Six weeks and a fifth of the season have already ticked by in Major League Baseball and there have already teams standing out, for both good and bad reasons. Here’s my look over what has happened so far
American League East
The ‘Evil Empire’, otherwise known as the New York Yankees, lead the way, doing so through a combination of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been consistently getting on base, Alex Rodriguez hitting well in his return (and passed the great Willie Mays for 4th on the all-time home run list with his 661st career blast), and starter Michael Pineda and an outstanding bullpen. The Tampa Bay Rays presently defy predictions that they’d struggle after the departure of GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon, but have suffered a run of arm injuries to their pitchers that could scupper them. The Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays have both stuttered with pitching issues, the Sox firing their pitching coach, while the Baltimore Orioles are starting to warm up after a slow start, which included playing a game in an empty stadium during the recent riots in the city.
American League Central
Defying most pundits, the AL Champion Kansas City Royals have simply carried on from where they left off, leading the majors in batting average and top-five in pitching earned run average (ERA), anchored by first baseman Eric Hosmer and their solid bullpen, but have also got under the skins of several other clubs as well. The Detroit Tigers are only a game back and hitting and pitching well as a group while the Minnesota Twins are also above .500 at this stage. The disappointments are the other two; the Chicago White Sox are really missing ace Chris Sale, while the Cleveland Indians – a trendy preseason pick – are pitching and hitting even worse, though Corey Kluber struck out 18 Cardinals in the pitching performance of the year so far.
American League West
The Houston Astros have surprisingly vaulted to a four-game lead in the division, with pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh carrying on from last year, and having hit more homers than any other team except the Dodgers. Mike Trout and the pitching staff are basically carrying the Los Angeles Angels, who traded Josh Hamilton back to Texas after his latest substance abuse relapse. Nelson Cruz leads the majors in home runs for the Seattle Mariners, who need others to step up alongside the big slugger; the Texas Rangers continue to be beset by injuries, while the Oakland Athletics have simply endured a run of bad luck, though catcher/DH Stephen Vogt leads the league in runs batted in.
National League East
The New York Mets sit atop the division, largely through the efforts of their pitching staff led by surgery returnee Matt Harvey and unheralded lefty Jon Niese, with the second best (ERA) in the majors. Beset by injuries starting the season, popular preseason pick the Washington Nationals have hit stride as players return, with young star Bryce Harper blasting six homers in three games last week. The Miami Marlins are being paced by Dee Gordon (hitting over .400) and $325m man Giancarlo Stanton who hit a home run OUT OF Dodger Stadium; while as many thought, the Atlanta Braves aren’t good, and the Philadelphia Phillies simply stink.
National League Central
The St Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball and already a 5-game lead. They lead the big leagues in ERA with three starters (Michael Wacha, John Lackey, Lance Lynn) with sub 3.30 ERAs while infielders Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong pace the offense, despite losing ace starter Adam Wainwright for the year to a ruptured Achilles. The Chicago Cubs have called up young phenoms Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, who have both look like the talents they’re touted to be while Anthony Rizzo has started hot. The Pittsburgh Pirates are also pitching very well, but their offense – or rather lack of it – is concerning, particularly that of star outfielder Andrew McCutchen; the Cincinnati Reds have been solid if unspectacular, while the Milwaukee Brewers rough start has already seen manager Ron Roenicke replaced at the helm.
National League East
Unsurprisingly the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the division, having opened up a 5-game lead with the best offense in the majors, tops in both doubles and home runs. Adrian Gonzalez already had 15 doubles and nine homers alongside a .360 average, while rookie outfielder Joc Pedersen has 10 long balls. If there is a cause for concern, it’s that superstar pitcher Clayton Kershaw looks some way off his usual form. The San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants trail; the Padres new offensive approach paying some early dividends while the defending champs are struggling to get their offense on track. The rebuilding Arizona Diamondbacks are hanging tough, largely through their star Paul Goldschmidt, while the Colorado Rockies have the worst record in the bigs and whispers about trading star Troy Tulowitzki have already resurfaced.
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