It’s hard to believe that this Major League Baseball season is already a month old. But even though the season is 162 games long, there are already strong indicators of who the next MVP and Cy Young candidates will be and which teams are peeking and flopping.
And so, here are the 10 biggest stories in Major League Baseball as the season moves into May.
1. Baltimore Orioles. Don’t look now, but they are in first place in the American League East with a 14-8 record. So far, they have Chris Tillman (2-1, 3.24 ERA,.211 BAA, three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio), an air-tight bullpen — led by closer Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Darren O-Day — and sluggers Manny Machado (seven home runs, 1.075 OPS), Chris Davis (seven homers), and Mark Trumbo (six) to thank. Most of this progress will continue, except for one thing: don’t expect Trumbo’s.341 batting average to last.
2. David Price and Craig Kimbrel. New Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski knew what his baseball team needed to do well in the 2016 season: a frontline starting pitcher and an elite closer. He went out and got both in signing David Price and trading for Craig Kimbrel. The season is early, but so far, the results have been disappointing. Granted, Price is 3-0, and Kimbrel already has seven saves. But Price has a 5.76 ERA after getting roughed up by Baltimore and Tampa Bay — two division rivals he’ll face numerous more times, and Kimbrel has already surrendered two key ninth inning home runs to opponents, leading many to wonder: did Dombrowski give away the farm when he sent four hot minor league talents to San Diego for Kimbrel?
3. Chicago White Sox. Is this baseball team for real? They are 16-8, and this is with sluggers Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier being off to slow starts. So, why are they doing well? Adam Eaton (.366 OBP) and Melky Cabrera (.375 OBP) are getting on base, and the pitching has been a major force: Chris Sale is 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA and 0.68 WHIP, Jose Quintana is 3-1 with a 1.47 ERA, and Mat Latos is emerging as Major League Baseball’s comeback player of the year: in four starts, he has a 0.74 ERA, and opponents are hitting just.151 against him. But this is the American League Central, where the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals, and the Detroit Tigers, are not far behind.
4. Justin Upton. One of the biggest Major League free agents this past offseason, the Tigers signed Upton, 28, to a six-year, $132 million contract. Thus far, he has been a bust: one home run, a.220 batting average, with 37 strikeouts (and just three walks) in 91 at-bats. But the talent is there. So if he can get his bat going, Upton could take the Tigers a long way in 2016.
5. Houston Astros. At 7-16, they are easily baseball’s biggest disappointment thus far in 2016, given all of their major league talent. Their hitting has been okay with a few exceptions (notably Carlos Gomez and Jason Castro), but their pitching has not: ace Dallas Keuchel is 2-3 with a 4.41 ERA, and reliever Ken Giles, hailed as one of their top off-season acquisitions, has surrendered 10 runs in 10 innings.
6. Washington Nationals. 2016 could be their year. After falling short in 2015 (83-79), new manager Dusty Baker has thus far gotten the most out of this baseball team; at 15-7, their are in first place in the National League East. Bryce Harper has proven that his 2015 National League MVP award was no fluke, as he has thus far carried the team with nine home runs, 24 RBI, and a whopping 1.127 OPS. But the key to their 2016 season thus far has been their starting pitching: while ace Max Scherzer has struggled early, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, and especially the talented young Joe Ross, 22, (2-0, 0.54 ERA in four starts) have all been terrific.
7. New York Mets. After a slow start, the defending National League champions have come roaring back, and are 14-7, just half a game behind Washington. Credit for their early 2016 success goes to 23-year-old left fielder Michael Conforto (.343 batting average,.427 OBP, 1.041 OPS), and center fielder Yoenes Cespedes (seven home runs, 23 RBI). But as with last year, Mets fans can thank the starting pitchers. Anchored by Noah Syndergaard (1.69 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 38 striketouts in 26.2 innings), they have one of Major League Baseball’s most exciting pitching rotations.
8. Philadelphia Phillies. This rebuilding team is 13-10. While they may be over-performing, the young talent has been fun to watch, especially center fielder Odubel Herrera (.460 OBP and four stolen bases), third baseman Maikel Franco (.279, five home runs), and starting pitchers Vince Velazquez (3-1, 1.87 ERA), and Aaron Nola (37 strikeouts in 33 innings). The Phillies won’t win this much in 2016 or next year, but starting in 2018, they will be a team to watch.
9. Chicago Cubs. Yes, they are for real. Their 17-5 record is the best in Major League Baseball. But with all of their talented young hitters (Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Addison Russell) and their off-season acquisitions (Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward), right now it looks like their smartest move was bringing back center fielder Dexter Fowler, who thus far is batting.347 with a.474 OBP. Pitching-wise, they are even better: ace Jake Arrieta has a no-hitter, and is 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, while Jon Lester (2-1, 1.83 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) and Jason Hammel (3-0, 0.75 ERA) have blown away Major League competition.
10. National League West. Granted, there has thus far not been a lot of excitement from the west coast: the Dodgers and Giants (both 12-12) lead the league, while Arizona is 12-13, and the Rockies and Padres are floundering. Even still, this could be baseball’s most competitive division in 2016.
For the Dodgers, Chase Utley is making his move to be this year’s comeback player of the year (.288 batting average,.380 OBP), and the lineup is anchored by the always consistent Adrian Gonzalez (.299 batting average, 15 RBI,.834 OPS). But the rotation, anchored by three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, is among the best in Major League Baseball.
The Giants, who won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, are aiming to do it again in 2016. Center fielder Angel Pagan (.321 batting average,.370 OBP), first baseman Brandon Belt (16 RBI,.903 OPS), and right fielder Hunter Pence (four home runs, 16 RBI,.861 OPS) have thus far carried the offense. Off-season acquisitions Johnny Cueto (4-1, 2.65 ERA) and Jeff Samardzija (3-1, 3.86 ERA) have proven to be smart moves, bringing stability to the rotation.
The Diamondbacks surprised everyone when they made Zack Greinke the first $300 million man in baseball. Thus far, he has been disappointing, (2-2, 6.16 ERA), but that shouldn’t last for long. Offensively, they have one of the five best hitters in baseball in Paul Goldschmidt (six home runs, 16 RBI, 25 walks,.928 OPS), along with outfielders David Peralta and the much-improved Yasmani Tomas (.286, five home runs).
This is why the National League West is the most competitive division in baseball.
What do you think? What other exciting baseball stories are shaping up in the 2016 season?
[Photo by Greg Flume/Getty Images]