.

The 25-year-old would be an offensive upgrade over starting third baseman Jake Lamb and shortstop Nick Ahmed, as he's hitting .310 with 18 homers, 53 RBIs and a .945 OPS over 69 games for the Orioles in 2018 and owns a lifetime 118 wRC+.

But Machado has struggled defensively in his first season as the O's primary shortstop, recording -15 defensive runs saved (DRS). Ahmed, meanwhile, has notched six DRS. Machado has proven to be a stellar defender at the hot corner in the past, posting 81 DRS as a third baseman during his career and winning two AL Gold Glove Awards at the position.

Are Mets 'open for business?'
June 18: The Mets are reportedly "open for business" as it relates to prospective trade offers ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline, including on ace Jacob deGrom, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. The club would be more inclined to move Noah Syndergaard, per Rosenthal, but it might be inclined to part with deGrom given the right return.

deGrom would cost a "boatload" in return, one source told Rosenthal, and likely for a combination of Major League talent as well as highly touted prospects, which perhaps only a handful of clubs could fulfill. deGrom has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining before he becomes a free agent, while Syndergaard wouldn't hit the market until after the 2021 season.

deGrom is firmly in the mix for the National League Cy Young Award, with the Majors' best ERA (1.55) over 87 1/3 innings in 14 starts. He's currently on pace for career bests in strikeout rate (32.8 percent), opposing batting average (.206) and WHIP (1.01), as he's one of the few glimmering spotlights for a Mets team that tumbled out of first place in early May. The right-hander did avoid a significant injury scare nearly seven weeks ago when he hyperextended his pitching elbow on an awkward swing, landing on the 10-day disabled list.

Syndergaard hasn't pitched since May 25 due to a strained ligament on his right index finger. The high-velocity right-hander missed nearly the entire 2017 season due to a partial tear in his right lat. Over 11 starts this year, Syndergaard is 4-1 with a 3.06 ERA.

Monday's report surfaced less than two weeks after general manager Sandy Alderson called the liklelihood of a teardown "very remote" in an interview with USA Today.

"Just because you tear it down doesn't mean you're going to have a great rebuild. It doesn't work that way. It just doesn't," Alderson said at the time.

In Rosenthal's report, he indicates that the club would ideally like to retain most of its controllable nucleus -- shortstop Amed Rosario, outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto and right-handers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman -- but those chips are likely the most coveted by other clubs.

Yanks, M's looking to acquire Happ
June 18: As the Yankees and Mariners have emerged as true contenders in the American League pennant race, so, too, have their roster voids -- specifically within their starting rotations. Both clubs are believed to be in the market for an available arm over the next six weeks, and MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported on Monday that each is interested in Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ.

In the midst of an All-Star-caliber season, Happ has a 3.48 ERA over 82 2/3 innings in 14 starts. He is in the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract, and due to his lingering free agency, he might not be as costly a return in what is shaping up to be a thin trade market for starters.

Both Seattle and New York have gotten above-average production from their starting staffs, though each has shown signs of vulnerability.

Video: Morosi on potential trade fits for J.A. Happ

Beyond AL Cy Young Award candidate Luis Severino, the Yankees have gotten inconsistent results from Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka, Jordan Montgomery was lost for the season because of Tommy John surgery and Domingo German hasn't yet exhibited enough to warrant the fifth spot for good. CC Sabathia has been reliable, when healthy. To complement their elite offense and lights-out bullpen, the Yankees have long been speculated to retool their rotation ahead of the Deadline.

Morosi noted that the Yankees might have more incentive to go after a lefty given that the division-rival Red Sox have an MLB-best .813 OPS against righties but only a .672 mark against southpaws. In addition to their 13 regular-season meetings remaining, there's a strong chance the Yankees could go through Boston in the postseason.

The Mariners' rotation has also proven to be top heavy, with arguably the AL's best starter in James Paxton. However, No. 2 starter Felix Hernandez has struggled to a career-worst 5.44 ERA, and he has given up five or more earned runs in five of his 15 starts. No. 5 starter Wade LeBlanc has been a pleasant surprise, but at 33 years old, there have been questions about his sustainability.

In a loaded AL East, Toronto entered 2018 with its most realistic avenue to the postseason via an AL Wild Card berth, but it entered Monday 12 1/2 games back of the second AL's spot. The Jays are 32-38 despite winning seven of their last 10, including sweeps of the Nationals and Orioles.

Giants going after Harper?
June 14: The Giants lost out on the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes in the offseason, despite being perhaps the most aggressive in pursuing the National League MVP Award winner via a trade from the Marlins. The Giants wound up filling out their lineup elsewhere -- trading for Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria -- but they may not be out of the market in acquiring a power-hitting corner outfielder, as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported recently that they could be a "main player" for Bryce Harper in free agency.

"They do make some sense," a friend of Harper's told Heyman.

Harper has been speculated to land a potentially historic deal, though the Giants were believed to be willing to take on the entire $295 million remaining on Stanton's contract. And general manager Bobby Evans has made it clear the club doesn't intend to rebuild in the immediate future despite a depleted farm system.

"We're going to be focused in the market as much as anybody ... the trade market as we get to the winter," Evans said in a recent interview with MLB Network Radio. "But that's so far ahead of us now. But yeah, there's always an eye on the free-agent market."

McCutchen will be a free agent this offseason, and 35-year-old left fielder Hunter Pence has struggled to stay healthy and remain productive, hitting .183/.236/.207 in 30 games. The Giants appear to be all-in on the immediate, and pursuing Harper would certainly fit that strategic mold.

Archer likely to be moved
June 13: This is far from the first time that the Chris Archer has been floated as a trade candidate, but a rival executive told MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal that he believes that a seller's market this year will make the Rays likely to move Archer before the Trade Deadline.

Video: TB@WSH: Archer on 10-day DL with abdominal strain

Archer is a two-time All-Star with a 3.67 ERA in his seven seasons in the Majors, but his current injury and struggles this year might affect his trade value -- he has a 4.24 ERA in 13 starts and is on the disabled list with a left abdominal strain without a definite timetable for his return. And Rosenthal reports that the Rays don't like the thought of trading the 29-year-old due to his team-friendly contract.

Archer could be under club control through 2021, with one year remaining on his contract plus two more years of club options. That makes him different than, for example, David Price, who was only under team control when the Rays traded him, or Evan Longoria, who had a much larger contract.

Hamels might want trade partner to pick up option
June 13: Cole Hamels has been one of the most prominent names in early-season trade buzz -- most notably as a potential trade target for the Yankees, who for all their success so far are in need of starting rotation depth. The Rangers have struggled this season, but Hamels has a 3.86 ERA and 79 strikeouts in his 13 starts.

Video: TEX@LAA: Hamels grabs strikeout No. 2,300 of career

But the veteran left-hander has a 20-team no-trade list, and a source told Rosenthal that even though Hamels recently called that protection "kind of a formality," he could still use it as leverage to ask a trade partner from that list to pick up his $20 million option for 2019. That makes sense for the 34-year-old, as the alternative to picking up his option is a $6 million buyout that would leave him facing the uncertainty of free agency in his mid-30s.

MLB.com's Jon Morosi has reported that the teams not on Hamels' no-trade list are the Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Mariners, Nationals, Phillies, Rays and Royals.

Per Rosenthal, Hamels could be a difficult fit for a team trying to remain under the luxury tax threshold, as he'll still be owed close to $8 million at the Trade Deadline, unless the Rangers include significant cash in a deal.

Video: SF@MIA: Realmuto crushes go-ahead 2-run homer in 7th

Who might be this year's Andrew Miller?

Every October, the postseason starts and, with the biggest games of the year on the line, relievers you may have missed emerge to shock and surprise. Last year saw Chad Green and Brad Peacock break out. The year before, Andrew Miller re-established the fireman role.

So, who are the middle-innings hurlers who will make or break the pennant race this year? Here are nine to know.

Trout or Altuve? Maybe there's room for both

MLB.com @MikeLupica

As historic and wonderful and wonderfully watchable as Mike Trout is, we have seen baseball models like this before, all the way back to the young Mickey Mantle. One of these years -- maybe this year -- Trout might produce numbers across the board like Mantle did in 1956, when he won the first of his three American League MVP Awards, hit 52 homers, had 130 RBIs, scored 132 runs, had an OPS of 1.169, batted .353 and looked as if he were on his way to being the best all-around baseball player who had ever lived -- even playing in the same generation and same city at the time as Willie Mays.

You look at Trout, the way he looks on a baseball field, and of course you make comparisons to the young Mantle. The 1956 Mickey was 25. Trout is just 26. So his model, in so many exciting ways, fits that model.

As historic and wonderful and wonderfully watchable as Mike Trout is, we have seen baseball models like this before, all the way back to the young Mickey Mantle. One of these years -- maybe this year -- Trout might produce numbers across the board like Mantle did in 1956, when he won the first of his three American League MVP Awards, hit 52 homers, had 130 RBIs, scored 132 runs, had an OPS of 1.169, batted .353 and looked as if he were on his way to being the best all-around baseball player who had ever lived -- even playing in the same generation and same city at the time as Willie Mays.

You look at Trout, the way he looks on a baseball field, and of course you make comparisons to the young Mantle. The 1956 Mickey was 25. Trout is just 26. So his model, in so many exciting ways, fits that model.

But we've never seen anybody quite like the 5-foot-6 Jose Altuve.

Nope. Never seen anybody like Altuve, and that means even if you throw him into the same baseball conversation with the great Joe Morgan, also a second baseman, a guy who played his way to Cooperstown at 5-foot-7. Morgan was my favorite player. The most home runs he hit in a season was 27. Altuve has hit 24 twice. The highest batting average Morgan had was .327. Altuve has beaten that three times already and will probably do it again this year.

Altuve is well on his way to being the greatest athlete of his size -- not just in baseball history but the history of American professional sports. He is one of the best players of his time. Altuve is already playing like one of the best of all time. I understand that he is doing what he is doing in Trout's time. But Altuve is about to lead MLB in hits for the fifth consecutive season, and he has a batting average of .347 after the Astros won their 50th game on Wednesday, a night that included him hitting a home run off Nathan Eovaldi of the Rays that looked as if the 6-foot-7 Aaron Judge or the 6-foot-6 Giancarlo Stanton had hit it.

Video: TB@HOU: Altuve crushes a solo homer to left

There was a time when the place the Astros used to play their games, the Astrodome, was called "The Eighth Wonder of The World." Now, in that same city, you sometimes think it is Altuve, the reigning AL MVP Award winner, playing second, who is the eighth wonder.

As another baseball summer officially begins, it is worth remembering something Morgan said to me last summer about Altuve. This was a 5-foot-7 second-base immortal talking about the 5-foot-6 second baseman who plays in Houston the way the guy they called L'il Joe once did, before his true fame and Hall of Fame bona fides came in Cincinnati.

I asked Morgan if he thought it was insulting to qualify Altuve's greatness by always referencing his size.

"I think you do insult him," Morgan said. "You know what they used to say about me? 'He's a good little player.' But then they look at Trout and say, 'That's what a great player is supposed to look like.' And trust me, this is nothing against Mike Trout. I love watching him play baseball, too. But right now, I honestly believe [Altuve] is the best all-around player. I don't know what box you don't check with him. … I don't think of him being small anymore. Because nothing about his game is small."

Video: TB@HOU: Altuve shows off his speed, legs out a single

There are other athletes Altuve's size who have thrilled the sports world, but they usually come from other parts of the world and usually play soccer, sometimes with the kind of magic Lionel Messi always has. It is different for Altuve, who comes from Venezuela and whose own sports dreams were about playing baseball. Now he is ours. He is baseball, and all of its possibilities.

One of my favorite images of all time, in my whole life loving baseball, was Altuve standing next to Judge during the 2017 AL Championship Series. No image has ever demonstrated more vividly one of the enduring beauties of a sport where there are no size requirements for greatness, and never have been. You can be Altuve's size. You can be Judge's size. You can pitch your way to Cooperstown at 5-foot-11 the way Pedro Martinez did, or do the same at 6-foot-10 the way Randy Johnson did.

Tweet from @MLB: Dreams do come true. #ALCS pic.twitter.com/16I1SqRjHj

We talk all the time -- at least I do -- about how all sports fans, not just baseball fans, don't talk nearly enough about Trout, who in so many ways is the game's LeBron James. Well, if he is LeBron, then that makes Altuve baseball's Steph Curry, who still looks like a kid who just wandered into the gym looking for a good pickup run with the bigger kids. Watching Altuve play baseball the way he does, at his size, sometimes feels exactly like watching Curry make three-pointers from the concession stands.

At this time when there is so much brilliant young talent all over the baseball map, Altuve remains unique. Three more hits Wednesday night. A rousing home run. Trout's time in baseball is Altuve's time, too. Easy to lose sight of that sometimes. Way too easy to lose sight of the little big man in Houston.

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

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Mike Trout

While going through old Facebook messages, Pat Neshek discovered a contract offer for 2014

If you've ever found yourself sorting through old mail, you've probably discovered that you've missed out on some opportunities. Maybe it was a great coupon for discounted chicken wings, or maybe it was a free car wash. Chances are that none of us have ever stumbled upon a professional baseball contract offer, though.

Well, that happened to Phillies reliever Pat Neshek.

'Signature moment!' Stanton hits epic walk-off HR

MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- The week was supposed to be an uneventful one in Giancarlo Stanton's world, as the slugger was overseeing construction of a state-of-the-art gymnasium in his Miami home. His cell phone buzzed with an emergency text from his agent, and within hours, there was a verbal commitment in place to wear the Yankees pinstripes.

This December flashback seems relevant because it reminds us that Stanton held all the cards in the decision, that he opted to play in a large market and for a team with World Series aspirations. And when he envisioned doing so, it was for nights like Wednesday, when Stanton crushed a walk-off homer that carried the Yankees to a 7-5 victory over the Mariners.

View Full Game Coverage

NEW YORK -- The week was supposed to be an uneventful one in Giancarlo Stanton's world, as the slugger was overseeing construction of a state-of-the-art gymnasium in his Miami home. His cell phone buzzed with an emergency text from his agent, and within hours, there was a verbal commitment in place to wear the Yankees pinstripes.

This December flashback seems relevant because it reminds us that Stanton held all the cards in the decision, that he opted to play in a large market and for a team with World Series aspirations. And when he envisioned doing so, it was for nights like Wednesday, when Stanton crushed a walk-off homer that carried the Yankees to a 7-5 victory over the Mariners.

View Full Game Coverage

"It's just cool, man. It's a fun moment," Stanton said. "It's good future memories. That's what you always want, man. You help win a game and you've got the whole team waiting for you."

Video: SEA@NYY: Stanton discusses walk-off HR, 2-for-4 night

Stanton's ninth-inning, two-run rocket off Ryan Cook marked the high point of what has been an up-and-down ride so far in New York, particularly at Yankee Stadium, where he heard hearty boos during the first few frigid homestands. Jeers continued intermittently as spring has melted into summer, as did his struggles against right-handed pitchers.

While Stanton freely acknowledges that he has still not pieced together the good weeks and months that propelled him to hit 59 homers and win National League MVP honors with the Marlins last season, his track record suggests that if he remains healthy, incredible numbers are still within reach.

"I'm not worried about me, personally," Stanton said. "For the way our team battled back, it's huge that I could step up in that moment. Me? I'll be fine."

There had been an opportunity for Stanton to deliver in the seventh, when he struck out representing the tying run against Alex Colome. Instead, Gary Sanchez crushed a game-tying homer off the righty in the eighth, setting up a moment that manager Aaron Boone suggested could be key for the 2018 Yankees.

Video: Must C Comeback: Stanton's walk-off homer caps rally

"This was a good one, where it looks like it's going to be a ho-hum, go down in defeat," Boone said. "You're just trying to piece it together from a bullpen standpoint, and the guys just kind of hang around. Maybe when we look back on the year, this will be something they point to -- certainly for Giancarlo, a guy of his stature."

Didi Gregorius raked a two-out single that brought up Stanton, who looked at a slider for a strike and fouled off a fastball to fall into an 0-2 hole. Cook snapped off an 84.7-mph slider that triggered Stanton's reflexes, the meeting of ball against barrel echoing like a cannon blast.

Video: SEA@NYY: Stanton hits walk-off 117.9-mph, 453-foot HR

"I didn't even watch it land," Aaron Judge said. "Right when I heard it off the bat, I started trying to hop that little [dugout] fence and get out there. What a swing by him. To stay on a slider like that and deliver, that's awesome."

Cook dejectedly bent at the waist, while Stanton embraced a moment to enjoy the view. The drive carried toward the left-field bullpen, denting a connecting barrier next to the loading dock before ricocheting back onto the playing field.

Video: Stanton comes through with signature Yankee moment

Stanton screamed and grinned widely as he raced toward second base, a thick gold chain jangling out of his uniform top, while his teammates gathered at home plate. Even Masahiro Tanaka -- on the disabled list with a pair of strained hamstrings -- joined the crowd of leaping, ecstatic Bombers.

"Everybody knows the type of ballplayer he is," Sanchez said. "For him to come through there, I felt really good. I was never worried. He's got so much talent that at any given moment, he's going to be what he can be: an excellent ballplayer."

Video: SEA@NYY: Sanchez, Stanton, Boone on comeback victory

Unsure whether he should toss his helmet, Stanton instead spiked it, then felt a chill as Brett Gardner dumped the contents of a cooler on the infield. Hugs and handshakes continued as Stanton continued to grin broadly, savoring what he agreed had been his biggest hit as a Yankee so far.

"That ball was absolutely scalded," Boone said. "He's a different animal."

Video: SEA@NYY: Boone on Stanton's walk-off, comeback win

Stanton was asked whether he had ever heard the words "True Yankee Moment," the anticipation of a go-to highlight that has seemingly trailed every high-profile Bombers acquisition of recent vintage. Not really, he responded.

Told that this might be known as his, Stanton replied, "Cool. I'm part of it now."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

Most pressing questions facing AL East teams

While the Yanks and Red Sox look to add, the other three will weigh offers for current stars
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

The decision-makers for each team are entering the busy season, and their phones should be buzzing with possibilities. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31, and the buyers and sellers are crystal clear in the American League East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in search of the final pieces that can turn their already strong squads into juggernauts, while the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays will likely look to turn enticing trade chips into future gains.

The decision-makers for each team are entering the busy season, and their phones should be buzzing with possibilities. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31, and the buyers and sellers are crystal clear in the American League East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in search of the final pieces that can turn their already strong squads into juggernauts, while the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays will likely look to turn enticing trade chips into future gains.

• Non-waiver Trade Deadline explained

Here are the key questions for all five AL East clubs as the Deadline draws near.

BLUE JAYS
The question: Will Josh Donaldson recoup enough value in the coming weeks to justify a trade prior to the Deadline?

Donaldson hasn't played since May 28 because of a sore left calf muscle. Before that, a right shoulder injury caused him to miss three weeks in April. As a result, Donaldson has just five home runs and 16 RBIs as the end of June quickly approaches.

The 2015 AL Most Valuable Player Award winner is expected to return soon, but he'll need to bounce back in a hurry if the Blue Jays want to jumpstart a potential rebuild with a big July trade. A qualifying offer at the end of the year remains a possibility, but if Toronto can get a haul for Donaldson before the Deadline, that's the course of action it is expected to take.

ORIOLES
The question: Will superstar Manny Machado be traded?

Machado is a hot commodity on a last-place team, so it seems like a no-brainer that he will be moved. But it's not necessarily a sure thing, as the O's didn't like any of the offers they received during the offseason for their prized shortstop, who can be a free agent after the season.

So what will it take? Young, controllable talent -- preferably pitching -- is what Baltimore wanted last offseeason. Given that Machado is essentially a rental for the team that acquires him, the Orioles won't get an organization-changing haul, but there still will be a lot of pressure to get something of substance in return. Further complicating matters is that O's vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is also in the final year of his contact.

Video: MLB Tonight on the D-backs' interest in Machado

RAYS
The question: Will Chris Archer get traded?

Archer, who is on the disabled list with a left abdominal strain, has a deal that pays him $6.4 million this season and $7.7 million in 2019, which is relatively affordable compared to other pitchers of a similar talent level. So the question is, will Archer be healthy by the time the Deadline rolls around, and if he is, can the Rays find a suitable trade partner who values the right-hander enough to part with the prospect haul that they would want in return?

Of course, a trade for Archer, who is one of Tampa Bay's most popular players, would further signal the Rays' decision to get younger, which could have an adverse effect on the team's efforts to get public funding for a new stadium.

RED SOX
The question: Will the Red Sox get another impact arm in 'pen?

In his first two pennant races running Boston's front office, vice president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski bolstered his bullpen. In 2016, the Red Sox got Brad Ziegler, and he helped the team win the AL East. Addison Reed was similarly effective in helping Boston close out the division last year. With Carson Smith out for the season after injuring his shoulder and Tyler Thornburg still an uncertainty in his rehab from thoracic outlet syndrome, Dombrowski is likely going to have to hit the bullpen market again.

A power left-hander would be a particularly good fit for manager Alex Cora, considering all his best relief arms are right-handed. The cost for Padres southpaw Brad Hand could be exorbitant, but Dombrowski will stay in touch with San Diego all the way up to July 31. Baltimore's Zach Britton is another possibility.

YANKEES
The question: Can they add a starting pitcher?

General manager Brian Cashman has been searching for a starter since the offseason, when the team settled for re-signing CC Sabathia to a one-year contract with a belief that they could upgrade in late July if necessary. As anticipated, the rotation has proven to be a concern, with second-year lefty Jordan Montgomery out for the year due to Tommy John surgery and right-hander Masahiro Tanaka expected to miss a month after straining both hamstrings while running the bases in a game against the Mets.

Video: NYY@NYM: Tanaka feels stiffness in legs after scoring

The Yankees have patched things together by summoning righties Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga from the Minors, but with a postseason berth in sight, Cashman is open to dipping into the club's prospect reserves to add a stabilizing veteran like the Rangers' Cole Hamels or the Blue Jays' J.A. Happ. Cashman recently said that he has touched base with 20 of the 29 other clubs on some level, a number that will certainly inch closer to 29 as July 31 nears.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays

24 hours of games underway in Alaska

Summer solstice brings 113th Midnight Sun Game to Fairbanks
MLB.com

Major League Baseball is celebrating the 113th Midnight Sun Game today by organizing an unprecedented 24 hours of Play Ball events around this year's game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throughout the 24-hour period of daylight during summer solstice, MLB and its partners -- the American Legion, PONY Baseball and Softball, USA Baseball and USA Softball -- are hosting a number of baseball and softball activities for both adults and kids.

Major League Baseball is celebrating the 113th Midnight Sun Game today by organizing an unprecedented 24 hours of Play Ball events around this year's game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throughout the 24-hour period of daylight during summer solstice, MLB and its partners -- the American Legion, PONY Baseball and Softball, USA Baseball and USA Softball -- are hosting a number of baseball and softball activities for both adults and kids.

During the "Open Session" Play Ball events, approximately 600 youth players, ages 6 to 12, will run through informal baseball and softball stations. The day's other activities include games featuring baseball and softball organizations -- including the Armed Forces Softball League, American Legion, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and USA Baseball and USA Softball -- which culminates with the Midnight Sun Game.

The main event is between collegiate summer baseball teams, the Alaska Goldpanners and the Orange County Surf at Fairbanks' Growden Park. It's scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. local time and does not use any artificial light. The Midnight Sun Game was first played in 1906 and has been hosted annually by the Goldpanners since 1960, their first year of competition.

Billy Bean, a former big leaguer and MLB's vice president and special assistant to the Commissioner, will be in attendance. Bean was named the Goldpanners' Most Valuable Player in 1985.

Check back throughout the day for updates on this one-of-a-kind event.

June 21, 2018 -- 1:00 a.m.
How's this for a baseball sky at one o'clock in the morning?

June 21, 2018 -- 12:01 a.m.
The first of many batters on the day steps up to the plate as American Legion Post 30 faces American Legion Post 11 in Game 1 of 24 hours of Play Ball.

June 20, 2018 -- 11:56 p.m.
Bean, Rick Riccobono (chief development officer, USA Baseball) and David James (vice president, baseball and softball development, Major League Baseball) throw out the first pitch to begin the 24 hours of Play Ball in Fairbanks, Alaska in celebration of the summer solstice.

Shannon Ford is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon__Ford.

Injury updates: Darvish, Syndergaard, Gardner

MLB.com

Here's a roundup of the latest injury news across the Majors.

Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow, Cubs
Darvish threw 51 pitches in a three-inning simulated game at Wrigley Field on Wednesday.

Here's a roundup of the latest injury news across the Majors.

Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow, Cubs
Darvish threw 51 pitches in a three-inning simulated game at Wrigley Field on Wednesday.

Injury report

"Really good. I'll take it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the workout. "That was outstanding, actually. Great command, great jump on the fastball. His slider was there, and I think he threw one or two splitters at the end. You can't ask for anything more, he looked that good. The delivery was easy, solid. He had a smile on his face, so that means he probably felt pretty good about it. We'll evaluate it again tomorrow."

According to general manager Jed Hoyer, the next step could be a rehab start on Monday if Darvish passes all tests Thursday. The right-hander has been on the disabled list since May 23 with right triceps inflammation. More >

The Cubs placed Morrow on the 10-day disabled list Wednesday, retroactive to Sunday, with lower back tightness. Morrow hurt his back taking his pants off early Monday when he got home after the Cubs' road trip.

The Cubs will use a committee approach at closer in Morrow's absence, according to Maddon, with Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and Justin Wilson the most likely options to receive save chances. With Morrow unavailable, the Cubs turned to Wilson to close Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader, and the left-hander allowed two runs and took the loss. More >

Video: Maddon on placing Morrow on the DL with back injury

Noah Syndergaard, Mets
Syndergaard is progressing toward a mid-July return from a strained ligament in his right index finger. He threw off flat ground this week with a modified splint on the finger, and may be cleared to throw without it when he's examined by doctors later this week in New York.

"The symptoms have completely subsided," Syndergaard said. "My arm feels great. I feel like I'm throwing rockets."

Syndergaard will likely need multiple bullpen sessions and a Minor League rehab stint before coming off the disabled list. He hasn't pitched since May 25 in Milwaukee and was scheduled to return June 10 against the Yankees, but was scratched from that start when pain in his finger resurfaced. More >

Video: NYM@COL: Syndergaard discusses progress on his injury

Brett Gardner and Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Gardner was not in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game Wednesday due to right knee inflammation, but the Yankees expect the outfielder to avoid the disabled list.

Gardner's MRI exam this past weekend came back clean, and he said he did not need to get his knee drained or receive any injections. He took 30-40 swings in the batting cage prior to Tuesday's game. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he will likely refrain from starting Gardner on Thursday against the Mariners with southpaw James Paxton on the hill, but the 34-year-old could be back in the lineup Friday.

Boone also noted that Tanaka is still without a timetable to begin throwing off a mound. The right-hander has made some progress, however, playing catch multiple times since he went on the DL on May 9 with mild strains in both hamstrings. More >

Ryan Braun, Brewers
Braun missed Milwaukee's series finale vs. the Pirates on Wednesday because he was in Los Angeles undergoing a cryotherapy procedure on his right thumb to relieve nerve pain.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell said he believed it was the fifth time Braun has undergone such a procedure, with the first coming in 2014. The veteran outfielder is expected to rejoin the team on Thursday at Miller Park for the start of a series against the Cardinals, though it is unknown if he will be able to return to action immediately. More >

Michael Wacha, Cardinals
Wacha exited Wednesday's start vs. the Phillies with two outs in the fourth inning due to a left oblique strain. Wacha is 8-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 2018, ranking second on the Cardinals with 84 1/3 innings. His outing against Philadelphia was his shortest of the season. More >

Video: STL@PHI: Wacha on leaving game with an oblique strain

Franchy Cordero, Wil Myers, Austin Hedges and Bryan Mitchell, Padres
While Myers and Hedges are close to completing their respective rehab assignments, Cordero has been shut down indefinitely with a bone spur in his right elbow.

Cordero felt pain in his forearm while swinging Sunday on his rehab assignment with Triple-A El Paso, which led to an MRI. The outfielder is now weighing two options: Undergo surgery to remove the bone spur, which will require an estimated recovery time of 12 weeks, or rest for a month and re-evaluate the situation. Even if he doesn't opt for surgery now, Cordero will likely need to have the bone spur removed at some point.

With Joey Lucchesi returning to start Wednesday, the Padres placed Mitchell on the 10-day DL with a right elbow impingement. Mitchell, who hasn't appeared in a game since June 5, will rest for a few days before heading to the Padres' Spring Training complex to resume his throwing program. More >

Andrew Miller, Carlos Carrasco and Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians
Miller will continue to throw bullpen sessions as he works toward game activity, but there is no timetable for his return from right knee inflammation. Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said that Miller, who has been on the DL since May 26, will need a Minor League rehab stint before he can rejoin the Tribe.

Antonetti also noted that Carrasco is doing well but won't be able to resume a throwing program until the swelling subsides in his right elbow. Carrasco was hit in the arm by a line drive on Saturday vs. the Twins and went on the DL the next day.

The Indians played Wednesday's game vs. the White Sox without Chisenhall, who was scratched from the starting lineup with bilateral calf soreness. More >

Chris Taylor, Dodgers
Taylor exited Wednesday's game against the Cubs in the sixth inning for precautionary reasons with left hamstring tightness. The shortstop had an eventful day before leaving the contest. He required the attention of a trainer after fouling a ball off his left ankle in the first inning and was later thrown out at the plate while trying to score from third base on Justin Turner's flyout to right field. More >

Video: LAD@CHC: Roberts on Taylor leaving game in 6th inning

Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, Giants
After throwing a two-inning simulated game Tuesday, Cueto (right elbow sprain) will play catch Thursday before the Giants determine the right-hander's next step.

Samardzija, meanwhile, will make his next rehab start Thursday for Triple-A Sacramento.

"We're looking at 60 to 70 pitches, around that five-inning area, if all goes well," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Samardzija. More >

Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves
Acuna is progressing through what could be described as a mini-Spring Training at the Braves' complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 20-year-old phenom, who has been sidelined since suffering a mild sprain of his left anterior cruciate ligament on May 27, hasn't experienced any problems with his left knee as he's taken live batting practice and completed a variety of running exercises that have forced him to make sudden motions he'll experience in games.

If Acuna continues to progress, there's a chance he could join Triple-A Gwinnett within the next couple days to begin playing rehab games. The outfielder ranks as MLB Pipeline's top prospect. More >

Video: NYM@ATL: Acuna on being placed on the 10-day DL

Dustin Pedroia and Tyler Thornburg, Red Sox
It has been more than two weeks since Pedroia returned to the disabled list with inflammation in his surgically repaired left knee, and the Red Sox are still no closer to estimating when he might return to action. Though it is troubling to the club and Pedroia that the inflammation remains, despite limited activity the last few weeks, manager Alex Cora remains hopeful the veteran will play a role at some point this season.

In his recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder, Thornburg has been inconsistent in his Minor League rehab assignment, posting a 5.56 ERA in 14 outings for Triple-A Pawtucket and Double-A Portland. After giving up three runs on four hits in one-third of an inning on Sunday for Pawtucket, he is expected to make his next rehab appearance Thursday. More >

Astros hit 4 HRs, become 1st in MLB to 50 wins

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- The defending World Series-champion Astros became the first team in the Majors to reach 50 wins Wednesday night, doing it in electrifying fashion before a sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros blasted four solo homers, including back-to-back-to-back shots in the sixth inning, and rode six innings of one-run ball from starter Charlie Morton to beat the Rays, 5-1, for their 13th win in their last 14 games.

View Full Game Coverage

HOUSTON -- The defending World Series-champion Astros became the first team in the Majors to reach 50 wins Wednesday night, doing it in electrifying fashion before a sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros blasted four solo homers, including back-to-back-to-back shots in the sixth inning, and rode six innings of one-run ball from starter Charlie Morton to beat the Rays, 5-1, for their 13th win in their last 14 games.

View Full Game Coverage

"It's pretty cool to get off to a good start, but there's a lot, a lot of baseball left," Bregman said. "But I think we know that better than anybody."

George Springer, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve rocketed consecutive homers off Rays starter Nathan Eovaldi to lead off the sixth to put the Astros (50-26) ahead, 4-1. Altuve (3-for-4) also homered in the fourth, giving him his third career multi-homer game.

Video: TB@HOU: Altuve crushes 2 solo HRs against the Rays

"It's been like this for me all season long," Altuve said. "To have Springer and Bregman hitting in front of me, I get to see them hitting every single time. That kind of creates some momentum to me, and it gets me going."

It was the sixth time in franchise history that the Astros have hit three consecutive homers and the first since Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee did it against Brewers pitcher Carlos Villanueva on May 2, 2008.

"The way the game was going, you start thinking about manufacturing runs, you start thinking about how you're going to pull out a close win," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "It felt like the game was going to be kind of a make-or-break-type game on who could come up with the big hit. In a span of a few pitches ... what energy got put back into the building, and also our team. Pretty impressive."

Video: TB@HOU: Morton tosses 6 dominant innings

Morton (9-1) allowed one unearned run on two hits while throwing 96 pitches, working his way around four walks, all of which he issued after two outs. The only run Morton allowed came on a throwing error by first baseman Yuli Gurriel in the fourth, which put the Rays ahead, 1-0.

"Usually, if I get ahead quick, I get a little tempo going and I'm aggressive in the zone, and things usually work out," said Morton, who joined teammate Justin Verlander as a nine-game winner. "But I make a bad pitch or two, and then I lose the batter. I try to get back into my timing and delivery, and repeating my delivery. That's been a struggle for a few starts now."

Altuve hit a 410-foot homer off Eovaldi with one out in the fourth to tie the game, before Springer, Bregman and Altuve each blasted solo homers within seven pitches of each other in the sixth to push the lead to 4-1. Tony Kemp had an RBI single in the seventh.

Video: TB@HOU: Kemp plates Gattis with a single to right

"It definitely happened quick," Eovaldi said. "I think, after the Springer home run, I was a little more frustrated with my pitch location, where it was and how I got there. I think I had him 0-2, then he worked the count 2-2, then I missed with that fastball down and in when I was trying to go up and in. I just have to do a better job of executing my pitches in those situations."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Kemp makes impressive grab: After getting two outs to start the game, Morton gave up a double to Jake Bauers, walked Wilson Ramos and hit Joey Wendle to load the bases for Willy Adames, who hit a sinking fly ball to left-center field that Kemp caught on the dive to save at least two runs.

"That's probably the highlight of the game defensively for us," Hinch said. "Just because a lot of things can happen there. We're playing a little bit deep, and it looked like he got a little bit of a late start and then comes in with an acrobatic catch."

Video: TB@HOU: Kemp makes a spectacular diving grab

SOUND SMART
Bregman extended his on-base streak to 31 games, which is the second-longest active streak behind Shin-Soo Choo's 34-game streak for the Rangers.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Altuve's second homer was 112.3 mph off the bat, making it the hardest-hit ball he's had recorded by Statcast™ (start of 2015).

Video: TB@HOU: Altuve belts pair of 400+ ft. HRs to tracks

HE SAID IT
"I was actually talking to [pitching coach Brent Strom] down underneath the dugout, so I didn't get to see. I don't think I saw any of them. I saw one ball leave the park, but it was like, 'Should we go back up?'" -- Morton, on the three consecutive homers

UP NEXT
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (4-8, 4.15 ERA) will look to build on his good outing against the Royals last time out when he faces Kansas City for the second start in a row in Friday's 7:10 p.m. CT game at Minute Maid Park. Keuchel held the Royals without an earned run in six innings last Saturday. Left-hander Danny Duffy (3-7, 5.55) will start for the Royals for the second consecutive time against the Astros.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Charlie Morton

Are Trout, Betts & Ramirez the best trio ever?

Mike Trout is currently on pace for the greatest season since, well ... ever. Trout is at the top or near the top of every offensive category, he's already flown by a bunch of Hall of Famers in career WAR and he looks to be the runaway favorite for the 2018 AL MVP.

But it's not only the #FishGod who is performing at ludicrous levels of play. Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts have also been hilariously good in 2018. In fact, this 2018 "Big 3" have a chance to be one of, if not the, best Big 3 in a season in MLB history.

Heyward makes case for throw of the year

Play at plate highlights day of flashy defensive plays for Cubs