Three Strikes: Rays' power surge fueling offense; Rockies are baseball's hottest team

Saturday June 10th, 2017

Here are three key things you may have missed from Friday in baseball:

Tampa Bay’s offense keeps it rolling

The Rays have been one of the most surprising teams in the league this year, especially on offense, where Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison and Steven Souza have led a home run barrage. That was on full display Friday.

Five different Rays left the yard and the team racked up 15 hits in a 13–4 win over the A’s. Souza got the scoring started in the first with a three-run jack, his 11th of the season. Mallex Smith hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning, and Morrison followed with his 17th bomb of the year. Tim Beckham led off the fifth with his 10th homer of the year, and Dickerson capped the scoring with a three-run shot four batters later, his 14th of the season.

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The Rays scored at least one run in each of the first five innings of the game, putting at least three marks on the board in three of them. Souza was the individual hero, going 3-for-5 with a triple and single, in addition to his three-run homer. If one player stood out, though, it was Smith. With Kevin Kiermaier on the DL after breaking his hip on Thursday, Smith took over as the everyday centerfielder, and likely leadoff man, on Friday. He went 2-for-3 with the homer and three stolen bases, bringing a new element to the top of the Rays offense. He will also push Dickerson down to the two-hole, giving him more RBI opportunities.

It will be a tall order for the Rays to hang with the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles in the AL East, which just might be the best division in baseball this season. The offense, however, appears up to the task.

Giancarlo Stanton has some pop

When is 449 feet not all that impressive? When you’re Stanton.

O.K., so it’s still pretty impressive. What’s remarkable is that this homer—this homer—is just Stanton’s third-longest of the season.

According to Statcast, this 449-foot flight left Stanton’s bat at 110.6 mph. A few more noteworthy facts about this homer.

  • Stanton’s homer was the first to sail over the top of the batter’s eye at PNC Park, which opened for the 2001 season.
  • Stanton’s two dingers longer than it this season measured 468 feet and 460 feet.
  • Stanton now has 40 homers with exit velocities of 110 mph or greater in the Statcast era, the most in the majors. Nelson Cruz is second with 26.
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Craig Minervini, who covers the Marlins for Fox Sports Florida, tracked down the landing spot of Stanton’s homer and shared a few pictures. First, the vantage point from where the ball finished its flight. Notice that you can barely make out the batter.

Second, it appears Stanton dented a railing with his moonshot. We’ll have to wait and see if Bob Nutting, the principal owner of the Pirates, sends him a bill.

So, yeah, Stanton has some pop.

The Rockies are baseball’s hottest team

The best record in the National League? It belongs to the Colorado Rockies. After being the Cubs at Wrigley Field, 5–3, on Friday, the Rockies have won six straight games to push their record to 40–23. That has them a half-game ahead of the Nationals in the NL, and trailing only the Astros for the best record in the majors.

The Rockies have always been able to hit, and while their offense has actually been slightly disappointing this year, there are no concerns on that side of the ball. Charlie Blackmon is having an MVP caliber season, slashing .336/.380/.625 with 14 homers and 52 RBI. Nolan Arenado is doing his thing again, hitting .289/.351/.562 with 14 roundtrippers of his own. It’s hard to hold down a Rockies offense for long.

What’s different this season is the pitching. Colorado pitchers have racked up 8.1 fWAR, seventh most in the majors. The gamble on Greg Holland has already paid immense dividends. The former Royals closer has been electric, converting all 23 of his save opportunities while totaling a 1.14 ERA and 0.89 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings. The rotation, meanwhile, has been shockingly effective, considering the circumstances.

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Jon Gray, the team’s ace, has been on the DL since April with a foot injury. That left the Rockies with just one pitcher, Tyler Chatwood, with more than six starts to his name before this season. The other four starters currently in the rotation, Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman, combined for nine starts prior to 2017. They’ve made 36 this year, totaling 22 wins with a 3.55 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 212 2/3 innings.

When Gray returns, which could be as soon as late this month, the Rockies will have someone capable of anchoring a rotation starting every fifth day. They’ll need him to remain atop the NL West, which is neck and neck with the AL East for best division in baseball. The Diamondbacks and Dodgers are both double-digit games over .500 with good reason to believe they, and not the Rockies, are the class of the division. For now, however, it’s hard to doubt baseball’s hottest team.

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