With the first month of Major League Baseball season complete, fans have seen a number of surprises, predictable teams rise to the top, and some teams fall short of expectation. Here are the top five story lines in the first 15% of the season:
1. Bryce Harper is the best player in baseball
The reigning National League Most Valuable Player has done nothing to give anyone an opportunity to knock him from his throne. Second in the league in home runs (to two Colorado Rockies), tops in the league in RBI, and his OPS of 1.121 is better than his 2015 campaign (despite a pedestrian .286 batting average, 44 points below last season). Hard to believe he is only 23 years old, now in his fifth year.
2. Trevor Story rewrote his-story
One of those two Colorado Rockies leading the league had not played major league baseball before this year. Trevor Story had the greatest first week in the history of baseball. In his first four games, he clubbed six home runs to surge to the league lead. In the entire month of April, the Atlanta Braves as a team hit five. Four of those six HR were on the road so it wasn’t necessarily the rare air. Nothing in his minor league pedigree says he can keep this up (20 HR among AA and AAA last year), but it was fun to watch!
3. The offseason did nothing to slow down Jake Arrieta
Already with MLB’s only no-hitter of the year, Jake Arrieta has bee simply dominant since August of 2015. In five starts this year, he is 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA (and did I mention a no-hitter)? In his final 12 starts of 2015, he allowed 4 earned runs (11-0). So that’s 16 straight wins without a loss (and only one no-decision, with the Cubs going 17-0 total). What else can you ask for?
4. This may be the Chicago Cubs season. Yes, the Cubs.
Starting the year 17-5, they seem to have no flaws. The aforementioned Arrieta is the best pitcher in baseball, including Clayton Kershaw. In April, they scored 136 runs (best in MLB). They only allowed 57 runs (best in MLB). Their run differential of +79 is twice that of the next best team (defending NL Champions New York Mets, +36). Several of their offensive weapons are off to a slow start (Anthony Rizzo .218, Jason Heyward .224, Addison Russell .214). Also worth noting that Arrieta doesn’t have the best ERA on the team (Jason Hammel 0.75). Someone keep Steve Bartman away from playoff tickets and this team cannot miss.
5. 2015 playoffs does not translate into 2016 success
If the playoffs started today, the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals would not be included. Neither would be preseason favorite Houston Astros. Or the powerhouse New York Yankees. Or the Los Angeles Dodgers or the St. Louis Cardinals. The Astros and Yankees look very bad, but the rest of the teams are near .500 and not too far out. Memorial Day is the traditional day to take stock of team performance, but these teams may need to get better sooner than later.
What will May bring? Guaranteed more excitement!
David Whitlock (@lhd_on_sports)