May 31, 2012
We're two months — or roughly one-third, depending on how you look at it — into the major league baseball season, and it's time to reevaluate the 2012 MLB season.
With no surprise, Texas leads the American League with a 31-20 record, but few imagined the best record in baseball belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers — even with a second disabled list stint for triple crown threat Matt Kemp looming.
But the weird topsy-turvy 2012 baseball season doesn't end with the Dodgers leading the majors. Baltimore, the Chicago White Sox, Washington and Cincinnati all lead its respective divisions. And, if the wild card was decided today, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Miami and the New York Mets would be headed to the postseason.
Queue the Twilight Zone music as you start to make sense of the paragraph above. It's insane, it's ludicrous — unimaginable, but it hasn't been a fluke at this point. Although all signs point to an abrupt falling to earth for the Orioles, they have out-pitched and out-hit opponents, the White Sox are about as red hot as Hawk Harrelson during a routine ejection, and the Nationals pitching staff has been highly productive.
Cincinnati was a young playoff team in 2010, and appear to have the same edge two years later. Miami's new additions appear to be paying off after a slow start, Tampa Bay is about the most dangerous AL East threat and the Indians are continuing the first half success we all saw last season. In addition, Giancarlo Stanton has almost literally started destroying Miami's new ballpark with the most jaw-dropping homers I've ever seen, and it appears to be driving that team to success.
But it'd be even more insane, ludicrous and unimaginable to believe these teams will remain in the same spots come October.
Teams with early life: Baltimore, Tampa Bay, New York Yankees, Toronto, Boston, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Detroit, Texas, Los Angeles Angels, Washington, Miami, New York Mets, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco, Arizona
Teams on the early bubble: Kansas City, Seattle, Oakland, Houston, Milwaukee, Colorado
Teams who need an early miracle: Minnesota, Chicago Cubs, San Diego
A Closer Look at the League Leaders
The Dodgers have been great with a 32-18 record. Their pitching staff has been great from head-to-toe, boasting of a second-best ERA in the majors — and the staff is in the top five in ERA, quality starts and batting average against. It'll be difficult for a team riding on the sudden and surprising resurgence of Chris Capuano (7-1, 2.14 ERA) and Ted Lilly (5-1, 3.14 ERA) to maintain that effort for the final two-thirds of the season, but if the Dodgers can, it won't matter too much if Kemp's hamstring isn't healthy. It also helps that Andre Eithier is hitting .333, with nine home runs and 44 RBI.
But, Texas and LA have many things in common, too. Good pitching (if we're forgiving of Wednesday's 21-8 between the Rangers and Mariners), good hitting and straight up winning.
A closer look at Texas, that offense is exactly what we thought it was. It's the reason I picked the Rangers to win the AL West, and it hasn't disappointed. First in runs scored, first in batting average, first in on base percentage and first in slugging.
What does this mean?
It means the Rangers hitters are patient and relentless. It means they know how to get on base for others, such as Josh Hamilton, to knock them in. Hamilton is hitting a cool .368, with 21 dingers and 57 RBI. He's in the top five in average, runs scored, home runs and RBI this season — and those home run and RBI numbers lead the majors. He is, without a doubt, the most valuable player two months into the season — and is on pace for potentially more than 60 homers and 170 RBI, if he can stay this hot and healthy.
The Rangers are a machine at this point, but the questions of whether that carries over to late October will remain unanswered for some time. It's just way too early to tell what can happen, but things are looking dominant in Arlington.
A Closer Look at the Looming Teams in the East
Although the underdogs have reigned supreme two months in, those beloved favorites are no where close to elimination.
For example, let's take a look at the East. An area so unstable, that the division leader right now could be last place by the end of the week — and the cellar team can take over the division in a blink of an eye. Combined, the "cellar team" is only three games or less behind the division leader in both the AL and NL East. In fact, all 10 teams that fall in these divisions are above .500 and claim a combined 279-230 record at the moment.
The Red Sox hitters haven't skipped a beat, and like the Rangers, top many hitting statistics. However, the pitching staff needs to be righted to give Boston a serious chance at the playoffs. It's been slowly getting better, but when your best starting pitcher holds a 3.86 ERA, something just isn't right.
However, there is hope. Josh Beckett has allowed just three runs in his past 21 2/3 innings, after that whole golfing issue and Daniel Bard is starting to show some life as a starting pitcher. But that pitching has to improve from 28th in ERA, 25 in WHIP and 22 in batting average against if the Sox want to play in October.
New York Yankees
The Yankees haven't dealt with the kind of bizarre drama as Boston, but the results early surely would indicate otherwise. But, the Yankees are slowly getting the bats together and seem to have moved past the Mariano Rivera injury.
NYY is in the top 10 in the four major batting statistics, but the overall pitching just isn't there. Nineteenth in ERA and 27th in opposing batting average is a recipe for disaster on the mound. The bullpen has been fairly solid, but the starters haven't really turned the page yet. C.C. Sabathia (6-2, 3.66 ERA) aces a staff that has been lackluster. If NYY can get more out of the win-column-lucky Ivan Nova (6-2, 5.60 ERA), Phil Hughes (4-5, 5.64 ERA) and Hiroki Kuroda (4-6, 3.96 ERA), then the Yankees would be more than just a playoff threat, but it appears NYY needs help. Luckily for them, they have a lot of money, and Cole Hamels is in the final year of his contract and might be on the block.
Who would've imagined Toronto would be three games above .500 after a slow start from Jose Bautista, no production from first base and the subsequent demotion of Adam Lind, and a rocky start for ace Ricky Romero? However, the surprising rise of Edwin Encarnacion and Kelly Johnson has lifted the offense, and Brandon Morrow (6-3, 3.28 ERA) is turning into an ace-quality pitcher.
Toronto is 21st in batting average and 23rd in on base percentage, but somehow 6th in runs scored and 8th in slugging percentage — almost miraculous. But Encarnacion hit his 17th homer Wednesday, on the anniversary of his first homer last season. He's carried his hot closure to 2011 into 2012 and leads the club with 42 RBI. Though blowing the most saves to begin the season, third-place closer Casey Janssen is 5-for-5 in save opportunities and has allowed just one base runner in a save chance.
It appears Toronto needs production out of the first base side and from left field to remain in contact with the AL East top dogs, but that could just be just gravy if Bautista continues his hot stretch, Encarnacion continues his success and Brett Lawrie can get things going.
The Braves have been quietly good thus far in a rebound attempt from last year's shocking collapse. Atlanta has gotten production from multiple hitters instead of just one or two like many teams have gotten thus far. It shows Atlanta can rely on anyone at any time, but also shows that if one man falls off the ship, a disaster can happen at the plate.
On the other side, Brandon Beachy (5-3, 1.77 ERA) has been phenomenal, despite little to no run support, and Tommy Hanson has been solid. But if neither can get run support, neither will help Atlanta shine.
Philadelphia is in a predicament. With Roy Halladay struggling and now shelved for 6-to-8 weeks, Cliff Lee surprisingly winless with a 3.00 ERA and Cole Hamels (8-1, 2.43 ERA) nearing the end of his contract, Philadelphia will need to find bats or figure a way to release their extra payroll before a collapse occurs.
Sure, Philly is above .500, but how long can that last without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard? You have to imagine if the pitching staff, which the Phillies are built around, can't support winning, the winning will eventually stop.
Two-Month MLB Awards:
MVP - Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas
Cy Young - Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit
Top Rookie - Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas
Top Manager - Buck Showalter, Baltimore
MVP - Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami
Cy Young - Gio Gonzalez, LHP, Washington
Top Rookie - Bryce Harper, OF, Washington
Top Manager - Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers