1. Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals: His 6-1 victory over the Royals on Sunday affords another opportunity to sing Wacha’s praises. As part of their building the NL’s best record, the Cardinals have won all nine of Wacha’s starts this season, so his getting his record to 7-0 is just one part of getting credit where credit is due. Run support has obviously helped, as he’s getting just under six runs per start from the Cardinals. And while I’m usually not that amused by numbers in themselves, it’s sort of cool that Wacha has allowed between four and six hits in each of his starts, and has walked zero, one or two men.
A big part of what’s working for Wacha is increased use and success with his cutter and curveball to complement a fastball that sits around 93 mph. His strikeout rate has taken a big hit, dropping from 22.5 percent in his first two seasons down toward 15 percent this year, but he’s walking fewer batters and getting more grounders and ground-ball outs. He’s firing more strikes, and he’s keeping opponents’ at-bats shorter than ever, down to 3.7 pitches per plate appearance when he was around 4.0 during his dominating debut season in 2013.
What’s especially interesting is that Wacha’s effectiveness this season hasn’t profited from any outright dominance. Using Game Score, Sunday’s win was tied for Wacha’s best start of the season, with a 67. It was also his seventh quality start in nine. However, none of Wacha’s starts this season rank among the 200 or even the 220 best turns of the season. For the man who’s on the spot to be the replacement for Adam Wainwright as this season’s ace, that might trouble some, but if he keeps delivering these kinds of results, it won’t have to.
2. Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins: While Game Score doesn’t give much love to Wacha’s results, Gibson’s dominating eight-inning spin against the White Sox merited a 78 and ranks among the 50 best starts of the season so far. The towering sinkerballer has spun quality starts in five of his last six turns, a big part of the reason why the Twins are now 25-18. Are they simply a fluke thanks to timely late-game hitting and an early tendency to beat up on opposing lefties (they’re now 15-5 against southpaws)? Gibson’s development into a classic Brad Radke-style strike-throwing control fiend could be part of the reason why they’re more than that.
3. Brian Dozier, Twins: Two home runs? Yes, it was in the Cell and against a lefty starter, but still, the guy's making a heck of a case for being the "other" great second baseman in the AL.
4. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks: Goldschmidt clouted his 12th home run of the young season to help the Snakes slip past the Cubs 4-3. With 2.6 WAR, Goldschmidt is part of a big conversation as to who is baseball’s best player this season -- at least in the non-Bryce Harper category, since Harper’s already up to 3.7 WAR and almost a full win ahead of everyone else, even Mike Trout (2.9).
5. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies: Amid the Tulo trade rumors, questions over what’s gone wrong with Carlos Gonzalez and the general malaise that seems to afflict all things Rockies these days, the one thing that I hope Rockies fans are setting aside as something they should still get to enjoy for years to come is Arenado. He put up a big day at the plate in Colorado’s 11-2 win over the Giants, homering, tripling and singling twice. Beyond this kind of power display at the age of 24, Arenado is among the people I’d pay full price to watch, just to watch him pick it at the hot corner.
Finally, I know that this is just a baseball blog, but please bear with me: Memorial Day is dedicated to the countrymen and women who lost their lives in service to their country. Probably like you, I’m among the fortunate millions who hasn’t lost someone, but having read my grandfather’s flight diary from when he was flying off carrier decks in World War II, I learned of his sense of loss in the moment, carefully noting the friends who didn’t make the flight back as the task force he flew with fought its way across the Pacific. That remains a vivid reminder to value that much more the fact that he made it home to have a life that made much possible. We owe much to a very few. I’m hoping that, if possible, on Monday you can spare the sacrifice of those we've lost a moment, a gesture or a contribution to the charities that support the families they left behind.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.