1. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks: If there’s one thing that shouldn’t be up for further debate, it’s whether or not Goldschmidt is the best hitter in the National League. The Miggy vs. Trout conversation has been swell, and from 2013-15 they’re one-two in OPS+. But who’s between them in raw OPS, and third behind them in OPS+? It’s Goldy. He’s also second in OBP, fifth in Isolated Power and third in batting average in the majors.
There’s really nothing he can’t do at the plate: If you leave it out over the plate, go high, go inside, he hurts you, badly. If you get nibbly outside the zone, he doesn’t go fishing, and his walk rate is now climbing toward 20 percent.
So that title for best hitter in the NL? It’s Goldy, at least and until Bryce Harper or Giancarlo Stanton successfully pry the title from him. (Harper’s huge hitting streaks aside, that hasn’t happened yet.) And as Goldschmidt demonstrated on Monday, he still has more than a little to say on the subject, ripping a single, double and a three-run homer in Arizona’s victory over the Angels. Not too shabby for a guy who wasn’t pegged as a potential best player on the planet when he was drafted, but who might just have made himself into one. Whatever the nonsense going on over on the AL side of the All-Star balloting, at least as of last week the voters were getting it right when it came to the best choice at first base in the National League. Add in that the Snakes are now just a game south of .500, and it's becoming an interesting season indeed out in the NL West.
2. Your first-place Tampa Bay Rays: Remember them? They briefly held first place in the AL East for a few days in May, but after beating the Nationals 6-1, they’re back on top by their lonesomes. You can delete Andrew Friedman from the formula, you can delete Joe Maddon, but the result? Still delightfully -- perhaps even exasperatingly -- successful. They’re doing it with an offense led not by Evan Longoria but journeyman Joey Butler, with lineup cards depending on a leadoff platoon of Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer, and that have Logan Forsythe cleaning up.
What about on the pitching side of the equation? Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi anchored the rotation, at least until Odorizzi landed on the DL, but if there’s one thing the Rays have done better than most, it’s cobble together a rotation with their second-rank options, such as Monday’s winner, Erasmo Ramirez. Losing Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly was supposed to kill them off, but now Smyly might join Matt Moore on the comeback trail in the second half, with Odorizzi’s return yet to be determined.
So if you think you’ve got the Rays pegged, remember they’re a constantly moving target, digging into their depth to present you with their best possible combination every day, and beating you more often than not. Considering how nobody else in the AL East looks like a 90-win world-beater just yet, they might just end up surprising everybody with their best spin on underdog contention yet.
3. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays: Two more homers from the Blue Jays’ basher got him up to 13 on the season, the second sending the game into extras before the Mets ultimately ended Toronto’s win streak. He’s still well behind Josh Donaldson’s team-leading tally of 17, but what has been especially exciting for the Jays has been seeing Bautista back in the lineup in right field now that his shoulder has healed up from an injury aggravated on a throw in late April. Not only does that net the Jays the benefit of Bautista’s glove work in the corner, it nets an added benefit on defense because it frees up the DH slot for Edwin Encarnacion, creating playing time for defensive wiz Justin Smoak at first base. It still will make sense to rotate Bautista in at DH once in a while to help avoid injury, but the Jays are reaping multiple payoffs while getting Joey Bats back as he oughta be.
4. Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates: Eight innings, three baserunners and a dozen strikeouts? More than enough to beat the White Sox in an 11-0 rout, but it was also good for a Game Score of 89, which is the best spin from a Pirates starter since A.J. Burnett’s 2012 shutout of the Cubs and Todd Ritchie’s shutout of the Royals in 2002, and just outside of the 20 best starts for the Pirates in the era of divisional play.
Which is all cool, but the other thing that was nice to see was that Liriano finally got some run support. He, Gerrit Cole and Burnett have been excellent for the Bucs this season, all throwing at least 10 quality starts in their 13 turns so far. But unlike Cole and Burnett, Liriano was averaging just 2.5 runs per game in support before Monday, hence his 4-5 record where the other two are a combined 16-4.
5. Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers: A complete-game shutout of the Reds is a nice thing to note, but remember when this was what the Tigers were supposed to get from Sanchez? This was his first shutout since 2013, when he won the AL ERA title (and FIP title, if you worry about such things). He now has a 20 2/3 scoreless innings streak going. I’d argue that it’s every bit a big deal that the Tigers see this version of Sanchez back in action as it is for them to have any version of Justin Verlander because a return to form from Sanchez might be what the Tigers need to get over the top in the AL Central.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.