Getting On (First) Base With The MLB: How The Show Looks After One Quarter Past

FYI:  For stats that aren’t common to the average reader, I’ll make a note of what they do/mean.

This is my first baseball column since my preview.  It’s been a while.  I’ve waited for a couple reasons: 1) I haven’t seen as many games as I feel like I’d needed to yet.  2) It’s still early, even though we’re at the quarter mark.  Baseball is weird.  There’s a lot of weird stuff going on right now.  Here’s some of the biggest stories so far:

Does anyone want to win the AL East?

Currently, the Tampa Bay Rays lead this division by a half a game over the Yankees.  First of all, DH David DeJesus is batting  .315/.367/.477 (BA/OBP/SLG).  With an OPS of .844, he’s getting on base and is hitting the ball very well.  Evan Longoria is hitting the ball well at .280/.366/.435, giving this team the offense to power through the division.  Their pitching staff has been dealt blow after blow after losing Drew Symly and Alex Cobb to arm injuries.  Their defense has made up for it, as they’re 3rd in bigs in DRS (Defensive Runs Saved).  The pitching though, hasn’t taken a huge hit even with the losses.  They’re 1st in the AL in ERA with a 3.39.  Chris Archer, at 5-4, is pitching surprising well.  With a SO/9 (strikeout per 9 innings) of 10.5, he’s using that 96 MPH four-seamer to strike guys out.  The Rays are leading the division for now, but it seems like a lot of change is in store.  Whether they can keep it up is the question.

The Red Sox, the division favorites, have been stumbling out of the gate.  They’re sitting in 4th, with only an underachieving Blue Jays team behind them.  Boston is a little bit of a mess.  They can’t hit or pitch, with the mound being the bigger issue.  The rotation looks good on paper, but  Wade Miley and Justin Masterson are giving up 1.3 and 1.6 WHIPs. (Hits/walks per inning).  Masterson has been a train wreck.  His ERA is ballooning to 6.37, and while that’s the biggest problem of the rotation, there’s still other problems.  The Red Sox have to be in the market for a starter, whether they wait till the deadline or do it now, somethings needs to happen here.  They could flip an outfielder for someone, say Daniel Nava or even Jackie Bradley Jr. for Cole Hamels.  The Red Sox outfield has been a story since December, and while we though they would do something, they never cleared it up.

Toronto, a team who I thought would be playing well at this point, is scoring runs, but has similar issues to Boston when it comes to pitching.  The Yankees have been surprising many, with Alex Rodriguez hitting .262/.363/.545 and 10 HRs.  New York, if Boston and Toronto don’t improve and the Rays fall apart, could be sitting pretty here in the next couple weeks or so.  And the Orioles, they’re just boring.  Sorry.

The NL Central looks about how we thought it would

I came into this season with the mindset that there were two main playoff contenders in the NL Central, with the possibility of another team challenging for a playoff spot.  As of now, that looks about right.  The Cardinals and Cubs are pulling away already.  St. Louis is 4.5 games up on Chicago, and 6.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh.  They’re sitting pretty right now.

Losing Adam Wainwright was expected to be devastating.  Wainwright, a Cy Young contender every year, looked great in his three starts before the injury.  We can talk about pitchers batting later, but for now, it seems less and less necessary.  The Cardinals rotation has been fine without Wainwright.  Michael Wacha is pitching out of his mind.  He’s 7-0, with a 1.87 ERA and is only walking 2.2 guys per nine innings.  His cutter helps trick guys. It isn’t Rivera-like, but that spin….oh man.  It’s pretty.

Wacha is leading the Cardinals rotation.  Behind him there’s still talent, even with Carlos Martinez’s struggles.  They’ll be fine.  Their bats, featuring Matt Carpenter and Matt Holiday are really helping them out.  Carpenter is batting .325/.391/.589 with 8 HRs.  He’s killing the ball, and it’s everyday too.  This guy has reinvented his batting skills.

The Cubs, after a crazy offseason, are 3.5 games out of 1st place in the division.  This young squad, with two out of their eight position players under 30, is struggling to hit.  With a team average of .242., they’re 10th in the NL in batting average.  Chris Coglan is struggling (but has 7 HRs), batting .208/.283./.440.  He’s swinging for power, but isn’t getting base hits.

Chicago has outfield issues, as they’re DRS ranks 17th in the league.  And that wasn’t unpredictable if you watched them Opening Night.  The Cubs will be fine, but with St. Louis playing like one of the best teams in the league, it’s unlikely they move up anytime soon.  No one else in this division seems to be scary at this point.  But then again, baseball is weird.

Astros?  Astros?  Astros!

Wait?  Where has this cOme from?  What Houston has done this first quarter is just amazing.  They’ve gotten contributions from guys you wouldn’t expect it from.  They have a rookie manager, in A.J Hinch.  It’s another young team, none of their position players are under 30.  Houston, an all-in sabermetric team, is using stats and baseball logic to create winning ways.  They shift more than other team in the league.

From an on paper, gazing over stats standpoint, You wouldn’t think this team would be where they are.  They’re batting .231 as a team, 13th in the AL.  Jose Altuve, not surprisingly, has the highest batting average on this team at .294.  He’s playing great, but is batting .294/.345/.428 overall.  The strength of this Houston team isn’t coming from the bats though.  And in the park they play in, it’s not shocking.

Dallas Keuchel is 6-1 this season, with a 1.67 ERA and a SO/9 ratio of 6.4.  He’s pitching so good, that hitters are batting .191 against him (via ESPN).  The guy has been a machine, and the sinker is helping him strike guys out.  Oh yeah, and this is a guy who doesn’t even have a curveball.

The Astros have to hope the batting improves though.  Guys like Chris Carter are slumping early, batting .170/.281/.327.  He’s a power hitter, and they need all the offense they can get in their park.  Still, with the shifts that rank 12th in DRS, and the great pitching from Keuchel (But not anyone else), they’re fine for now.  The AL West should be a tough division as the season unfolds soon.  I mean, the Angels are lurking, but are out six games.  The Mariners well… Hey!  Speaking of that!!!

What’s going on with the Mariners and Indians?

These were my two AL Wild Card spot holders.  Both sit in 4th in their respective division, and neither are bound to improve at this point.  We’ll start with Cleveland.

The Indians are struggling to hit the ball this season.  While they have a team average of .252, they aren’t getting offensive contribution from their position players.  Jose Ramirez, playing at shortstop, can’t even get on base.  With an OBP of .259, he’s not getting walked. PITCH f/x tells us he’s swinging out of the strike zone too much, causing all the strikeouts.  Catcher Roberto Perez, who’s filling in for the injured Yan Gomes, is hitting .177, worst on the team.  It’s not the park; Progressive Field is know for being balanced.  Cleveland just isn’t seeing the ball to start the season.  The guys who are producing (Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley) aren’t getting any help.  The Indians are playing in the best division in baseball though.  I’ll get into that later.

The Indians pitching has been okay, but not anywhere near expectations.  Corey Kluber has been alright, but already has his season overrated due to 18 strikeout gem he pitched on May 13th.  His ERA is 3.49, and he’s 2-5 on the season.  Granted, the offense and horrific defense can be blamed for it.  The rest of the rotation has been spotty, and is kinda unpredictable.  The bottom line with Cleveland:  They’re gonna have to pick it up soon.  The AL Central is too tough.

The Mariners are really weird.  I mean, there’s not one thing with this team that you can point to.  There’s nothing great, but nothing horrible.  They kinda seem average, and that’s not what anyone had in mind.  You could blame the defense, as they score a -12 in DRS, 22nd in the bigs.  Taijuan Walker hasn’t improved at all.  He’s 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA.  He throws a lot of flyball pitches (sinkers and cutters).  Perhaps the bad defense is to blame.  I mean, again, there’s not a huge, blaring hole.  The bullpen could use work, with their top two guys throwing games with ERAs over six.

Seattle, out of the two, is more likely to pull out of this.  It’s not a great start, but they’re in the easier division.  Cleveland is dealing with Detroit, Kansas City, and maybe, just maybe, the Twins.  I can’t believe I just typed that.

Is the NL West shaping up like last summer?

One of the the first columns I ever wrote was about this same division last summer.  Warning:  It’s not great, and is like 600 words.  But, this division once again proving to be fun, and tight.  The Dodgers, coming into tonight, are up two games on the Giants, who’s record is at 26-20.

LA has dealt with injuries quite well, with two of their three starting outfielders on the DL.  Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford hit the list in the first 16 games of the year.  Neither were smoking the ball, but it took away a good amount of power in the lineup.  Joc Pederson, one of LA’s best young prospects, took over, and it hitting .250/.388/.556 since being inputted.

The Dodgers are playing very well on defense, scoring a +3 DRS, 8th in the bigs.  Get scoops, Adrian Gonzalez! (He’s killing the ball FYI).

LA’s rotation is decent.  The top of the squad is fine, though Clayton Kershaw’s ERA is a tad high for him at 4.32.  Zach Greinke is pitching great, relying on his screaming fastball.

The back end of the rotation isn’t great, and Dodger’s pitchers aren’t lasting very long in games.  There’s only been one complete game all season from their five guys, and it’s not like that bullpen is very strong.  However, the pen is missing guys like Joel Peratla.  The pitching staff overall needs upgrades, but so could other teams in their division.

I’m stoked and honestly stunned that the Giants are where they are.  They’ve gone 8-2 in their last 10 games, and that’s, for the most part, with out Hunter Pence.  San Francisco has started Justin Maxwell in right field for Pence, who’s hit three HRs and owns an OPS of .676.  He’s been a great placeholder.  San Francisco, also, lately, made a change at third base, demoting Casey McGehee and starting Matt Duffy.  Duffy has batted .302/.330/.396, driving in 20 RBIs in 33 games.  McGehee wasn’t batting well at .200.  The move could mean two things:  1) A long term commitment to Duffy at third, suggesting he could be their future starter.  Or 2) A place-holder till they can get an upgrade.  The Giants don’t usually pull off big trades, but if they do, it could be for Texas’ Adrian Beltre, as Jonah Keri laid out.

San Francisco’s pitching staff has been a little bit of a surprise, with Chris Heston and Tim Lincecum pitching well.  Lincecum has a 2.56 ERA and is 5-2 on the year.  The rest of the rotation is up to expectations, but in this division, who knows whether that’s enough.

Quick Hits:

  • More on the NL West:  The Padres will be fine.  It’s a slow start for a new team.  I can’t say they’ll get near first, but they have to keep grinding.  Look at what happened to some of the good teams last year.
  • The NL East is so boring.  Just book Washington for 94 wins and hand it to them.
  • However, the Mets are interesting.  Great pitching.  With everyone healthy, this could be a Wild Card contender.  They have a move to make.  Not sure where yet.
  • I thought the A’s knew what they were doing this offseason.  At 17-30, the moves aren’t looking too great.
  • The White Sox never knew what they were doing.
  • The Twins are playing phenomenal and it has people super excited in the Twin Cities.  Too bad they’ll have their hearts broken at the end of June.
  • Milwaukee firing Ron Roenicke was interesting to say the least.  I mean, I can’t say how much of an effect he had on the start to the year.  I’m not sure how valuable managers even are.
  • On the Marlins madness, I mean, here we go again.  GM/coaches aren’t usually a good thing.  Doesn’t matter what sport.  If this keeps happening with Miami, Giancarlo is gonna be taking his talents out of South Beach when that option comes around.
  • Best division:  AL Central
  • Worst division: NL East

All stats are above the section on the NL West is current as of yesterday.  Everything below that is current of today.  

Give me time for my next baseball column.  Two weeks of school left and the NBA Finals/Stanley Cup, then I’ll be 100% in.  I’m hanging at like 90% right now.