The Week in MLB: AL's young elite, Holliday, Yanks-A's

August 31st, 2018

It has been posited that baseball players' peak age, long believed to be somewhere around 27-28 years old, is dropping. If you're looking for support for that claim, check the American League Most Valuable Player Award race.

Depending on how you view things, there are about three favorites for the award, and possibly as many as seven candidates with at least some claim: , , , , J.D. Martinez, and . They're the top seven players in the AL in WAR, regardless of whose formula you use, and pretty clearly ahead of everybody else by any measure, unless you're really high on Chris Sale.

Take a look at that list. Every one of those players except Martinez is 27 or younger. All but Trout and Martinez are 25 or younger. It's a stunning collection of talent at that age, and by at least one measure, it's almost unprecedented.

Betts, Trout, Chapman and Ramirez all have compiled at least 7.0 WAR per Baseball Reference, while Lindor is close at 6.7. That means all five -- four of them 25 or younger -- are on pace for more than 8.0 for the season. It's been 63 years since four players that young posted 8.0 bWAR in the same season, and you'll probably recognize the names.

Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays and Al Kaline made up the group in 1955. That's not "just" four Hall of Famers. That's four inner-circle Hall of Famers, four of the absolute greatest ever to play the game.

Before that? It happened one other time: 1912, with another set of pretty familiar names. That time, the list consisted of Tris Speaker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins. That's three Cooperstown enshrinees and one player who would be in based on his performance.

Most people reading this, most people watching baseball in 2018, have never seen a group of young players do what these guys are doing.

Award battle of the week: Most of the rookie attention in recent weeks has fallen on the National League's two teenage phenoms, but the AL Rookie of the Year Award race is quietly getting very interesting again.

After an early-August lull, front-runner is torrid again. Over the past seven days, he has 12 hits and three homers, looking more like the hitter who was unstoppable back in May. Meanwhile, his teammate has also picked it up lately, managing to stay ahead of Torres in homers and RBIs.

Oh, but wasn't there another name earlier in the year? Yep, and may be about to reclaim his spot in this race. Ohtani has rediscovered his power stroke with six homers in 66 August plate appearances, but there's another factor that threatens to reinvigorate this race. He's back on the mound. Ohtani will pitch Sunday. His offense is unlikely to match the two Yankees infielders. But if Ohtani can regain his status as a two-way threat, he'll give voters a lot to think about.

Stat of the week: There's a lot that's remarkable about . He's the only player in history with at least two career big league home runs who has never reached base safely by any other means. Gant is one of three players in history with at least two big league home runs and no other hits. And of those three players, he has the most at-bats and plate appearances, leading to a career .056 plate appearance.

But how about this? Despite that .056 average, despite never walking even once, Gant has done a nice job of putting the ball in play. He's only struck out 10 times in 36 career at-bats and 42 plate appearances. That makes Gant one of just 16 pitchers in the last 10 years with at least 40 plate appearances and a strikeout rate of 25 percent or lower.

And yet, no singles!

Player of the week: deserved to go out better than he did in 2017, when he posted an un-Holliday like .231/.316/.432 line as a designated hitter and occasional first baseman for the Yankees. One of the finest hitters of his era, and an outstanding all-around player earlier in his career, it was unfortunate to see Holliday struggle in what seemed to be his final season.

Fortunately, it wasn't. After two walks and a single on Thursday night, Holliday is hitting .333/.412/.533 in his return to the Rockies, offering not only a feel-good story but a needed boost for a team that has struggled at times to muster much on offense. The Rox are using him sparingly, which is probably wise. They're substituting aggressively for Holliday, not only for defensive reasons but to keep him fresh. It might just work beautifully.

Series of the week: The AL looked a little chaotic there for a bit, but it appears that some order has been restored. Still, the Yankees have a huge road trip that gets under way on Monday, when they begin a three-game series in Oakland. That will be followed by three in Seattle and three in Minnesota, but the A's are the big one.

Oakland has pulled within (2 1/2) of Houston in the AL West, but it's also (4 1/2) out in the race for home field in the AL Wild Card Game. The Yanks could all but cement at least a single postseason home game with a series win, but if the A's gain ground, there could still be a battle for the first AL Wild Card spot.