A look at what’s trending in Major League Baseball:
Aaron Judge: The second coming of Frank Howard hit six home runs in six games last week. At 25, he is the youngest player in major league history with 13 home runs in his team’s first 26 games. His average home run travels more than 400 feet; his longest this year would have gone an estimated 460 feet had it not landed deep in the stands, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. Major League Baseball quickly produced a menacing “JUDGMENT DAY / ALL RISE” portrait for the New York Yankees rookie, who is 6 feet 7 and 282 pounds. Howard, who played for the Dodgers during their first seven years in Los Angeles (1958-64) and became a four-time All-Star for the Washington Senators, was listed at 6-7 and 255. Back in the day, that was yuge.
Angelic Twins: Ervin Santana might be the happiest player in baseball, and he gets a well-deserved marquee matchup against Chris Sale on Sunday. In his first season with the Boston Red Sox, Sale has a 1.38 ERA, no surprise from a five-time All-Star. But it is Santana, not Sale, that leads the majors in ERA, at 0.66. He’s 5-0. Santana is not the only Angels alum pitching surprisingly well for a Minnesota Twins team projected for doom: Hector Santiago, consistently inconsistent in Anaheim, is 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA. The Twins’ big bat: third baseman Miguel Sano, 23, who has a better OPS than anyone in the AL except Judge and Mike Trout. Can’t see the Twins hanging with the Cleveland Indians all summer, but a 15-12 start beats the heck out of last year’s 15-37 start.
Marwin Gonzalez: Who leads the Houston Astros in home runs? Not Carlos Correa or Carlos Beltran, not George Springer or Brian McCann. He’s Marwin Gonzalez, a 28-year-old utilityman, with nine homers. He last week became the first player in major league history to homer in four consecutive starts, each at a different position — second base, third base, left field and first base, in order. He has played every position but pitcher and catcher in his six years in Houston. And he is the home run leader this season among players named Gonzalez, ahead of the Rockies’ Carlos (2) and the Dodgers’ Adrian (0).
Billy Hamilton: The Cincinnati Reds’ speedster leads the major leagues with 18 stolen bases, more than all but seven of the 30 teams. So, after the Cincinnati Bengals drafted receiver John Ross, who set an NFL combine record for the 40-yard dash, Hamilton challenged him to a race, for bragging rights and local charities. Fortunately for the Reds, they did not have to kill the idea because Bengals coach Marvin Lewis did it first, saying Ross “is not a circus act.” Hamilton’s heart was in the right place, but when speed is his primary tool and his on-base percentage is .291, he ought not tempt a pulled hamstring on his day off. Did he not see the Madison Bumgarner news?
Pirate reckoning: The heartening revival of the Pittsburgh Pirates could be coming to a close. The Pirates might have baseball’s best ballpark, and the three consecutive playoff berths after 20 losing seasons in a row were great, but the Pirates are in last place. They do not have the resources to survive a wave of injuries, much less the loss of outfielder Starling Marte, suspended 80 games for violating baseball’s drug policy and infielder Jung Ho Kang, unable to get a U.S. visa because of a third drunk-driving incident and suspended prison sentence in his native South Korea. The Pirates play at Dodger Stadium this week, perhaps the last time 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen plays there wearing black and gold.
Boston soul searching: It was bad Monday, when Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles said he had heard racial slurs and dodged a bag of peanuts thrown at him at Fenway Park. It was worse on Tuesday, when Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said similar experiences were nothing new to African American players at Fenway. “We all know that when you go to Boston, expect it,’’ Sabathia said. But perhaps it was worst Wednesday. For the second consecutive night — even amid condemnations of such behavior from the Red Sox, the Boston mayor, the Massachusetts governor and the commissioner of MLB — the Red Sox had to eject a fan for racial taunts.
SERIES OF THE WEEK
Baltimore vs. Washington
Monday-Tuesday at Camden Yards, Wednesday-Thursday at Nationals Park
Washington’s Bryce Harper and Baltimore’s Manny Machado might be the headline attractions, but the long balls could fly this week, from NL triple crown leader Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy for the Nationals to Chris Davis and Jonathan Schoop for the Orioles, and even Washington pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who hit a 404-foot home run Friday. The Nationals have the best record in the majors (through Friday), and the Nationals and Orioles are a combined 38-19, the best in the two-team markets: the New York Mets and Yankees are 31-24, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox are 31-26, the Dodgers and Angels are 31-30 and the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics are 23-36.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin