By Troy Martin
Well, baseball is back for another season – and I for one couldn’t be happier. Now you may think I’m alone on this, but I’ve got 76000 close friends who share in my joy! But more on that later..
The regular season is almost through it’s first month (around 20 games played out of the 162 game schedule), and several key storylines have started to develop.
Here at Grid of Sports we’ll run down the news of the season so far, as well as a snapshot of the happenings in each division.
The Stories so far..
MLB back in Sydney after 100 years
Prior to the Dodgers & Diamondbacks touching down in Sydney, there were questions raised about whether this year’s opening series would be a flop. Well, those questions were answered in emphatic fashion as 38000 screaming fans packed the SCG on both days.
We cheered, we booed, we caught foul balls, sang “Take me out to the ballgame”, and ate nachos out of a batting helmet. We saw why Clayton Kershaw was worth $300 million, and got to appreciate Australia’s past & present Major Leaguers. It was such a success that Major League Baseball have agreed to come back in 2018, and will be represented by none other than the storied New York Yankees.
Dropping like flies
Chris Sale – Chicago White Sox
The list of top flight pitchers on the Disabled List (DL) is just jaw dropping. How’s this list for starters..
Clayton Kershaw (*)
Patrick Corbin (*)
Daniel Hudson (*)
Kris Medlen (*)
Chris Sale (*)
Mat Latos (*)
Brett Anderson (*)
Scott Feldman (*)
Matt Harvey (*)
Cole Hamels (*)
Josh Johnson (*)
Hisashi Iwakuma (*)
Adam Wainwright (*)
Matt Moore (*)
Matt Harrison (*)
Tanner Scheppers (*)
Doug Fister (*)
Now this isn’t every pitcher on the DL – not even close. But these are all quality Major League pitchers. Those with an asterisk (*) are their team’s #1 or #2 starter.
So what does this all mean?
Well, a couple of things. Some highly touted rookies will be put to the test earlier than expected. This could mean we see the emergence of the next Matt Harvey or Stephen Strasburg. But an early promotion could also give us the next Ben McDonald.
Who’s Ben McDonald you ask? Exactly.
Some names to keep an eye on this year include Matt Wisler (Padres), Eddie Butler (Rockies), and Archie Bradley (Diamondbacks).
We should also see a busier than usual trade market around the All-Star break.
The old saying holds true – you can never have too much pitching.
Play it again Ump
Major League Baseball moved in line with other major sports by introducing instant replay in 2014. The reports so far are mixed, with the main complaint being that simple replays are taking up to 10 minutes to complete. For those already unhappy about the length of games this is more aggravation, but for the fans who just want the call right, it’s worth the wait.
American League East
The Good – The Yankees (just..)
After years of being the most talent stacked division in baseball, there is currently a feeling of.. meh.. about the AL East. The Yankees off season acquisitions of McCann, Ellsbury & Tanaka have been enough for the Bronx Bombers to jump out to an early lead, but for how long?
Baltimore’s fairytale appears to be over, and the Jays still can’t seem to live up to their promise. I think when it’s all said & done – the Rays (if they can keep their pitchers healthy) will edge out the Yankees to win the division.
The Bad – Red Sox
Last year’s World Champions look like anything but in the early going, but should start to put things together soon. Jon Lester’s public contract discussions are an unwanted distraction, and the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury has left a hole that top prospect Jackie Bradley Jr hasn’t quite been able to fill.
American League Central
The Good – Detroit Tigers
Most teams are presently suffering through injury woes to key pitchers. No such problems for the Tigers, whose “Big Three” of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer & Anibal Sanchez will ensure that the Motor City gets another post season appearance in 2014. Second Baseman Ian Kinsler, who was basically a throw in from the Prince Fielder trade to Texas has thrived in his new environment and has quickly become Detroit’s offensive catalyst.
The Bad – Minnesota Twins
The Twins have been bad. They were bad last year, they will continue to be bad this year. But much like the Pittsburgh Pirates, they figure to get really good – really fast.
With a farm system featuring baseball’s top prospect Byron Buxton, as well as Miguel Sano, Kohl Stewart & Alex Meyer, Minnesota’s faithful only have a couple of years to wait before they return to the glory days. In the mean time though, expect some pain..
American League West
The Good – Oakland Athletics
What have we learned from the first month of the season? We’ve learned that the A’s are for real. Their production line of stellar young pitching continues to keep them at the top of the heap in the West. When Tommy Millone was sidelined with injury, longman Jessie Chavez emerged from the bullpen to make the rotation spot his own – pitching to a 1.38 ERA and striking out 28 and walking only 5 in 26 innings.
Sonny Gray has emerged as the staff Ace, and has been ably supported by Dan Straily, and comeback phenom Scott Kazmir.
The Angels are old, and shallow in pitching. Even the presence of baseball’s undisputed best player Mike Trout is not enough for them to contend. Texas also have too many question marks behind Yu Darvish, and after a promising start Seattle’s offense has once again become anemic.
The Bad – Houston Astros.
What did you expect, they’re the Astros..
Houston have scored an astonishing 60% of their runs via the long ball this year – a perfect reflection of a young team that is truly hit or miss (and unfortunately they are still mostly miss)
They have had the number one pick in the draft for the last couple of years, as well as having it this year (and probably next) so the rot won’t continue forever. But don’t expect a turnaround anytime soon.
National League East
The Good – Atlanta Braves & Washington Nationals
As hard as I try, I just can’t split these two. Both teams have been decimated by early season injuries, but there is still daylight between them & the rest of the division. Atlanta have already had pitchers Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy & Mike Minor go down with injuries but have managed to open the season 13-7, mainly due to some stellar play on the road (8-4).
Washington have also had key players land on the DL including Ryan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Wilson Ramos & Denard Span.
These injuries would usually open the door for another team to leapfrog into 1st place, but unfortunately for the Mets & Phillies the talent gap is presently too much.
The Bad – Miami Marlins
Fans in Florida are in a state of limbo at present with the constant cycle of “spend up big, then have a fire sale” still the norm in Miami. They refuse to trade their best player Giancarlo Stanton, yet they refuse to build around him. Stanton and 21 year old pitching phenom Jose Fernandez are bright spots in an otherwise dull Florida landscape.
National League Central
The Good – Milwaukee Brewers
Could they really do it? Could the Brew Crew come out of nowhere to unseat Pittsburgh? I think the answer is probably not, but they have been nothing if not fun to watch.
The offense has been electric behind emerging superstar Carlos Gomez and perennial All Star Ryan Braun, but the pitching has been absolutely stellar.
The Pirates, however should keep pace with them most of the way and then overtake them down the stretch.
The Cardinals have had pitching setbacks of their own, but can never be counted out, and the Reds are capable of keeping up with all three of the teams just mentioned.
This figures to be baseball’s most competitive division.
The Bad – Chicago Cubs
The new regime of Jed Hoyer & Theo Epstein have been quietly amassing some talent in the Windy City, but they’re not quite where they want to be. But with young players such as Mike Olt, Anthony Rizzo & Starlin Castro, the Cubbies could soon become relevant again. For now though, its another last place finish.
National League West
The Good – Los Angeles Dodgers
The NL West has a history of really close division races. Usually because the competing teams are all really good, or all really bad. Lately though, the gap between the boys from Chavez Ravine and everyone else is as large as it’s been in some time. Under new ownership, headed by LA’s own Magic Johnson, the Dodgers have opened up their chequebook and declared that money is no object in their quest to bring a championship to LALA land. And who knows? This could just be the year..
The Giants are scrappy and will provide some resistance, but ultimately neither they nor the improving Padres will have what it takes to unseat the defending champions.
The (oh so) Bad – Arizona Diamondbacks
If the D-Backs 5-18 record doesn’t indicate how their season is going, then here’s a couple of quotes for you.
“Bad teams typically have some positivity and rays of hope. This is different.” – Pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
“I’ve been on teams that weren’t very good, but at least we were competitive” – Infielder Eric Chavez.
These aren’t young guys opening their mouths when they shouldn’t, these are two veterans who know precisely what they are saying.
Australian pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith was recently dropped from the Major League roster and chose the uncertainty of free agency rather than staying with an obviously dysfunctional team. Come season’s end some D-Backs players may wish they were in the same boat.
It’s never too early for some clairvoyance, so here goes..
AL East: Tampa Bay
AL Central: Detroit
AL West: Oakland
AL Wildcard: New York Yankees
NL East: Washington
NL Central: Pittsburgh
NL West: Los Angeles
NL Wild Card: Atlanta
AL Champion: Detroit
NL Champion: Washington
World Series Winner: Washington Nationals