Welcome back to The Rotation! Here are five topics in the world of Major League Baseball worth bantering about this week.
1. Trout it out loud
The fact that Terry Collins considered intentionally walking Mike Trout with the bases loaded over the weekend -- a tactic reserved only for peak-level Barry Bonds and Josh Hamilton -- just gives us occasion to point out the very ridiculous reality that right now Trout is a better hitter than he has ever been before.
This shouldn't be possible, because in three of the past five completed seasons, Trout's average offensive output, per OPS+, has been 73 percent better than the league average. But this year, Trout has been 125 percent better than average, and that's attributable to a really interesting development in strike-zone discernment.
According to FanGraphs, Trout is swinging at 42 percent of the pitches he sees -- the highest such mark of his career. And yet his strikeout rate (19.3) is the lowest it's been in the last four seasons, and his walk rate (15.8) is far north of the league average (8.8).
The reason for that is that Trout has never swung at so few pitches outside the strike zone (21.8 percent). He's taken a more aggressive approach on strikes (particularly first-pitch strikes) and done a better job laying off pitches he can't do damage with. The same guy who just three years ago struck out a league-high 184 times to drive his batting average down to .287 -- part of the devil's deal accompanied by a rise in homer production -- is now hitting .350 and on pace for roughly 130 strikeouts, all while on pace for the highest home run total of his career.
It's not supposed to work that way.
So while Collins thought better of walking Trout in that specific situation, there was nothing at all absurd about the thought. We're witnessing the best version of Mike Trout we've ever seen. And we've seen some pretty darn good versions of Mike Trout.
2. Gallo-ping up the standings
Hey, look … the Rangers are interesting again. And they've got some interesting decisions coming up, too.
Having won 11 of 12 to resuscitate their season and pull within 5 1/2 games of the Astros (who were handed a home sweep at the hands of the Indians over the weekend), the conversation in Texas has shifted from Yu Darvish trade speculation back to the original intent, which is vying for an October spot.
The Rangers aren't in a particularly great position to add on to their big league ballclub with external additions this summer, because they've had to thin their farm system with other go-for-it moves for guys like Cole Hamels (whose oblique injury a couple weeks back obviously was not the death knell it appeared to be at the time). But Texas will still make an important addition in a couple weeks when Adrian Beltre, who has been out all season with a calf strain, comes back.
The question then will be what happens to Joey Gallo, who is nothing short of one of the most fascinating hitters in the big leagues. Though he's lugging around a .184 average, Gallo is a baseball bruiser extraordinaire. He's hit 13 homers with four doubles and a triple. Half of his hits are home runs! With the power comes the K's -- 63 of them in 141 at-bats. So Gallo is an early candidate to crush Mark Reynolds' single-season strikeout record of 223 in 2009, if he gets enough playing time. And with Beltre coming back soon, who knows? Perhaps the Rangers will stick Gallo out in left, maybe he'll get a little time at first. But it would be awfully difficult to send him to Triple-A Round Rock given the early productivity (for all his K woes, his output has still been 13 percent better than league average) he's shown.
Anyway, better for the Rangers to be having that conversation than deciding whether to deal their ace.
3. The road less traveled
The Colorado Rockies have been in existence since 1993 and in the time since have had just one winning season on the road, back in 2009. So no, it's not too early to marvel at their 15-7 road record here in 2017. If we can take the Rockies seriously as a viable ballclub both within and away from the bizarre context that is baseball at 5,280 feet, we can take them seriously as candidates to continue pacing the proceedings in the National League West.
"It's about consistent play and having talented players who take their game on the road and play well at home also," manager Bud Black said. "I think there's nothing secretive about why it happens. This team here is playing well all around, and it starts with pitching."
The Rockies had a bit of an uneven weekend on the pitching front in Cincinnati, with a bullpen that has been so good surrendering eight runs Saturday in a 12-8 loss to the Reds. For the season, though, their 3.59 staff ERA on the road is the fifth-best in the Majors -- and they've put that together with staff ace Jon Gray on the shelf with a broken foot. The Rox trot out the youngest rotation in the game, with rookies Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland and German Marquez all thrust into prominent roles, and the bullpen they rebuilt around closer Greg Holland has largely been reliable.
Here's the key number to know: 2.12. That's the Rockies' ERA in what Baseball Reference defines as "high leverage" situations -- the best such mark in the game. Opponents have just a .209/.276/.306 slash against Rockies pitching in high-leverage spots.
"This is something we've talked about as a group, as a pitching staff and the coaches have done a nice job with," Black said. "Every pitcher that's talented has a strength, or else they wouldn't be in the big leagues. We believe if our pitchers make their pitches -- not trying to pitch to an [opponent's] weakness but going to our strength -- I think that is something that might help in tight spots."
While the home/road stuff still rates as extreme, with the Rox carrying the second-worst staff ERA at home (5.13), there has been a definable ability to lock down opposing lineups in big spots this season. It has -- early on, at least -- made Colorado a more consistent club whose record no longer varies widely by location.
4. Something Brew-ing?
The NL's other surprise division-leader is a Milwaukee Brewers club with the highest isolated power mark (.203) in the game. In other words, the Brewers bash. You know all about Eric Thames by now, but the lineup has been pretty fun to watch from top to bottom. They've scored a Major League-high 45 runs in the first inning, and though Sunday's activation of Ryan Braun from the 10-day DL after he dealt with elbow and calf injuries didn't do them much good in a loss to the Cubs, it could further stoke the production in home games against the Blue Jays and D-backs this week.
But can the Brew Crew pitch well enough to actually hang around this season? Well, don't totally dismiss the possibility. Based off of the Statcast™ Hit Probability metric, the difference between opponents' weighted on base average (.341) and expected weighted on base average (.320) against Brewers pitchers is the second-highest in the league, which is a fancy way of saying Milwaukee's staff has been a little bit unlucky. The Brewers have surrendered the second-highest batting average on balls in play (.317) in the Majors, and that might be due to come down a bit.
This club also has a really competitive owner in Mark Attanasio who might be inclined to allow his front office to act aggressively in the midseason swap market if they're still in it. And with the way this club produces runs, that's a possibility.
5. A man with pizza(z)
All across the baseball landscape, we're all thinking good thoughts for Tommy Lasorda, who was reported over the weekend to be resting comfortably in a hospital. Lasorda has been a Los Angeles Dodger for 68 of his 89 years, which means he took over the title of "longest tenured Dodger" from Vin Scully. And whether he's signing autographs at the Spring Training facility in Glendale, Ariz., waving to folks as he finds his seat at Chavez Ravine or making speeches and other public appearances on behalf of the club, he's remained an invaluable and indefatigable presence long, long past the famous "opinion of Dave Kingman's performance" and his managerial expiration date.
I was born in 1981, which means the '88 World Series is one of my first real baseball memories, which means Lasorda was, to my young eyes, simply what a manager looks like -- gray-haired, rotund, enthusiastic (his not-quite-jumping-for-joy-because-he-can't-exactly-jump celebration of Kirk Gibson's home run is in the absolute upper echelon of sports reactions) and, of course, Italian. He always gave the (likely accurate) impression that, win or lose, his night was going to end with a glass of chianti and a half-pound of pasta. (When they opened his trattoria at Dodger Stadium a few years ago, the slogan about the meatballs was "They're not just sorta good; they're Lasorda good!")
There's this story about Lasorda that I hope is true. One night his team was flying from Montreal to L.A., with a refueling stop scheduled in Chicago. Lasorda's players bet him that he couldn't have food delivered to the plane in the middle of the night, which, of course, was like betting the sun it can't rise in the morning. The moment the plane landed at O'Hare, a pizza truck raced down the runway carrying about a dozen pizzas for the skipper.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.