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Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows could end up being Tampa Bay's Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek, thanks to killer trade

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Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows could end up being Tampa Bay's Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek, thanks to killer trade

Want to know how the Tampa Bay Rays are in first place? What might be baseball's best trade since Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb is a good place to start.

If you're consumed by the playoff runs of the Bruins and Celtics and a little turned off by baseball after watching the defending champs step on a rake and lose some teeth, it's possible you don't know much about Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows.

That's about to change. They're what Tampa received from the Pirates for former ace Chris Archer last July 31, and they've been difference-makers through the first three weeks of the season.

Glasnow, a 6-foot-8 right-hander with a 100 mph fastball and hammer curve that's reminiscent of Kerry Wood, is 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA while averaging a strikeout an inning. Meadows, meanwhile, is hitting .349 with six homers and 17 RBIs between left, right, and DH.

They're driving Tampa's blazing 14-4 start, which has produced an 8.5-game lead on the Red Sox as the teams begin a three-game set on Friday at Tropicana Field.

Anyone who saw this coming is a liar. Teams made 37 trades in the final week of last July, and this one didn't register as seismic. The Red Sox, for instance, acquired Nathan Eovaldi from the Rays for Jalen Beeks (now a solid lefty out of Tampa's pen, by the way), notable relievers like Joakim Soria, Ryan Pressly, and Zack Britton joined contenders, and the Nationals debated trading Bryce Harper right until the clock struck 4 p.m.

The Archer trade was considered a win for the Pirates, who were three games out of the NL wild card and also acquired Rangers closer Keone Kela in an opportunistic bid to leapfrog the Braves, Rockies, and Dodgers. The cost of two underachieving prospects didn't feel steep.

"The return for Archer right now is disappointingly light," wrote ESPN's Keith Law, "with two of the three players already named -- both former top prospects who have failed to pan out to date."

"I am a big fan of Austin Meadows," wrote Tommy Rancel of ESPN and The Athletic. "He can just hit. Not sold on Glasnow as a second piece unless the third piece is better than I'm expecting."

Even noted Rays fan Dick Vitale weighed in with uncharacteristic gloom.

"Is this the best we can get for a top of the rotation starter like @ChrisArcher22 with a friendly contract?" Dickie V. tweeted in declaring the deal decidedly not awesome.

To be fair, others praised the Rays for acquiring a pair of former ace prospects who had fallen on hard times. had ranked Glasnow the game's No. 9 prospect entering 2017, while Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had both placed Meadows at No. 6.

But each had disappointed since, with Meadows exhibiting high contact rates but negligible power for a corner outfielder, and the 6-foot-8 Glasnow struggling to throw strikes with inconsistent mechanics.

Archer ended up going 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA, numbers in line with what he did in Tampa, but not nearly enough to lift the Pirates into the playoffs. They went 26-27 down the stretch.

Meadows and Glasnow didn't do much in their introduction to Tampa, either, with the former hitting .250 in 10 games and the latter going 1-5 with a 4.20 ERA in 11 starts. The scrappy Rays, with their crazy opener strategy and high-octane bullpen, very quietly won 90 games, setting the stage for their emergence in 2019.

The left-handed hitting Meadows bats leadoff and announced his presence by homering off of Houston's Justin Verlander to open the season.

"He's got the ability to do everything well,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash told the Tampa Bay Times. "He can run. He can run on the bases. He covers ground in the outfield. He's worked so hard on his defense to continue to gain ground. And then hit. Whether it's a quality at-bat, or hit for power, we've seen both. He's got a chance to be a pretty special player with this opportunity that he's earned to get going here in the lineup, and be a big part of our group."

Glasnow has benefited from working with Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder, one of Terry Francona's favorites during their days in Boston, where Snyder won a World Series ring in 2007 as a reliever.

Snyder is also 6-8 and knows the challenges of repeating a delivery at that size. Glasnow has dominated hitters with his fastball-curveball-slider arsenal. The Red Sox will get a look at him opposite David Price in Sunday's finale.

"I was kind of in limbo — even within myself — in Pittsburgh," Glasnow told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I didn't know if I was going to be a reliever or a starter. But the Rays were just like, 'You're going to be a starter. We know what you can do. We've seen you pitch.' It made me kind of believe in myself. The Pirates gave me every opportunity to succeed. They gave me probably more than I even deserved, I guess, because 2017 wasn't a good year at all. It was just hard getting everything to click."

That hasn't been the case in 2019, not even remotely. More than 20 years after the Red Sox fleeced the Mariners to land a pair of stalwarts for a washed-up reliever, the Rays have potentially struck similar gold, and now they're everybody else's problem.

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Mookie Betts is smoking hot and could reach a milestone only two others have seen in 70 years

Mookie Betts is smoking hot and could reach a milestone only two others have seen in 70 years

BOSTON -- We all agree that Mookie Betts is having a so-so year. He didn't deserve to make the All-Star Game, he hasn't carried the Red Sox like he did a year ago, and his production is down across the board.

And yet, if he continues on his current pace, he will score more runs this season than all but five players in the last 70 years.

If that's a down year, then sign the Red Sox the bleep up.

With so much attention on Rafael Devers maturing into a destroyer of men, we've managed to overlook one of the most significant developments of the last month -- Mookie is very quietly getting hot again.

He blasted his first homer of the month as part of a torrid July that has seen him hit .431 with 18 runs in 11 games. Those runs are important, because they're the one part of Betts' game that has not suffered a whit.

He leads the majors with 86 runs in 95 games, and at his current pace would finish with 145. With a little bit of luck, he could join Jeff Bagwell with the 2000 Astros and Ted Williams with the 1949 Red Sox as the only two to reach 150.

The way Devers is going out of the No. 2 hole, there's an outside shot the leadoff man will become only the 20th player ever to reach that 150 mark. As it is, he just joined Teddy Ballgame in the franchise record books for most consecutive games with a run at 13.

"I mean, yeah. I think when anybody scores, good things happen," Betts said. "But I think you need somebody to kind of get on base in front of Devers and (Xander Bogaerts), I think it's a good chance I'm going to score."

Betts is now hitting .284 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs. That's a far cry from last year's batting title, but as manager Alex Cora noted, Betts has taken his walks all year, which suggests a solid approach. His on-base percentage stands at .399, and nowadays every baserunner in front of the scorching Devers represents an RBI opportunity.

"Aw, man. It's been a lot of fun," Betts said. "I have one job and it's just to get on base and let him kind of take care of the rest. So it makes my job a little easier. Obviously I may get a couple more pitches to hit because nobody wants to face him and that's part of the game."

Since moving to the No. 2 hole on June 25 and pairing with Betts atop the order, Devers has been playing on another level. The 22-year-old is hitting .397 with seven homers and 25 RBIs in 17 games, his OPS pushing 1.300.

Betts has been of the primary beneficiaries.

"It's been a long season, but things are kind of coming around," Betts said. "It seems I've learned what not to do."

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Chris Sale finally wins at Fenway Park and leaves Red Sox with reasons for optimism

Chris Sale finally wins at Fenway Park and leaves Red Sox with reasons for optimism

BOSTON -- Over the last year, Chris Sale has made all manner of starts at Fenway Park. He has allowed five runs and he has allowed zero runs. He has struck out 17 and he has struck out one. He has pitched with playoff seeding on the line and nothing at all at stake. He has dazzled and he has disappointed.

The one thing he hadn't done, until Thursday afternoon vs. the Blue Jays, was earn a win.

It's hard to believe that one of the best pitchers in Red Sox history could own such an ignominious record, but here it was — no one had made more consecutive starts at Fenway Park (13) without a victory than Sale.

The Red Sox had won five of them anyway, including two when Sale went at least six innings without allowing an earned run, so it's not like he had pitched terribly. Wins are context-dependent and not necessarily an accurate reflection of a pitcher's performance. But come on — we're talking about Chris Sale! For him to go more than a year between Fenway victories (his last coming on July 11, 2018 vs. the Rangers) is practically unfathomable.

The Sale who ended that streak on Thursday may not have looked exactly like his vintage self, particularly as he searched to find his fastball velocity and command in the early innings. But he produced vintage results over six shutout frames, striking out 12, hitting 96 mph late, and putting an end to a run of futility that was beginning to make him wonder when the madness that is his underachieving 2019 season would end.

"I think this year has just kind of been all over the place," Sale said. "I've been as bad as I've ever been in my career and I've also had some of the best games I've ever had in my career this year. So it's one of those things, it's more confusing than anything. Kind of all over the map. You go out there, and 17 strikeouts, complete-game shutout and then games when I'm not even getting out of the fourth inning. It's just more confusing. I feel like there are times when I'm racking up strikeouts but I'm also sitting there in a five-run hole. It's like one thing but not the other, or two things, but not the third one. It's just about doing it all at the same time and getting the results you need."

Facing a Blue Jays team that had pounded him in three previous starts this season, including the home opener, to the tune of a 7.98 ERA, Sale varied his pitch mix with electric results. His fastball sat at 91-92 mph in the early innings while he relied extensively on a sweeping slider and darting changeup. He struck out the side in the first and had 12 Ks through five.

As the game wore on, his velocity increased, too, nearing 97 mph on his final strikeout of the game to end the fifth. With the Red Sox comfortably leading 4-0, he was lifted after 101 pitches and the bullpen brought it home without incident for once.

And just like that, Sale finally could call himself a winner in Fenway Park.

"Long overdue," he said. "Nobody else to blame but myself, but obviously glad to get this one out of the way and now we can just focus on what's ahead and keep the ball rolling and have a happy flight, get on the plane and get down to Baltimore and start off on the right foot down there."

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