Real or not? Yelich’s second-half surge screams MVP

Have a night, Christian Yelich:

Yelich went 4-for-4 and hit for the cycle as the Brewers blanked the Reds 8-0. If that sounds familiar it’s because Yelich hit for the cycle earlier this season against the Reds, making him the fifth player with two cycles in one season and the first player with two against the same team.

He did catch a little break on his triple because a better relay throw might have nailed Curtis Granderson at the plate, in which case Yelich would have been credited with a double and advancing to third on the throw. But it has been that type of second half for Yelich, with a dominant run that has put him in the thick of the NL MVP race.

Yelich has hit .355/.417/.733 since the All-Star break. In the second half, he’s second in the majors to Justin Turner in OPS, second to Khris Davis with 20 home runs (Davis has 22), second to Davis in RBIs (51 to 50), first in hits, fourth in runs and second in extra-base hits. He’s neck-and-neck with the Reds’ Scooter Gennett in the NL batting race (both are at .318), he has a slim edge over Paul Goldschmidt for the NL lead in OPS (.955 to .953), he’s tied for second in runs, and he’s in the top 10 with 31 home runs and 93 RBIs. He is doing this as the Brewers battle the Cubs for the NL Central title.

Yes, those are MVP numbers. Yelich might even be the very slight favorite at the moment, considering voters historically love a big second-half surge (although Javier Baez helped his case with a two-run homer off Patrick Corbin as the Cubs beat the Diamondbacks 5-1). Yelich already has shattered his career high in home runs — he hit 21 for the Marlins in 2016 — but it isn’t necessarily a surprise that he’s doing this.

Ever since he arrived in Miami in 2013 as a sweet-swinging 21-year-old with a polished game, the expectations have been that Yelich would develop into an All-Star (he made his first All-Star team this year). Yelich hit .290 in his five seasons with the Marlins but didn’t reach double digits in home runs until his fourth year, even though he consistently hit the ball hard. In 2017, he ranked 20th in the majors in average exit velocity but hit just 18 home runs. The problem: He hit too many ground balls. In 2017, he had the sixth-highest rate of ground balls out of 144 qualifiers.

This is where you expect me to tell you that Yelich has changed his launch angle and started hitting more fly balls. Not exactly:

GB rate FB rate LD rate Popup rate HRs
2015 62.9 14.4 21.6 1.1 7
2016 58.2 18.9 22.0 0.9 21
2017 55.8 22.1 21.9 0.2 18
2018 53.7 16.1 27.6 2.7 31

He’s hitting more line drives but not more fly balls. So where’s the power coming from? Two areas:

(A) Yelich has hit the ball harder, as his average exit velocity has increased from 90.4 mph to 92.1, though there’s something that doesn’t add up in the Statcast numbers. Last year, 29 hitters with at least 150 batted ball events averaged 90 mph in exit velocity; this year, that number is 75.

(B) Yelich has pulled the ball more. This is the bigger reason — just check the home run he hit on Monday, a liner to right field. It wasn’t deep, but it was deep enough. Check his pull rates through the years:

2015: 31.5 percent
2016: 37.1 percent
2017: 32.5 percent
2018: 42.1 percent

Last year, Yelich hit 11 home runs to right field or center field. This year, he has hit 26 (though more to center). Finally, the move to Milwaukee — one of the better home run parks in the majors — has certainly helped, as Yelich has a 1.027 OPS at home and an .887 mark on the road, with 19 of his 31 home runs at Miller Park. Last year, he hit just seven home runs at Marlins Park, his home stadium.

So you have a player hitting his prime at age 26, learning to tap a little better into his power and moving to a better park. It has been a perfect fit for player and team.

Yelich even got his home run ball back:

Cardinals hammer Braves: It was a wild one in Atlanta, as the Cardinals won 11-6, breaking open a 6-5 game with three runs in the eighth and two in the ninth. Because Harrison Bader highlights are always good, here’s his three-run, two-out homer in the eighth:

The Braves kind of gave this one away, as they walked seven batters, with five of them coming around to score. Mike Foltynewicz had his first bad start in a while, walking four and giving up six runs in 4 2/3 innings. It matched his shortest outing of the season. Maybe it was just one of those starts, but he’s now at 170 2/3 innings after throwing 154 in 2017 and 150 1/3 in 2016, so he’s hitting new territory in workload. That’s something to watch in his next start.

Edwin Diaz gets another save: Remember the Mariners? I mentioned them a lot the first four months but not so much the past four or five weeks. Really, we just wanted to show you Dan Vogelbach’s pinch-hit grand slam that gave Seattle a 4-1 victory over the Astros (good for the A’s!):

Diaz picked up his 56th save to move into third place on the all-time list:

Francisco Rodriguez, 2008 Angels: 62
Bobby Thigpen, 1990 White Sox: 57
Diaz, 2018 Mariners: 56
Eric Gagne, 2003 Dodgers: 55
John Smoltz, 2003 Braves: 55

The Mariners have 12 games left, so they need to win seven with Diaz getting saves in all of them to break the record.

Dodgers rout Rockies, move into first: This one was over early, as the Dodgers jumped all over a bad Jon Gray. Joc Pederson led off with a home run — by the way, he has had a very solid season at the plate in a platoon role, hitting .251/.324/.519. The Dodgers added a second run in the first and four more in the third on four straight hits: Pederson doubled, Justin Turner singled, Manny Machado blooped an RBI hit to center when Charlie Blackmon appeared to call off Story and then missed the catch, and Max Muncy unloaded a three-run homer, crushing a slider to right-center.

The other big news from this game: Trevor Story left the game after appearing to hurt his wrist on a swing in the fourth inning. Keep an eye out for an update on Tuesday.

www.espn.com – MLB

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