Wednesday, May 1, 2013
April’s Early Warning Signs
The MLB season is still very young, but April told us a handful of things. Some we knew long ago. Some we didn't know. Some we weren't sure about, but have a pretty solid idea now. Others we're still rather confused about.
What we knew...
The Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, and Miami Marlins are pretty bad.
Yeah, it's not really shocking that these teams are looking like potential 100-loss teams. The Marlins rank dead last in batting average, slugging, runs scored, and second to last in on base percentage. The Marlins pitching is hardly better, with an ERA of 4.38 as of Monday.
The Cubs pitching actually looks decent if not good so far, but their bats are nearly as anemic as the Marlins' — ranked 28th in runs, batting average, and on base percentage.
Meanwhile the Astros have the worst pitching in Major League Baseball ... by far. They are ranked dead last in ERA (5.51), quality starts (6), WHIP (1.63), and opponents' batting average (.297). While their hitting has been middle of the road, allowing over 5 runs every game makes it hard to win.
Minnesota's April weather is temperamental.
The Twins had to postpone four games in April due to poor weather (3 at home, one in Chicago). They also played quite a few games in the beautiful Target Field in temperatures under 40 degrees. Their game on Sunday vs. the Rangers was 74 degrees. If the Twins ever make the playoffs while playing at Target Field, they could very well play in a blizzard in October.
What we didn't know...
Chris Davis is an all-star-caliber first baseman.
Davis is on pace to have 194 hits, 52 doubles, 58 home runs, and 181 runs batted in. He's batting .349 and is a career .263 hitter. He'll probably cool off a bit, but even still, he looks pretty dang good so far.
The Boston Red Sox are back.
The Red Sox had a rough end to 2011 and a dismal 2012. How bad was 2012? They had the same record as the Miami Marlins. They were dead last in the American League East, finishing 26 games behind the New York Yankees. The Red Sox had a worse record at Fenway than on the road.
April 2013 could not have been more different than September 2012 for the Red Sox. Their bats are among the liveliest in all of baseball. Clay Buchholz is absolutely on fire. Jon Lester has been nearly as good as Buchholz. Ryan Dempster ... well ... he's better than he was for the Rangers in the second half of last season. Those three plus hot bats should keep the Red Sox toward the top of the American League all season.
What we weren't sure about...
Mariano Rivera's return
His return has been surprising and yet not surprising at all. He's been all class and purely phenomenal. So far he's 9/9 in save opportunities. Who knew a 43-year-old would be able to recover from knee surgery and go back to being a dominant closer?
The Blue Jays' acquisitions
The Blue Jays are in one of the toughest divisions in baseball and to make matters worse, the Baltimore Orioles have crawled out of the cellar and are one of baseball's better teams. And the Red Sox, who were terrible in 2012, are now back to their winning ways. The Blue Jays are already 9.5 games behind Boston in the American League East. Their new acquisitions all look to be disasters. Jose Reyes was playing well, but is now on the 60-day disabled list with an ankle injury. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey look old and mediocre. This was a team that could have contended for a playoff spot if these moves had paid off, but so far, it looks like a lot of wasted resources.
What we're still confused about...
Are the Angels terrible?
You know, after the previous two seasons of slow starts from Albert Pujols, I figured he'd have a slow start again, but I didn't expect Josh Hamilton to have an even slower start than Pujols. Meanwhile, Mike Trout is playing like he played last September, which is decent, but not at an MVP caliber. Mark Trumbo is playing about where you'd expect him to play, but with the three potential MVPs playing in mediocrity, Trumbo looks like the team's best bat. Even so, the Angels are middle of the road to good offensively when compared to the rest of the league.
Their pitching on the other hand has been absolutely atrocious. The Angels pitching staff is second to last in ERA with 4.72 (only to the Astros and that's not saying much). Joe Blanton has been a disaster in Los Angeles. So far he is 0-4 with an ERA of 7.09. He's allowed 7 home runs in 26.2 innings pitched. CJ Wilson hasn't been much better. Jered Weaver is hurt. And the Angels do not look like a dominant team at all. When Weaver comes back, things could turn around pretty quickly, but somebody has to step up offensively or this team will remain in third or fourth in the American League West all season.
Are the Nationals an elite team?
Many people thought the Washington Nationals would be the team to beat this year. After winning a league-high 98 games in 2012, they shut down pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg after 160 innings and lost in their first playoff series to the St. Louis Cardinals. 2013 with a healthy Strasburg and an ever-improving Bryce Harper looked to be a great recipe for 2013. And as of Tuesday morning, the Nationals are sitting at .500.
What's happening? The pitching has been pretty good, but not dominant. Strasburg is 1-4 with an ERA of 3.13. Jordan Zimmerman is pitching well at 4-1 with an ERA of 2.00. Gio Gonzalez is struggling a bit at 2-1 with an ERA of 4.50. And Dan Haren has been terrible so far at 2-3 with an ERA of 6.29.
Meanwhile, the Nationals hitting has a few bright spots and a few black holes. Harper is on fire, looking like he may contend for the triple crown. Shortstop Ian Desmond has also been playing well, batting .303 and newly acquired center fielder Denard Span is having a typical year, batting .277 in the leadoff spot for the Nationals. But Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa have been ice-cold, batting .143 and .182, respectively, and driving in only 14 runs between the two of them. Maybe I shouldn't expect more out of Espinosa, but it's embarrassing when three of your team's starting pitchers have better batting averages than you, no matter how early in the season it is.
I think the Nationals can certainly be better than they are now, but Harper needs some support around him if they want to win another 98 games in 2013.
All in all, the 2013 season looks to be an interesting one. Every division seems to have three or four potential contenders. But most likely May will weed out the weaklings and early overachievers. I'm looking at you, Colorado.