In the busyness of this spring, I wasn’t able to make my typical MLB predictions posts. Probably a good thing, because I doubt I would’ve fared too well thus far. Toronto and Milwaukee in first place? The Marlins a half-game back? Tampa Bay with the worst record in the majors? Who saw any of that coming?
Now that nearly a third of the season is in the books, we have a fairly clear idea on most every team. In addition, there have been several players to assert themselves as bona fide stars in the early going. Here are a few of my musings re: the baseball I’ve seen so far:
The Giants look like the real deal in the National League. For the past few seasons, San Francisco’s success has been due in large part to a stellar rotation. And the recipe still works; the Giants are currently 3rd in the majors in team ERA. But this season, the Giants are also flexing their muscles at the plate, currently ranking 3rd in the NL in runs scored. Angel Pagan has been a catalyst from the leadoff spot and the run producers — primarily Mike Morse, Hunter Pence and, most recently, Pablo Sandoval — have kept the line moving. It’s remarkable that the offense has been in such a groove, given the pedestrian production of former MVP Buster Posey. If he heats up, the Giants might wrap this division up by the break.
Not to be outdone, the other Bay area team has also looked pretty solid so far. The A’s are led by a trio of sluggers: Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes; 1B / OF Brandon Moss; and 3B Josh Donaldson, the clear choice for AL MVP at this point in the season. Each of these three carries a slugging percentage higher than .500; the Rockies are the only other team in baseball that can make such a claim. Much like the Giants, the A’s have a cadre of power arms that stymie opposing hitters. Scott Kazmir, resurrected off the scrap heap last year in Cleveland, looks like the ace of his earlier years. Sonny Gray continues to live up to the hype that pre-dated his arrival in Oakland last summer. And Jesse Chavez, a converted reliever, has already provided the A’s over 70 innings of 3.00 ERA ball. Now that Sean Doolittle has solidified the end of the bullpen (with vintage Eckersley numbers, by the way), the A’s are looking like a force to be reckoned with in the American League.
As for my Cardinals, I’d be hard pressed to consider the first third of the season as anything other than a disappointment. Granted, they’re not off to a disastrous start. But as of this writing, they’re 31-31, an even .500 with 100 games left to play. With their stable of live young arms the envy of GMs throughout the game, everyone expected the Cards to cruise to another division title. But you can’t mail it in (I’m looking at you Trevor Rosenthal), especially in our division. Thankfully the Pirates and Reds have looked pretty ordinary as well. I’m hoping Milwaukee is the only legit contender in this division. But it’s going to take more of a spark to get the job done. Maybe Oscar Tavares can breathe a little bit of offensive vitality back into this squad.
I have to admit: I was wrong about Yasiel Puig. Last year, when media types were bemoaning his All Star selection snub, I said he was a flash in the pan. Another couple of times through the league, I thought, and pitchers will figure him out. He’ll die on a steady diet of breaking balls out of the zone. And I was right. But I didn’t consider that Puig would make adjustments, too. After struggling mightily at the start of the second half, Puig began laying off the hard stuff away. When pitchers would come back in, he’d make them pay. And he’s done nothing but rake his way through the first two months of this season. Color me convinced. I still hate the bat flip. I still hate the hot-dogging and the off-field antics. But I’ve come to respect the supreme talent. And I even voted for him to start this year’s Mid-Summer Classic. He’s absolutely deserving.
Speaking of the All Star Game, I’ll return in a few weeks to help you with your ballot. But let’s just say that if anyone other than Troy Tulowitzki is on your ballot for the NL at SS, you need to give it up. Seriously. The guy’s simply on fire.
Next month, I’ll also have a recap of the biggest baseball trip we’ve ever been on as a family. More to come in a few weeks!