MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

5 things we learned from June

5 things we learned from June

As we get ready to flip the calendar to July, pour one for those poor Pittsburgh Pirates. At 16-9, they've posted the National League's second-best record in June, only to lose ground to the ridiculous St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central race. An application for divisional relocation can't be far behind for Clint Hurdle's club.

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June was the month the Cards continued to hover well above Earth and the Twins came crashing back to it. It was a month in which two teams -- the Phillies and Padres -- changed managers, Mark Trumbo changed teams and Jose Tabata's elbow turned a near perfect game into a mere no-hitter.

Here are five other things we learned this month.

1. From AL Least to AL Beast, thanks to the Orioles and Blue Jays.

We entered June with a weak, two-way tie atop the American League East. The Rays and Yankees were in first place with identical 26-25 records that served as the worst for an East leader at the end of May since divisional play began in 1969.

Well, the East has come a long way in a short time. Four of the Majors' 10 best records in the month of June belonged to AL East teams, with the Blue Jays and Orioles posting the league's best ledgers in that span and ensuring that this will be a legitimate four-team race (don't ask about the Red Sox).

How the Blue Jays have climbed into contention is no mystery. They straight-up mash with a lineup that is the only one in the Majors averaging five or more runs per game. While offseason acquisitions Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin have loomed large all season and Kevin Pillar shook off a terrible May, Toronto's two most productive regulars this month were mainstays Edwin Encarnacion (.982 OPS) and Jose Bautista (.954).

And though it's well-assumed that the Blue Jays need to be in the market for a starter and reliever, their rotation has settled in nicely thanks to veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey turning a corner after sluggish starts, Marco Estrada (who was darn near perfect against the Rays last week) proving a more-than-capable fill-in and Matt Boyd turning in a really encouraging big league debut.

For the Orioles, Wei-Yin Chen has been very good (2.13 ERA in four June starts) and Ubaldo Jimenez has continued to look more like the guy the O's signed to a $50 million contract and less like the mechanical and mental mess he was a year ago.

But nothing has impacted Baltimore's bottom line more than the return of Matt Wieters to the lineup and Manny Machado's ascendance to superstardom. We knew Machado had it in him, but knee injuries abruptly ended his 2013 and '14 seasons, and it was an open question if he could return to an elite level this year. A 1.031 OPS this month has answered that question.

Donaldson's RBI double

2. We, uh, might have been wrong about a few winter winners.

Add a June swoon to a slow start and you've got an awful equation.

If anybody has seen or heard from the offenses of the Mariners, Indians or White Sox, please report them to your local authorities. They are wanted for the destruction of preseason predictions. Meanwhile, a Padres team that was a major buyer in the offseason trade market might be a seller in the summer one.

Thankfully, I didn't have the Indians winning the World Series, as Sports Illustrated did. I didn't have the White Sox winning the AL Central or the Padres winning the NL West, as some people swept up in their wild winters did.

But I did somehow have the Mariners going to their first Fall Classic, and that's flat-out embarrassing, after a 10-16 month that has sunk them even deeper in the West. Adding the power-hitting Trumbo and his career .295 OBP to a lineup that simply struggles to generate scoring opportunities has unsurprisingly not moved the needle.

Trumbo's solo homer

3. The Phillies have a big building block.

June was a monster month for the great Albert Pujols, who, for the first sustained stretch of his Angels career, looked very much like the Pujols of old.

But Albert himself wasn't the only one drawing comparisons to Pujols in his prime. Phillies phenom Maikel Franco also looked the part -- not just in numbers (a .374/.415/.697 slash line through his first 106 plate appearances of the month) but also in build, approach and mechanics.

A Yankees broadcast showed a split screen of the two sluggers side by side, and the similarities in swings were striking. Veteran pitcher Kevin Correia further explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer why the comparisons have merit, noting that both men let the ball travel deep and keep their hands close to their body, allowing them to go where the pitch is thrown and hit to all fields with power.

Clearly, the Phillies have a lot of work to do if they're going to get back to the level they last reached in the 102-win season of 2011. Andy MacPhail, who will take over as team president following the season, joins a situation in which maximum returns are needed for the likes of Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard, Ben Revere and Aaron Harang, because the organization has few long-term fixtures.

But Franco is clearly a keeper.

Franco's RBI single

4. A young infielder has played a huge role in a West race.

Well, OK, two young infielders fit this category. Carlos Correa we saw coming. Matt Duffy? Not so much.

The 24-year-old Duffy took over the everyday third-base duties for the Giants near the end of May, when Casey McGehee was optioned to Triple-A. Duffy had performed well in a limited role, but the .326/.374/.620 slash line he's provided this month at the hot corner has been both unexpected and monumental in that awesome NL West battle between the Giants and Dodgers. Who needs the Panda when you've got the Duffster?

As for Correa, well, the 20-year-old kid has come even better than advertised, and he's a big reason the surprising Astros remain in first place in the AL West.

Duffy's solo homer

5. Omar Infante wants to earn it.

It appears the dream of an all-Royals starting lineup in the All-Star Game has been charred and smoked, a la Kansas City's BBQ'd burnt ends. Amazingly, though, one of the last five Royals sitting in a pole position with mere days remaining at the online ballot box is the most-mocked vote-leader of recent memory.

Say this for Infante, though: In the two weeks between the initial announcement that he had taken over the lead at second base and Monday's final update, he's ripped 18 hits, including five doubles, in a 50-at-bat stretch. That boosted his season average from a moribund .204 to a meager .237. So … improvement! Infante also made some of the best defensive plays of his Royals tenure.

Infante's nice play

Now, if you think that validates the pro-Infante voting, Jose Altuve and Jason Kipnis would like to have a word with you. Infante is still no All-Star statistically, but the threat of having a Midsummer Classic starter with a batting average below the Mendoza Line has been dissipated.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.