The last shall be first. A Biblical aphorism about humility. But humility doesn’t win baseball games in the Major Leagues. Or does it?
OK, I’ll get this out of the way first. It’s only week one of the season and none of this will probably last. But isn’t it weird. The tanking, the rebuilding, the poor sisters of the American League are first, plucky Davids, while the supposed mighty powerhouses are falling like Goliaths.
American League East
In the AL East Tampa Bay is 5-1 with the smallest payroll in baseball, spanking the World champion favorites the Astros 3-1 in their opening series and today going for a sweep against the not too shabby Rockies.
The Baltimore Orioles are 4-1, despite undergoing one of the most severe “tanking” regimes ever. Meanwhile, the Greatest Franchise in the World, need I say the Yankees, are 2-3 and lost a series at home to the aforementioned lowly Orioles. And the current champions of the World, the Boston Red Sox, are last in the East at 1-5.
Although Tampa Bay’s offense is rated in the bottom third of MLB currently, they are pitching at an other-worldly level, with a league leading ERA of 1.67. How much of that success is from playing four games against the so-far anemic Astros we will have to wait and see.
Baltimore’s hitting and pitching are both at about league average right now, and they have only scored one more run than they have allowed, but even average for the Orioles is greatly exceeding expectations.
The Yankees on the other hand, look like an Army field hospital, although a pitching staff currently maintaining an ERA of 2.60 is keeping them in games. Current injuries include Miguel Andujar 3B, Luke Voit 1B, Giancarlo Stanton LF, Luis Severino SP, Did Gregorius SS Dellin Betances RP, Aaron Hicks CF and Jacobv Ellsbury CF. And there are concerns that their multi-100 MPH relief ace, Aroldis Chapman, is hiding some sort of arm ailment, pitching well below his normal velocity, and currently sporting a 6.00 ERA.
The Red Sox have been plain absymal both hitting and pitching, ranking 25th in team ERA at 6.24 runs per game, and 20th in batting, at .666 OPS. The last shall be first, and the first shall bear the curse of Satan.
The Red Sox starters, David Price, Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Rick Porcello, have ERA’s of 6.00, 8.00, 10.38. 10.80. and 13.50 respectively. Meanwhile, on the hitting side, Mookie Betts has a .620 OPS, Andrew Benintendi .400, and Jackie Bradly Jr. .391.
American League West
The prohibitive favorite to repeat as champions for the 3rd straight year, the Astros, 2-4, are struggling to score runs. Although 17th in OPS at .686 is bad enough, the Astros are 24th in runs scored at 15. According to MLB.com, the Astros are last in MLB in BA with runners in scoring position, hitting an even .100.
And do I dare point out that the Astros are behind the slugging Texas Rangers (3-2), after losing last night in Arlington.
Meanwhile the 7-1 Mariners are first in the AL in OPS at .876, and first in runs scored at 56. The Astros maintain a slight edge in pitching, with a 2.70 ERA, ranked 8th in MLB, compared to the Mariners’ 3.36.
Though supposedly rebuilding after trading their best players, sluggers like Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, relief ace Edwin Diaz and #1 starter James Paxton, newbie outfielder Domingo Santana is picking up the slack, hitting 1.047 OPS with 3 home runs and 11 RBI, and SS Tim Beckham is even hotter at a 1.264 clip
American League Central
Though not embarrassing themselves quite like the Red Sox or Astros, last year’s AL Central champs, and champs three years running, the Indians, 2-2, find themselves behind the surprising Twins 3-1, and tied with one of the league’s tankers, the Tigers. Injuries to key players like SS Francisco Lindor, 2B Jason Kipnis, CF Bradley Zimmer and SP Danny Salazar have exposed the hollowness of the Indians’ roster, but still the team OPS of .486 is second to last in MLB. In four games they have scored only 10 runs. Meanwhile the pitching is performing around league average, 13th in ERA at 3.44.
On the other hand the Twins are pitching the lights out, 4th in MLB with a 2.19 ERA, and holding their own with the bats, 12th in MLB with a .717 OPS. Old man Nelson Cruz is still slugging, hitting OPS 1.161, and perennial disappointment Byron Buxton is off to a hot start hitting at .896.
Obviously these are very early returns, and these trends will probably not hold. On the other hand, sometimes early trends do hold. Every season has surprises and unexpected break outs, and for now it is fun to see if these early surprises end up as trends that buck the projections, like the Astros in 2015, or the Braves or Brewers of 2018, or if regression inexorably grinds these surprises back to their expected mean.