The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Reflections on the First Month of the Baseball Season

With the first month of the Major League Baseball season in the record books, it’s a good time to take an initial accounting of which players and teams are getting the headlines so far.

How often do we see clubs exceed pre-season expectations coming out of the gate, providing some early surprises in the division races?  Then there are the teams and players who fail to measure up to their projections and you wonder if it’s just a bad stretch they are going through, or if there is something more systemic behind their shortfall.  There’s the old adage, “you can’t win a pennant in April, but you can sure lose one then.”  The teams that are severely lumping already are hoping that saying doesn’t apply to them.

Then you have players who are burst onto the big-league scene for the first time, catching all the baseball analysts and fans by surprise.  And then there are the major disappointments of the established players who just can’t seem to get untracked.

The big question is whether the initial results of the first few weeks will be indicative of how the rest of their seasons will go.

Here’s a look at some of the headliners – good and bad – from the first month.

Eric Thames of the Milwaukee Brewers is the Trevor Story of the 2016 season.  Recall that Story got an unsuspecting big break to start the season with Colorado last year and came out swinging, hitting 7 home runs during the first 6 games.  Indeed, he became the “story” of the young season.  Now Thames is making news for his breakout performance this year.  Having most recently played professionally in Korea prior to this season, he literally came out of nowhere to hit 11 home runs in the first 20 games of the season, including 8 against the Cincinnati Reds.

Unlike Thames, outfielder Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees was well-publicized as one of the up-and-coming stars of the team being labeled the “Baby Bombers.”  However, few expected he would break into the “star” category this quickly.  In his brief debut last year, he struck out in over 40% of his plate appearances.  He has cut down on the whiffs this season and managed to slug 10 home runs during April.  At six-feet-seven and 280 pounds, he is reminiscent of a slugger from yesteryear, Frank Howard.

One player who won’t be slugging anything for the first 80 games is Starling Marte.  The Pittsburgh Pirates’ star was suspended by MLB for testing positive for PED use.  This situation reminds us that while baseball has cleaned up its act with respect to performance enhancing drugs, there are still a few bad actors trying to beat the system.

There are a number of other players missing games, too, but not because of PEDs.  It seems like there’s a rising epidemic among major-league pitchers—an epidemic of arm injuries.  The majors have become dominated by hard throwers, but they don’t seem to stay healthy very long.  Several teams started the season without their top-of-the-rotation pitchers, including David Price (Red Sox), Sonny Gray (A‘s); and Alex Reyes (Cardinals), and in-season injuries have already occurred to top-flight starters Shelby Miller (D’backs), Noah Syndergaard (Mets), Felix Hernandez (Mariners), and Madison Bumgarner (Giants).  After his near-perfect season last year, Orioles reliever Zach Britton has been on the DL twice already.  Major League managers are really having to earn their keep with some clever juggling their pitching staffs.

Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros is one hurler that’s not having any arm trouble this year.  He’s already won five games so far for the first-place Astros.  After having an off year last season, he’s proving his Cy Young Award season of 2015 was no fluke, and he’s one of the major reasons the Astros have gotten off to a record start for the franchise.

The Orioles have been somewhat of an enigma with their near-first place standing in the American League East.  Their starting rotation hasn’t been very impressive and they’ve been without closer Zach Britton for a good part of the early season, but yet they are winning games despite having a minor differential (runs scored vs. runs allowed) as a team.

Yankees starting pitching staff had been somewhat suspect going into the season, but has turned out to be pleasantly surprising, at least for Yankee fans.  The Yankees are putting up big offensive numbers and that’s been without the benefit of their new-found hitting star from last year, Gary Sanchez, who has been on the disabled list for most of the season.

In the National League, Arizona and Colorado have been surprise teams, with both of them currently ahead of Los Angeles and San Francisco, who were pre-season favorites in the West Division.  The big question for these newfound leaders is whether they can maintain their current pace and keep the Dodgers and Giants at bay.

There have been several outstanding hitting performances so far this season.  Carlos Gomez (Rangers), Trea Turner (Nationals), and Wil Myers (Padres) have each hit for the cycle, while Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon went 6-for-6 and banged out 10 RBI in a game.

On the pitching side, the Twins’ Ervin Santana turned in a gem with a complete-game one-hitter against the White Sox.  Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale has recorded six consecutive games with double-digit strikeouts.

Toronto may be one of these teams who may have lost the pennant in April.  Their starting pitching staff was touted as one of the best in the league going into the season, but they are currently struggling.  And their highly-touted offense from last year has fizzled so far, too.  They are digging themselves a deep hole by already being 10 games out of first place in a very competitive division.  Is it too early for them to say, “wait ‘til next year?”

The Chicago Cubs are currently tied for first place in their division with a surprising Cincinnati Reds team.  However, all of the teams in that division are currently playing around .500, with the last place Pittsburgh Pirates only two games out of first place.  It will be interesting to see if the Cubs can separate themselves from the rest of the pack again as they did for most of last year.  However, if the Cubs are still battling the Reds for first-place near the end of the season, it will have been an unusually bad year for the Central Division.

 

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