Brandon Belt's struggles this season have gone on for so long that when he lofted a fly ball over the arcade seats in AT&T Park's right field on Tuesday night, I couldn't believe my eyes. As I watched the ball disappear into the crowd, it was almost like a long-suppressed memory had suddenly come to the surface. "Oh, yeah! That guy can do that!"
Belt's home run on Tuesday was his first since September 27 of last season. His home run drought had lasted for two-and-a-half months, but for his fantasy owners, I'm sure it seemed like eons. For a player who came up touted as a hot power prospect, this meager production was beyond disappointing. Belt had shown good power potential in between struggles last season, but this year it appeared that he was making a sudden and unexpected transition into a singles hitter.
Of course, after Belt hit the bomb on Tuesday, he followed that up with a long clout to straight-away center field in last night's game. He complimented that with a run-scoring single later on in the game, capping off a nice night marred only when he came close to inadvertently screwing up Matt Cain's perfect game. Not content to tease his long-tormented fantasy owners for two nights only, Belt proceeded to hit another blast in today's game, hitting one straight into the bay. That makes three in three days. To paraphrase one of my tweets the other night, I think I speak for all Brandon Belt owners when I say...'bout ******* time!
Belt has shown the ability to draw a walk this year, but little else. Giants play-by-play announcer Duane Kuiper said it best when he commented at one point that Belt was swinging "not to strike out". With that kind of punchless slapping, it's no wonder Belt hadn't hit one over the wall yet. This week, though, he's getting better extension on his swing and it's paid dividends. He's just been taking better swings, period, at least from this armchair scout's point of view.
Belt did all of this against the crappy Astros, but it's probably not just a case of feeding off of mediocrity. We all know Belt's minor league record, so there's no need to reiterate that he's got star potential. With Brett Pill in the minors and Aubrey Huff essentially a benchwarmer at this juncture, Belt no longer has the excuse that he's being jerked around. In fact, he hasn't had that excuse all year; he easily leads all Giants first basemen in games started. If you own him and you've been grumbling about his lack of production all year, plug him into your lineup, because I have a feeling the fun is about to begin.
--Yesterday's WTF moment came in the morning when Washington Nationals obscurity Tyler Moore ripped two home runs against the Blue Jays in Toronto. This, of course, quickly led me to rush to Baseball Reference to find out just who the hell this guy was. At the risk of posing a clown question (bro), I had to ask: Was he a prospect of some kind, or just an organizational soldier having the game of his life?
The answer, I found, was a strange combination of both. Moore was called up as insurance for the Nationals' depleted outfield, and yesterday made a start at first base because Adam LaRoche was hurt. His minor league track record is solid at first glance. Despite subpar OBP numbers, he eclipsed 30 home runs in both 2010 and 2011. His power seems promising, until you realize that he was old for his level at every stop, and that his strikeout-to-walk ratio seemed to project a guy who would get eaten alive by major league pitching.
This year in AAA, however, he did nothing but tear up the league, posting a 1.038 OPS and hitting nine home runs in just 100 at-bats. He also displayed a markedly improved walk rate. With Jayson Werth out until late-summer and the rest of the non-Bryce Harper National outfielders being decidedly uninspiring, Moore could get extended playing time to see if he can be better than Steve Lombardozzi. He's worth a flyer for some cheap home runs, and maybe more on the off chance that his AAA improvement wasn't a mirage.
--If you want an early candidate for pitching matchup of the year, look no further than Friday night's duel between Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles. Sale has been a revelation this season, a bona fide late-round gem who has risen to elite status upon his conversion to starting pitcher. His numbers so far this year (2.05 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 76:18 K:BB rate in 74 innings) resemble Zack Grienke's 2009 season. Completely, utterly dominant (207 ERA+ are you kidding me?).
Kershaw, meanwhile, has been a disappointment in the sense that his normally superlative strikeout total is down a bit, to below a strikeout per inning for the first time since his rookie season. Everything else has been the same, though, as he's basically dominating despite the drop in Ks. Cancel your evening plans, grab the popcorn, and enjoy this epic matchup of the game's two dominant lefties tomorrow night.
--Please allow me to drop the veneer of objectivity for a second and say...Matt Cain! Matt Cain! Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!
Ahem, sorry about that. Even if you aren't a crazed Giants fanatic like me, watching Cain's perfecto last night was a blast. It seems every no-hitter comes complete with at least one tremendous defensive play, from Robin Yount saving Juan Nieves's no-no in 1987, to Dewayne Wise miraculously hauling in a potential home run ball to save Mark Buehrle's perfect game in 2009. This time, I give you this catch by Gregor Blanco. My jaw is still on the floor.
For Cain's fantasy owners, if you nabbed him after passing on his more heralded teammate Tim Lincecum in preseason drafts (against the advice of many experts), that decision is looking pretty damn good right now. Funny what a 0.00 WHIP will do for your fantasy team's pitching numbers.