- The AL East is turning into the most competitive division in baseball and much of that has to do with the Toronto Blue Jays. After a 13-6 victory over Baltimore on Sunday, Toronto watched its winning streak rise to 11 games. The Jays swept three series in a row since June 13, including a four-game road sweep over the Rangers, a three-game sweep of the Rockies and a division-altering, three-game sweep of the Orioles. The Red Sox are in the driver’s seat right now, but the rest of the division isn’t far behind. Baltimore is just two games back while the Yankees are 2.5 games behind, leaving the Blue Jays and Rays each trailing by five games. The AL East is the only division in baseball where each team is just five games or less behind the division leader.
- David Ortiz hit his 15th home run of the season at Comerica Park on Thursday, tying him with Jim Thome and Paul Konerko for the all-time lead at the stadium with 17 career long balls. Ortiz had a productive week, going 9-for-24 with two home runs and six RBI. But Big Papi wasn’t the only Red Sox player who had a nice week. Jose Iglesias went 7-for-17 in five games with two triples. Iglesias had 43 hits in the first 100 bats of his career, making him the first MLB rookie to have 43 hits in his first 100 bats since Luke Scott did so for the Astros in 2006.
- Evan Longoria seems to have worked on his swing this season in an effort to spray balls the opposite way. He has already set a personal single-season best with five home runs to the opposite field. Longoria hit two of those opposite field bombs in one game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, making him only the third right-handed hitter to hit two opposite field home runs in one game at that stadium since it opened, with the other two players being Russell Martin and Jesus Montero.
- Cleveland Indians teammates Jason Kipnis and Corey Kluber have been named American League co-Players of the Week for the week ending June 16th. Kipnis hit .524 (11-for-21) with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs in six games for the week and his infield single late in the week gave the Tribe a walk-off win over Washington. As for Kluber, he took a win in both of his decisions during the week, striking out 11 batters and walking just three in 16 innings of work.
- All three of Minnesota’s wins this past week came in a three-game sweep of the White Sox and Thursday’s series finale proved to be an interesting one when the Twins received run support from a few unlikely sources. Brian Dozier, Oswaldo Arcia, Clete Thomas, and Eduardo Escobar - all with three seasons or less of major-league experience - each hit home runs in the Twins’ 8-4 victory. It was the first time in team history that Minnesota players homered from the first, seventh, eighth, and ninth slots in the batting order in the same game and only the second time a team has done that since 2005.
- Even with all of the phenomenal starting pitching that Detroit has received this year, manager Jim Leyland is still scratching his head over who should close games for his team. With no one officially named to the role of ‘closer’, Leyland has leaned on Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. The choice became a bit clearer this week, however, when Valverde was designated for assignment after posting a 5.59 ERA with three blown saves in 19.1 innings pitched. Even though Leyland has had his share of headaches with closers, it’s Drew Smyly who has been the big surprise in the Tiger bullpen. Smyly is 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 43.2 innings pitched, but will continue to labor solely as a middle reliever.
- Houston’s Carlos Pena etched his name into baseball lore this week with a three-run walkoff home run in a 7-4 victory over the Brewers on Thursday. It was the sixth walkoff homer of Pena's career and he has hit them for five different teams: the Athletics, Tigers, Red Sox, Rays, and Astros. That ties the all-time major-league record, which was set by Johnny Damon, who hit walkoff home runs for the Royals, Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, and Rays.
- Most Seattle fans would safely assume that a 7-0 lead for the Mariners with Felix Hernandez on the mound in the fifth inning is an automatic win... but not on Thursday. That is the exact scenario he faced against the Angels and they tagged him for seven runs after the first seven Los Angeles batters of the inning reached base. It was just the second time in his career that Hernandez failed to record a win after his team gave him five or more runs of support. Even with the disastrous collapse, King Felix has an 8-4 record and 2.71 ERA with 112 strikeouts. Given his career numbers, it’s probably safe to say he will bounce back this week against Pittsburgh at home.
- The Mets sent starter Colin McHugh to the Rockies this past week in exchange for outfielder Eric Young, Jr., a move that probably had plenty to do with a lack of consistency at the leadoff spot this season. In his first few games with New York, Young is already paying dividends, going 5-for-17 with four RBI and a run scored and setting the table for a Mets series win in Philadelphia. Manager Terry Collins seems ready to give Young a shot to be his full-time leadoff man, especially given his potential to steal bases, but nothing is ever set in stone for the Mets. They have been in search of a leadoff hitter since Spring Training.
- After being named National League Player of the Week two weeks in a row, Domonic Brown seems to have cooled down a bit. The Phillies youngster scorched through the month of May with 12 home runs while raising his average more than 30 points. This past week, however, Brown went a modest 6-for-19 and struck out eight times. Brown has not hit a home run since June 8th.
- The National League has seen some phenomenal young talent on the mound this season, with studs like Matt Harvey, Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin becoming household names. But what about Jeff Locke? The 26-year-old Pittsburgh starter is not nearly as overpowering or versatile as the other guys, but he’s shown he can hang with them. In fact, Locke currently leads the National League with a 2.01 ERA and is quietly having an unbelievable season on one of the league’s most surprising teams. In all of baseball, only Clay Buchholz has a better earned run average and batters are hitting a measly .203 against Locke this season. He won’t strike out many batters and he walks more of them than he would like to, but whatever he has been doing is proving effective. In 15 starts on the season, Locke has allowed one run or less in 10 of them. Consistency like that is one of the many reasons why Pittsburgh could be heading to the playoffs.
- Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso began his season on poor footing and was hitting just .197 midway through May. Now, Descalso, a valuable member of Cardinal playoff teams the last two years, is hitting .279 after compiling 21 hits in 53 at-bats. Whatever he has changed since then seems to have made a difference because in a span of 17 games Descalso started at either third base, shortstop or second base, he hit .387 and the Cardinals won 16 of those games. Manager Mike Matheny noted how important Descalso has been when he starts games and will likely give him more opportunities. They will most likely be at third base with hot-hitting Matt Carpenter a lock at second base. Either way you spin it, the Cardinals are the top dog in the NL Central and timely hitting from players like Descalso is a huge reason for that.
- Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez was named National League Player of the Week for the week ending on June 16th. He crushed three home runs during the week, hitting 10-for-21 with a pair of doubles and a triple. He also had eight RBI. Gonzalez has been a model of consistency so far this season, hitting .311 with 20 home runs and 56 RBI. He also has 13 stolen bases.
- Chris Denorfia had a night to remember on Friday as the Padres beat the Dodgers by a score of 5-2. The outfielder had a home run, a walk and a single in his three trips to the plate against Clayton Kershaw. The only other player to face Kershaw at least three times in one game, reach base in every plate appearance and hit a home run was Luis Castillo. While he was with the Mets in 2008, Castillo hit a home run and walked twice against Kershaw.
- This season, Adrian Gonzalez isn’t putting up the power numbers he has been known to produce in the past, but he still showed his ability to hit for raw power for the last-place Dodgers on Saturday. The lefty first baseman crushed a home run in the sixth inning off San Diego starter Edinson Volquez, a bomb which broke up the pitcher’s no-hitter, with the count at no balls and two strikes. It was Gonzalez's first home run of 2013 after falling behind in the count 0-2. Gonzalez had 31 homers after being in an 0-2 count from 2005 through 2012, the fourth-highest total in the major leagues.
John Lopiano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow John on Twitter: @johnlopiano.
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