Brandon Phillips

Johnny Cueto

The Yankees, Orioles and Blue Jays were scouting Johnny Cueto yesterday


My theory — which is probably wrong given that it involves a prediction — is that whichever of the AL East teams picks up a good starting pitcher will have the inside track on that tight race. Well, unless it’s the Rays, who need a bat. Among the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles, however, a top starter should help elevate them to favorite status.

All three were on the scene in Washington last night to scout Johnny Cueto, Joel Sherman reports. They likely liked what they saw, given that he tossed a shutout.

Given how many teams could use a starting pitcher — add the Astros, Dodgers and Tigers to this list — and you have to figure Cueto will come at a higher price than most three-month rentals would. That could pose problems for the Yankees, who don’t exactly have a ton of top team-controlled talent to woo the Reds. That’s not quite as true for the other AL East teams, but it’s not like their systems are loaded either.

Over at Sporting News today Jesse Spector floats a neat idea: someone willing to eat some salary could trade relatively little for Cueto in terms of talent but maybe take on a bad contract from the Reds such as Brandon Phillips’. Intriguing, NBA-style idea, much like the Braves did in their trades with San Diego and Arizona recently.

Cueto may be the top pitcher available right now. So he’s worth watching. And everyone seems to be watching him.

Billy Hamilton steals four bases against the Twins, now up to 40 stolen bases on the year

CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 29: Billy Hamilton #6 of the Cincinnati Reds steals second base in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Great American Ball Park on June 29, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

With Brandon Phillips sidelined due to a hand injury, Billy Hamilton was moved back into the leadoff spot tonight against the Twins. He responded by stealing four bases as part of an 11-7 victory.

Hamilton went 2-for-4 with two walks and three runs scored on the night. He had two steals in the second inning, one in the third, and one more in the fifth.

On the strength of 19 steals this month — including a five-steal game on June 14 against the Cubs — Hamilton is now up to 40 stolen bases on the year. That leads the majors by a wide margin. Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, who ranks second in the majors, has 26 steals.

To put things in further context, Hamilton has more steals than 15 out of 30 teams in the majors. You are reading that correctly. While it’s a remarkable feat, imagine what Hamilton could do if he got on base more often. He’s hitting .224 with a .273 on-base percentage through 67 games this season.

Steven Matz stellar on the mound — and at the plate — in his major league debut for the Mets


Mets pitching prospect Steven Matz, making his major league debut against the Reds on Sunday, allowed a solo home run to Brandon Phillips to lead off the ballgame. It was all uphill from there.

Matz wound up going 7 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on five hits and three walks with six strikeouts on 110 pitches. As impressive as that was, it was what he did at the plate that truly won hearts and minds. The rookie went 3-for-3 with a two-run double in the second inning and added a two-run single in the sixth. He is the first pitcher in major league history to drive in four runs in his debut, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The Mets scored seven runs overall, the first time they’d scored more than four in a game since June 14. In fact, they had been held to two or fewer runs in each of their last seven games coming into play Sunday (including the conclusion of Saturday’s game which was postponed and resumed prior to Matz’s debut). Only four Mets hitters have accrued four-plus RBI in a game this season: Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, Daniel Murphy, and Curtis Granderson. Duda was the last to do it, on May 21. The Mets have seen only 24 three-hit games this season and just one between June 15 and Sunday: Curtis Granderson on June 25 against the Brewers.

Matz, 24, entered the season rated as baseball’s 33rd-best prospect overall by and Baseball Prospectus. In 14 starts and one relief appearance with Triple-A Las Vegas — a notoriously pitcher-unfriendly environment — Matz posted a 2.19 ERA with a 94/31 K/BB ratio in 90 1/3 innings.