Totality, on the other 364 days of the year, is a left-handed swing so pure it looks like scientists crafted it in a lab. It is uncommon command of a body that’s got a little extra in the wrong places, preternatural trust in both it and the bat that waggles above his head and the realization that its owner is all of 20 years old. Totality is Rafael Devers, inside a batter’s box, in complete control of the pitcher unlucky enough to face him, of the stadium that gets to ogle his wares and especially of the moment he relishes proportionally to its import.
Tuesday marks the four-week anniversary of Devers’ debut with the Boston Red Sox, and he has, ahem, eclipsed any and all expectations exponentially. The Red Sox hoped they could toss him into the deep end and he’d swim. They didn’t know they had Michael Phelps.
To declare anyone, least of all a 20-year-old rookie, in full and complete control of his swing’s faculties sounds a bit much, but know what? At lunchtime, it’s going to be dark, and flimsy glasses made of cardboard can stop you from going blind watching that darkness fall. An entire baseball column can teach you everything you need to know about today’s eclipse. Life is full of amazing things, and counting …
1. Rafael Devers among them isn’t a terrible exaggeration. Three years ago, a wise scout, asked for his favorite under-the-radar player in the minor leagues, said: “Rafael Devers. The next Robinson Cano.” Devers was 17 at the time, barely out of life in the Dominican Republic, unleashing his swing in rookie ball. Now he’s playing third base nightly for Boston and allowing the Bronx to claim, rightly, that it was in the path of totality over the weekend.
The New York Post called him the new David Ortiz. When he took Adam Warren deep Saturday, Devers became the second player to homer in three consecutive games against the Yankees before his 21st birthday. The first? Babe Ruth, of course. Nobody in history as young as Devers hit eight home runs in his first 20 games.
Since Devers’ debut July 25, the Red Sox are 15-5. A one-game advantage in the American League East stretched to five. And much like Devers’ path to totality, it took time. Before anything, there is first contact, the point at which the moon crosses in front of the sun and the answer to the question: What happens on …
2. Joey Gallo’s sixth swing of a game? We kid because we love, and anyone who doesn’t love what Gallo is doing this season ought appreciate Gallo for what he does, not what he doesn’t. Productive baseball players can come in a million shapes, sizes and even statistics.
While Gallo’s shape and size are laudable, his numbers are the show. Before he crashed into teammate Matt Bush on Sunday and broke a small bone in his nose, Gallo’s OPS was .890. The lowest batting average ever for a player with an .890 or better OPS was Carlos Pena’s .227 in 2009. Gallo is batting .205.
In his 346 at-bats this season, Gallo has struck out 152 times. He walks in 14 percent of his plate appearances, which does a nice job of balancing the punchouts, but the real thunder comes from his 35 home runs, tied for third in baseball. Gallo is a 23-year-old third baseman getting his first dose of full-time at-bats, and if this is what he’s capable of doing with them, he could be the player whose existence forever kills the notion that a player need hit for at least a serviceable batting average to be considered good.
If Gallo ever does make more contact, he could be otherworldly. His contact rate this season is the worst in the last 15 years, since such metrics were kept, according to Fangraphs. Unlike the eclipse, he’s got plenty of time to get better, whereas the tease that is the sky Monday brings light, then darkness, then light again. Kind of like …
3. Mike Trout’s 2017 season. He was the best player over the first seven weeks of the season. Darkness fell when he missed the next six weeks with a thumb injury. In his return, he has reminded everyone that he’s still the undisputed best player on the planet.
Trout’s August has been obscene: .367/.506/.767 with seven home runs, 14 RBIs and 16 walks against a dozen strikeouts. And for the first time since they won the American League West, only to get swept by Kansas City in the first round of the playoffs, the Angels look like legitimate playoff contenders.
For those who care to take that statement and declare the AL a barren wasteland, on the contrary. The American League in 2017 is a breeding ground for mediocrity, a bum fight for supremacy. It is the creeping darkness of the eclipse, when the moon continues to carve its way across the sky and bring upon something that resembles the gloom …
4. Corey Dickerson and the Tampa Bay Rays know far too well at the moment. Dickerson is a mess, and the same can be said for his team, which with 36 games remaining finds itself behind five teams in the race for the second wild card slot. The leader, Minnesota, sold at the deadline. So did the Texas Rangers, also ahead of the Rays. Tampa Bay is now 61-65. They’re a bad day away from being tied for last in the AL East, two bad days from owning sole possession.
The depths of their offense can’t be understated. In 19 August games, they have scored 47 runs. The second-worst offense this month is Philadelphia, which has scored 66 runs. The Rays have the lowest batting average, second-lowest on-base percentage and lowest slugging percentage. Dickerson is hitting .171/.205/.229 in August, and Adeiny Hechavarria isn’t a whole lot better, which hurts even more seeing what Tim Beckham, the man he replaced at shortstop, is doing for Baltimore.
Like the shadow bands that the eclipse will send to Earth, flittering and fluttering and dancing across the landscape, any sense of hope for the Rays right now is hard to see. Though not as hard as seeing …
5. Corey Kluber and his Cleveland Indians rotation mates and thinking you have a chance. Until Kansas City knocked around Danny Salazar on Sunday, the Indians’ rotation had been nearly perfect in August. Even after, they’ve struck out 137 and walked just 28 in 112 1/3 innings, and their 2.56 ERA is the best in baseball.
If Salazar can be what he was in his previous three starts, and Carlos Carrasco can turn his huge strikeout rates into something more, and Trevor Bauer can be the guy he was Saturday against the Royals, suddenly the Indians would look like the greatest threat to the Houston Astros in the AL postseason. The world saw last year what Kluber could do almost by himself. He looks every bit as good this season, the biggest challenger to Chris Sale for AL Cy Young supremacy, and Cleveland’s AL Central lead now is at a comfortable five games.
A series with the Indians means a series with their pitching staff, and their staff is capable of making hitters flinch like so many will during the eclipse. Animals will act like it’s night. Humans – especially vampires – may seem a bit off-kilter. Plants actually close, which is more than …
6. Aroldis Chapman can claim at the moment. The left-hander, in whom the Yankees invested $85 million this offseason, lost his job after a continuing series of blow-ups left his ERA at 4.29. Manager Joe Girardi yanked him from the closer’s role, making him the most expensive sixth-inning reliever in history when he pitched a scoreless frame there Sunday.
In all likelihood, the job will be Chapman’s by the time October comes around. Nobody else throws 104 mph, and certainly nobody comes close to it from the left side like Chapman, and though Girardi has plenty of options in Dellin Betances and David Robertson, neither is Chapman.
Still, it’s alarming to see him implode in such a fashion so early into a deal that goes into the next decade. The Yankees only hope it’s not some harbinger for some impending episode, like when the temperature drops 10 degrees in anticipation of the full eclipse. It’s a good metaphor, actually, for …
7. Aaron Judge’s second half. Remember way back when some clown called Judge “Giancarlo Stanton 2.0,” as if the original Stanton wasn’t all that he was cracked up to be? Yeah, me neither.
Today, Judge is setting different sorts of records. He has struck out in 37 consecutive games, a new low-water mark for major leaguers. His line is down to .282/.413/.593, still spectacular, one of just six in the game with an OPS over 1.000, but well off the .329/.448/.691 mark he took into the All-Star break.
All of this has caused consternation among Yankees fans wondering if the Judge hype was a bit excessive. And, well, sure, because it’s New York. But the idea that Judge was some one-half wonder is ludicrous. He still crushes the ball when he makes contact. He still has otherworldly power. It may be as simple as the fact that he’s in his first full season, and being the best player in baseball for an entire year is remarkably difficult. He needs to make some adjustments, as Travis Sawchik writes, but they’re not fundamental.
And once he does, the balls will start flying again, boom-boom-boom, like Baily’s beads showing up right before the full eclipse, right on time, just as …
8. Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Madson – Dusty’s beads? – did for the Washington Nationals in July. After spending the first four months of the season with a bullpen made of dry bark and crunchy leaves, Washington has ridden its newest acquisitions to respectability in August.
Ridden, of course, is the operative word, one familiar to fans of Dusty Baker-managed teams. In the first 20 days of the month, Baker called upon Kintzler 10 times and Doolittle nine. Madson was spared only because a finger injury sent him to the DL.
Baker likes Kintzler in the eighth and Doolittle in the ninth because they’re excellent. And perhaps September, with its expanded rosters, will serve as a reminder to him that the second-best team in the NL East is the Miami Marlins, and they are below .500 and 14 games back. Surely Baker knows he’s got a really good thing going on, and the very last thing his team needs is him burning out two of its most vital pieces in games that essentially mean nothing. Right?
Look too much at right now, and the thing off in the distance may not come into focus. It’s why people focus their eyes as the moon approaches totality and see Venus and Mercury visible near the sun. Squint hard enough and they’re there, which is where …
9. Clayton Kershaw is hoping to be soon enough. He could head out on a rehab start soon and return to the Los Angeles Dodgers by Sept. 1 after a back injury forced him out of a game July 23 and has sidelined him since.
The 87-35 Dodgers seem to be fine without Kershaw, but the organization understands that winning a World Series with the greatest pitcher in the world is a lot easier than doing so without. So even if Sept. 1 is a target date, it’s not solid. The Dodgers have plenty of time and a 20-game division lead, and both of those rate pretty good.
They are preludes, in this instance, for totality, that brief moment when the sun and moon line up and bathe the world in darkness offset only by a glowing ring that reminds it is day, this is Earth, we are here. It’s silly and flippant to compare …
10. Rafael Devers’ swing to something as unique as the eclipse, but then Devers is unique, is special, is another piece of that scary core the Red Sox possess for a few years yet.
Their hunt for a third baseman since the Pablo Sandoval experiment went belly up and saw them deal Travis Shaw before he turned into a star and give Yoan Moncada a chance at it until he failed and piecemeal the position until Devers was ready, which seemed like next season. Singular players force teams to do singular things, and Devers’ first month has rewarded the Red Sox’s aggressiveness as well as their choice to keep him as they shipped out nearly all of their top-end prospects to fortify the current major league roster.
Devers is here, today, tomorrow, every day until October, when he will get his opportunity to show the country what Boston now knows so well. The swing is fluid but aggressive, the bat path perfect for driving the ball, the approach like that of someone twice his age. And the best part about the totality of Rafael Devers, baseball’s newest star: You can stare at him all you want.
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