The first handful of matchups on the MLB’s 162-game slate are the most telling, right? This is when MVPs are made and pennants are won. Isn’t that what they say? Okay, maybe no one ever said that. But the Diamondbacks can hope, can’t they?
Joking aside, crowning a champion after the first week of MLB action would be like fingering the first character you meet as the perpetrator in an episode of Scooby-Doo. Personally, I’d rather wait it out a little and learn more about that creepy janitor.
We can still analyze what we have seen, though. A win in April counts just as much as a win in September. Just don’t go getting your hopes up for a Twins/Diamondbacks World Series matchup. Here are the biggest early storylines in the majors, and which ones you should buy into.
Twins, Diamondbacks, and Angels off to Hot Starts
If the season ended today (please don’t), two of the worst teams in baseball last year would win their respective leagues. The Minnesota Twins are 5-1 and on top of the AL, while the Arizona Diamondbacks are one better with an NL-best 6-1 record. Meanwhile, another non-playoff team from last season, the LA Angels, sit atop the AL West at 5-2.
For the Twins, everything is going right. They have four players with at least ten plate appearances who are hitting above .300. Included in there is Miguel Sano (.350), who has hit two home runs and driven in eight runs. Minnesota has had fantastic starts from Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, and Hector Santiago, while the bullpen has looked very strong, as well.
The Diamondbacks have received good pitching thus far, but their bats are the story early. Arizona has five players who have at least five RBIs, with Jake Lamb’s seven leading the way. To make this even more impressive, their first two opponents have been the San Francisco Giants and Cleveland Indians.
The Angels are benefiting from Yunel Escobar (12 hits) and Kole Calhoun (nine hits) getting on base in front of Mike Trout (seven RBIs) and Albert Pujols (six RBIs). However, three of their five wins have come by one run, which includes their epic walk-off win (10-9) over the Mariners on Sunday night, which saw them score seven runs in the ninth.
To the dismay of these three teams, the regular season is far from over. By the end of the month, I expect Minnesota to be under .500 and the Diamondbacks to be trailing at least the Dodgers and Rockies in the NL West. The Angels may not be able to sustain a .714 winning-percentage, but they do have the talent to make a push for the AL West.
Odds the 2017 Diamondbacks finish with the best record in the NL: 75/1
Odds the 2017 Diamondbacks win the NL West: 40/1
Over/under total wins for the 2017 Diamondbacks: 78.5
Odds the 2017 Twins finish with the best record in the AL: 85/1
Odds the 2017 Twins win the AL Central: 33/1
Over/under total wins for the 2017 Twins: 70.5
Odds the 2017 Angels win the AL West: 5/2
Over/under total wins for the 2017 Angels: 86.5
Blue Jays, Rangers, Giants, and Mariners Struggling
Three playoff teams from last season are off to really slow starts. The Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, and Texas Rangers have combined for just five wins in 19 games. The Seattle Mariners, who missed the playoffs by just three games last year, join them in struggling out of the gate, owning a league-worst 1-6 record.
The Jays’ problems are the same as they were last year: too many big names aren’t hitting. Unfortunately, they don’t have Edwin Encarnacion to bail them out this year. Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, Jose Bautista, Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin (zero hits) are all averaging under .210 at the plate. Making matters worse, Josh Donaldson left their last game with calf tightness.
The Rangers’ bullpen has been awful this season, possessing a 6.43 ERA (24th). Sam Dyson has taken two losses in three appearances, and has allowed eight earned runs in just 2.0 innings.
San Francisco couldn’t pitch their way out of a wet paper bag right now, ranking 28th with a 5.52 team ERA. What’s most concerning is it has been the lineups of Arizona and San Diego doing the damage.
Meanwhile, Seattle is being killed by its bullpen and every hitter not named Robinson Cano and Jean Segura. M’s relievers possess a 7.33 ERA (27th), while their offense has only produced 22 runs in seven games.
I fully expect the Giants and Rangers to get themselves back on track very shortly. The Jays’ horrible start is a little more concerning, considering their bullpen has actually pitched a little over its head. If/when the bats get hot, the pitching could go the other way. As for the Mariners, don’t expect them to finish with the worst record in the majors, but don’t expect them to be in the playoff hunt, either.
Odds the 2017 Blue Jays miss the playoffs: 3/5
Over/under total wins for the 2017 Blue Jays: 82.5
Odds the 2017 Rangers miss the playoffs: 8/7
Over/under total wins for the 2017 Rangers: 84.5
Odds the 2017 Giants miss the playoffs: 4/3
Over/under total wins for the 2017 Giants: 87.5
Odds the 2017 Mariners miss the playoffs: 1/7
Over/under total wins for the 2017 Mariners: 79.5
George Springer the Home Run King?
I know it’s odd to talk about any offensive player on the Astros besides Jose Altuve, but George Springer is grabbing all the early headlines. The center fielder is currently tied for the league-lead in home runs with four, and has batted in eight runs.
Springer has averaged 21.6 home runs per year through his first three seasons, with a career-high of 29 in 2016. At just 27 years old, it’s very rational to assume the Astro is just rounding into his prime. It’s also reasonable to assume Springer is just off to a hot start, and crushing 40-plus dingers is a pipedream.
Odds George Springer leads the majors in home runs in 2017: 12/1
Over/Under total home runs for George Springer in 2017: 32.5
Yasiel Puig the MVP Candidate?
After playing in just 183 games in the past two seasons due to injuries and attitude issues, Yasiel Puig is finally showing us more of that potential he flashed in his first two seasons in the majors. The Dodger is batting .292 with three home runs and five RBIs through LA’s first seven games.
There has never been any doubt regarding Puig’s talent, but things looked pretty bleak when he was sent to LA’s Triple-A affiliate last August. The only question is whether Puig’s maturity and commitment to the game have caught up.
The left-fielder will be in great spirits while in this hot streak; we’ll see how he handles the adversity of a slump at the plate.
Odds Yasiel Puig wins the 2017 NL MVP: 9/1
Over/Under total games Yasiel Puig plays for the Dodgers in 2017: 150.5
Over/Under total home runs for Yasiel Puig in 2017: 22.5
Ervin Santana an AL Cy Young Contender?
In his first two starts of 2017, Santana has surrendered just four hits and one earned run in 13 innings (0.69 ERA). He’s second in ERA among all AL pitchers with at least two starts, trailing only Dallas Keuchel (0.64 ERA).
Enjoy it while it lasts. The 34-year-old will gravitate back towards his career average soon. Santana’s career-low ERA is 3.24, which came back in 2013, and six of his previous 12 seasons in the majors have resulted in an ERA of 4.00 or higher.
Odds Ervin Santana wins the 2017 AL Cy Young: 49/1
Over/Under Ervin Santana’s 2017 ERA: 3.80
Dodgers’ Aces In Trouble?
The one-two punch of Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda is supposed to be one of the best in baseball. But that hasn’t been the case in 2017; neither ace has been his dominant self thus far.
Through two starts, Kershaw has given up ten hits and five earned runs, good for a 3.46 ERA. Sure, that number doesn’t seem far off from average, but “average” is not a word that can be associated with Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young winner has posted an ERA under 3.00 in every season other than 2008. Over the last four years, Kershaw’s ERA has been under 1.84 three times; the only anomaly was a 2.13 ERA in 2015.
Maeda would settle for “average” pitching right now. Through two starts of his own, Maeda has only gone ten innings, giving up 11 hits, three walks, and seven earned runs (6.30 ERA). In his first season in the bigs, the Japanese import showed flashes of brilliance mixed with some major struggles. The Dodgers are not only hoping to see some of those flashes again in 2017, but that they become a little more consistent.
Two mediocre outings isn’t enough to start questioning Kershaw’s dominance, but that optimism isn’t as strong with Maeda’s slow start.
Over/Under Clayton Kershaw’s 2017 ERA: 1.90
Over/Under Kenta Maeda’s 2017 ERA: 3.50