For the majority of MLB clubs, the 162-game marathon of a season has hit the quarter pole.
And from what we’ve seen so far, there are no shortage of surprises.
Teams like Houston, the New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers and the Colorado Rockies have shocked many by leading their divisions so far.
Others, like Toronto, Kansas City, the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco have stunned us all to silence by how bad they have performed thus far.
Offensively, we’ve seen a slew of stars and lesser lights rip the hide off the ball. Who could have expected Buster Posey to be leading all hitters with a .378 average 42 games in? Or that Yankees’ rookie Aaron Judge would be co-leader in home runs with 14?
Pitching wise, Dallas Keuchel is back to 2015 Cy Young form, logging a 7-0 record through nine starts. Not that surprising, but remember he was 9-12 in 2016 with a pedestrian 4.55 ERA.
It has truly been a season of surprises, some good and others that make us just shake our heads. Here are 16 that are very noteworthy, starting with teams and then individual players.
16. Colorado Rockies Lead The NL West
Perched atop a division that includes 2016 division winner Los Angeles and perennial contender San Francisco are the unlikeliest crew, the Colorado Rockies. Through 40 games the Rockies are 25-15, including a sterling 12-5 mark on the road after being 15 games under .500 in 2016. At the plate, they are ninth in baseball in average (.261) and seventh overall in slugging percentage (.437). While those stats aren’t all that eyebrow raising, the Rockies have gotten some great pitching, for the most part. Starter Antonio Senzatela, a rookie, is second in baseball in victories (6) and reliever Greg Holland leads all pitchers in saves with 17. Veteran third baseman Mark Reynolds is enjoying a renaissance, having hit 12 homers already (he had 14 in 118 games last season) and is currently fifth in the major leagues with 33 RBI. A good, good surprise, these Rockies.
15. Toronto Blue Jays Struggling In The AL East
From a rash of injuries to a horrible 7-18 April and at times shockingly bad play, two-time ALCS participant Toronto is mired in the tough AL East basement. Currently on the DL are 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson (calf), 2016 Cy Young candidate J.A. Happ (elbow), SS Troy Tulowitzki (hamstring), C Russell Martin (shoulder), SP Francisco Liriano (shoulder) and 1B Steve Pearce (calf). As a team they are hitting a sub-par .236 (seventh worst) with just 47 homers, which is 14th best (they were fourth best in baseball last year). Alarmingly, they have drawn the 10th fewest walks so far (125), while striking out 331 times. Toronto’s pitching has been mediocre at best too, exposed as they have been through three games against Atlanta this week (27 runs against). The staff ERA is 4.32 and relievers like Roberto Osuna have blow eight save opportunities already. All in all, an extremely disappointing start.
14. Chicago Cubs Hovering Around .500 After Championship Season
Whither the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs? After rolling through the 2016 with the best record in baseball (103-58) and laying waste to the competition in the post-season, the Cubbies are diddling for the middle right now at a yawn-worthy 20-19. Now, it’s hardly time to reach for the panic button on Waveland Avenue, but there is a lot of discord at Wrigley right now. For one, they looked absolutely horrible getting swept by the New York Yankees at home earlier this month and their 9-9 record overall in the friendly confines pales to their 57-24 mark at home in 2016. Their lead-off hitter, Kyle Schwarber, is hitting 47 points below his weight, .188 and other than Kris Bryant, everyone is under-performing at the plate. Chicago’s starting pitching has also been so-so, with Jake Arrieta nowhere near Cy Young efficient. There is still time for them to snap out of their funk, but when you’re champ, everyone’s gunning for you.
13. Houston Astros Have The Best Record In Baseball
There is no way the Astros can continue to play .700 ball this season, but their fans have to be enjoying the ride so far. At 29-12 (.707 winning percentage), the ‘Stros own an eight-game bulge on second place Texas as of Thursday. They have won nine of their past 10, including taking three of four from AL East leading New York over the last weekend. As we mentioned above, Dallas Keuchel is in Cy Young form after a year in the wilderness. He leads a staff that is second overall in ERA at 3.41 and has tossed three shutouts at the opposition already. On offence, no one player is absolutely crushing the orb, but the Astros have done a great job spreading it out, one through nine. four different players have over 20 RBI and no starter is hitting below .248 (Carlos Beltran’s average).
12. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman Is Tied For The MLB Lead In Homers
As expected, the Atlanta Braves are a sub .500 team. Unexpectedly, one of their own is a slugging machine 37 games into the MLB season. Freddie Freeman, who took a fastball off his wrist in a testy game with Toronto Wednesday night might not get a chance to add his NL leading (tied for the MLB lead) 14 homers. The eighth-year hulking first baseman broke through in a big way in 2016, smacking a career high 34 big flies and was off to the hottest of starts before getting beaned. His stat line overall is impressive, as he’s hitting .341, with 11 doubles, a triple, 25 RBI, a lofty .461 slugging percentage and crazy 1.209 OPS. Blue Jays’ pitchers were taken to task by Freeman in this week’s four-game set (Atlanta is 3-0), as he hit two homers and drove in five for his best series showing so far.
11. Cleveland’s Starting Pitching Is Not Up To Par
It’s a good thing that Cleveland manager Terry Francona can lean on his bullpen. The Tribe’s fifth-year manager utilized his lights out pen to go all the way to the World Series last fall, as his starter corps was depleted by injury. This year looked promising for the defending AL champs, with all starters aboard for the season, including Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. To date, though, only Carrasco owns an ERA below 3.00 at 2.60 through eight starts. Otherwise, the ERAs are: Kluber (5.06), Salazar (5.66), Tomlin (6.86) and Bauer (6.92). For point of reference, the highest ERA out of the bullpen belongs to Dan Otero at 3.86. The remainder of the arms in relief are all at 2.00 (Boone Logan) or below. Nick Goody has yet to give up a run in 15.1 innings. Like Chicago, the Indians are hovering around .500 (20-19) and much of the blame can rest with the starters.
10. Cardinals’ Dexter Fowler Is An Early Season Bust
The St. Louis Cardinals forked over a king’s ransom to bring in star centerfielder Dexter Fowler into the fold this season, to the tune of five years and $82.5 million dollars. As the fifth highest paid CF in baseball, he was meant to solidify their lead-off spot and play good defence. As of Thursday, though, the high priced acquisition is hitting just above the Mendoza line at .229 and has contributed just 12 extra base hits and 14 RBI through 34 game. Fowler also has but one stolen base (he stole 13 last year) and his OBP is an unexciting .333. At least he’s played flawless defence so far, with no errors on 67 total chances. After a .234 April, Fowler’s May has been pretty miserable at the plate. A right shoulder injury has hampered his effort, but he has logged just a .208 average this month, including failure to get a hit in four at bats against his old team, Chicago in a three game set earlier this week.
9. Minnesota’s Miguel Sano Is Hitting The Hide Off The Ball
The Minnesota Twins are the surprise leaders of the AL Central at 19-16, largely due to the efforts of a couple of players, including third-year 3B Miguel Sano. An interesting stat pertaining to the young slugger was provided by the eggheads at mlb.com, who have him leading all major leaguers in highest percentage of batted balls 95 mph or harder at a whopping 68.3 percent (nine points higher than uber-slugger Miguel Cabrera). It’s not a stat we throw out at all around here, but it sure sounds impressive. The raw stats back it up though, as he leads all Twins hitter in just about every category, including: batting average (.287), triples (2), homers (10), RBI (30, next highest is 16), OBP (.427), slugging (.643), walks (28), runs (27) and OPS (1.070). He’s having a career year, without a doubt.
8. Pittsburgh Starter Ivan Nova Is Paying Dividends
For about five and a half seasons, Ivan Nova teased New York Yankees fans with his potential to be a dominating starting pitcher. In his rookie year, Nova went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA to finish fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. For four and half seasons after that, he flip-flopped between dominating and being dominated. Last year, he was 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA and with the Yankees stripping it down in the midst of a mediocre season, he was shipped to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline for those exciting “players to be named later.” Funny how a change of scenery can have an effect on a guy. The giant Dominican went 5-2 for the Pirates over the remainder of the season, recording a 3.06 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 64.2 innings. Nova didn’t let that go to his head, as he has been good even when he’s on the hook for a loss. So far this year he is 3-3 in eight starts, seven of them quality, with a solid 2.48 ERA. He already has two complete games, one a three-hit, seven-strikeout shutout in a 4-0 win over Miami on April 29.
7. Jose Bautista Is A Strikeout Machine
That bat flip Jose Bautista did in the midst of a 8-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night did him no favors. While his bat has come around somewhat in the last eight games (four homers and 10 RBI), he has otherwise been stone cold the rest of the season. That meaningless one-run dong Wednesday was just his sixth of the season and the run produced just his 19th. Bautista is hitting a deplorable .208 through 41 games and is slugging just .376. What’s worse for the veteran outfielder are his strikeouts – lots and lots of them. Yes, he is known for having a keen eye and drawing walks (26 to elevate his OBP to .330) but he has whiffed 49 times. All that flailing at air puts him in a tie for sixth worst in baseball and has him on pace to strike out about 190 times — far ahead of a career high 116 in 2010.
6. Cubs Kyle Schwarber Is Not The Answer At The Top Of The Order
All anyone needs to know about the funk the Chicago Cubs are in can be seen in Kyle Schwarber’s stats as a lead-off man. Last year, the Cubbies had fleet all-star Dexter Fowler leading off and doing a good job of it. This year, for some odd reason, Joe Maddon put linebacker sized Schwarber at the top, to disastrous results so far. The hard hitting leftfielder is hitting just .188, with his May output bringing his average down. Schwarber was 8-for-51 (.157) through Wednesday and has gone hitless in six of 13 games this month. A power hitter who smacked 16 homers in 71 total games until this season and another five in 14 post-season games, Schwarber hitting in the no. 1 hole just doesn’t feel right. He needs to hit down in the order, soon.
5. Dallas Keuchel Is A Devastating Weapon Again For Houston
The man who took Brian Wilson’s mantle for best beard in baseball is again the American League’s top starter. Dallas Keuchel, who went into the dumper last year after winning the Cy Young in 2015, is again using his relaxed approach to great effect. The southpaw is 7-0 this season, matching the impressive Clayton Kershaw for wins. In nine starts, seven of them quality (tied for second in baseball), Keuchel has allowed just 13 earned runs to lead the AL in ERA at 1.84 and is second in WHIP to Chris Sale at 0.860. Now in his sixth season, he has dominated some good clubs this season. On April 25, he tossed a complete-game, six-hit, two-run game at Cleveland in a 4-2 victory and on May 11 he limited a hot-hitting Yankees squad to five hits and one run (unearned), along with nine strikeouts in a 3-2 victory.
4. Greg Holland Is Mowing Them Down in Colorado
Coors Field is generally where a pitcher’s career goes to die. Just ask former all-star starter Mike Hampton about that. With the thin air in the Mile High City, lazy fly balls turn into devastating homers. But, something special is going on this year for the NL West leading Rockies and it starts in the bullpen. Holland, who was a lights out closer in Kansas City before a torn UCL and subsequent Tommy John surgery forced him to miss the 2016 season, got another chance with Colorado in the off-season. Signed to a one-year deal, he has so far paid huge dividends. Holland had 145 saves with Kansas City, the bulk of them between 2013 and 2015, with a high of 47 in 2013. So far this year he is the runaway leader in that category with 17, five ahead of second-place Craig Kimbrel. He hasn’t blown a save, owns a miniscule 1.04 ERA and has struck out 23 batters in 17.1 innings of work. He might easily be Comeback Player of the Year, or even a Cy Young winner if things pan out.
3. Francisco Rodriguez Is Blowing It In The Motor City
The man they call K-Rod is not impressing anyone out of the bullpen in Detroit. He is making the same amount of money this year as lights out closer Greg Holland, $6 million, but at this point is the worst closer in baseball, not the best like Holland. Rodriguez, who registered 44 of his then 430 saves last year, has just seven saves this year and has blown a MLB high four already. It would seem, then that he is a long way from his status as the league’s premier closer between 2005 and 2008, when he led the AL three times and logged 194 saves. K-Rod has a 1-5 record this year and a nasty 8.16 ERA. He has already surrendered five homers in just 14.1 innings and has an astounding WHIP of 1.953. That the Tigers are 19-19 and not above .500 has his fingerprints all over it.
2. Jake Arrieta Is Just Plain Lost In Chicago
Like Dallas Keuchel, who made this list above, Jake Arrieta won a Cy Young in 2015. Unlike Keuchel, Arrieta has not had a stellar 2017 season, yet. Through eight starts this young season, Arrieta is 4-3 (not bad) but owns the 15th worst ERA at 5.44 (bad). Of note, he has already given up eight home runs in those eight starts, a far cry from the 10 total he surrendered during his Cy Young year in 33 starts. Not much is going his way this season and most of the important stats are faltering. His H/9 is up to 10.5 thanks to 52 hits against in 44.2 innings, which is 4.2 higher than his league leading H/9 mark of 6.3 last year. His 1.455 WHIP is the highest he’s had since his second season in Baltimore in 2011. After starting the season 3-0, Arrieta has faltered in his last four starts, including a particularly malodorous trip to the bump against host Colorado on May 9. He was tagged for nine hits and nine runs (no home runs against) in 3.2 innings as he and the Cubs got thumped 10-4.
1. Aaron Judge Is An Absolute Monster In The Big Apple
Yankee lore is replete with outstanding performances from outstanding players. Add LeBron James-sized rookie Aaron Judge to that list. The Yankees are in first place in the AL East and the 6’7″, 282 lb. Judge has played a massive role in their good fortune. To date, Judge is tied with Freddie Freeman for the major league lead in home runs with 14. Added to that, the hard hitting rightfielder has four doubles, two triples, 29 RBI and three stolen bases too. His .320 batting average and .426 on base percentage are also laudable, as is his .720 slugging percentage (fifth best in MLB) and 1.146 OPS (also fifth best). Where Judge has really excelled is in hitting AL East pitching. In 17 games against division foes, he has hit 10 of his 14 homers and driven in 20 of his 29 runs. A runaway leader for Rookie of the Year at this point.