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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: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Giants 4, Nationals 2; Nationals 6, Giants 2: In Game 1 of the day-night twin bill Chris Stratton struck out 10 in six and two-thirds shutout innings and the Nats couldn’t break through until Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer in the eighth, but it was too little, too late. Game 2 was much more dramatic as the clubs took a 2-2 tie into the 11th — Pablo Sandoval of all people tied it up with a homer to send it to extras — before Howie Kendrick hit a walkoff grand slam. Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman also homered and Max Scherzer struck out ten in seven innings.

Blue Jays 7, Pirates 1: Josh Donaldson hit a two-run homer and Darwin Barney and Justin Smoak each hit solo shots. J.A. Happ won his third in a row. Manager John Gibbons won his 700th game. Not in a row, though. That would be a record.

Indians 4, Rays 3: Corey Kluber won again, striking out nine in seven innings and working around trouble. Austin Jackson made him a winner by hitting a solo homer to break a 3-3 tie in the top of the eighth while Kluber was still the pitcher of record. Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana hit RBI doubles and Edwin Encarnacion hit his 24th homer.

Twins 6, Tigers 4Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano homered to help give Minnesota a 4-0 lead. They blew it, though, before Byron Buxton singled in a run to put the Twins up 5-4 in the eighth. The Twins win their seventh of eight. The Tigers, ah, who cares, lose their 64th in their last 117.

Marlins 5, Rockies 3: Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Giancarlo Stanton homered again. It was his 42nd. He’s hit homers in the past four games and his 21st in his past 33 games. Even worse for Colorado was Nolan Arenado leaving the game in the fifth inning with a bruised left hand after being hit by a Vance Worley fastball. Imagine how bad it’d be if Worley actually threw hard.

Mets 6, Phillies 2: Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson hit two-run homers as the Mets take three of four from the Phillies. Odubel Herrera singled in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. That’s the longest hit streak for a Phillies player in seven years. He’s also hitting .342 with a .970 OPS since June 1. Nonetheless, he was booed the rest of his at-bats following a brain lock on the base paths in the fifth inning, helping to kill a rally, with some fans yelling at him that he should go back to the minors. I get the anger at the mental mistakes, but I’ll never understand why, on crappy teams, the best player tends to draw the most ire. Fine, he’s frustrating. He’s also better than anyone else out there, so maybe cut him some slack?

Royals 14, White Sox 6: Merrifield hit a three-run homer and drove in a five and Drew Butera had four hit. Jason Vargas bounced back from a terrible start, allowing three runs and six hits in six innings, stricking out seven and walking two. He got his 14th win, which ties his career high.

Brewers 7, Reds 4: Neil Walker got traded from the Mets to the Brewers on Saturday, got three and a half hours of sleep after making it to Milwaukee, was penciled in at third base, which he doesn’t play often, and knocked a couple of hits and scored a run. Domingo Santana got more sleep, presumably, and hit a three-run bomb. Joey Votto‘s 17-game hitting streak was snapped.

Braves 6, Cardinals 3: The Cardinals eight-game winning streak ends — as does the Braves’ five-game losing streak — as Brandon Phillips hit a two-run homer and R.A. Dickey allowed one run and seven hits in seven innings.

Astros 2, Rangers 1: Keuchel took a shutout into the sixth inning and ended up allowing one run over six-and two-thirds as Jose Altuve homered and Carlos Beltran knocked in a run to end the Astros’ five-game losing streak. It was still just their third win in 12 games, but they still hold a 12-game lead in the West.

Athletics 9, Orioles 3: Baltimore took a 2-0 lead, but Matt Chapman hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in a five-run fourth inning as the A’s won going away. Wait, Kansas City comes in to town tomorrow. The A’s aren’t going anywhere.

Angels 4, Mariners 2: That’s six straight wins for the Angels. Parker Bridwell allowed one run over six, C.J. Cron homered and Martin Maldonado hit a two-run single. Andrelton Simmons did this:

Dodgers 6, Padres 4: Justin Turner hit two homers and drove in four. The Dodgers won for the 28th time in 33 games. They now lead the NL West by 18 games, which is the largest lead the team has had in its franchise history. They are 16-0-3 in their last 19 series, and haven’t lost one since June 5-7 to Washington.

Cubs 7, Diamondbacks 2: Jake Arrieta allowed one run in six innings and Javier Baez and Ian Happ hit back-to-back home runs in the Cubs’ four-run eighth inning and Kris Bryant went deep in the ninth. Chicago’s win and the Cardinals’ loss gives the Cubs a one-game lead in the central.

Red Sox 3, Yankees 2:  Rafael Devers homered off of Aroldis Chapman — it was a fastball that clocked in at 103 m.p.h. — to tie the game up in the ninth and force extras and Andrew Benintendi singled home the go-ahead run in the 10th. Chris Sale didn’t figure in the decision but he struck out 12 in seven innings of one-run work, and that definitely figured in the result. Boston took two of three from New York in the Bronx and now have a five and a half game lead in the East.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Reds 10, Padres 3: Cincy was down 3-2 in the seventh when Scooter Gennett smacked a grand slam followed immediately by a Eugenio Suarez solo shot and that pretty much ended that. Zack Cozart and Joey Votto would add bombs in the eighth inning to add insult to injury.

Pirates 7, Tigers 5: Josh Bell hit his 20th homer of the year and drove in three. Gerrit Cole three runs on six hits in eight innings, his longest outing of the year. Detroit has lost five of six.

Nationals 3, Marlins 2: It was tied at two in the eighth when Brian Goodwin hit a long solo shot. Then, in the ninth, with the Marlins threatening, Dee Gordon hit a ball down the left field line that looked like it’d be trouble. Andrew Stevenson said “no problem” and ended the game with this nice catch:

Mets 10, Phillies 0: The Mets smacked four homers and Jacob deGrom tossed shutout ball into the seventh inning before being forced to leave when he was hit on the arm by a comebacker. Wilmer Flores and Michael Conforto had three run blasts, Curtis Granderson hit a two-run shot and Wilmer Flores had a solo dong. Thank God there weren’t more homers. I’m running out of home run slang.

Blue Jays 4, Yankees 0: Marco Estrada tossed seven shutout innings, winning his first game in 13 starts. Ryan Tepera worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna closed the six-hitter out.

Rays 4, Indians 1: Chris Dickerson was 0-for his last 21 when he came to bat with two men on in the eighth. He broke that slump with a three-run homer that gave the Rays the win. They scored four runs here. They had scored only four runs in their previous five games.

Cardinals 8, Royals 6: That’s six wins in a row for St. Louis, this one powered by a Dexter Fowler grand slam in the seventh that broke a 3-3 tie. The Royals clawed back for three more runs in the eighth to make it close but the Cards held on. Fowler on his big blast: “Just looking for something to hit, something to drive.” And people ask me why I don’t cover more games in person.

White Sox 3, Astros 2: The American League’s best team gets swept by the American League’s worst team. Rookie Yoan Moncada homered to tie the game in the ninth and then walked it off with a single in the bottom of the 11th. Astros closer Ken Giles, who gave up that ninth inning homer: “I have to tip my cap to him. He put a good swing on it and drove it the other way.” Again, the level of original insight and comment being shared in these clubhouses after the game is staggering.

Twins 7, Brewers 2: That’s the fifth straight win for the Twins and the fifth straight loss for the Brewers, who have fallen into third place in the NL Central. Byron Buxton and Joe Mauer each had three singles as the Twins put up a three-spot in both the second and third innings. Keon Broxton homered in a losing cause.

Dodgers 8, Diamondbacks 6: Yu Darvish struck out ten in five innings of work and enjoyed plenty of (needed) run support. The Dodgers take two of three. They have not lost a series since June 5-7, winning or tying 18 straight. Kiké Hernandez drove in three and Justin Turner drove in two.

Orioles 7, Athletics 2: Trey Mancini hit two homers, both solo shots, and Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo added ones of their own. Tim Beckham had two hits, including a triple. That gives him a hit in all ten games since he was acquired from the Rays. Some thought the former number one pick simply needed a change of scenery. I guess so. Meanwhile, Wade Miley allowed only one unearned run in seven innings, allowing only three hits and striking out seven. The Orioles have won nine of 13.

Angels 6, Mariners 3: Mike Trout hit a three-run double with two outs in the ninth inning of a game the Mariners had just tied with a three-run eighth. Even worse for the Mariners: ace James Paxton had to leave the game in the seventh with a strained pectoral muscle. He’ll have an MRI today, but you have to assume he’s going to miss a start or three, and that’s not going to be great for the M’s, who are in the thick of the Wild Card race.