Welcome to the latest installment of 3 Up, 3 Down, our weekly rundown of who’s streaking and who’s slumping throughout Major League Baseball. Our latest edition includes notes on the Astros’ blast off, Justin Turner’s return to form and the Cardinals’ troubling skid.
↑ Houston's Power Surge ↑
It’s not as though the Astros crawled out of the gate in 2019 like the defending champion Red Sox, but Houston’s start to the year was still a touch underwhelming. Alex Bregman and Co. kicked off the season 2–5 in their first two series, sitting at 18–14 on May 2 after losing three of four to the Twins. Houston has been on a tear since.
The Astros now enter Tuesday night with eight wins in their last nine games, bruising their way past a trio of American League lightweights. Houston’s 1.034 OPS as a team since May 4 is better than the current mark of all but 10 individual players (min. 40 PA) throughout 2019, and its .644 slugging trails only nine hitters. Navigating through Houston’s lineup is a near-impossible task. The Astros have also mashed 30 homers in their last 10 games—Bregman has seven of them.
George Springer and Michael Brantley have cruised through the season’s opening quarter as AL MVP candidates, with each sporting double-digit dingers and batting averages over .320. Carlos Correa is back to his 2017 form with a .930 OPS and Bregman has quietly amassed 12 homers. Jose Altuve is hitting just .243 and is on the Injured List with a hamstring strain, but pitchers should cower in fear for when he returns to form. The Astros are once again one of the leading title contenders, and their fearsome lineup should breed another 100-win season and a fourth-straight division title.
↑ Welcome Back, Justin Turner ↑
As the Dodgers bashed through April, one player was conspicuously absent from the offensive explosion: Justin Turner. Los Angeles’ red-bearded third baseman hit just one homer in his first 37 games, slugging .347 with 24 strikeouts. A .282 batting average halted any significant sirens, though his power outage did raise some eyebrows at Chavez Ravine. But any concerns have dissipated in the last week.
Turner got off the schneid on May 7 with a three-homer, six-RBI effort against the Braves, adding two more homers since. Turner has posted an insane 1.605 OPS with five homers and 10 RBIs in his last five games, scoring seven runs in the process. The National League favorites are firing on all cylinders, and Turner is now firmly part of the party. A third-straight World Series appearance is well within reach.
↑ Josh Bell Shaking the Sophomore Slump ↑
Pittsburgh’s sweet-swinging switch-hitter struggled to follow up an impressive 2017 rookie campaign in 2018, slugging just .411 with 12 homers in 583 plate appearances. His cleanup bat looked increasingly pedestrian throughout last season, grounding Pittsburgh’s power potential in a stacked NL Central. But Bell has delivered in a big way to start 2019.
Bell enters Tuesday night with 10 homers and 25 extra-base hits, slashing .319/.389/1.048 through 37 games. He smoked a 472-foot homer right into the Allegheny on May 8, then drove in five RBIs on Sunday. His sophomore slump appears to be more an outlier than a case of regression, with Bell starting 2019 as a top power option in a division filled with premier bats.
Pittsburgh will likely fade from its 20–18 record as we roll through the first half—its minus-41 run differential is the worst of any team over .500—but don’t expect Bell to cool off anytime soon. The Pirates have a young asset to bank on moving into the next decade.
↓ The Mariners Head East ↓
The Mariners were one of the league’s best stories through early April, sprinting to 13 wins in their first 15 games. The good times have subsided of late, though, and Seattle’s most-recent road trip provided a cruel setback for the playoff-starved franchise.
The Mariners were shellacked in their last seven games, a two-series trip to the AL East. The Yankees won three of four against Seattle in the Bronx to kick off the week, and the Red Sox delivered the finishing blow, sweeping the Mariners and scoring 37 runs against them in four games. The Mariners entered Monday hitting just .211 in their last 17 games and have allowed double-digit runs six times. Their early lead in the AL West has faded to a seven-game hole behind Houston, and the playoffs are likely out of reach.
↓ Matt Carpenter and the Slumping Redbirds ↓
St. Louis is in no way out of the NL Central race at 22–19 entering Tuesday, but the Cardinals need to bust out of their current slump sooner than later. Mike Shildt’s club is 2–8 in its last 10 games, losing three-of-four to Pittsburgh over the weekend following a series loss to the Phillies and a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs. Such a stretch does the Cardinals no favors in one of baseball’s toughest divisions.
Matt Carpenter deserves a share of culpability for the Redbirds’ rough stretch. His 2018 was filled with dingers and salsa miming for the 33-year-old infielder, while the start of 2019 has provided consistent frustration. Carpenter’s .654 OPS is a career worst and the 10th-worst mark of any player with over 150 plate appearances. He’s homered just once since April 19 and has registered just two extra-base hits. The Cardinals rank 18th in homers and 16th in slugging, middling numbers compared to Chicago and Milwaukee’s potent offenses.
We shouldn't panic over Carpenter's slow start. He hit just .202 last April, with 31 strikeouts and just three homers. But he'll need to bounce back fast for the Cardinals to keep pace with the Brewers and Cubs in the NL Central.
↓ Vlad Jr.'s Shaky May ↓
Toronto swept the A’s in Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s first series from April 26-28, riding a wave of momentum as one of baseball’s most highly touted prospects this decade made his first appearance in the big leagues. But Guerrero and the Blue Jays have cooled off in a big way since May 1.
Canada’s team has won just two of its last 10 games with a minus-34 run differential, sinking to eight games under .500 at 16–24. Guerrero’s production has followed the Blue Jays’ slide. He has just one extra base hit since his debut and has yet to homer in the big leagues, registering a single RBI and 12 strikeouts. We won’t panic over Vlad’s slow start, and it's possible he'll find his groove as we enter the third month of the season. But the original Vlad Jr. bump has faded entirely, leaving the Blue Jays far from contention in the AL East.