The M's are hot. From May 30 through last night, they have won 14 out of their last 20 games. Even more impressive, their WOO - without Oakland - record is 14-3 during that stretch (that's an .823 WOOning percentage). WOO! Why May 30, Chris? That was, after all, a loss at Texas. Well, 20 is a nice round number, but, more importantly, that night began the Adrian Beltre Hitting Second Experiment. Entering that game, Beltre was hitting .221 with 2 HRs, 14 RBI, 17 runs scored, and 6 doubles over the M's first 53 games. During the last 20 game stretch, Beltre is hitting .314 with 5 HRs, 17 RBI, 21 runs scored, and 6 doubles. He still strikes out more than he walks, but he has drawn 9 walks and struck out 13 times while hitting second (0.692 walks per strikeout), while he drew only 13 walks compared to 40 strikeouts (0.325 walks per strikeout) before the Experiment began.
I think that there can be three explanations for this great stretch: (1) Beltre is heating up enough that his final numbers will look something more like the .275, 25 HR, 85 RBI season that we would have realistically expected from him. (2) This simply a hot stretch, and we can expect him to start sucking again soon. (3) There is something magical about the second spot in the order.
My guess is that somewhere between (1) and (2) lies the truth. His last two games - where he has gone 5 for 7 with a homer, 4 RBI, 6 runs scored, and 2 doubles - really skew the numbers quoted above. If you take those out, and assume that he was just fired up to see his old team, his average in the second spot goes back to .278 - which seems about right. And, if you were to extrapolate those numbers (not including the games in L.A.) out for 550 at-bats, you get: .278, 28 HRs, 90 RBI, and 104 runs scored - which also seems about like what we would expect. He is at 280 at-bats now, so if he gets to 550 (and, to be fair, he is on pace for 612 at-bats, so these predictions are a bit conservative), he has 270 at-bats left. If he stays on the same pace over those 270 at-bats, he would have 13 HRs, 44 RBI, and 51 runs scored left in him - bringing his totals for the season to .267, 20 HRs, 77 RBI, and 90 runs scored. Not bad. Not worth $65 million, but to be fair - not many people are.
Now, the magical lineup spot does seem to have some merit. Can it really be coincidence? I suppose there were signs that he was heating up before the move - he had hits in four straight games, and eight out of nine, before being move up to the second spot. But, what is really surprising, and counterintuitive, is that he is producing more runs from the second spot. Six out of the eight 2 RBI games (and, no - he hasn't had a game with more than 2 RBI all season) that he has had this season have come when he was hitting second. So, he has produced more runs with the eighth, ninth (which has been the pitcher the last two nights), and first spots hitting ahead of him than he did with the first, second, and third, or second, third, and fourth spots hitting in front of him. Some of the explanation would come from the fact that the team is hot in general. Or, maybe Travis was right - and he is seeing more fastballs with Ichiro on in front of him. But, maybe, just maybe, this means that Beltre is best in the second spot, and dropping him back to the middle of the order would be a mistake. Or, maybe the line-up needs to be shuffled completely, so that Beltre can hit lower, but still hit behind Ichiro and Betancourt, with Lopez and Sexson protecting him. What do the Magic Faithful think?