The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, and it is one filled with peaks and valleys. Different teams will peak at different times, and others will face dark days sporadically and unpredictably throughout the year. This monthly feature takes a look at three teams doing terrifically well…and three teams that aren’t doing so hot.
It’s early. Let’s get that out of the way. We won’t really have a clear picture of some teams until the quarter mark (42 games), and right now, we’re only about 15 games in. That’s a paltry 1/10th of the season. Some players are still out with injury, waiting to come back. Some will probably get injured and miss a chunk of time that will hurt their team. Some…are who we thought they were. Nevertheless, there’s been enough baseball to form some sort of analytical judgment about what we’ve seen.
Trending Up: Kansas City Royals
At the beginning of the year, I figured the White Sox would use their offseason spree to put together a run at a Wild Card slot. I stand by that prediction…but I might have underestimated another team in their division. The Kansas City Royals were expected to regress to the mean this year, a middling team flirting with .500 after the stratospheric highs of their run at a World Series ring. Hitters would flail, the bullpen would collapse, and the pitching staff would suffer without James Shields.
After fourteen games…whoopsies. The Royals sit at 11-4, neck and neck with the mighty Detroit Tigers (who…are about who we thought they were). The pitching staff as a whole rests at the top of the American League at 3.27 runs allowed a game – not the best in all of baseball, but about where they would be expected to be if everything broke their way. The offense, however, is currently producing at a (probably unsustainable) clip of 5.4 runs a game, which is third in all of baseball behind Toronto and the Yankees. That’s…surprising. Led by (waaaay too) early MVP candidates Lorenzo Cain (.377/,469/.585 with 5 stolen bases) and Salvador Perez (.345/.350/.552), the offense has produced a multitude of big wins, which helps lead to a run differential of +32. Young players Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are holding their own. Free agent pickup Kendry Morales has been a stud. The only regulars not hitting above .300 (which is insane, for the record) are Omar Infante and Alex Gordon, both of whom will probably produce close to their career averages over time.
Is this sustainable? Well, there’s warning signs ahead. Closer Greg Holland just went on the 15-day DL, though setup star Wade Davis has been terrific in relief of the relief. The starters, though, are roughly mediocre, apart from a surprise start to the season from Edinson Volquez – and speaking as a Reds fan, I’d expect that to regress to normal as well. If they want to keep making a run, they’ll need the starting pitching to step up, because the offense can’t keep producing like every game is a playoff game…
Trending Down: San Francisco Giants
Meanwhile, the Giants suck.
Which is fair – it’s an odd year.
Now that I’ve got the cop-out out of the way, let’s look at what’s going wrong. (Hint: it’s the offense) Over the offseason, the club parted ways with third baseman Pablo Sandoval – and while his bat was streaky during the season, he would consistently produce to the tune of .270/.340/.480 with a bunch of home runs and RBIs. The club also parted ways with Mike Morse who had a potent bat, but also looked something like a newborn walrus pup when playing in the field. In their stead, they’ve added…Casey Mcgehee and Nori Aoki. Granted, Aoki’s been playing well, but it’s not been enough to cover for the dead weight of the rest of the offense, which currently is the third worst in all of baseball. That loss of pop will hurt as the year goes on.
Meanwhile, the pitching has merely been serviceable. With an offense that bad, however, it needs to be lights out. Madison Bumgarner, recent World Series MVP, is pitching to the tune of a 4.63 ERA with a 4.19 FIP. He’ll get better, but it had better be soon, because apart from Chris Houston, there’s not a lot to write home about. Heck, Tim Lincecum is currently 4th on the team in ERA…and that includes the relievers. The Giants aren’t looking good, and if the hitters don’t start, well, hitting, it’ll be a long season beside the bay.
Trending Up: New York Mets
MEET THE METS – MEET THE METS – STEP RIGHT UP AND MEET THE METS.
I mean, holy pants, what’s going on? As of this column’s publication, they’re riding a 10 game winning streak. Their winning percentage is the exact opposite of the team I’ll talk about below.
Oh, that pitching.
Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, and Jacob DeGrom have rounded into a formidable trio, joined by aging giant Bartolo Colon to give the Mets a fairly dominant rotation. The offense has been decent, though nothing to write home about, but when your pitching is that good, it doesn’t matter. They’ve also had the luxury of beating up on the NL East – and don’t believe what you see when you look at those division records, the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins have all looked relatively terrible to start the season. The Nationals…well, they did this last year, and I’m thinking they’ll be fine in the end. The Mets, however – assuming the pitching staff stays healthy and the offense continues to not quack like a duck – could be making some serious noise this year.
Trending Down: Cleveland Indians
The Tribe have been met with some poor luck of late. The offense is a tire fire, mostly due to the lack of anybody having a solid year. Michael Brantley has been disappointing to start the season, especially after last year’s MVP-contending run. Jason Kipnis and Michael Bourn look lost. Nick Swisher might as well be hiding out in Antarctica for as likely as he is to actually make a contribution to this team.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff has been serviceable, but again, it’s those early season offensive doldrums. Like with the Giants, the Indians need for the aforementioned hitters to rescue the quality pitching of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer before somebody’s arm gets blown out. Oh, and finding a closer alternative to Cody Allen might not be a bad idea either. Watching him trying to close out a game is like watching somebody searching for a lifeboat on the Titanic – you know it won’t end well.
At least the Cavs are winning.
Trending Up: Chicago Cubs
More to the point, Kris Bryant is here! And it had NOTHING AT ALL TO DO with service time and stealing another year from the guy. Nope, nothing to see here. Nothing at all.
Oh, and Addison Russell (only the 4th best prospect in baseball) has come along for the ride!
The Cubs record might not show much right now (they’re 8-7, in second in the NL Central behind the evil juggernaut that is St. Louis), but good times are ahead. They’ve been better and more competitive than they have any right being – I’ve watched them live three times now, and they’re feisty. Shortstop Starlin Castro is currently carrying this team on his back at a clip of .345/.367/.466 while Anthony Rizzo looks to figure out how to turn the power back on (1 homer and 1 double so far this year). Meanwhile, Bryant is already leading the team in doubles and Jorge Soler is second on the team in RBIs. The offense will come together, make no bones about it.
The pitching is a different story. Jake Arrieta has been a stud and Travis Wood has been decent. That’s about as good as it gets, though. Jason Hammel has been lit up, and Jon Lester has been incredibly disappointing so far (fancy glove work aside). But again, that’ll turn around. Lester’s been good – he’s just not had all the breaks that might lead to his normal record. Wait and see what happens to this team come May. They’ll be in it. I’m willing to guarantee that.
Trending Down: Milwaukee Brewers
Fewest home runs in all of baseball with 6. League average is 12. Six players are tied for the lead on the team with 1. One.
The offense scores 2.8 runs a game. The pitching staff gives up 5.93. So far, that’s a -45 run differential.
The leader in club OBP is Adam Freaking Lind with .350. It’s not shabby…but oy.
It’s…I’m out of things to say. 3-13. How did they ever win 3.