As ESPN writer Sam Miller articulated on an episode of the Effectively Wild podcast years ago, "the 30-homer, 30-steal club is the gold standard of fun facts." It’s mere mention instantly conjures up mental images of a baseball paradox: light-tower power juxtaposed by perilous exploits on the base paths. Power and speed are an inherent contradiction. They’re not exactly complementary skills. You don’t have to be fast to hit dingers and you don’t need a lick of power to steal bases. Reaching these stratospheric statistical benchmarks requires a unique blend of talent and athleticism.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mookie Betts swiped his 30th base of the year in Game One of a doubleheader against the Orioles to become the second hitter this season -- joining Indians slugger Jose Ramirez -- and seventh in the last decade to join the exclusive club. The 25-year-old outfielder is the first Red Sox batter since Jacoby Ellsbury (2011) to accomplish the feat. Betts and Ramirez are the first to reach those lofty plateaus since Mike Trout and Ryan Braun pulled it off in 2012. The 25-year-old outfielder is hitting .346/.437/.643 in 134 games and leads the majors in batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored and extra-base hits. He's three doubles shy of becoming the second hitter in major-league history to record 50-doubles, 30-homers and 30-steals in a single season. The last hitter to accomplish the feat was Alfonso Soriano with the Yankees back in 2002. It’s sufficient to say that Betts the clear favorite to take home the American League MVP Award this year.
New York’s Finest
Mets ace Jacob deGrom put an exclamation point on a historic campaign by striking out 10 batters over eight shutout innings in his final start of the regular season against the Braves on Wednesday. He surrendered just two hits in the ballgame (both singles) and did not issue a free pass. It was yet another masterpiece from the 30-year-old right-hander, who allowed three earned runs or fewer in a major-league record 29 consecutive starts to close out the year. He’s a virtual lock to win the National League Cy Young Award despite a truly absurd 10-9 record. He finishes the 2018 campaign with a microscopic 1.70 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 269/46 K/BB ratio in 32 starts. To put those numbers in proper historical context, only two pitchers -- Greg Maddux (1994 and 1995) and Zack Greinke (2015) -- in the last 25 years have qualified for an ERA title and recorded a lower mark. He’s also the second pitcher in the last century to record a sub-2.00 ERA with 250-plus strikeouts and fewer than 50 walks in a single season. The last pitcher to accomplish the feat was Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez with the Red Sox in 2000.
A Star Is Born
With every camera lens and set of eyes focused almost exclusively on impending free agent Bryce Harper, playing in his final home game in a Nationals uniform, it was highly-touted rookie center fielder Victor Robles who stole the show. The 21-year-old phenom went 4-for-5 with a three-run homer, five RBI and a stolen base in a blowout win over the Marlins. Once again, the iconic verse from 90’s alternative rockers Semisonic rings true, "every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end."
Simply put, there’s no way to put a positive spin on the fact that the Nationals are all but guaranteed to lose Harper in free agency this offseason. The 25-year-old slugger leads the major leagues in walks and eclipsed the 30-homer plateau for the second time in his career this season. However, they’re in a better position to absorb his loss than almost any other franchise in the game. Washington already has a potential franchise cornerstone in rookie right fielder Juan Soto. The 19-year-old sensation burst onto the scene in early mid-May and hasn’t stopped hitting ever since. He’s recorded a sublime .295/.406/.515 triple-slash line with 75 runs scored, 21 homers, 66 RBI and five steals in just 481 big-league plate appearances. He has the potential to evolve into a once-in-a-generation transcendent talent, just like Harper. The question is whether Robles -- widely regarded as the superior prospect just five months ago -- is also ready to make that jump.
He missed nearly the entire 2018 season after suffering a hyperextended left elbow at Triple-A Syracuse in early April, but has flashed an impressive blend of power and speed at the big-league level, hitting .275/.329/.529 with three homers and two steals in 56 plate appearances this month. Robles possesses the raw tools necessary to evolve into a five-category fantasy monster as early as next season. Even if he fails to develop into a consistent power source, his ability to steal 30-plus bases mitigates all of the risk in his profile. From a dynasty perspective, Robles is one of the most attractive long-term assets in the game and he’s quickly developing into one of the most attractive potential 2019 breakout candidates.
Good News, Bad News
The Yankees playoff hopes received a much-needed injection of optimism when team broadcaster Michael Kay reported on his radio show that shortstop Didi Gregorius (wrist) has been cleared to resume baseball activities on Wednesday. He also added that Gregorius will likely play in a game or two this weekend in preparation for the postseason. It’s extremely positive news, considering that the team initially feared that he could be sidelined for the remainder of the year after he was diagnosed with cartilage damage in his right wrist last Saturday. "We’re not out of the woods," Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters on Wednesday. "We’re in the early stages out of it. We’ve got to see how this day unfolds and how he responds, but hopefully he can get to that point where he’s full go." Barring an unexpected setback, all signs point to Gregorius trotting out to his usual shortstop and solidifying the heart of the Yankee lineup when New York takes on Oakland in the American League Wild Card Game on Wednesday, October 3.
Meanwhile, an MRI on Wednesday revealed that Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson has a partially torn ligament in his left hand. The 24-year-old will be shut down for the remainder of the regular season and then re-evaluated before the start of the National League Division Series. He was flown out to Atlanta to visit with a hand specialist, and while X-rays came back negative, further testing revealed the partially torn ligament between his left ring finger and wrist. There’s no immediate timetable for his potential return, but the injury doesn’t appear to be season-ending. Veteran utility infielder Charlie Culberson will take over at shortstop for Atlanta in his absence.
End of an Era
After nearly an entire month of speculation, the Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins officially announced at a press conference on Wednesday that manager John Gibbons will not be returning for the 2019 season. Gibbons led Toronto to an American League East title in 2015 and back-to-back appearances in the American League Championship Series in 2015 and 2016, but has posted a pedestrian 148-173 record over the last two years. He owns a 792-787 record in his two stints as manager of the Blue Jays, and he ranks second only to Cito Gaston (894-837) in franchise history in wins and games managed. He’ll continue to manage the team for the remainder of the year. According to Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports, the Jays will be looking to "hire a younger manager with a likely target date to compete in 2020 or 2021." Bob Nightengale of USA Today has put forth Eric Wedge and Stubby Clapp as "two strong potential candidates" to fill the position. Regardless of who takes over at the helm, Toronto is starting at a long-term rebuilding phase in the years to come.
American League Quick Hits: Aaron Hicks (hamstring) told reporters that he expects to be able to play on Friday against the Red Sox … White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters on Wednesday that Jose Abreu (thigh) has been shut down for the rest of the season … Kevin Kiermaier exited Wednesday's game against the Yankees early, and has been diagnosed with a season-ending hairline fracture in his right foot … Matt Duffy left Wednesday's game against the Yankees with a quad injury … Adalberto Mondesi went 2-for-5 with two stolen bases and two runs scored in the Royals’ win over the Reds … Whit Merrifield swiped a pair of bases in that contest as well to give him an American League-leading 41 steals on the year … Rafael Devers went 5-for-8 with two home runs and six RBI in the Red Sox split of a doubleheader against the Orioles … J.D. Martinez belted his 42nd home run of the season in Game 1 of the twin billing … Adam Jones went 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI in the Orioles’ nightcap victory … Chris Sale struck out eight batters and gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings in that contest … Luke Voit went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI in the Yankees’ loss to the Rays … Sergio Romo surrendered four runs, but still managed to escape with a save in that one … Randal Grichuk went 1-for-3 with a two-run homer in the Blue Jays’ win over the Astros … Shane Bieber whiffed nine batters over six scoreless frames in the Indians’ win over the White Sox … Francisco Lindor went 2-for-5 with a solo homer in that one … Adrian Beltre homered in the Rangers’ loss to the Angels … Shohei Ohtani went 2-for-4 with a solo homer in that contest … Jorge Polanco went 2-for-4 with three RBI in the Twins’ blowout victory over the Tigers … Matt Olsen swatted a grand slam in the Athletics’ win over the Mariners … Mike Fiers will start on Friday against the Angels … Eduardo Nunez (hamstring) is expected to DH on Friday and play third base on Sunday … The Twins have shut down Kohl Stewart for the remainder of the year … Tyler Thornburg (shoulder) has been shut down for the remainder of the season.
National League Quick Hits: Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters that Kris Bryant's left wrist is "sore, but not as swollen" as anticipated after he was hit by a pitch on Tuesday … Luis Castillo will not make his final scheduled regular-season start Friday against the Pirates … David Dahl went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer in the Rockies’ blowout win over the Phillies … German Marquez struck out 11 batters over seven scoreless frames in that one … Jose Peraza went 2-for-4 with a solo homer in the Reds’ loss to the Royals … Michael Conforto went 2-for-3 with a solo homer in the Mets’ shutout victory over the Braves … Jeremy Jeffress recorded a four-out save in the Brewers’ win over the Cardinals … Travis Shaw went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI in that contest … Jason Heyward went 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBI in the Cubs’ win over the Pirates in extra-innings … A.J. Pollock had a three-run homer and David Peralta slugged his 30th long ball of the year in the Diamondbacks’ win over the Dodgers … Travis Jankowski went 3-for-4 with a homer in the Padres’ win over the Giants … Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies on Friday against the Braves.