George Brett would later recall his 1980 season, when he hit .390 and chased .400 into late September, this way: "I was 27 and in the prime of my life."
Freddie Freeman is 27 years old and he's hitting better than Brett did that magical summer when he produced a slash line of .390/.454/.664. After going 2-for-4 with his 14th home run in Tuesday's win for the Atlanta Braves, Freeman is at .343/.457/.754 and it's a beautiful thing to watch -- this tall, lanky guy with the sweet swing swatting baseballs all over the place. Is there such a thing as being in the zone? We know announcers and players talk all the time about hot streaks, but are those merely random fluctuations of performance, or can athletes really achieve these higher levels when they seem to reach a state of invincibility?
Whatever is going on with Freeman, it's clear he has taken his game to a new level over the past year or so and is now in the discussion alongside Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and maybe Joey Votto as the best hitter in the game. Over the past calendar year, the leaders in wOBA among players with at least 500 plate appearances:
Josh Donaldson: .425
Kris Bryant: .419
Your leaders in extra-base hits:
Charlie Blackmon: 84
Nolan Arenado: 84
Brian Dozier: 83
Mookie Betts: 82
Freeman is the only player to appear on both lists. Here he is turning on a Marco Estrada pitch on Tuesday:
— MLB (@MLB) May 16, 2017
The amazing thing about Freeman's stretch is this MVP level of play didn't actually emerge until last June. On June 12, he had dropped to .242 with nine home runs. It took him 302 at-bats to hit 14 home runs last year; this season, he did it in 133. His turnaround, he told MLB.com in spring training, started when he changed his approach in batting practice:
"I have zero idea why I hit more home runs last year," Freeman said. "I changed my batting practice in June by trying to hit line drives to the shortstop, and it turned my whole season around. I wasn't trying to lift anything or do anything any different. I was just trying to stay on the ball and stay inside the ball and maybe backspin it a lot more."
Can it flip just like that? Can a good hitter became great with a change in pregame routine? Baseball isn't supposed to be that easy. A key factor is that Freeman was always an all-fields hitter, but now he has tapped into his power. Similar to Miguel Cabrera, he's a good hitter with power, as opposed to just a power hitter. His opposite-field home run totals are similar to peak Cabrera:
Freddie Freeman's spray chart since last June 13 (he's hit .341/.444/.690 since then): pic.twitter.com/iDa5YxuAT6
— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) May 17, 2017
If the Braves weren't the worst team in baseball Freddie Freeman would be famous and stuff.
— Logan Booker (@LoganMBooker) May 16, 2017
K-Rod gonna K-Rod. One of the best games of the season in Detroit, a wild 13-11 win for the Orioles. J.D. Martinez -- scorching hot since his return -- hit a grand slam in the seventh to give the Tigers an 8-7 lead. The Detroit bullpen had tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, but it needed 6 2/3. Mark Trumbo tied it up with a two-out home run off Justin Wilson.
An interesting moment came in the bottom of the 11th. The Tigers had runners at second and third, one out, Justin Upton at the plate with Martinez on deck. Some managers would have walked Upton here to set up a double play, even with a hot hitter at the plate. Buck Showalter made the right move: Pitch to Upton and hope for the strikeout. Alec Asher did fan Upton, and then Donnie Hart got Tyler Collins on a fly ball to right.
The Orioles would then score three runs in the 12th. Over the past five seasons, teams leading by three-plus runs in extra innings are 129-0. But the Tigers rallied to tie it up! Enter exiled closer Francisco Rodriguez for the 13th. Exit, baseball. Chris Davis slugs a two-run homer and Rodriguez picks up his fifth loss. Wilson has actually been terrific this year -- five hits, 28 K's in 17 innings -- but do you see the Tigers winning with this bullpen? I don't know. And I wonder how many more games K-Rod has left in a Tigers uniform ...
Chris Davis: 2nd player to hit 2 HR in the 12th inning or later of a game.
First- Matt Adams, 2013 Cardinals
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 17, 2017
The Rangers are .500, and that's a minor miracle. No, really, it is. Not because the Rangers weren't supposed to be good, but because of how bad they've played and how many things have gone wrong. Check out Tuesday's lineup. The only player with an OBP over .325 was backup catcher Robinson Chirinos. Sam Dyson blew like 48 saves the first week. Cole Hamels is on the DL. Adrian Beltre is still on the DL. But now they've won seven in a row! Yu Darvish beat the Phillies 5-1 with one of the most efficient games of his career: He threw 70 strikes out of 95 pitches, the second-highest rate of strikes in his career. And here's why the Rangers are .500: They have the best rotation ERA in the majors at 3.38.
Now for the bad news:
Rangers have won 7 games in a row but gained only one-half game on Astros in that time. They were 8.5 out at start of streak, and now 8 out.
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) May 17, 2017
Speaking of Darvish, note this column by Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He points out that Rangers GM Jon Daniels was recently in Japan, apparently checking out Shohei Otani, who is on the DL over there, but working out with his club's minor league team. Note that Otani and Darvish are friends and offseason training partners. Note that Darvish is a free agent and Otani may be posted this winter. Wilson speculates that the Rangers could have an inside track to signing Otani if they also re-sign Darvish.
Play of the day: Kyle Schwarber helps Joe Maddon win his 1,000th career game with this monster blast that nearly left Wrigley Field:
— #Statcast (@statcast) May 17, 2017
What has been wrong with the Cubs? Check out our roundtable discussion.
There was also this Corey Dickerson home run. Seems like 449 is a little conservative:
— #Statcast (@statcast) May 17, 2017
He's baaaaaaaaaaackkkkkkkk ... Umm, Craig Kimbrel is destroying hitters again after a shaky (for him) 2016 season. Check out the past 18 batters he has faced:
For the season, he has fanned 54.8 percent of the batters he has faced, which would top his previous career best of 50.2 percent in 2012.
Quick thoughts ... Eddie Matz writes that Ryan Zimmerman doesn't want to hear about your launch angles. ... Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight with an interesting look at the "fly ball revolution" and how it's not necessarily the right approach for all hitters. ... The Mariners demoted Edwin Diaz as closer after four walks on Monday, and new closer Steve Cishek promptly served up a two-run homer to Oakland's Matt Joyce to blow a 5-4 lead. ... The Pirates look pretty hopeless these days. They'll be sellers in July, but Andrew McCutchen's trade value is minimal right now. ... The Rockies take the first game of the big Rockies-Twins series. Yes, you heard that right. I watched much of this game, and I'd say Kyle Freeland was effectively wild. The trouble is he gets almost no strikeouts with his sinker, so his slider is his only strikeout pitch. He doesn't throw his changeup much, which is probably the pitch he'll need to develop. Charlie Blackmon has four three-hit games in his past nine games and is third in the majors in extra-base hits. The Rockies are fun, my friends.