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Best getting better, Trout on an insane .696 clip

Angels star hitting .696 with 4 HRs, 9 RBIs over last 37 PAs
MLB.com @mi_guardado

ANAHEIM -- There was no other player the Angels would have rather had up to bat in that situation.

Down by one run in the fifth inning, the Angels had loaded the bases with one out against D-backs right-hander Matt Koch, bringing Mike Trout to the plate. Arizona pitching coach Mike Butcher jogged out to the mound to briefly strategize with Koch, but his counsel proved of little use against Trout, who promptly lined a first-pitch fastball to center field for a bases-clearing single that helped lift the Angels to a 5-4 win over the D-backs on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium.

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ANAHEIM -- There was no other player the Angels would have rather had up to bat in that situation.

Down by one run in the fifth inning, the Angels had loaded the bases with one out against D-backs right-hander Matt Koch, bringing Mike Trout to the plate. Arizona pitching coach Mike Butcher jogged out to the mound to briefly strategize with Koch, but his counsel proved of little use against Trout, who promptly lined a first-pitch fastball to center field for a bases-clearing single that helped lift the Angels to a 5-4 win over the D-backs on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium.

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"We have to be more than Mike," manager Mike Scioscia said, "but believe me, that's a situation we love to have him swinging the bat."

The game-deciding hit was the centerpiece to the latest in another stunning Trout performance. He reached base in all four plate appearances, also walking twice and even getting to first on a catcher's interference.

Widely regarded as the best player in baseball, Trout's production has surged to an otherworldly level over the last week. He has recorded only seven outs over his last 37 plate appearances (.778 OBP), batting .696 (16-for-23) with four home runs, nine RBIs, 11 walks (four intentional) and one hit-by-pitch. In addition to leading the Majors with 23 home runs and a 1.158 OPS, Trout also has more walks (64) than strikeouts (60) this season.

"I'm just trying to look for my pitch, and if it's not there, I'm just taking my walks," Trout said. "For me, if I try to expand the strike zone, that's when I get in trouble."

Video: ARI@LAA: Trout on team's performance in Angels' win

Already a two-time MVP winner at age 26, Trout is currently on pace for a 14.4 WAR season, which would break Babe Ruth's 95-year-old record (14.1 in 1923) for the greatest individual season in MLB history.

"This is not an easy game, and this guy makes it look easier and easier every year," right fielder Kole Calhoun said. "It's a special talent that we're not going to see too many times, so enjoy it now."

Ian Kinsler and Calhoun each added solo home runs, and Felix Pena delivered four solid innings in his first MLB start to help the Angels (39-35) snap a three-game skid and secure a split of their two-game Interleague series with the D-backs.

Video: ARI@LAA: Kinsler slugs a solo homer to left field

The Angels' beleaguered bullpen bent but didn't break in the ninth inning, as Blake Parker yielded a two-run home run to Paul Goldschmidt that brought the D-backs within one, but Jake Lamb subsequently flew out to end the game. Parker secured the final six outs of the game to pick up his eighth save of the year.

All 38 of Pena's previous MLB outings had come in relief, but the Angels decided to convert him to a starter this season and inserted him into their rotation following the injuries to Garrett Richards and Nick Tropeano. The 28-year-old right-hander had not pitched since June 8 at any level, but he made the most of his opportunity on Tuesday, yielding one run on two hits while walking three and striking out six.

"Starting isn't the same as relieving, but I didn't feel any different," Pena said in Spanish. "I just went out on the mound and gave it my best."

Video: ARI@LAA: Pena strikes out Descalso to end the threat

In the first inning, Pena gave up a leadoff single to Jon Jay, who advanced to second on a wild pitch before taking third on another single by Jake Lamb. The D-backs got on the board after Jay scored on a forceout by David Peralta, but Pena then struck out Daniel Descalso to end the inning.

Kinsler countered by blasting Koch's third pitch of the game into the Angels' bullpen in left field for his 10th home run of the season, tying the game, 1-1. It was the 48th leadoff home run of Kinsler's career, which ranks fourth all-time.

Pena maneuvered through traffic over the next three innings, but he avoided further damage and departed after throwing 74 pitches.

"The walks kind of got in the way a little bit, got his pitch count up, but I thought Felix was fine," Scioscia said. "He used all his pitches, had good movement on his fastball, good life. He got us to a certain point in the game. We were hoping he could get maybe into the fifth, but the pitch count was getting up there a little bit for where he's been."

Left-hander Jose Alvarez took over in the fifth and retired the first two batters he faced, but Lamb then worked a walk during an 11-pitch at-bat and scored on Peralta's ensuing double to give the D-backs a 2-1 lead.

The Angels rallied in the fifth after Koch drilled Martin Maldonado and Kinsler and David Fletcher singled to load the bases with one out, setting up Trout's two-run single. Another run scored after Ketel Marte missed Jarrod Dyson's relay throw, allowing the Angels to build a 4-2 lead.

"I wasn't trying to do too much, and I got a base hit," Trout said.

Calhoun capped the Angels' offensive output with a solo home run off Koch in the sixth, collecting his second homer of the season and his first since Opening Day. Calhoun, who was batting just .145 before landing on the disabled list, is now 3-for-7 in his first two games since returning from injury.

"I was working on some things," Calhoun said. "It's nice to see it carry over right now."

Video: ARI@LAA: Calhoun rips a solo home run to extend lead

YOUNG DEPARTS
Chris Young, who started in center field on Tuesday, departed the game after six innings with a hamstring injury. Scioscia said Young sustained the injury while running to first base in the sixth inning and will be re-evaluated on Wednesday's off-day.

"Hopefully it won't keep him out too long," Scioscia said.

UP NEXT
The Angels will enjoy an off-day on Wednesday before opening a four-game series against the Blue Jays on Thursday at 7:07 p.m. PT at Angel Stadium. Left-hander Tyler Skaggs (6-4, 2.81 ERA) will start opposite Toronto right-hander Aaron Sanchez (3-5, 4.35 ERA) in the series opener. Skaggs is 3-0 with a 0.45 ERA in three June starts. He faced the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on May 23 and took a no-decision after allowing three runs over five innings.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels, Mike Trout

Overlooked players making strong ASG cases

These standouts need a boost to make Midsummer Classic roster
MLB.com @castrovince

Vote totals from the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star ballot have been pouring in and, with about two weeks left in the process (voting wraps at 11:59 p.m. ET on July 5), it's really hard to find much statistically based fault with the fan choices, so far. There's still a lot that can happen between now and the July 17 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, but right now the decisions largely rate as defensible.

But that doesn't mean there aren't still guys getting shorted. Each week, the top five vote-getters at each position (top 15 in the outfield) are announced, and it's always interesting to see which names are, or are not, getting traction. And of course, it's unavoidable that every year there are guys who aren't even listed on the ballot, but are making strong All-Star cases.

Vote totals from the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star ballot have been pouring in and, with about two weeks left in the process (voting wraps at 11:59 p.m. ET on July 5), it's really hard to find much statistically based fault with the fan choices, so far. There's still a lot that can happen between now and the July 17 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, but right now the decisions largely rate as defensible.

But that doesn't mean there aren't still guys getting shorted. Each week, the top five vote-getters at each position (top 15 in the outfield) are announced, and it's always interesting to see which names are, or are not, getting traction. And of course, it's unavoidable that every year there are guys who aren't even listed on the ballot, but are making strong All-Star cases.

VOTE NOW: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot

So here's a squad of guys who have not yet been listed as "finalists," so to speak, in the fan voting, but who are having really, really good years. This is the All-Overlooked Team.

Video: Latest on the NL All-Star Ballot vote leaders

Catcher: J.T. Realmuto, Marlins

The Pirates' Francisco Cervelli is also deserving here, but at least Cervelli was in the top five in the first ballot update before getting bumped this week. Realmuto hasn't even sniffed that kind of love, despite a .300/.360/.532 slash. He missed the first few weeks of the season with a bone bruise, but has been mashing since his return, taking his power production to a new level.

Voters apparently haven't noticed, but you can bet teams that might bid on Realmuto's services before the Trade Deadline have definitely noticed.

Video: Vote J.T. into the 2018 All-Star Game in Washington

First base: Jose Martinez, Cardinals

The top five vote-getters in the NL at first base are Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Brandon Belt, Cody Bellinger and Joey Votto, and that's an awful lot of name-recognition for someone like Martinez to contend with (and Freeman's runaway vote total is very much deserved). But Martinez has effectively proved his .897 OPS in 307 plate appearances as a 28-year-old rookie last year was no fluke. Among all Major League first basemen, only Freeman and Belt have higher weighted runs created plus (wRC+) marks than Martinez's 144.

Shoutout, also, to the Brewers' Jesus Aguilar, who has been a revelation, with a .292/.355/.557 slash that makes Craig Counsell's daily lineup decisions all the more difficult now that Eric Thames (who is on the ballot ahead of Aguilar) is back in action.

Video: SD@STL: Martinez launches a 2-run homer to center

Second base: Whit Merrifield, Royals

Remember two years back, when Royals fans were so enthusiastically supportive of the then-defending champs that they had Omar Infante among the AL finalists at second base even though he was designated for assignment? It's a lot different these days, as Merrifield is putting together a really positive campaign -- .293/.370/.421 slash, 2.0 Baseball Reference-calculated Wins Above Replacement -- in relative anonymity. He's not producing as much power as he did a year ago, but this is still a really solid player not many people are paying attention to.

Cesar Hernandez, who is giving the Phillies above-average production at second for the third straight year, also merits mentioning here.

Video: HOU@KC: Merrifield rips an RBI double to left field

Shortstop: Eduardo Escobar, Twins

The fact that Andrelton Simmons got bumped out of the top five this week shows how deep the AL shortstop ranks are. We could go with Simmons here, even though he was in the top five a week ago. Or Xander Bogaerts, who is having a good year on a great Red Sox team. Or Daniel Robertson, whose contributions to the Rays don't get enough love.

But there's a really good chance you haven't noticed that the shortstop second only to leading vote-getter Manny Machado in OPS, wRC+ and weighted on-base average is Escobar. He broke out with 21 homers last year, but his age-29 season has been even better, and he's likely to surpass his career-high single-season WAR output by the All-Star break. Pretty crazy, considering Escobar only got this everyday opportunity as a product of Jorge Polanco getting suspended for PEDs.

Video: MIN@CLE: Escobar doubles three times vs. Indians

Third base: Max Muncy, Dodgers

It's a credit to the craziness of baseball that even in a year like this, when the online-only ballot release was later than usual (and therefore more easily adaptable to surprises), there are still a bunch of guys whose impact is so far beyond expectations that they are still merely write-in candidates. Muncy is one of those guys. He's been a plug-and-play type for the Dodgers, filling in wherever a need has arisen. He first caught attention doing bang-up work in place of the injured Justin Turner, which is why he's listed at third base here. Muncy's power, including a team-high 13 homers as of this writing, has been an incredible (and unforeseen) asset for a Dodgers team ravaged by injuries. Though cast off by the A's just over a year ago, he has put together a .386 OBP and .599 SLG for L.A.

There are actually a ton of other hot-corner candidates for this list, including the Tigers' Jeimer Candelario, the A's Matt Chapman, the Marlins' Brian Anderson (who is putting himself in the running for NL Rookie of the Year), the Brewers' Travis Shaw, and even utility man Daniel Descalso -- the 31-year-old, who is shockingly giving the D-backs a .907 OPS, plays everywhere and probably deserves to be somewhere on here.

Video: TEX@LAD: Muncy crushes solo home run to right-center

Outfield: Brandon Nimmo, Mets; Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays; Juan Soto, Nationals

Like Nimmo and Soto, the Cubs' Albert Almora Jr., the Pirates' Austin Meadows and the Astros' Tony Kemp are among those who aren't on the ballot, but who have made a mark in the lineup. They are all candidates for inclusion here.

But no one merits mention more than Nimmo. The Mets' decision to use their three outfield spots on the ballot on Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto made sense at the time they submitted it, but now Nimmo's exclusion sticks out like Cespedes' sore hip. Nimmo's been the Mets' best position player, by far, and his 1.013 OPS ranks fourth in all of baseball among those with at least 200 plate appearances.

Video: NYM@COL: Nimmo rips a leadoff inside-the-park homer

Soto isn't truly "overlooked," because he's been a pretty big story the past month, and you know he'd rank a lot higher in the voting if he had debuted earlier than May 20 (although now that he homered in a suspended game from May 15, you could technically say he debuted earlier than that). But he nonetheless fits the formula as a non-finalist. In his short time with the Nats he's already been as valuable as Bryce Harper (0.9 FanGraphs WAR to Harper's 1.0 mark). It would be cool to see the 19-year-old phenom at a Midsummer Classic taking place at his home field.

Hernandez lit up opponents in April (1.054 OPS) came down to earth in May (.649) and has caught fire again in June (1.075). He's turned out to be an excellent pickup by the Blue Jays from last year's Trade Deadline.

Designated hitter: Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers

Choo is on the short list of most accomplished active players to have never reached the All-Star Game. He's compiled north of 30 Wins Above Replacement in his career, but his "star," as it were, has never aligned.

Video: TEX@KC: Choo homers to extend on-base streak to 32

Maybe this will be Choo's year. J.D. Martinez is rightly running away with the fan vote, but Choo's numbers (.279/.394/.478 slash, 138 wRC+) are superior to those of Giancarlo Stanton (.252/.326/.485, 118), even if Stanton leads him in the homer tally. The White Sox's Matt Davidson (137 wRC+), the Mariners' Nelson Cruz (138) and the A's Khris Davis (134) are also quality candidates for that backup DH spot, but Evan Gattis, who is third in the fan voting currently, has been red-hot for the Astros the last month-plus and could seize it.

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

Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Shin-Soo Choo, Eduardo Escobar, Teoscar Hernandez, Jose Martinez, Whit Merrifield, Max Muncy, Brandon Nimmo, J.T. Realmuto, Juan Soto

Right before hitting a grand slam, Joey Votto attempted to shoo a bird away that was interrupting the game

Joey Votto never ceases to amaze us. On Tuesday night, during the Reds' 9-5 win over the Tigers, Votto watched an impressive slider delivered by Matthew Boyd go right past him. And while that first-inning at-bat didn't pan out the way he wanted, he redeemed himself in the third with a grand slam. But not before having a small encounter with a bird.

Braves face Blue Jays, only on Facebook today

Veteran hurlers having strong seasons set to face off in Toronto
MLB.com @MannyOnMLB

This week, Major League Baseball offers fans another unique viewing experience with the continuation of its digital-only broadcasts. Today's Braves-Blue Jays matchup will stream live in the United States exclusively on Facebook. The finale of the two-game Interleague series at Rogers Centre is one of 25 streaming broadcasts scheduled for 2018 as part of MLB's partnership with Facebook.

Fans can catch the 12:37 p.m. ET contest by logging onto Facebook's MLB Live page from their phones, tablets, smart TVs or other streaming devices. MLB Network will produce the game, with play-by-play announcer Scott Braun; analysts Mark DeRosa and J.P. Arencibia; and in-game reporter Alexa Datt. DeRosa had a 16-year MLB career that included seven seasons with the Braves from 1998-2004. Arencibia was a catcher for the Blue Jays from 2010-13.

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This week, Major League Baseball offers fans another unique viewing experience with the continuation of its digital-only broadcasts. Today's Braves-Blue Jays matchup will stream live in the United States exclusively on Facebook. The finale of the two-game Interleague series at Rogers Centre is one of 25 streaming broadcasts scheduled for 2018 as part of MLB's partnership with Facebook.

Fans can catch the 12:37 p.m. ET contest by logging onto Facebook's MLB Live page from their phones, tablets, smart TVs or other streaming devices. MLB Network will produce the game, with play-by-play announcer Scott Braun; analysts Mark DeRosa and J.P. Arencibia; and in-game reporter Alexa Datt. DeRosa had a 16-year MLB career that included seven seasons with the Braves from 1998-2004. Arencibia was a catcher for the Blue Jays from 2010-13.

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How to watch on mobile and desktop
Desktop
1. Search for "MLB Live" on Facebook
2. Follow the "MLB Live" show page

Mobile
1. Download the Facebook video app on your TV or streaming device and search for "MLB Live"
2. Or stream the game from your phone to a TV on the same WiFi network by tapping the TV icon.

Upcoming Facebook games (all times ET)
• Today: ATL-TOR, 12:37 p.m.
• Wednesday, June 27: KC-MIL, 2:10 p.m.

Things to know about the Braves-Blue Jays game
Veteran left-hander J.A. Happ is slated to take the ball for the Blue Jays. The 35-year-old continues to defy Father Time, entering the game with a 3.48 ERA and a career-high 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings over 14 starts. After giving up four runs over five innings at Detroit on June 2, Happ hasn't allowed an earned run in 12 innings over his last two starts. He hasn't faced Atlanta since April 9, 2012, when he was pitching for the Astros.

Video: TOR@TB: Happ holds Rays to 1 hit over 5 scoreless

The Braves are scheduled to counter with veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who is enjoying a rejuvenation this season. The 34-year-old owns a 1.93 ERA over seven appearances (six starts) after posting a 5.67 mark over the previous three seasons with the Tigers. He faced Toronto twice last year, giving up 12 runs in 10 2/3 innings (10.12 ERA).

Video: SD@ATL: Sanchez tosses 7 shutout innings vs. Padres

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Atlanta Braves, Toronto Blue Jays, J.A. Happ, Anibal Sanchez

JBJ makes 'unreal' 103.4 mph throw to nab runner

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Jackie Bradley Jr. camped under a 317-foot fly ball to center field, it sure looked like the Twins were going to add an insurance run on what looked like a routine sacrifice fly.

Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon wasn't even sure Bradley would throw home. But by now, there can be no assumptions when Bradley is the one fielding.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- As Jackie Bradley Jr. camped under a 317-foot fly ball to center field, it sure looked like the Twins were going to add an insurance run on what looked like a routine sacrifice fly.

Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon wasn't even sure Bradley would throw home. But by now, there can be no assumptions when Bradley is the one fielding.

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Bradley circled around the ball to create a strong throwing angle for himself and unleashed an absolute laser. Leon gathered the throw -- which Statcast™ tracked at 103.4 mph -- and tagged Robbie Grossman out at the plate.

For the Red Sox, it was, without question, the highlight in Tuesday's 6-2 loss to the Twins at Target Field.

The throw was the hardest by an outfielder this season in the Majors. It was the fourth-hardest throw and third-hardest assist tracked by Statcast™ since the system began in 2015.

"Oh, unreal," manager Alex Cora said. "I saw him getting an angle, and I was like, 'This might be fun here.' It's kind of like showcase baseball. 'The scouts are looking, and I'm going to throw it as hard as I can to see if I can get him, and I did.' That was a great play."

Video: BOS@MIN: Bradley throws out Grossman, call confirmed

The hardest throw tracked by Statcast™ was by Aaron Hicks (105.5 mph) on April 20, 2016. Brett Phillips had the next two hardest (104.7 mph on Sept. 19, 2017, and 104.0 on Sept. 13, 2017).

Normally, Bradley would enjoy talking about taking part in a jaw-dropping highlight. But in this case, he was annoyed by making a fielding error on Eduardo Escobar's double earlier in the inning, which allowed a run to score, and because the Red Sox lost.

Video: BOS@MIN: Escobar plates LaMarre, error scores Mauer

"Just got behind the ball and made a throw," said Bradley, who has started three double plays this season. "I don't care about the throw."

Bradley's teammates enjoyed it.

"That was amazing," Leon said. "Just amazing. I wasn't sure if he was going to throw the ball. That was one of the best throws I've ever seen."

Leon didn't realize how hard the throw was until a reporter relayed the reading to him.

"That's insane," Leon said. "I thought it was 97-100, but wow."

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

Boston Red Sox, Jackie Bradley Jr.

MLB.TV's free game promo twice as nice today

Cardinals-Phillies, Brewers-Pirates available for out-of-market viewing
MLB.com @DKramer_

Baseball fans who indulge in the MLB.TV Free Game of the Day will be able to double down, as two free games are available for out-of-market viewing today.

Fans can watch both the Cardinals and Phillies at 1 p.m. ET and Brewers and Pirates at 7 p.m. ET as part of the promotion.

Baseball fans who indulge in the MLB.TV Free Game of the Day will be able to double down, as two free games are available for out-of-market viewing today.

Fans can watch both the Cardinals and Phillies at 1 p.m. ET and Brewers and Pirates at 7 p.m. ET as part of the promotion.

In Philadelphia, Jake Arrieta is looking to bounce back from his shortest start of the season and regain the elite form he showed in May, when he was named the National League Pitcher of the Month. However, the club's blue-chip free-agent acquisition is 0-3 with a 7.98 ERA over his three starts in June. Arrieta will square off against another starter looking to bounce back, Cards righty Michael Wacha, who gave up three homers in four-plus innings against the Cubs on Friday.

This series between two postseason hopefuls attempting to climb their way up their respective division ladders has offered plenty of intrigue already. On Monday, Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna missed a two-out diving catch in the ninth inning that would have sealed the win but instead allowed the Phils to walk off with a 6-5 win. The Cards responded Tuesday by halting a late Philly rally when Matt Carpenter clubbed a go-ahead homer in the ninth to even the series.

It's been nearly just as exciting a series in Pittsburgh, with a pair of one-run games decided late. On Monday, Pirates righty Trevor Williams tossed a career-high-tying seven strikeouts and allowed just one hit in a 1-0 win over red-hot Milwaukee. And on Tuesday, touted Brewers prospect Freddy Peralta struck out seven over six scoreless innings, and Milwaukee rode a two-run homer from Jesus Aguilar en route to a 3-2 win.

On Wednesday, blossoming left-hander Brent Suter will make his first start of the year against the division rivals as he looks to keep a streak alive in which he's allowed three or fewer runs in six straight starts. Suter will square off against Pirates righty Chad Kuhl, who has also been strong lately, with a 2.45 ERA his last five starts.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies

Yanks' 118 homers through 70 games a record pace

Stanton, Andujar, Hicks, Torres flex their muscles
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- The Yankees' offense continued to showcase its power against the Mariners on Tuesday, slugging four home runs in a 7-2 victory.

New York's 118 homers ties the 2000 Cardinals for the second-most hit through the first 70 games of the season, trailing just the 1999 Mariners, who hit 130, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

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NEW YORK -- The Yankees' offense continued to showcase its power against the Mariners on Tuesday, slugging four home runs in a 7-2 victory.

New York's 118 homers ties the 2000 Cardinals for the second-most hit through the first 70 games of the season, trailing just the 1999 Mariners, who hit 130, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

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Coming off a four-hit night against the Nationals on Monday, Giancarlo Stanton started Tuesday's slugfest in the first inning. The slugger blasted the first pitch he saw from Marco Gonzales -- a 79.3-mph curveball -- 426 feet that had an exit velocity of 111.5 mph, according to Statcast™.

In just 72 at-bats against left-handed pitching, Stanton has hit .347 with nine home runs and 19 RBIs.

Video: SEA@NYY: Stanton mashes a solo big fly to center

"It's a lot of fun," Stanton said of the team's power surge. "It's fun to watch from the inside, and I'm sure it's fun to watch being a fan. Yeah, we were clicking on all cylinders tonight."

With the game tied at 1 in the fifth, Miguel Andujar launched a two-run homer to left-center field, snapping an 0-for-14 skid. According to Statcast™, it had a projected distance of 427 feet with an exit velocity of 110.3 mph. It was the fifth of the rookie's nine long balls hit this season that have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead.

Video: SEA@NYY: Andujar hammers a 2-run big fly to left

"I stayed positive," Andujar said. "I know I can hit. I go to home plate with a plan and do my job, and try to hit the ball hard."

Two batters later, Aaron Hicks followed suit by hitting a two-run shot of his own to left-center on a first-pitch, 83.4-mph changeup from Gonzales to give New York a 5-1 lead. Hicks has now hit a home run in a career-high three straight games and four of his last six.

Video: SEA@NYY: Hicks sticks 2-run homer into bullpen bench

"Especially from the right side most of the year, he's been in a really good power position and impacting the ball, not so much hooking the ball, but straight out to left-center and center," manager Aaron Boone said. "He's playing well for us and playing a big role for us in helping us win games."

"Keep riding that streak as much as possible," Hicks said. "Make sure I stay humble with it and just continue to try to help your team win."

Gleyber Torres got in on the fun in the eighth, hitting a solo shot on an 0-1, 93.2-mph fastball off Seattle reliever Nick Rumbelow. Torres has hit 14 home runs, which ties Aaron Judge for third-most through a player's first 50 career games in franchise history. Torres trails Gary Sanchez (19) and Kevin Maas (15).

Video: SEA@NYY: Torres crushes a solo homer to left field

"I think every day I take more experience to every at-bat and I take more maturity, for sure, and I feel better every day," said Torres. "I just try to put the ball in play. I try to have good contact and look for my pitch and try to help my team."

"I've just kind of been impressed with how well they've done," Boone said of Torres and Andujar. "They've been huge for us. They've been impact players for us. Just really proud of the way they've handled themselves, the way they've shown the ability to make adjustments. And I think they're just kind of showing the baseball world that they're really good players."

"We have good players here," Andujar said. "Everyone here can hit."

Mandy Bell is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

New York Yankees, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres

Marlins, Giants exchange HBPs; Straily ejected

SF starter Rodriguez plunks Brinson, prompting warnings; Mattingly also tossed
MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

SAN FRANCISCO -- After Buster Posey was struck by a Dan Straily fastball, a couple of quick ejections underscored the Giants' 6-3 win over the Marlins at AT&T Park on Tuesday night.

Straily and Miami manager Don Mattingly were tossed by home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher in a tense second inning that included two batters hit by first-pitch fastballs.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- After Buster Posey was struck by a Dan Straily fastball, a couple of quick ejections underscored the Giants' 6-3 win over the Marlins at AT&T Park on Tuesday night.

Straily and Miami manager Don Mattingly were tossed by home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher in a tense second inning that included two batters hit by first-pitch fastballs.

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Posey was the second hit batter in the game, as Giants starter Dereck Rodriguez hit Lewis Brinson in the top half of the same frame. That followed a heated exchange between Brinson and Giants reliever Hunter Strickland on Monday night.

"I just lost a fastball in," Straily said. "[I'm] trying to throw a fastball in and get him off the plate. Obviously, Andy thought it was on purpose, and so he got me out of there."

Video: MIA@SF: Straily, Mattingly tossed after hit by pitch

Straily plunked Posey, who homered in the first inning, with a 91.3 mph fastball, creating some tensions on the field, but nothing escalated. Because warnings had already been issued after the first hit batsman, both Straily and Mattingly were tossed.

"I was surprised there were warnings, especially after our guy gets hit," Mattingly said. "I was talking about you're going to give a warning there, you usually give a warning after two guys have been hit. One guy gets hit, another guy gets hit and then there's the warnings. I think everybody knows if you give one warning after one guy then you're asking for trouble like out of the blue."

Rookie Elieser Hernandez replaced Straily, who worked 1 1/3 innings, allowing four runs.

Warnings had been issued in the top of the second when Rodriguez plunked Brinson with a 91.9 mph fastball.

Video: MIA@SF: Brinson gets plunked by Rodriguez in the 2nd

"We're just trying to make a pitch inside," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He got extended on us yesterday. Dereck did a nice job getting us out of that inning, working through some trouble and getting us through five."

At that point, Fletcher warned both benches, and Mattingly exchanged words with the umpires.

Another side story developed during the game when the Giants television announcers suggested Mattingly was overheard commenting in the direction of Posey, "You're next."

Mattingly and Posey both said that was incorrect.

"I know, I heard it when I came in those guys were saying I said something about 'You're next,'" Mattingly said. "I would not say that."

Video: MIA@SF: Marlins on tempers flaring

Posey also downplayed the report.

"As you guys know, I wouldn't talk about that, but no, he didn't," Posey said.

Asked if he felt he was drilled in retaliation for Brinson, Posey said: 'I don't know. It sure seemed that way."

Video: MIA@SF: Giants on Posey HBP, tempers flaring

Frustrations had brewed since Monday night, when the Marlins rallied for three runs in the ninth inning off Strickland to claim a 5-4 win. In that inning, Brinson had the game-tying single and flipped his bat afterward.

When Strickland was replaced later in the inning, he stared at Brinson, who was on third base. The first pitch of the Brinson-Strickland at-bat was a brushback fastball.

"Last time we faced them, he threw me inside and was working me inside," Brinson said. "I don't think [it was on purpose]. No, I don't think so."

Brinson said he was surprised warnings were issued.

"Right there, yeah," Brinson said. "But the umpire is just doing his job. He's got to protect everybody and make sure everybody is safe out there. I'm a little surprised, but like I said, the umpire is just doing his job."

Going back to last week when the teams played in Miami, Brinson had a game-tying sacrifice fly in the ninth inning off Strickland.

Also during the series at Marlins Park, Straily threw a pitch that broke the hand of Giants third baseman Evan Longoria.

"Well, my response I guess would be, 'Were they throwing at Longoria?" Bochy said. "Tommy [Kelby Tomlinson] got hit in the back last night. That's my response. Were they throwing at him? Those are things you don't know."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Miami Marlins, San Francisco Giants, Lewis Brinson, Buster Posey, Dereck Rodriguez, Dan Straily

Report: Cubs sign top Draft pick Hoerner

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

The Cubs have finalized a deal with first-round Draft pick Nico Hoerner, according to a report by MLB Network insider Jon Heyman on Wednesday.

Hoerner was close to an agreement with the team last week, but he was busy with final exams at Stanford. The Cubs were hopeful that he would soon go to their complex in Mesa, Ariz., for a physical and then begin his pro career with short-season Class A Eugene.

The Cubs have finalized a deal with first-round Draft pick Nico Hoerner, according to a report by MLB Network insider Jon Heyman on Wednesday.

Hoerner was close to an agreement with the team last week, but he was busy with final exams at Stanford. The Cubs were hopeful that he would soon go to their complex in Mesa, Ariz., for a physical and then begin his pro career with short-season Class A Eugene.

Patrick Mooney of The Athletic reported on June 12 that Hoerner's deal with the Cubs was expected to be worth slot value, which is $2.724 million for the 24th overall pick.

Hoerner batted .345 in 57 games with Stanford this past season, hitting 17 doubles, six triples and two home runs, while driving in 40 runs. A right-handed hitter, the junior from Oakland was named to the All-Tournament team in the NCAA Regional.

The Cubs have had success with position players taken in the first round. That list includes Javier Baez (2011), Albert Almora Jr. ('12), Kris Bryant ('13), Kyle Schwarber ('14) and Ian Happ ('15), who are all on the current Cubs roster.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

A Pirates fan spilled his beer attempting a foul ball catch and Manny Pina was not pleased

Nothing should ever come between a fan and his or her beer -- unless it's a foul ball. Gabby DiMarco proved that you can have both a souvenir and a frothy beverage in one sitting -- and so did this Pirates fan, sort of:

MLB Buzz: D-backs, O's chat about Machado

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Brewers could seek to upgrade at multiple spots
June 13: Similar to the Nationals, the Brewers are a contending team that could benefit greatly from upgrades in several areas -- namely, pitcher, catcher and second base.

Milwaukee could use both a front-end starter (staff ace Jimmy Nelson is still recovering from last September's shoulder surgery) and a reliever. Plus, while second baseman Jonathan Villar has been better at the plate than last year, he's still something of a question mark and has rated as a just-below-average hitter overall, with a 97 OPS+, where league average is 100.

Video: NYY@KC: Merrifield collects 3 hits, swipes 3 bags

According to Rosenthal, the Brewers have been interested in Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield in the past. The Brewers would also face competition from other Royals suitors.

Minute Maid Park a surprising pitcher's haven

Astros have scored 201 more runs on the road since start of 2017
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Houston's Minute Maid Park has a reputation as an extreme hitter's park, for easily understandable reasons: The famous "Crawford Boxes" in left field are a mere 315 feet away down the line, making it an enticing target for right-handed hitters. The softest-hit homer of 2018 so far was hit in Houston. The softest-hit homer of 2017 was hit there, too. (As were three of the top five, and five of the top 10.) You remember Game 5 of the World Series, right? You don't have to go deep to go deep here.

With that as a backdrop, allow us to make a case similar to the one we made last winter when we explained why Detroit's massive Comerica Park is actually more favorable to hitters, not pitchers: Minute Maid Park isn't a hitter's park at all. It's a pitcher's park, or at least it plays like one. 

Houston's Minute Maid Park has a reputation as an extreme hitter's park, for easily understandable reasons: The famous "Crawford Boxes" in left field are a mere 315 feet away down the line, making it an enticing target for right-handed hitters. The softest-hit homer of 2018 so far was hit in Houston. The softest-hit homer of 2017 was hit there, too. (As were three of the top five, and five of the top 10.) You remember Game 5 of the World Series, right? You don't have to go deep to go deep here.

With that as a backdrop, allow us to make a case similar to the one we made last winter when we explained why Detroit's massive Comerica Park is actually more favorable to hitters, not pitchers: Minute Maid Park isn't a hitter's park at all. It's a pitcher's park, or at least it plays like one. 

If that sounds crazy, we understand. It sounded crazy to us, too. But after digging into the numbers, it's difficult to overlook what's actually happened in Houston.

Before we dig into the complicated stuff, let's start with the simple stuff. Let's just look at a traditional stat -- runs scored. Since the start of 2017, the Astros have scored 538 runs at home, the 15th-highest home total in the game. In that same time frame, they've scored 747 runs on the road, which isn't just first, it's first by a lot. That's a whopping 170 more road runs scored than the second-place Braves. 

That means that the Road Astros have outscored the Home Astros by 209 runs, which is a massive difference. Nineteen of baseball's 30 teams have scored more runs at home, with the overall average being a plus-16 runs scored advantage at home, owing to baseball's built-in home-field advantage. Not the Astros, however. This is already not how you'd expect a team that calls a supposed "hitter's park" home to behave.

It's not quite as stark from the pitching point of view, but it's a similar effect. Houston pitchers have allowed 441 runs at home, the third-fewest, while giving up 491 on the road, the ninth-fewest. Only six teams have a larger gap between home and road, on the pitching side.

In fact, this trend holds steady across a variety of stats. Since the start of 2017, Astros batters have performed worse at home to the tune of …

-.017 of batting average (.268 home, .285 road)
-.022 of batting average on balls in play (.298 home, .320 road)
-.019 of on-base percentage (.333 home, .352 road)
-.034 of slugging percentage (.447 home, .481 road)

All four gaps are the second largest in baseball, second only to the Mets.

That's what it looks like from a team perspective. But what about from a player perspective? Whenever it's suggested that Houston may play in a pitcher's park, the natural reaction is to say "well, of course it's hard to score runs there, they have Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and a potentially historic rotation." If we just compare the home and road performance of players to themselves, then we can do a little to get past the issue of whether it's just about talent.

The way we'll do that is to look at all Houston batters who received at least 200 plate appearances both at home and away since the start of 2017, which gives us 10 players, and all Houston pitchers who faced at least 130 hitters both home and away which gives us 10 more. (For Verlander and Cole, we looked only at time with the Astros, and we excluded the since-traded Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers.) We'll judge them based on wOBA, which is just like OBP, except that it gives more credit for extra-base hits.

Of the 10 Astros hitters, seven have performed better on the road.

Most notably on that list is Jose Altuve, who has hit well at home since the start of 2017 (a line of .300/.357/.428, giving him a .340 wOBA that is the same as Cesar Hernandez or Mike Moustakas), but has hit a monstrous .386/.450/.608 line on the road. The resulting .446 wOBA from that is basically Mike Trout, who has a .451 mark. That's how good Altuve has been away from Houston.

In fact, the 106-point gap between home and road for Altuve since the start of last year is the largest of any player in baseball, at least among the 276 players with 200 plate appearances both at home and on the road. Evan Gattis, who has been below average at home and a star on the road, is 10th on that list. Brian McCann is 18th, and Alex Bregman makes the top 50, too.

How about the pitchers? Eight of the 10 Houston arms we've looked at have been better on the road as well.

For Verlander -- again looking only at his time since being traded -- the difference is huge. On the road, he's been very good, allowing a .176/.233/.304 line and a 1.34 ERA, and his .236 wOBA would by itself make him the equivalent of Jacob deGrom.

But Verlander, at home? We don't really have the words for this. He's got a .142/.187/.264 line against, and a miniscule .198 wOBA. To put that into context, only a dozen pitchers in the last decade has had a season of at least 50 innings and a wOBA lower than that, and they were all one-inning relievers like Craig Kimbrel and Mariano Rivera.

So, now that we've shown that it might actually be more difficult for hitters to produce in Houston, the inevitable question is: Why? How in the world is a park with that short porch hurting an offense this much?

Maybe it's the approach -- that the short porch is a little too enticing.

"Altuve was telling me that when he goes home he tries to go deep, and when he goes on the road, he hits .400," Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said last year to MLB.com.

"I don't know if it's subconsciously we see the [short left-field] porch, the Crawford Boxes [at Minute Maid Park] and try to hit the ball out of the ballpark," said manager AJ Hinch last month. "It's weird, it's very unusual."

But the numbers don't really back that up. Altuve has pulled 36 percent of his batted balls at home in 2017-18, which is less than his 42 percent on the road. As a team, Houston hitters have pulled an even 41 percent of balls home and away. There's not a meaningful difference in strikeouts or walks, either.

Whatever it is that's happening in Minute Maid, it appears to be something of a recent thing, because for years, there wasn't a real split in home vs. road performance, at least for the Astros' offense -- contrary to the park's reputation.

(This was known if you were looking in the right place. Here's the Houston Chronicle in 2011, with the headline "Hitters' haven or pitchers' park? Numbers show Minute Maid fair to both." Here's The New York Times way back in 2005, pointing out that "Minute Maid is an almost perfectly neutral park for run scoring.")

For years, that was true, almost precisely so. From 2005-14, the Astros scored 4.1 runs per game at home, and they scored 4.0 runs per game on the road. In '15, as the new young core with players like Carlos Correa and George Springer arrived, their production shot up evenly, scoring 4.5 runs per game both at home and on the road.

In 2016, that very much stopped being true. Over the past three years, Astros bats have scored 4.4 runs per game at home and 5.7 per game away from Houston.

 

This is where it gets unsatisfying, because we're left with only suggestions. There were theories about the impact of the new lights installed prior to 2016, and of course the removal of "Tal's Hill" in center field after '16 meaningfully changed the dimensions in that part of the park, though that doesn't explain what happened during '16 itself. The roof being open or not can have an impact, though at 13 times open last year and 11 so far this year, they're not doing it more or less than they have been over the years.

We even looked into the fact that the short porch may simply limit the amount of space available for balls to fall in. That much is true; the average Houston left fielder is only 131 feet from the center fielder, well below the average of 143 feet and far below the Major League high of 154 feet at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. The large 2017-18 gap between the Astros' .320 road BABIP and .298 BABIP may have something to do with that, but again, that's not new.

If there is something we can see in the 2017-18 numbers, at least for the Houston lineup, it's that at home, it does worse at the two things most likely to generate success: hitting the ball hard and in the air.

At home, the Astros hit the ball on the ground 44.5 percent of the time. That's nearly three points higher than they do on the road, which is the largest gap in baseball. At home, they have a hard-hit ball (those with 95 mph of exit velocity or more) on 33.9 percent of their batted balls, which is nearly three points lower than they do on the road. That's also the largest gap in baseball. 

We know something's changed, but it's not clear what. Maybe it's the batter's eye, which has been adjusted at least once since it was installed for 2017. Maybe it's the lights, or the psychology of the short porch looking so close, or something we can't guess at all. Either way, the park that allows baseball's easiest homers doesn't play like you think it does. It doesn't boost offense, aside from a few cheap dingers. It might be just the opposite.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. MLB.com reporter Ken Gurnick contributed to this report.

Houston Astros