Aaron Nola

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Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.

And That Happened: Saturday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Saturday’s scores and highlights:

Blue Jays 7, Pirates 2: Chris Rowley got his first taste of the majors this weekend, holding the Pirates to a single run over 5 1/3 innings and making history as the only West Point graduate to break into Major League Baseball.

Despite ranking fourth-to-last among Major League teams in run production, the Blue Jays scrounged together seven runs of support for their starter, capitalizing on a a pair of force outs and fielding errors to build a five-run lead and clinch their 55th win of the year.

Red Sox 10, Yankees 5: Andrew Benintendi was the one-man wrecking crew the Red Sox needed on Saturday, mashing two three-run jacks as the team coasted to their first win of the series.

Benintendi’s two-homer, six-RBI performance was hardly the worst thing to happen to the Yankees this weekend. Luis Severino was tagged for 10 hits and eight runs over 4 2/3 innings, his worst start of the season to date, while Masahiro Tanaka landed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and Jordan Montgomery took a line drive to the head prior to the game.

Indians 3, Rays 0: Chris Archer has been the picture of consistency for the Rays, lasting at least six innings in each of his previous 15 starts. That streak came to an abrupt end with the Indians’ surge on Saturday, forcing Archer to bow out early after pitching into a jam after 5 1/3 innings. With the loss, the Rays sit pat at .500 and remain one full game back of an AL wild card spot.

Tigers 12, Twins 11: The Tigers went big in their second win of the week, staging an impressive six-run rally to topple the second-place Twins. Brian McCann helped the team to an early five-run lead in the first inning, destroying a Jose Berrios curveball with his first grand slam of the season, but Justin Upton‘s late-game heroics proved the difference-maker for the Tigers after he smashed a game-winning two-RBI home run in the ninth:

Phillies 3, Mets 1: The Phillies’ win, on the other hand, was anything but a slugfest as Steven Matz crafted four innings of a no-hitter and Aaron Nola clinched his 10th consecutive quality start. Yoenis Cespedes collected a lone home run against Nola for the Mets’ first and only run of the night, while a couple of mistake pitches to Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis gave the Phillies the edge they needed.

Nationals 3, Giants 1: After a rainout on Friday and a three-hour delay on Saturday, the Nats and Giants finally got a chance to face off in a late-night series opener. The field was dry enough for the contest, but not dry enough to prevent Bryce Harper from slipping on first base while attempting to beat out an infield single.

The Nationals rallied without their star slugger, putting up a two-spot in the first inning and returning in the sixth to cap their win with Adam Lind‘s RBI double.

Brewers 6, Reds 5 (10 innings): Every streak has to find an endpoint sometime, and on Saturday, the Brewers’ six-game losing streak found theirs. Milwaukee bested their division rivals with five airtight innings from the bullpen and a walk-off wild pitch to score Eric Sogard in the 10th:

Marlins 4, Rockies 3: If the rumors are true, the Marlins’ home run sculpture will be on the chopping block once the Sherman-Jeter group assumes control of the team. Unless the Marlins have something even gaudier in the works, that means we have precious few moments left to enjoy Giancarlo Stanton dingers commemorated in full Technicolor spectacle and glory:

Royals 5, White Sox 4: Most hitters undergo a protracted adjustment period when they begin to face big league competitors, but Jose Abreu just isn’t one of them. The White Sox’ first baseman cranked two home runs in a 5-4 loss to the Royals on Saturday night, becoming the first player in franchise history to start his career with four consecutive 20+ homer seasons.

Melky Cabrera, meanwhile, reminded his former team exactly what they’re missing after unleashing a tie-breaking 397-footer in the eighth to snap the Royals’ five-game losing streak.

Rangers 8, Astros 3: Rotation issues continue to plague the Astros, whose 12-game lead in the AL West masks this week’s five-game skid. The latest culprit: Mike Fiers, who exited in the fifth inning after issuing six runs on five hits and four walks. The Rangers’ Tyson Ross fared little better, registering three runs and five walks over 5 2/3 innings, but was bailed out by an explosive performance from the offense, including three RBI from Adrian Beltre and a pair of home runs from Brett Nicholas and Mike Napoli.

Diamondbacks 6, Cubs 2: Good luck catching David Peralta at the plate — or anywhere else on the basepaths, for that matter. The Diamondbacks’ left fielder clocked an inside-the-park home run in 15.59 seconds to secure the win on Saturday night, beating the relay from Ian Happ and narrowly avoiding Alex Avila‘s tag at the plate.

The Cubs broke through in the ninth on Kris Bryant‘s two-run single, but failed to close the four-run gap and tie the game. With the loss, the club relinquished sole possession of first place in the NL Central after 15 consecutive days at the top of the standings.

Cardinals 6, Braves 5: Thanks to an eight-game win streak, another solid outing from Carlos Martinez and the blessings of the Rally Kitten, the Cardinals are back on top of the division for the first time since May 16. Martinez evened his win-loss record with six innings of three-run, seven-strikeout ball, while the Cardinals turned to Paul DeJong for the tie-breaking knock:

Orioles 12, Athletics 5: You know what they say: It only takes one seven-run inning to win the game. The Orioles wasted no time booting Sean Manaea from the mound on Saturday, batting around in the first and collecting seven straight bases before the A’s managed to record the first out of the game.

When the dust settled, the Orioles were standing atop a seven-run lead, one that catapulted them to their 58th win of the season and brought them within 1.5 games of a wild card spot.

Angels 6, Mariners 3: Speaking of the AL wild card race, the Mariners dropped out of the running with their third straight loss on Saturday, despite a strong performance from Erasmo Ramirez and Kyle Seager‘s two-RBI effort. Ramirez went six innings on three hits and an unearned run, but couldn’t do much to prevent Tony Zych from imploding in the eighth:

Dodgers 6, Padres 3: Don’t look now, but Cody Bellinger is one home run shy of breaking a franchise record. The rookie first baseman smashed his 34th homer on Saturday, taking Carter Capps deep in the seventh inning to pad the club’s two-run lead. Another blast will tie him with the Dodgers’ all-time rookie home run record set by Mike Piazza in 1993.

It’s been a banner year for the team as a whole after they amassed a league-leading 82 wins on Saturday, reaching the 82-win mark faster than any National League team since the 1944 Cardinals.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rays 5, Orioles 1: Even Longoria hit a two-run homer to give the Rays a 2-1 lead in the sixth and Steven Souza homered in the seventh to extend things. Alex Cobb allowed one run over seven.

Yankees 9, Reds 5: Luis Severino continues to be the Yankees’ ace, allowing two runs, both unearned, in seven innings of work, striking out nine. Meanwhile Homer Bailey‘s nightmare year continues, as the Yankees beat him up for seven runs — five earned — on ten hits in six innings. Didi Gregorius and Todd Frazier homered. The Yankees have won five of six.

Red Sox 4, Mariners 0: Chris Sale continues to be the American League’s best starter, tossing seven shutout innings and striking out 11. Rafael Devers, playing in his second game, notched his first major league hit with a solo home run to straightaway center field. He’s going to try to convince the Red Sox that he deserves to stay up despite their pickup of Eduardo Nunez. I don’t think he will, ultimately, stay up, but he’ll try.

Diamondbacks 10, Braves 3: The Dbacks are one of six teams that scored ten runs yesterday. Helping them to that total was J.D. Martinez who hit two homers and drove in four.  Ketel Marte hit an inside-the-park homer. Daniel Descalso tripled in two runs. Braves starter Aaron Blair had just been called up from Triple-A to make the start, walked five dudes in three innings and, well, it was just that sort of day for Atlanta.

Giants 2, Pirates 1Jeff Samardzija outdueled Trevor Williams in one of the few games yesterday that didn’t feature an offensive outburst. Brandon Belt‘s RBI double in the seventh broke a 1-1 tie that had held since the second.

Nationals 8, Brewers 5: This one looked like a pitchers duel through seven, as the Brewers held a 2-1 lead. Then in the bottom of the eighth the Nats jumped all over the Brewers’ pen with six hits, four of which were doubles. Starter Jimmy Nelson began the inning with a leadoff walk and was lifted. Relievers Jacob Barnes gave up two runs on two hits and Jared Hughes allowed four runs on four and the game was effectively over. Somewhere in the middle of all of that Bryce Harper struck out, slammed his bat to the ground and was ejected, leading to a face-to-face yelling match with the home plate ump. Brewers’ prospect Lewis Brinson played his first game after being recalled from Triple-A. He homered.

Phillies 9, Astros 0: Houston shut out Philly on Tuesday night so yesterday the Phillies returned the favor. Aaron Nola struck out ten in six innings of work and three relievers completed the task. Cameron Rupp homered twice and drove in four. He also flipped his bat a day after criticizing teammate Odubel Herrera for doing stuff like that.

Blue Jays 3, Athletics 2: A’s starter Paul Blackburn and reliever Blake Treinen shut the Jays out for eight innings, bringing in closer Santiago Casilla. He did not live up to his title on this day, walking Josh Donaldson to lead the inning off and then giving up back-to-back homers to Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales, as Toronto gets the walkoff win. Needed only 11 pitches to do it, too. Efficient!

Indians 10, Angels 4: Another game that was close . . . until it wasn’t. Here the Indians separated themselves from the Angels with a seven run eighth inning. It came via five RBI singles and an RBI double. For all of that carnage it was Bradley Zimmer‘s RBI double the previous inning which put the Indians up for good in this one. Earlier he had homered.

Royals 16, Tigers 2: Another game, another late inning battering. This time it was a nine-run seventh inning for the Royals. Eric Hosmer‘s grand slam put a cherry on top of it. Hosmer had five hits in all, driving in six on the day. Ian Kennedy allowed one run over six, so he didn’t need all that run support, but I’m sure he was happy to have it. That’s eight wins in a row for the Royals. Five of the wins in that streak have come against the Tigers. They’re gonna miss those guys.

Cubs 8, White Sox 3: Chicago wins! Jake Arrieta pitched two-hit ball into the seventh inning, allowing two runs, backed by Anthony Rizzo‘s 3-for-4, 4 RBI day. The Cubs are now six games over .500 and have taken a half-game lead on Milwaukee.

Marlins 22, Rangers 10: This was a mess. The Rangers are trying to trade Yu Darvish. I doubt him giving up 10 runs on nine hits in less than four innings will truly harm the market for him — he has a bit of a reputation as a good pitcher already — but it isn’t what they wanted. Just one of those nights, I guess, as his fellow Rangers pitchers allowed 12 more. Marcell Ozuna drove in five. Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto and Giancarlo Stanton all homered. Adrian Beltre got three hits closer to 3,000. He also got ejected by a grumpy-as-hell umpire for moving the on-deck circle.

Cardinals 10, Rockies 5: Another hit parade, with even the Cards’ starting pitcher, Carlos Martinez, getting into the act. His fourth inning RBI single tied it and from there on the Cards didn’t have much trouble. Paul DeJong homered. Randal Grichuk managed to go 4-for-5 without driving in a run. RBIs are dumb.

Dodgers 6, Twins 5: The Twins took a 5-0 lead in the fourth, but you can’t kill this Dodgers team so easily. They chipped away at the lead with Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig homers and an RBI double from Chase Utley. Then, via a Justin Turner walkoff single, notched their fifth straight win and their 36th in their last 42 games. End points can be random, though. Why don’t we just call it their 71st win in their last 102 games? That’s just as impressive. Maybe more so.

Padres 6, Mets 3:  Luis Torrens had three RBI and Manuel Margot homered, but Padres shortstop Allen Cordoba was a hero too, making this sweet play that helped the Padres preserve their lead and the game: