Bryce Harper is hammering his usual homers for the Philadelphia Phillies. Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are flashing their expected MVP-level skills while second-year phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. has been arguably the game’s best player.
But like most things in 2020, Major League Baseball hasn’t followed the expected script.
Nearly halfway through baseball’s condensed 60-game schedule, some of the game’s best bats belong to young or surprising players. Here’s a look at a few who have thrived under less-than-ideal circumstances:
— Kyle Lewis, OF, Seattle Mariners: It’s been a rough season so far for the Mariners, but there’s hope for the future thanks to this 25-year-old star who was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2016 draft. He’s batting .368 with seven homers and been worth close to 2.0 Wins Above Replacement according to baseball-reference.com.
— Anthony Santander, OF, Baltimore Orioles: The 25-year-old is the face of a franchise that has been much more competitive in the AL East than many expected. He’s got 10 doubles, 10 homers and 27 RBIs.
— Luke Voit, 1B, New York Yankees: The 29-year-old Voit has shown some power during the past few seasons but this season he’s occasionally carried a lineup that’s dealing with injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Voit’s hitting .311 with 10 homers and 25 homers while his .730 slugging percentage leads the American League.
— Jake Cronenworth, IF, San Diego Padres: He’s probably the most unexpected contributor for the young and exciting Padres, who are quickly pushing into the National League’s elite. The rookie is batting .348 with three homers while playing all four infield positions.
— Mike Yastrzemski, OF, San Francisco Giants: Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson was a feel-good story last year as a long-time minor league who finally had some success in the big leagues. This season, the 30-year-old has been among the best in the game. He’s batting .309 with seven homers and leads the National League with 23 walks.
— Brandon Lowe, IF, Tampa Bay Rays: Lowe’s not a total surprise considering he made the All-Star team last season and was third in the AL’s Rookie of the Year voting, but the versatile 26-year-old has developed into one of the cornerstones of an up-and-coming Rays roster and he’s hitting .313 with nine homers in 2020.
In a surprising twist, the two teams that have reached 20 losses the fastest this season are the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels. Both hit that mark on Sunday.
The Red Sox expected some regression this season after losing Betts in a trade and ace pitcher Chris Sale to injury. But it’s been even worse than expected: Andrew Benintendi’s been hurt, J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers have had slow starts at the plate and the pitching staff has an ERA that’s close to 6.00.
For the Angels, even a lineup that includes stars like Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon hasn’t kept them out of the AL West cellar. Much like the Red Sox, inconsistent pitching has been a problem.
40 IS FABULOUS
Minnesota’s Nelson Cruz continues to be an ageless wonder, smashing a solo homer in the ninth inning off hard-throwing Royals reliever Trevor Rosenthal that gave the Twins a crucial insurance run during Sunday’s 5-4 win over Kansas City.
Cruz now has 10 homers for the season and 411 in his career, which ranks fourth among active players and 55th all-time. His next homer will tie him with Alfonso Soriano at No. 54.
In 2020, two of baseball’s disappearing plays include the sacrifice bunt and the intentional walk. There are just 0.07 successful sacrifice bunts per game and 0.09 intentional walks.
Both numbers are the lowest since tracking of those stats began.
The reason for those trends can likely be traced to the National League adding the DH for the 2020 season. Pitchers were among those who were often asked to lay down a bunt. They also often had to bat after the hitter in front of them was intentionally walked.