Giolito has posted a 2.28 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 75 innings this season, placing him firmly in the AL Cy Young race.

By Michael Shapiro
June 11, 2019

Welcome to the latest installment of 3 Up, 3 Down, our weekly stock watch of who’s streaking and who’s slumping throughout Major League Baseball. Our latest edition includes notes on Mike Moustakas’s power surge, the slumping Redbirds and a desperate situation north of the border.

↑ Lucas G-Elite-O ↑

Lucas Giolito had frankly been a disappointment on the South Side in the two seasons after his rookie year with the Nationals. The No. 3 prospect in baseball in 2016 per MLB Pipeline, Giolito made just seven starts in 2017, then allowed the most earned runs and most walks in all of baseball in 2018. A 6.13 ERA in 32 starts didn’t bury Giolito in the White Sox rotation, but he entered this season desperate for a turnaround. He’s more than delivered in 2019.

The 24-year-old righty is firmly in the AL Cy Young race, sporting a 2.28 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 75 innings. Giolito is the only American League pitcher with two complete games—one of which came in a rain-shortened game—and he’s one of 12 pitchers with a shutout. Giolito’s K% has jumped from 16.1% to 30.8%, and his walk rate is down 4%. He’s pounding the zone with an elite changeup, holding batters to a .188 slugging with his premier pitch. The once-top prospect has regained his groove.

Giolito deserves more than a cursory congratulations. He’s been downright dominant over the last month. He's 7–0 in his last seven starts, allowing five earned runs in 51 1/3 innings. He’s struck out over a batter an inning in that span, with opposing hitters slashing .145/.200/.185. Chicago is out of the AL Central race for 2019, but Giolitio’s dominant stretch is another cause for optimism as we look to the next decade.

↑ Mike Moustakas Powering Milwaukee ↑

As Christian Yelich continues to destroy the National League, it’s easy to forget just how potent Milwaukee’s offense can be. Yes, the Brewers do have the reigning MVP—and the (begrudging) poster boy of the launch angle revolution—but don’t think Miller Park is home to a one-man band. Only Gary Sanchez has more homers than Yasmani Grandal among catchers, and just two catchers post a higher OBP. Lorenzo Cain is a quality top-of-the-order bat even in a down year, and Ryan Braun remains steady. Yet Yelich’s standout running mate has been a player in Milwaukee for less than 500 plate appearances.

Mike Moustakas didn’t tear the cover off the ball in his abbreviated stint with Milwaukee in 2018. He posted a .767 OPS and .441 slugging, both his lowest marks since 2014. He then went 4 for 29 in the NLCS, adding just one extra base hit in the seven-game loss to Los Angeles. But general manager David Sterns’s deal has certainly paid dividends this season. Moustakas is one of four National League players with 20 home runs. He ranks eighth in both slugging and offensive WAR, boosting his season totals with four dingers and six RBI in his last four games. The Brewers are on a 99-win pace in their last 30 games. They enter Tuesday night a half game up on the Cubs in the NL Central. Moustakas’s production will be critical as Yelich and Co. chase a second-straight division title.

↑ Don't Sleep on the Nationals ↑

The National League East was bound to cannibalize itself to some degree given the four teams gunning for the division crown, but Washington’s 19–33 start still sent shockwaves through the NL as June approached. Hindered by a ghastly bullpen and underperforming supporting cast, the Nationals landed only above the Marlins in the division, making Bryce Harper’s departure all the more painful. Any World Series dreams in 2019 began to seem like a pipe dream.

We obviously shouldn’t crown the Nationals just yet, but they shouldn’t be forgotten in the NL playoff picture. Davey Martinez’s squad enters Tuesday night with six wins in its last eight games, creeping within seven games of the Phillies for the division lead. The Nats have an 11-game homestand beginning on June 13, facing Arizona for four games before series against the Phillies and Braves. The opportunity is there for damage. Anthony Rendon is mashing and the Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin triumvirate is living up to its billing. Washington remains as dangerous as ever, even after a ghastly start.

↓ St. Louis in a Slump ↓

Speaking of disappointing 2019s, the Cardinals enter Tuesday third in the NL Central at 32–32 and five games behind the Brewers. And while .500 in June doesn’t necessarily portend an empty Busch Stadium in October, St. Louis’s bats better heat up before its too late.

The Cardinals generated just six runs in their trio of losses in Chicago over the weekend, striking out 30 times in the process. St. Louis is hitting just .205 as a team since May 26, losing seven of its last 12 and 16 of its last 25. Matt Carpenter is slugging just .326. Paul Goldschmidt’s isolated slugging is a career-low .172. The Cardinals rank No. 10 in the NL in OPS and No. 11 in homers. St. Louis has plenty of time to catch the Cubs and Brewers, but its first division title since 2015 won’t come without a serious offensive boost.

↓ Michael Chavis Hurtling Back to Earth ↓

Remember when Michael Chavis was baseball’s newest phenom? Boston’s top prospect absolutely obliterated opposing pitching in his first 14 games, slugging six homers while sporting an outrageous .354/.466/.711 slash line. We knew his hot stretch wouldn’t last through the season, but Boston’s youngster has cratered in a startling manner.

Chavis is slugging .234 since his last homer on May 22, striking out 31 times with just two extra base hits. Three starts to close the weekend against Tampa resulted in six strikeouts, following a stretch of 15 K’s in six starts between May 29 and June 6. Chavis’s struggles won’t necessarily crush Alex Cora’s deep lineup, but it could land Chavis on the wrong side of the lineup ledger. Perhaps Boston will exercise further patience, but Chavis’s role could shrink given continued struggles.

↓ Toronto's Thinning Rotation ↓

A certain other non-hockey sport is dominating the conversation in Toronto right now, and the Blue Jays should be thankful for their fade from the limelight. Vlad Jr.’s squad is 3–14 in its last 17 games, and there is little help in sight, especially from the rotation. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are floundering, Edwin Jackson keeps returning to the mound and a long summer awaits at the Rogers Centre.

Stroman and Sanchez will likely be United States bound by the trade deadline, though their current trajectories are certainly not helping their value. Stroman turned in a strong May, but allowed six runs in a loss to Arizona on June 7, exiting the contest after two Diamondbacks dingers. Sanchez continues to disappoint after winning the ERA title in 2016. The 26-year-old sports a 5.71 ERA in his last seven starts, losing six decisions as opponents reach base at a .385 clip. Toronto has won just one Sanchez appearance since the calendar turned to May. The clock on his Blue Jays tenure is quickly running out.

Vlad and rest of Toronto’s kids will provide a flash of optimism throughout the rest of 2019. But unless the Blue Jays’ rotation stabilizes into the next decade, consider Toronto firmly outside the crop of AL East contenders.

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