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Power Rankings: There's a new top dog in NL

D-backs slide past Mets in Senior Circuit; Red Sox maintain No. 1 spot overall
MLB.com @alysonfooter

This week's Power Rankings begin with a tip of the cap to several teams who are exceeding most preseason expectations placed upon them, and who could find themselves with higher positions in this space as soon as next week if they keep up this pace.

First up is the Athletics, who have won three straight, got a no-hitter from Sean Manaea vs. the Red Sox on Saturday, and have recorded wins in seven of their past eight games. The A's will continue their road series with the Rangers as one of four teams in the highly touted American League West with a winning record at 12-11, mere percentage points behind the 11-10 Mariners.

This week's Power Rankings begin with a tip of the cap to several teams who are exceeding most preseason expectations placed upon them, and who could find themselves with higher positions in this space as soon as next week if they keep up this pace.

First up is the Athletics, who have won three straight, got a no-hitter from Sean Manaea vs. the Red Sox on Saturday, and have recorded wins in seven of their past eight games. The A's will continue their road series with the Rangers as one of four teams in the highly touted American League West with a winning record at 12-11, mere percentage points behind the 11-10 Mariners.

Video: Must C Classic: Sean Manaea no-hits the Red Sox

The Braves and Phillies deserve some love as well. Philadelphia is 9-1 at home and has won seven straight at Citizens Bank Park. The Phils' home record marks their best start to a season since they began the 1964 campaign by going 9-1 in their first 10 games at Connie Mack Stadium, and they will enter play on Tuesday in second place in the National League East, a half-game behind the Mets. The Braves, at 12-9, have sported a better record so far than the 10-13 Nationals, who were picked by most as the favorites to win the division.

Biggest jump: The Cardinals jumped six spots, from No. 13 to No. 7. Sure, they've played most of their games in the past week-and-a-half against the 4-18 Reds, but still, the numbers are notable. During a current stretch that produced a four-game sweep in Cincinnati, a rain-shortened two-game series split with the Cubs at Wrigley Field and a home sweep over the Reds, Cards starting pitchers have gone 7-1 with a 2.35 ERA, allowing 14 earned runs over 53 2/3 innings while walking 19 and striking out 51.

Video: CIN@STL: Martinez throws six scoreless, fans seven

Biggest drop: The Pirates slipped six spots, from No. 11 to No. 17. The hot start has cooled in a big way. Since taking two of three over the Marlins, Pittsburgh has lost six of seven, including a four-game weekend sweep in Philadelphia. The Bucs are not hitting -- in those six losses, they scored just seven runs. Their only breakout game happened last Wednesday in a home game against the Rockies, when Pittsburgh scored 10.

Power Rankings Top 5

1. Red Sox (No. 1 last week)
The Red Sox had quite a weekend. They ended it with the best record in baseball still intact, but the Sox lost two in a row for the first time this season, with one of the losses a no-hitter by Manaea. Still, Boston is leading the Majors in many offensive categories, and its bullpen has been rock solid, stringing together 20 2/3 scoreless innings.

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

2. Astros (2)
The Astros opened their Seattle-Chicago road trip with a loss to the Mariners, marking their fifth defeat in six games. Then they reeled off six wins in a row, erasing the "slow start" speculation that had started to build around the defending World Series champs. In four games in Seattle, they outscored the Mariners, 21-6. Then they piled on 27 runs in three games in Chicago while holding the White Sox to two runs. Now comes a more challenging test: a long homestand with series against the Angels, A's and Yankees.

3. D-backs (5)
The D-backs, who have slid into the top of the Power Rankings among NL clubs, have won all seven series they've played so far in 2018; six against intradivision rivals. Based on early returns, this could be a breakout season for Patrick Corbin. The lefty struck out 11 Padres over six innings on Sunday and sports a 1.89 ERA and a 0.66 WHIP over five starts. He's walked six and struck out 48. Offensively, A.J. Pollock, the D-backs' primary cleanup hitter, has 16 RBIs and 14 extra-base hits through 20 games.

Video: SD@ARI: Corbin K's 11 over six, drills RBI single

4. Mets (3)
The Mets have returned to normalcy after their red-hot start, but with a respectable 14-6 record even after series losses in the past week to the Nationals and the Braves, they remain in the Top 5 of the Power Rankings. New York has already made one major tweak, shifting Matt Harvey to the bullpen. Now the Mets have to figure out how to use him. High-leverage situations? Late innings? Harvey is not happy about his removal from the rotation, and it will be interesting to see how he responds when he's called upon from the 'pen.

Video: Harvey, Callaway on Harvey moving to bullpen

5. Indians (9)
Their 12-8 record isn't necessarily eye-popping, but the Indians have turned it on lately due in part to impressive pitching performances. The Tribe has won nine of its past 12 games, allowing three runs or fewer in 11 of those 12 games. The Indians own the second-best ERA in the Majors at 2.57.

The rest of the Top 20
6. Angels (4)
7. Cardinals (13)
8. Nationals (8)
9. Yankees (6)
10. Dodgers (10)
11. Cubs (7)
12. Blue Jays (12)
13. Brewers (16)
14. Phillies (17)
15. Rockies (15)
16. Twins (14)
17. Pirates (11)
18. Braves (19)
19. Mariners (18)
20. Giants (20)

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Epstein: Ortiz asked for a trade in 2003

MLB.com

Three World Series rings and more than 500 homers later, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox once agonized over whether to play David Ortiz or Shea Hillenbrand.

But that was exactly the debate in Boston's front office during the 2003 season. Ortiz had been signed in January after the Twins non-tendered him following a .266/.348/.461 line with 58 home runs in 1,693 plate appearances. Hillenbrand was coming off an All-Star sophomore campaign. With Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller manning the corner infield slots, Theo Epstein had a roster crunch and a key decision to make.

Three World Series rings and more than 500 homers later, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox once agonized over whether to play David Ortiz or Shea Hillenbrand.

But that was exactly the debate in Boston's front office during the 2003 season. Ortiz had been signed in January after the Twins non-tendered him following a .266/.348/.461 line with 58 home runs in 1,693 plate appearances. Hillenbrand was coming off an All-Star sophomore campaign. With Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller manning the corner infield slots, Theo Epstein had a roster crunch and a key decision to make.

Boston's GM at the time, now the Cubs' president of baseball operations, explained on this week's episode of Executive Access:

"David Ortiz hit all of two home runs in the first [two months] of the 2003 season and in mid-May had his agent come and ask me for a trade to somewhere he could play more regularly," Epstein said. "Fernando Cuza came to talk to me and I told Cuza at the time that David was someone we wanted to get everyday at-bats, but we just needed to pare down the roster a little bit. We ended up trading Hillenbrand instead of David Ortiz, so I guess that was a good decision in hindsight. David got regular playing time and ended up hitting close to 30 homers in the second half of the season and was off and running as Big Papi."

Hillenbrand was dealt to Arizona for Byung-Hyun Kim in late May, Ortiz finished the season with 31 homers and the Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918 a year later.

To hear more from Epstein, including how the Red Sox almost hired Joe Maddon instead of Terry Francona, listen to the full episode of Executive Access here:

On Executive Access, MLB.com executive reporter Mark Feinsand provides a unique look at the people building Major League teams by engaging in candid interviews with front-office personnel from around MLB. Each week, you'll find out how they broke into the game, why they do what they do and how they envision the future of baseball. Look out for new episodes on Tuesdays. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.

13 great pitcher reactions to incredible catches

We like to think that pitchers are in control. They dictate the pace and flow of the game. With sheer strength of will, they can overpower batters and keep them from hitting it in play. Or, through pinpoint control, they can influence the direction the ball is hit.

But, just like all of us, they are subject to the whims and passing fancies of chaos. That's where the fielders come in.

Japanese iron man who broke Gehrig's mark dies

On Sept. 6, 1995, Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's seemingly unbreakable streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. Confetti flew, balloons floated into the air and Cal took a full lap around Camden Yards to celebrate a seminal moment in baseball history. Even President Bill Clinton was in attendance.

But that wasn't the last mark that Ripken had to break. While he'd passed Gehrig to become MLB's iron man, the worldwide professional record sat at 2,215 -- held by Japan's Sachio Kinugasa, a remarkable player and person who passed away on Monday at the age of 71.

Indians, Cubs and what might have been

Ahead of first matchup between two teams since 2016 Fall Classic, we look back at Game 7
MLB.com @castrovince

They met, by chance, on Michigan Avenue, the would-be World Series hero and the general manager of a title team 108 years in the making.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis spends his offseasons in his native Chicago, where Jed Hoyer and the rest of the Cubs were the toast of the town in that winter following the 2016 season. The two crossed paths there among the upscale shops that line the Magnificent Mile, and what might have otherwise been a quick nod of recognition, instead became an opportunity to connect and dissect a World Series for the ages, mere weeks after it wrapped.

They met, by chance, on Michigan Avenue, the would-be World Series hero and the general manager of a title team 108 years in the making.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis spends his offseasons in his native Chicago, where Jed Hoyer and the rest of the Cubs were the toast of the town in that winter following the 2016 season. The two crossed paths there among the upscale shops that line the Magnificent Mile, and what might have otherwise been a quick nod of recognition, instead became an opportunity to connect and dissect a World Series for the ages, mere weeks after it wrapped.

"We ended up standing there talking for a while," Hoyer says.

Video: WS2016 Gm7: Cubs win World Series with Game 7 win

Shared respect emanates from being on separate sides of an enrapturing experience like 2016's four-hour, 28-minute Game 7. So it was in that Streeterville scene in which a ring-bearer and a runner-up could converse cordially, and so it will be on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Cleveland's Progressive Field, where the Indians and Cubs will have their first formal meeting since one of the greatest games any of us has ever seen.

"At the core of it," says Kipnis, "we're still baseball kids who know how great that Series was."

The unspoken but understood undertone of the Kipnis-Hoyer conversation and this Cubs-Indians reunion is how thin the line separating these squads really was.

In another world, with another swing on a hanging slider, Kipnis would have represented -- to Hoyer and to all the other Cubs fans walking Michigan Avenue that day -- not just an October opponent but the embodiment of an unkillable curse, the Chicago kid who lived on the same street as Steve Bartman and grew up to keep the billy goat breathing.

Had that happened, the sense of urgency currently surrounding a small-market Cleveland club with the longest active championship drought in the game would instead apply to a Cubs team perhaps still trying to shake the curse conversation.

"I think we're all kidding ourselves if we think the difference between the winning and the losing is big," Hoyer says. "It's not as big as it might seem."

To many, that difference emanated from a 17-minute rain delay that's been romanticized in Cubs lore as the long-suffering franchise's moment of spiritual awakening and literal cleansing, en route to the 8-7 triumph in the 10th.

It's a pretty good story.

This is not that story. This is the story of what happened just before the rain put a pause in the proceedings. The inning in-between Rajai Davis' moment of game-tying glory and Jason Heyward's Knute Rockne-like role in the visiting weight room gets lost in the shuffle of the Game 7 narrative. But in pure baseball terms, it's an inning that allowed the Cubs to steal the Tribe's thunder and seal the way we think about 2016.

Video: WS2016 Gm7: Davis ties game with clutch two-run homer

This is the story of the ninth inning and the three small moments that, if altered ever so slightly, would have created an entirely different conversation on Michigan Avenue that winter day and at Progressive Field this week.

The Leadoff Walk
In the broadcast feed from the start of the ninth, interspersed with the images of Indians fans excitedly stirring in the stands, there is a shot of a sweating, stunned Aroldis Chapman sitting in the Cubs dugout and a quick cut to Davis, whose heroic homer had tied the tilt at 6 mere minutes earlier. Davis is shown glancing into the heavens with the dazed expression of a man who can't believe what he just did.

"Everybody on our side," Davis says now, "felt everything shift in our direction."

Then, Cody Allen throws the first pitch of the ninth to David Ross.

And it's a ball.

"I literally wasn't able to feel my legs," says Allen, who at that point had recorded the last four outs for the Indians. "I went out there and freaking walked the leadoff guy."

On the surface, it might seem that walk had no bearing on the ballgame, for here's how the rest of the half-inning played out:

• Ross was replaced by pinch-runner Chris Coghlan, who was forced out at second on Heyward's ground ball to Kipnis.

• Terry Francona summoned reliever Bryan Shaw. Heyward stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Yan Gomes, but the Indians caught a break when Joe Maddon had Javier Baez bunt with two strikes, resulting in a foul ball for strike three.

Video: WS2017 Gm7: Shaw strikes out Baez on foul bunt

• With two out, Dexter Fowler sent a one-hopper up the middle that drifted right of the second-base bag. Shortstop Francisco Lindor ranged hard to his left to make the stop and the perfect strike to first for the third out, leaping and raising his arms as the crowd went wild.

"When Dexter hit that ball, my wife hugged me," Hoyer says. "But Lindor made an amazing play. It's like, 'You were just hugging me a second ago...'"

Video: Must C Clips: Lindor keeps game tied in the 9th

The Indians had done their job to maintain the momentum from the Davis homer.

Yet the leadoff walk still haunts Allen.

"If I would have gotten Ross out, I could have finished the inning," Allen says. "Then the rain delay wouldn't have affected Shaw."

Because of the delay, Shaw, who by that point was into his 77th inning of work of the season, had roughly a 30-minute break between pitches. Maybe it was Heyward's speech that properly pumped up the Cubs in advance of their extra-inning awakening at the plate, or maybe Allen's hypothesis has merit.

Whatever the case there, it's clear the freebie baserunner -- parlayed with Gomes' error at second -- did have consequence in another way. Because when the Cubs got their runner to third that inning, Francona replaced Coco Crisp in right field with Michael Martinez, who had the stronger throwing arm. This would come back to bite the Tribe when Martinez, owner of a .197 career average and .507 OPS, was due to hit with two out, the tying run at first and no bats left on the bench in the 10th. (Martinez's game-ending groundout might have been the only predictable outcome in an otherwise surreal Game 7.)

So the leadoff walk meant nothing, and it meant everything.

"I've thought about that walk a lot," Allen says. "A lot."

Video: WS2016 Gm7: Allen doesn't allow hit over two frames

The Hanging Slider
Carlos Santana still thinks about what happened next.

The Indians had the top-third of their order due up in the bottom of the ninth against a gassed Chapman, who had just surrendered his first homer since June 18 and thrown 87 pitches in three games over four days. The conditions were aligned in favor of the Indians getting the winning run across and ending a 68-year title drought of their own.

"It's like two years ago," Santana says, "but I can still see myself there."

He was there leading off the inning and putting up the kind of disciplined at-bat that would eventually earn him a lucrative contract with the Phillies. Santana went to the plate hunting a fastball, but Chapman went slider-heavy and fell behind, 3-1, looking more vulnerable than ever.

"A situation like that," Chapman says through an interpreter, "we have to be mentally tough, because it's the end of it all, it's the end of the whole season."

If Chapman walks Santana in that spot, he's in the same jam Allen had been earlier in the inning. He had to challenge the hitter, and he had to do it with diminished stuff. Chapman's next pitch was a fastball that came in not at his typical 101 mph, but rather 96.5 mph and elevated in the zone. The notoriously patient Santana took the pitch for strike two.

"My approach is don't swing at that pitch," Santana says. "I was trying to look middle-in, but it was middle away. I had another opportunity at 3-2. He had more pressure. I remember that he threw a 3-2 slider."

It wasn't just any 3-2 slider. Chapman's sixth pitch to Santana was what can only be described as a meatball, coming in at 84.8 mph and hanging over the heart of the plate despite catcher Miguel Montero's low target.

Santana just misses the mark
Santana swung and connected, but not off the barrel of the bat. What could have been Santana's Mazeroski moment was, instead, a lazy fly to left. Santana's body language -- a frustrated hop out of the batter's box -- said it all. Chapman had given him the kind of pitch that can put a hitter in the history books, and he missed it by a fraction of an inch.

"It happened," Santana says. "The pitch is emotion, the swing is emotion, everything is emotion. It's tough."

The crazy thing isn't that Chapman got away with such a huge mistake in such a huge spot.

It's that he got away with another one against the very next batter.

That was Kipnis, the Chicago kid.

The Hanging Slider, Part II
Kipnis' story had been an easy media magnet. The Northbrook, Ill., native was painted as a one-time bleeder of Cubbie blue now thrust into the awkward position of facing the North Siders on the Series stage.

As is often the case, the truth was more nuanced.

"It's not like I was a season-ticket holder when I was 7 years old," he says with a laugh. "They were blowing it out of proportion. I went to White Sox games, too. I was a baseball fan. If they really wanted to dig deep, they'd find out the Cardinals were probably my favorite team for a few years with Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen."

But Kipnis' Cubs connection was real from the standpoint that his Facebook feed was loaded with Cubs love from old pals, and four of Kipnis' best friends are season-ticket holders at Wrigley.

"It's weird," he says. "You take on this villainous mindset. Your friends, people who have been in your corner for everything, all of a sudden they're all against you. So you kind of buy into it. That urge to be liked, to be friends with people? That just went straight out the window. I wanted nothing more than to piss all of them off and then smile at them."

Had he done just that, Kipnis would be as infamous in Cubs' lore as his old Northbrook neighbor, Bartman, who also went to the same school as Kipnis and his siblings.

Video: Kipnis discusses hard loss for Indians after Game 7

"He was on our bus going to St. Norbert's [School]," Kipnis says. "He was more my sister's age, who's the oldest. I remember there being cop cars outside his house for like a month after what happened [in the 2003 National League Championship Series] just to make sure nobody came to his property."

As in the Santana at-bat, Chapman abandoned his fastball in favor of a not-so-sharp slider. Kipnis took the first one for a borderline strike one. The second one was wide, and Kipnis let it pass for ball one.

The 1-1 pitch is the one that still stings for Kipnis. He didn't assume it would be another slider.

"You're expecting one or two sliders, but never back-to-back-to-back," he says. "You still have to defend against that fastball. People say he threw right over the plate. Well, you try to be on time for both pitches. It's easier said than done."

That's why Kipnis' swing was just the slightest tick ahead of the 83.9-mph slider -- a pitch virtually identical to the one Santana had gotten at 3-2. Kipnis connected. And if you were watching on TV, or in the seating sections directly behind home plate, that connection looked climactic.

"When he swung the bat, my heart just stopped," Hoyer says. "I thought we had just been walked off."

The thought lasted all of a second or two, because the batted ball that could have changed the course of history instead took its own curved course into the seats down the right-field line, well short of the foul pole.

"I was out in front and hooked it just enough," Kipnis says. "It had enough English on it that it was taking a right turn a third of the way down the line."

Video: WS Gm7 CHC@CLE: Kipnis laces one foul in the 9th

Chapman continued to flirt with disaster. He threw Kipnis a total of six sliders in that at-bat, three of them hanging. The last came on a 3-2 pitch that, again, Kipnis just missed, fouling it straight back and angrily spinning out of the box. Chapman somehow finished Kipnis off with a 97.4-mph fastball that badly missed above the strike zone after Montero set his glove low and away. Kipnis swung through it for strike three.

And when Chapman retired Lindor on a first-pitch popout with probably his best pitch of the outing -- a 98-mph fastball on the inside corner -- he had somehow survived an inning that, on stuff alone, he had little business surviving.

Video: WS2016 Gm7: Chapman retires Lindor to end the 9th

"That was a big tone-setter," says Kyle Schwarber, who led off the Cubs' 10th. "For Chapman to do what he did, given the circumstances [the Davis homer] that were still probably on his mind at that time, was impressive."

Kipnis expressed regret about his at-bat against Chapman.

"This guy's tired at 98, 99 mph," he says. "But being tired, he was starting to catch more of the plate. I think it was hard for all of us that inning not to think of trying to end it with just one swing. You want to be a hero. But adding effort to that at-bat versus that kind of velo is not the way to go about it. Staying short and singling him to death would have been a better approach."

The better approach came from the Cubs, against Shaw, in the 10th inning that cemented their legend.

The Reunion
Even in a sport that demands daily prioritizing of the present, Game 7 maintains a real resonance with those who played it.

Outside the Cubs' home clubhouse is the giant replication of the fan chalk art that colored Wrigley's brick walls in the wake of the victory. Inside, on a recent day, a stack of reprints of the Sports Illustrated cover celebrating the triumph sat next to a Sharpie marker, awaiting the signature of cover boy Anthony Rizzo.

Cubs fans might be frustrated by the 2017 NLCS exit and a ho-hum start to the season, but the members of the 2016 club have a permanent place in hearts, minds and Chicagoland card shows.

"Even now," Schwarber says, "even with where we're at in the season, sometimes I still catch myself thinking back on it. It's just a special time."

The opposite is true in Cleveland, where Game 7 is still the source of some sleepless nights.

"I can sit here and tell you that I've turned the page on it, and for the most part I did," Allen says. "But there is a day a month, a few days a year, where I'm just wide awake at night. I don't know if that's the right way to handle it or not, but that's the way I handle it. … I'll just say this: I kept track of the Cubs last year. I knew their record, I knew who they were playing. That's probably not the best way to do it, either, because it's a new year and I probably should have been keeping track of the damn Yankees and not the Cubs. So hopefully we can use all of that as a learning experience."

The experience of having a World Series title within reach is something the Indians and Cubs are both chasing again here in 2018. Kipnis was asked what it would mean to again be in that situation, with a ring on the line and the bat in his hands.

"It means I did something right, it means this team did something right," he says. "That's all any player ever wants is the redemption. To get right back in that situation? Where do I sign? I would love that."

He'll settle, for now, for an opportunity to impact an Interleague series with the Cubs -- a reunion that reminds us how the slightest separation in a single inning can create a lasting legacy. 

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. MLB.com reporters Todd Zolecki and Bryan Hoch contributed to this story.

Cleveland Indians, Jason Kipnis

Jenny Cavnar makes history with play-by-play

Jenny Cavnar is no stranger to the game of baseball -- she's been working in MLB for 12 years. And on Monday night, she became the first woman since 1993 to do play-by-play on a big league telecast. 

"I am very excited about tonight," Cavnar told MLB.com's Thomas Harding. "I'm really honored on the historical context of it, but I'm more so excited for the team effort. We have such a great team of broadcasters, producers, directors -- so it'll be really fun to collaborate with them and do the game tonight."

Strained hamstring lands Avisail on DL

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The White Sox on Tuesday placed outfielder Avisail Garcia on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring and recalled outfielder Daniel Palka from Triple-A Charlotte.

Palka, 26, is batting .286 (18-63) with three doubles, three home runs, seven RBI and 11 runs scored in 17 games this season, his first in the White Sox organization after being claimed off waivers from Minnesota on November 4, 2017. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Palka, who bats and throws left-handed, is tied for the International League lead in homers and tied for second in runs scored and walks (10).

García, 26, suffered the injury in the second inning of last night's victory against the Mariners. He is hitting .233 (17-73) with one home run, four RBI and five runs scored in 18 games this season. García was an American League All-Star in 2017.

CHICAGO -- The White Sox on Tuesday placed outfielder Avisail Garcia on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring and recalled outfielder Daniel Palka from Triple-A Charlotte.

Palka, 26, is batting .286 (18-63) with three doubles, three home runs, seven RBI and 11 runs scored in 17 games this season, his first in the White Sox organization after being claimed off waivers from Minnesota on November 4, 2017. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Palka, who bats and throws left-handed, is tied for the International League lead in homers and tied for second in runs scored and walks (10).

García, 26, suffered the injury in the second inning of last night's victory against the Mariners. He is hitting .233 (17-73) with one home run, four RBI and five runs scored in 18 games this season. García was an American League All-Star in 2017.

Chicago White Sox, Avisail Garcia, Daniel Palka

Why Stanton's slow start will be distant memory

Slugger's strikeout rate is up to 33 percent, but exit velocity is up, too
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Each week on the Statcast™ Podcast, hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers dig into the world of Statcast™ and advanced metrics, exploring the most important topics in baseball through the lens of the groundbreaking Statcast™ technology. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.

Giancarlo Stanton's first few weeks in pinstripes haven't exactly gone as planned, to say the least. He's already been booed. Stanton has been dropped in the lineup, swapping places with Didi Gregorius. On the whole, he hasn't looked all that much like the monster slugger who edged out Joey Votto to win the 2017 National League Most Valuable Player Award, and any time a star comes to the Bronx and gets off to a slow start -- he was hitting .185/.283/.395 entering Monday's game -- fans begin to worry.

Each week on the Statcast™ Podcast, hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers dig into the world of Statcast™ and advanced metrics, exploring the most important topics in baseball through the lens of the groundbreaking Statcast™ technology. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.

Giancarlo Stanton's first few weeks in pinstripes haven't exactly gone as planned, to say the least. He's already been booed. Stanton has been dropped in the lineup, swapping places with Didi Gregorius. On the whole, he hasn't looked all that much like the monster slugger who edged out Joey Votto to win the 2017 National League Most Valuable Player Award, and any time a star comes to the Bronx and gets off to a slow start -- he was hitting .185/.283/.395 entering Monday's game -- fans begin to worry.

Should they? Stanton's slump was a topic of this week's Statcast™ podcast, as we dug into what the data says about his slow start. The takeaway is that his early slump is concerning, but it's not like we've never seen him do this before -- and his 4-for-4 performance on Monday, including a 435-foot home run, may be the sign that the tide is turning.

While Stanton was the first "exit velocity hero" when Statcast™ came online in 2015, leading the Majors with a 95.9 mph average exit velocity that year, what was most fascinating about the success that followed was that he stopped hitting it quite so hard, seemingly trading top-end power for a better contact rate.

2015 -- 29.9 percent strikeout rate, 95.9 mph exit velocity
2016 -- 29.8 percent strikeout rate, 93.8 mph exit velocity
2017 -- 23.6 percent strikeout rate, 91.9 mph exit velocity

But so far in 2018, that trend has changed. Stanton's exit velocity is back up to 94.8 mph, a top-15 mark. Yet the strikeout rate, which had dropped almost to league average in '17, is back up to 33 percent. That's a strikeout one-third of the time, and it's essentially one of the 10 highest in the game.

So what's going on? Let's first prove the fact that we have seen this before.

Since Stanton's June 2010 debut, he's played in 43 months. Let's look only at the 41 months in which he had at least 40 plate appearances to see where the first month of the '18 season ranks in some important metrics.

33 percent strikeout rate: Sixth highest
Even in today's whiff-happy game, a 33 percent strikeout rate is high. Even so, we've seen Stanton go through these stretches before. Now, one of those was his first season in the big leagues, when he whiffed 38.3 percent of the time in June 2010. Stanton was at 37 percent in September/October 2012, and between 33-35 percent in three other months, too. Remember when he went through that terrible summer slump in '16? We've seen this before.

53 percent ground-ball rate: Third highest
While most of Stanton's issues are about making contact, it's not entirely about that, either. More than half of the balls that he is making contact with are ending up on the ground, the third-highest mark of his career, behind only last September (58 percent) and July 2011 (56 percent). Even when you hit as hard as Stanton does, getting it in the air is important.

30.2 percent opposite field rate: Second highest (tied)
Speaking of unexpected batted-balls tendencies ... Stanton is also hitting a shockingly high number of balls to the opposite field. For his career, he's pulled 43 percent of his batted balls, and put 21 percent to the opposite field. So far this month, Stanton is hitting nearly one-third of them to the opposite field, tied with May 2014, and behind only September 2014 (35 percent), when he hit just .230.

Video: TOR@NYY: Stanton drills a two-run home run to right

.342 Weighted On-Base Average: 10th lowest
Think of wOBA as being like OBP, except it gives more credit for extra-base hits, which is important to someone like Stanton. The Major League average wOBA this year, excluding pitchers, is .319. Right away, that should tell you something: Even a month that makes us wonder what's wrong with Stanton is still an above-average month. If you like OPS+, he's 10 percent better than average. If you like wRC+, he's 14 percent better than average. So yes, for Stanton, this is below average. For everyone else, this is a good month.

.362 Expected Weighted On-Base Average: Eighth lowest (of 16)
This one goes back only until the start of 2015, so it's only of 16 months, not Stanton's full career. This metric is basically the same as wOBA, except that instead of telling you what actually happened, it tells you what was expected to happen, based on the qualities of batted-ball contact, along with strikeouts and walks. (Think about it this way; if a batter crushes a ball that's a hit 98 percent of the time, but he is robbed by a fantastic defensive play, he'll get an out in the box score, but we still want to credit him for the skill he showed in squaring the ball up.)

This mark, believe it or not, is only slightly below Stanton's .378 total xwOBA since 2015. This is a slow start for him, but based on the underlying characteristics, not by as much as you'd think.

We've seen Stanton do this, and worse, before. He's always bounced back. There's no reason to think he won't again -- and Monday's great game might be the start of the turnaround.

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

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

Braves recall prospect Fried from Triple-A

MLB.com @mlbbowman

CINCINNATI -- Max Fried has been promoted to the Major League level to provide the Braves the long-relief option they might need over the remainder of this week.

The Braves recalled Fried and designated right-handed reliever Miguel Socolovich for assignment before Tuesday night's game against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

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CINCINNATI -- Max Fried has been promoted to the Major League level to provide the Braves the long-relief option they might need over the remainder of this week.

The Braves recalled Fried and designated right-handed reliever Miguel Socolovich for assignment before Tuesday night's game against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

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Fried had been scheduled to start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, so there will not be any innings limitations if the Braves were to need him to make a long-relief appearance within the next few days. Once the left-hander is utilized in this role, he'll likely return to the Triple-A level to serve as a starting pitcher.

When the Braves chose Matt Wisler to make an emergency start for Anibal Sanchez on Thursday, there was a possibility Fried would have been promoted to take each of Sanchez's next few turns. But that plan evaporated when Wisler earned another start by limiting the Mets to one run on two hits over seven innings.

Ranked as the Braves' No. 7 prospect and No. 83 overall, Fried has posted a 1.72 ERA while totaling 15 2/3 innings over the three starts he's made for Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi this year. The 24-year-old southpaw produced a 3.81 ERA over 26 innings after making his Major League debut for Atlanta last year. 

Socolovich allowed three earned runs, needing 37 pitches to complete the eighth inning of Monday night's 10-4 loss to the Reds.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.

Atlanta Braves, Max Fried, Miguel Socolovich

Halos, Skaggs top 'Stros; Ohtani up next

MLB.com @alysonfooter

HOUSTON -- Having just shuffled through a tough six-game stretch that produced only one win, the Angels knew they were in for a test against the Astros this week.

They passed the first one with high marks, topping the Astros, 2-0, to take the opener on Monday night at Minute Maid Park before they send Shohei Ohtani to the mound for the second game of the series.

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HOUSTON -- Having just shuffled through a tough six-game stretch that produced only one win, the Angels knew they were in for a test against the Astros this week.

They passed the first one with high marks, topping the Astros, 2-0, to take the opener on Monday night at Minute Maid Park before they send Shohei Ohtani to the mound for the second game of the series.

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In advance of Ohtani's start, they received a stellar outing from lefty Tyler Skaggs, who has been nearly unhittable on the road this season. The left-hander lowered his road ERA even more with seven scoreless frames, walking one batter and striking out three. For the year, he has allowed only one earned run on the road, spanning 18 1/3 innings. That's a 0.49 road ERA.

Video: LAA@HOU: Skaggs K's three over seven scoreless frames

"That's what Tyler can do," manager Mike Scioscia said. "A lot of ground balls, controlled counts, had the good two-seamer pitch, good changeup, his breaking ball was there again. In contrast to some of the games he's struggled, he was commanding counts very well. A lot of weak contact. It was a strong seven innings."

The game ended on a bit of a surprising note, as an Astros ninth-inning rally was cut short when a safe call on Yuli Gurriel's slide into third was overturned for the final out. With runners on first and second, Gurriel tried to advance to third when the ball briefly got away from catcher Martin Maldonado on a pitch in the dirt.

"It's a tough way to end the game, but I can't fault Yuli for trying to be aggressive," Astros manager AJ Hinch said.

The Angels, who will face the top three ERA leaders in the American League during their series in Houston, managed two runs off Gerrit Cole, whose 0.96 ERA entering this start was the second lowest in the AL. Cole took a perfect game into the fifth before the Angels squeezed out a run on Kole Calhoun's base hit to right, and they added one more in the sixth behind Justin Upton's double, which scored Mike Trout from third.

Video: LAA@HOU: Upton belts an RBI double to left-center

Cole was good, but Skaggs was better. With a somewhat taxed bullpen and the losses piling up, Skaggs gave the Angels exactly what they needed. His outing was a massive improvement over his prior start, against the Red Sox, in which he allowed six runs over 4 1/3 innings.

He acknowledged that an abundance of changeups helped temper his pitch count, which has been an issue lately. In two of his prior three outings, he exceeded 100 pitches while not lasting past the fifth inning.

"I got a lot of one-pitch outs," Skaggs said. "I think the changeup and the two-seamer were very apparent.

"It was working. I was throwing it early and often. I think it's a huge pitch going forward."

In the next week, the Angels will play the two teams that met in the AL Championship Series in 2017 -- the Astros, who they're playing in Houston this week, and the Yankees, who they'll host this weekend. Monday's win helped the Angels further distance themselves from a 1-5 homestand that included a sweep by the Red Sox and a series loss to the Giants.

"Every day brings a tough game," Scioscia said. "Whether we're at home or on the road, we need to do things better than we've been doing this last week. And what was really encouraging was being able to come in to a park like this, with a team that obviously has a terrific offense, and to be able to make big pitches and get outs."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Right-hander Justin Anderson, a graduate of St. Pius X High School and an avid Astros fan as a youngster growing up in Houston, made his big league debut in the very ballpark where he spent so much time watching the game as a fan.

With approximately 50 friends, family and former teammates from the University of Texas-San Antonio watching from the stands, Anderson was called upon in the eighth inning, tasked with protecting the Angels' slim two-run lead. He recorded quick outs on Max Stassi and Josh Reddick, both pinch-hitting, before yielding back-to-back hits to George Springer and Jose Altuve. The inning ended when Anderson struck out Houston's No. 3 hitter, Carlos Correa.

Anderson has homecoming to remember

"Working with [Maldonado], he did a really good job working with me back there," Anderson said. "That whole game plan was to listen to him, trust my stuff. I heard the crowd [during Correa's at-bat] and … I told myself, 'Hush them. Get them to be quiet.' And that's what I did."

Video: LAA@HOU: Anderson makes MLB debut in his hometown

SOUND SMART
Skaggs has thrown 15 scoreless innings at Minute Maid Park over three starts dating back to Aug. 26 of last season.

HE SAID IT
"We know that that team over there is a really good team. They're standing in front of us. They're in our way. They are the defending champs, and we know that. We had to send a message. I feel like we did that tonight." -- Keynan Middleton, who fanned two in the ninth en route to his sixth save of the season

Video: LAA@HOU: Maldonado's throw helps Middleton earn save

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Astros' bid for a comeback in the ninth was thwarted abruptly on a tag play at third base that ended the game. Middleton threw an 0-2 pitch in the dirt, forcing Maldonado to scamper to his left to retrieve it. Gurriel attempted to advance to third and was originally called safe by third-base umpire Cory Blaser. A replay showed that Luis Valbuena got his glove down just ahead of Gurriel's hand.

UP NEXT
Ohtani will take the mound for his first career start against the Astros on Tuesday at 5:10 p.m. PT. With another win this month, Ohtani can become the first player in Major League history with three wins and three home runs in April. Charlie Morton starts for Houston.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Los Angeles Angels

These are the Top 30 international prospects

MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

Long before Louis Eljaua rose to special assistant to the president and general manager of the Cubs, he was the young and energetic top international scout for the Marlins. Back then, his boss was Al Avila, now the general manager for the Tigers.

Eljaua vividly recalls a conversation with Avila in 1998 like it happened yesterday. Each time he tells the story of that famous call, he puts his right thumb to his ear and talks into his right pinkie like it's the old hotel phone he used.

Long before Louis Eljaua rose to special assistant to the president and general manager of the Cubs, he was the young and energetic top international scout for the Marlins. Back then, his boss was Al Avila, now the general manager for the Tigers.

Eljaua vividly recalls a conversation with Avila in 1998 like it happened yesterday. Each time he tells the story of that famous call, he puts his right thumb to his ear and talks into his right pinkie like it's the old hotel phone he used.

Top 30 International Prospects list

"I found the guy, Al! I found the guy our owner was looking for. He's 15. Come to Venezuela," Eljaua shrieked through the phone.

Avila, who was in Miami at the time, was not pleased to hear the news. The Marlins had never spent more than $30,000 on an international teen.

Top International Prospects

"Are you crazy, Louis? [Owner] John Henry gives us money and you are going to spend it all on your first trip and the first kid you see? Are you trying to get us all fired? What is wrong with you?"

"I know, I know," Eljaua answered. "Just come see the kid. He's good. You won't be sorry."

That kid was Miguel Cabrera. And less than a year later, the teenager signed with the Marlins for $1.8 million to launch his future Hall of Fame career and forever set the standard for international teenage prospects.

The hunt for the next Cabrera continues, and each year an increasing number of prospects sign when the international signing period begins on July 2; hundreds more will join Major League organizations later this summer.

Led by catcher Diego Cartaya -- who like Cabrera is from Maracay, Venezuela -- the players on MLB Pipeline's 2018 Top 30 International Prospects list represent the greatest young talent from across the globe eligible to sign on July 2.

The ultimate goal is nabbing a baseball unicorn like Cabrera. But signing a horse like Cartaya, a hard-hitting catcher with advanced skills, or other emerging international prospects also offer teams options.

Video: Top International Prospects: Diego Cartaya, C

Remember, the Cubs traded top teen Gleyber Torres of Venezuela to the Yankees as part of a deal for Aroldis Chapman in 2016, and the rest is World Series history. Last year, they traded the Dominican Republic's Eloy Jimenez to the White Sox in a deal for Jose Quintana. Both are the top prospects in their organizations. Back in '16, the Red Sox traded Yoan Moncada in a package to the White Sox for pitcher Chris Sale. The A's acquired Franklin Barreto from the Blue Jays in a deal for third baseman Josh Donaldson in '14.

"If you are not investing time and money and effort to sign international players, you are missing out on making your organization one of the best in the game," Eljaua said. "Why would you ignore a market and just focus on one or two ways to acquire talent when these guys are going to play in your system, hopefully in the big leagues, or be a part of a package that helps you fill a missing piece? And it's not all about the money and paying the most money. It's about scouting and working and finding out about makeup and helping your entire system."

Who is signing whom
More than 950 prospects have signed during the international signing period that started July 2, 2017, and that number could increase during the 2018-19 period, because there are thousands who have registered to become eligible.

In addition to prospects from traditional baseball hot spots like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and the Bahamas, there are also prospects from places like Europe, the Caribbean islands and Asia who have also registered.

Video: Top International Prospects: Marco Luciano, OF

As far as the list is concerned, the Dodgers are the favorites to sign Cartaya. Marco Luciano, a power-hitting outfielder from the Dominican Republic, a close second behind Cartaya in the rankings, is linked to the Giants. Outfielder Misael Urbina of Venezuela, who is ranked No. 3, is an advanced hitter expected to have an above-average hit tool and plus speed. He is linked to the Twins. Rounding out the top five is Venezuelan right-handed pitcher Richard Gallardo, linked to the Cubs, and Orelvis Martinez, a power-hitting shortstop from the D.R. sometimes compared to a young Adrian Beltre. The Blue Jays are the favorite to sign Martinez.

Video: Richard Gallardo named top int'l pitching prospect

Breakdown
This year's Top 30 International Prospects list includes 10 players from Venezuela, 16 from the Dominican Republic, three from Cuba and one from Colombia. The positions break down like this: 11 outfielders, eight infielders, seven pitchers and four catchers.

The best athletes at premium positions are the most appealing to international scouts. Three of the top 13 are catchers and three of the top 10 are pitchers. Shortstops and center fielders are also highly coveted in this year's class.

International signing rules, spending
There are specific guidelines for signing prospects like Cartaya: An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between July 2 through June 15 of the next year if he is 17 or will turn 17 by the end of the first season of his contract.

Video: Cartaya tops MLB's international prospects list

The rules for signing international prospects are these: Clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the Rule 4 Draft receive a pool of $6,025,400, while clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round A of the Rule 4 Draft receive $5,504,500. All other clubs receive $4,983,500.

International amateur free agency & bonus pool money explained

Teams are allowed to trade as much of their international pool money as they would like, but can only acquire 75 percent of a team's initial pool amount. Additionally, signing bonuses of $10,000 or less do not count toward a club's bonus pool, and foreign professional players who are at least 25 years of age and have played in a foreign league for at least six seasons are also exempt.

In terms of spending, the Blue Jays, Brewers, D-backs, Mariners, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, Rockies, Tigers, Twins and Yankees are expected to be aggressive in the upcoming signing period. The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Royals -- teams that will no longer be in the penalty for exceeding their past international bonus pool spending -- are also expected to be very active.

The A's, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, Padres, Reds and White Sox are in the maximum penalty, so they cannot sign players for more than $300,000 during the upcoming period.

"We are all looking for the next Miguel Cabrera, but I think it's unfair to compare anybody to him because he was just on another level," Eljaua said. "But the reality is, my old team already paid me for that sign. I'm getting paid to find another one. That's what the job is."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

Check out this ridiculous Carrasco slider

Carlos Carrasco is a man of many talents. Sure, he's artistic -- he can turn a baseball into anything, (or anyone in certain cases). He also recently showed he has some play-by-play skills during one of his off-days. But above all else, he's a heck of a pitcher. Just take a look at this pitch:

LA wins 7th of 8 after Buehler's scoreless 5

MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers top prospect Walker Buehler showed off all of his tools in his first MLB start Monday night, including his confidence.

He fired off five scoreless innings, dazzling at times, in a game the Dodgers pulled out late, 2-1, over the Marlins on Cody Bellinger's eighth-inning sacrifice fly. Officially, it was a no-decision for Buehler, although the decision in the Dodgers' clubhouse was unanimous.

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LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers top prospect Walker Buehler showed off all of his tools in his first MLB start Monday night, including his confidence.

He fired off five scoreless innings, dazzling at times, in a game the Dodgers pulled out late, 2-1, over the Marlins on Cody Bellinger's eighth-inning sacrifice fly. Officially, it was a no-decision for Buehler, although the decision in the Dodgers' clubhouse was unanimous.

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"Walker was electric," said former Marlin Kiké Hernandez, who was the offensive and defensive star, subbing at shortstop for Corey Seager with a home run, two singles and a pair of Gold Glove-caliber gems. "We expect that and more from him. We expect a lot from him.

"Not too often you get drafted in the first round when you need Tommy John surgery. So, this kid must be a stud. He's pretty confident, pretty cocky. Fastball looked like it was 120 [mph] from playing shortstop. The slider looked like 100 as well. It's pretty fun watching, playing behind him. He's got special talent and hopefully we'll see that for a very long time."

Hernandez shows why he's Roberts' go-to sub

Video: Must C Combo: Hernandez's flashy pair of plays at SS

The Dodgers have won seven of their last eight games, while the Marlins have lost 15 of 18. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was non-committal after the game, but earlier indications were that Buehler will start again on Saturday in the doubleheader in San Francisco.

Recalled to sub for the injured Rich Hill against Miami, Buehler needed a professional-career-high 89 pitches to get through the five innings. Roberts said Buehler will learn to be more efficient, but he had nothing but praise for the 23-year-old.

"You look at the heartbeat, and there's no panic," Roberts said. "He steps up and makes pitches when he needs to. We talked about the confidence earlier, and I think it's real. I know it's real. He just feels he can make a pitch when he needs to make a pitch, and he doesn't scare off. There's a learning curve that's happening before our eyes."

Video: MIA@LAD: Roberts talks win over Marlins, Buehler

Buehler, ranked as the game's No. 12 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, flashed a fastball that peaked at 99.5 mph in the first inning and peaked at 96.4 mph in the fifth.

"We had guys out there early, but he's obviously a guy with a tremendous arm and probably will just keep getting better," said Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

Buehler has been handled with kid gloves since signing with a damaged elbow that needed surgery. He opened this season in the Minor Leagues so management can throttle back his innings early, intending to keep him fresh for late in the season after throwing only 98 innings last year.

Buehler said his pitches Monday night weren't really good or bad, and after struggling to command his four-seam fastball in the early innings, he switched to a two-seamer the last two.

"It would be great to go and dominate, but to put up zeros and come out of the thing unscathed is the biggest thing," Buehler said. "The more comfortable I get here, the fastball command will come. I don't think I've thrown 89 pitches since the College World Series, so that was a wake-up for me."

The Dodgers held on in the ninth. With closer Kenley Jansen and Tony Cingrani unavailable after pitching the previous two games, Ross Stripling pitched two scoreless innings after Buehler and Josh Fields pitched the ninth for the save.

Video: MIA@LAD: Fields induces fly out to record the save

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A bunt, not just a blast: Hernandez provided the first hit and run with his homer, but a bunt single during the game-winning eighth-inning rally was key. After Chris Taylor's leadoff double, Hernandez dropped a perfect bunt and Miami pitcher Kyle Barraclough grabbed the ball but didn't make a throw. Bellinger followed with his screaming sacrifice liner that scored Taylor with the decisive run.

Video: MIA@LAD: Bellinger hits a go-ahead sacrifice fly

Landing a big punchout: The Marlins worked Buehler in the first, loading the bases and making him throw 26 pitches. The last was a foul tip that struck out J.B. Shuck, catcher Yasmani Grandal holding onto the ball to end the inning.

Video: MIA@LAD: Buehler K's Shuck to escape bases-loaded jam

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Super sub: Hernandez was making only his second start of the year in place of Seager at shortstop, but he looked like a Gold Glove candidate twice. With two outs and a runner on first in the second inning, Hernandez went into the hole and with his power arm threw out Miguel Rojas at first base. The next play was even tougher, with one out in the third inning ranging up the middle for a diving stop of Starlin Castro's bouncer, spinning to his feet and cutting down Castro at first.

Video: MIA@LAD: Hernandez displays incredible defense

HE SAID IT
"Yeah, homers are fun." -- Hernandez

Video: MIA@LAD: Hernandez rips a solo homer to left-center

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Dodgers (11-10) climbed above .500 for the first time this season.

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Marlins challenged a foul-ball call on J.T. Realmuto's flare down the right-field line in the first inning. The call was confirmed. Realmuto's at-bat continued and he singled to left field.

Video: MIA@LAD: Realmuto foul ball gets challenged

UP NEXT
Seager is expected to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday night when Kenta Maeda makes the 7:10 p.m. PT start against the Marlins and lefty Dillon Peters. Seager did not start Monday night against Garcia, but entered as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. Maeda has tried to be more aggressive early in the count, and the results are mixed. Strikeouts are up (24 in 14 1/3 innings), but so are hits (20) and walks (five).

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Enrique Hernandez

Big night for Big G (HR, 4-for-4) in Yanks' win

MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- The jaw-dropping drive that will make all of the highlight reels from Monday's 14-1 Yankees victory over the Twins was Giancarlo Stanton's fifth-inning blast to the left-field bleachers, a titanic home run that showcased the superstar's power in convincing fashion.

Yet the plate appearance that excited the Yankees almost as much may have been -- of all things -- a first-inning walk. They believe that free pass teed up Stanton's 4-for-4 performance, as well as the Yankees' persistent attack against Minnesota starter Jake Odorizzi.

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NEW YORK -- The jaw-dropping drive that will make all of the highlight reels from Monday's 14-1 Yankees victory over the Twins was Giancarlo Stanton's fifth-inning blast to the left-field bleachers, a titanic home run that showcased the superstar's power in convincing fashion.

Yet the plate appearance that excited the Yankees almost as much may have been -- of all things -- a first-inning walk. They believe that free pass teed up Stanton's 4-for-4 performance, as well as the Yankees' persistent attack against Minnesota starter Jake Odorizzi.

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"I've been feeling more comfortable," Stanton said. "It was a good day of five good [plate appearances]. Give myself a good chance every at-bat of the game."

As manager Aaron Boone later recounted, Stanton had been at bat in the first inning with Brett Gardner at second base, two outs, and facing an 0-2 count. Stanton spit on a slider, cutter and two fastballs from Odorizzi to work the free pass, then raced home when Gary Sanchez ripped a two-run double two pitches later.

Video: MIN@NYY: Sanchez opens scoring with a two-run double

"He kind of set the tone. He was the guy," Boone said of Stanton. "0-2 count, first inning -- battle, battle, battle, walk. Then he gets the hit. Then home run. Then a couple of sharp-hit balls for add-ons. Really good night for him, and hopefully something that continues to build a little bit of momentum for him toward being the guy that we know he is."

Video: MIN@NYY: Boone on Stanton, Torres, Tanaka after win

Stanton banged a third-inning single to right field before delivering the knockout blow on Odorizzi in the fifth, slugging his fifth home run as a member of the Yankees. The blast came off his bat at 115.7 mph and traveled a Statcast-calculated 435 feet, making it the fourth-longest homer hit by a Yankee so far this year.

Video: MIN@NYY: Statcast™ tracks Stanton's 115.7-mph HR

Stanton drilled a run-scoring single to greet Alan Busenitz in the seventh inning and singled again off Tyler Kinley in the eighth to notch his first four-hit game with the Bombers, raising his average from .185 to .224. It marked Stanton's seventh career game reaching base at least five times, and his fifth career game with four or more hits.

Video: MIN@NYY: Stanton plates Judge with an RBI single

Stanton hadn't enjoyed a multihit game since April 11 at Boston. Standing in front of his locker Monday, he grinned and mentioned that nothing has been easy thus far. When someone followed up on that comment, the slugger quipped: "You ever see a 95-mph fastball?"

"I'm getting to work, man," Stanton said. "Just working, working. Getting the feel right. I've got more to do."

Video: MIN@NYY: Stanton, Andujar, Torres on Yanks' offense

After Stanton endured a 50-at-bat homerless streak between an April 4 homer and his fourth Yankees homer on Friday against the Blue Jays -- the ninth-longest such streak of his career -- the Yanks are delighted to see signs that Stanton's timing is coming around.

"As a hitter, you always love those nights, especially when it's early and you're off to a tough start," Boone said. "You want to start gaining some traction. It can help settle you in and get more and more comfortable."

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

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

Gausman throws first immaculate inning of '18

MLB.com @Britt_Ghiroli