- The top storylines from Sunday include Mike Trout's pursuit of his 1000th hit, Yonder Alonso's trade to the Mariners and the insane AL wild card race.
The Mariners picked up A’s first baseman Yonder Alonso on Sunday in exchange for minor league outfielder Boog Powell (no, no relation). Alonso, who turned 30 in April, is in the midst of his best MLB season so far. Though he’s slowed down a bit of late after a truly blistering May, he’s still hitting .266/.369/.527 on the season with 22 home runs, good for a 142 OPS+ and an All-Star appearance. That’s a significant improvement over the .266/.317/.418 with 12 homers that Seattle has gotten from regular first baseman Danny Valencia. Alonso is a lefty, so the M’s may end up with a platoon.
Though only two games over .500, Seattle (after splitting a Sunday doubleheader with the Royals) is just 1.5 games out of the second wild card position, so the Mariners are going for it. This despite the fact that Felix Hernandez, who’s been just a league-average pitcher this season, went back on the 10-day DL Sunday with biceps tendonitis. At one point this year Seattle had four-fifths of its rotation on the DL, so it’s a credit to this team that it's still in the race at all. But then, it’s a crowded race. Which brings us to…
It’s a Wild, Wild, Wild, Wild Card
… the Gordian Knot that is the American League wild card. The Royals, for the moment, retain sole position of the second slot, two games behind the Yankees. The Royals held on to all their impending free-agent stars at the deadline, but didn’t load up either, putting them in an odd middle ground: they’re going for it, but they’re not going overboard. Behind them are the Rays (.5 back), Mariners (1.5), Orioles (2.5), Angels (3.0) and Twins (4.5). The Rangers are only 4.5 games back, so technically still in the race, but leapfrogging six teams in less than two months is no easy matter. The AL is so chock-full of parity that despite being (more or less) in the running, Baltimore, Anaheim and Minnesota all have losing records.
It’s a very different scene over in the NL, where the two wild card slots are just about set. If the Brewers (5 games back), Cardinals (8) or Pirates (9) are going to play in October, they’ll have to win the NL Central. And certainly no one is catching the Nationals or the Dodgers who, after sweeping the Mets on Sunday night, find themselves on the best 50-game streak of any team since 1912.
After a solo shot in Sunday’s 11-10 loss to the A’s, Mike Trout is now one hit away from 1,000.
A player’s 1,000th hit isn’t usually something that calls for too much fanfare (well over 1,000 players have joined that club), but what makes the milestone notable here is that Trout only turns 26 on Monday. He’s not the fastest modern player to 1,000 hits—that would be Chuck Klein—or even in the top hundred, and not everyone ahead of Trout went on to anything like a Hall of Fame career. Nor is he the youngest to 1,000 hits, as both Ty Cobb and Mel Ott were only 24 when they got there. Trout takes too many walks to top this kind of list, and what makes him so impressive is not really the number of hits he puts up but his combination of average, power, speed and defense.
Still, one notable little stat: Mickey Mantle, to whom Trout has so often been compared, took precisely the same number of games to get to 999 hits: 878.
Re-leash the Kraken
Gary Sanchez is having a solid enough year at the plate, but things have been a little rockier behind it. He leads AL catchers in passed balls with 12, and errors with 10. On Sunday Yankees manager Joe Girardi, himself a former catcher, sat him for Austin Romine, after a discussion about the need for Sanchez to improve his receiving skills. The Yankees went on to beat the Indians 8-1, but if they’re going to catch the Red Sox, who are currently on a six-game winning streak, they’re going to want more from their sophomore catcher, who’s in a little bit of a slump after very nearly winning Rookie of the Year with a record-setting 2016.
Sanchez’s bat has always been ahead of his glove, and during his minor league stint, a number of evaluators thought he wouldn’t stick at catcher. Yet he didn’t have the same issues last season. GM Brian Cashman thinks the bulk he added with his offseason conditioning might be affecting him, though Sanchez, while acknowledging that he needs to improve, didn’t agree.
Regardless, going public with this kind of criticism is a bit unusual for Girardi, who is from the Joe Torre “he’s just pressing a little bit” school of defending his players to the media. For him to broadcast his criticism seems to indicate that he thinks Sanchez needs a bit of a wake-up call—or perhaps this is just too hard to watch in silence for a man who’s still a defense-first backstop at heart.