By Norm Elrod
(CBS Pittsburgh/CBS Local) — In MLB, and in any sport really, eyes are drawn to the leaders. And a third of the way through the season, as division races come into focus, those leaders are generally the teams everyone expected them to be. But the really interesting stories dwell a little further back in the pack.
Josh Bell has turned on the power in Pittsburgh, lighting the way for the Pirates in the brutal National League Central. The first baseman trails only Cody Bellinger in multiple batting stats, helping to keep his team relevant.
The Oakland Athletics have found their stride in the second half of May, as they sometimes do. The A’s have won 10 in a row to date, with a caveat. While the exact length of this win streak won’t be determined for months, Oakland has pulled itself out of the American League West cellar.
Colorado Rockies Nolan Arenado continues his banner year. The third baseman came into Spring Training with the ink still wet on an eight-year, $255 million contract extension. And this past weekend he hit his 200th home run.
This week’s Baseball Report looks at Josh Bell’s power surge, the A’s winning ways and Nolan Arenado’s career milestone.
Josh Bell’s Power Surge
The Pirates had a rough Memorial Day weekend, getting swept by the National League-leading Los Angeles Dodgers before splitting a Monday double-header with the Cincinnati Reds. Yet they continue to hover around .500 in the NL Central, where six games separate all five teams.
The production of first baseman Josh Bell is a key reason why. In almost 200 at-bats, Bell is currently hitting .340, with 17 home runs and 48 RBIs. He trails only Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger for the MLB lead in those three categories. His WAR of 2.5 puts him in the top 10 in the National League.
The recent NL Player of the Week wasn’t expected to put up these kinds of numbers after a 2018 that saw his stats dip dramatically. Last season he hit only 12 HRs, with 62 RBIs, in almost 600 at-bats, well off his 2017 totals.
The switch-hitting Bell adjusted his stance this past offseason, making it unique from each side of the plate. And the changes are paying dividends. He is the only player this season to have four HRs of at least 450 feet. In May alone, he has hit two home runs out of PNC Park that landed in the Allegheny River.
The Pirates will have trouble making a postseason run in 2019, or even making the playoffs. But they seem to have found a power hitter to hold down the middle of their lineup.
Oakland A’s ‘Win Streak’
With three home runs, the Oakland Athletics beat the Los Angeles Angels Monday for their 10th win in a row, sort of. The A’s have won their last 10 completed games, which is not quite the same thing.
Their May 19 game with the Detroit Tigers was suspended. Oakland is leading that game 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning. If the A’s hold on to win when is resumed September 6, the streak will be 11 games, at current count. If the Tigers come back, this current streak will be only seven games.
Regardless of the specifics Oakland remains among the hottest teams in baseball, recently sweeping the Mariners, Indians, and possibly the Tigers. They’ve put up twice as many runs and home runs as opponents during the streak and climbed from last to second place in the National League West.
The A’s continue a three-game series with the so-so Los Angeles Angels tonight.
Nolan Arenado’s 200 Home Runs
Nolan Arenado is having himself quite a year, and it just keeps getting better. The Colorado Rockies third baseman reached a career milestone of 200 home runs on Saturday, when he hit a three-run blast to put his team up over the Baltimore Orioles.
Arenado drove in five runs that game, though the Rockies would go on to lose to the lowly Orioles 9-6. He hit four home runs in that series overall to help Colorado win two of three.
Through Monday, Arenado is batting .336 on the season, with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs, as the Rockies continue a four-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.