That was one hell of an entertaining first month of the MLB season, wasn’t it?
You can’t really draw any firm conclusions from one month of a six-month regular season, so keep the whole “small sample size” thing in mind, whether you’re panicking or celebrating, depending on your fan affiliations.
Today, we’re going to take a look at the most surprising teams and the most disappointing teams from the season’s opening month. And, remember, because we’re using “surprising” and “disappointing,” that incorporates the concept of expectations into the equation. That’s why you won’t see the Nationals among the surprising teams; they’ve been MLB’s best team, but they were supposed to be in that conversation.
This list has to start with the Yankees, right? With a youthful roster, the club finished last season strong and there was reason for guarded optimism this season. Not sure anyone expected the club to contend for baseball’s best record in the opening month of the season, though, especially when budding superstar catcher Gary Sanchez missed most of the month with a biceps strain and Greg Bird has flailed away at the plate. But here they are, tied for the AL’s best mark at 15-8, a game behind the Nationals for MLB’s best record. They’re powered by rookie Aaron Judge’s 10 homers leading a strong lineup, and the rotation turning in solid performances regularly.
But the Orioles have been kind of amazing, too. They weren’t picked by many to win the AL East, but they’re 15-8 despite two starting pitchers with ERAs over 7.00, only six appearances from closer Zach Britton (he’s just now coming back from the DL) and the fact that sluggers Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo have combined for only five homers — as many as rookie Trey Mancini has by himself. Once again, manager Buck Showalter is showing why nobody should doubt him, ever.
Out in the NL West, most expected the Dodgers and Giants to battle for the top spot in the division all year, but in the season’s first month, Colorado (16-10) and Arizona (16-11) showed they don’t intend to go down without a fight. The Rockies have a stacked lineup — remember, Ian Desmond just came back, too — and Greg Holland has been an anchor at the back of a very good bullpen (11-for-11 in saves, 1.50 ERA). The pitching has had a few hiccups, but youngsters Antonio Senzatela (2.81 ERA) and Kyle Freeland (2.93 ERA) have been effective in the rotation.
In the desert, the Diamondbacks lineup has been spectacular, too — all eight regulars with at least 60 plate appearances have an OPS of at least .800 — and former ace Patrick Corbin looks like he’s back to his All-Star form after a couple of injury-plagued seasons. The rotation behind Corbin and Zack Greinke has been solid, but the pitching isn’t all peachy; Shelby Miller just learned he’ll need Tommy John surgery, and for-now closer Fernando Rodney has a 12.60 ERA.
We’d be remiss not to mention the White Sox and Brewers, too. Chicago’s supposed to be in a rebuild but still managed a 13-10 record, which puts the team a half-game behind Cleveland in the AL Central. And the Brewers are right at .500 (13-13), just a game behind the Cubs in the NL Central; their 2017 story isn’t solely about Eric Thames.
We’ll start this list in New York, too. The Mets don’t have the worst record in baseball thanks to a quick start (7-3), but they’ve been a disaster since a 16-inning win against the Marlins on April 13. They’ve won just three times in 14 games and have been outscored by 37 runs. The disabled list is crowded — Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores — and ace Noah Syndergaard left Sunday’s start with what looked like a lat injury. Curtis Granderson (.128), Jose Reyes (.174) and Neil Walker (.195) are healthy but struggling massively. The positive vibes from the strong start (that 7-3 record tied for the NL’s best) are long gone.
Toronto and San Francisco are just a hair behind the Mets on the disappointments list. The Blue Jays are just 8-17 on the season; of the 15 AL teams, the Jays are 14th in OPS, 13th in homers, 14th in runs scored and 14th in on-base percentage. Devon Travis (.130), Jose Bautista (.178) and Steve Pearce (.167) are the primary culprits. Toronto’s DL is crowded, too, with Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and J.A. Happ all on right now, and last year’s AL ERA champ, Aaron Sanchez, has only made two starts. Closer Roberto Osuna has as many blown saves (three) as converted saves (three).
The Giants' struggles aren’t all about Madison Bumgarner’s dirt-bike accident. Far from it. Three opening-day starters — Brandon Crawford, Denard Span and Jarrett Parker — are on the DL, and so is utility guy Aaron Hill. Veteran rotation guys Johnny Cueto (5.10 ERA), Matt Moore (4.80) and Jeff Samardzija (6.32) have been inconsistent. Offensively, the Giants are last in the NL in runs scored, home runs, OPS and slugging percentage. It hasn’t been pretty.
And then there are the Royals, who are on a nine-game losing skid. Kansas City’s offense was wildly inept in the season’s first month. Manager Ned Yost’s team scored only 63 runs, which was 24 fewer runs than any other team in the majors. Think about this: In their past four wins, the Nationals have scored 65 runs. Yeah. More in four games than the Royals have scored in 23 games. And then there’s this: In April, MLB teams scored five or more runs 307 times — K.C. did it just twice. They only reason the Royals are not the most disappointing team is expectations weren’t as high for the Royals as they were for the Mets, Giants and Blue Jays.
A couple of quick mentions: The Mariners are better than this. Well, they’re supposed to be better than an 11-15 month. The Dodgers have scuffled along to a 14-12 record, and the Cardinals looked awful in the first two weeks but crawled back to a 12-12 mark.