Three weeks of the baseball season are in the books, and basically we still know nothing. Well, almost nothing. If there’s one thing (I think) I’ve learned, it’s that it’s easier to denigrate teams in April rather than crown them. Every team goes through ups and downs, but it seems like the disturbing trends are much more glaring — and telling — than the happy times.
AL West = AL Worst?
What is going on with the American League West? I opined last week that this could be the worst division in the AL and possibly baseball, and that belief was further cemented this past week. A four-game losing streak for the Texas Rangers isn’t a season-buster, but Cole Hamels’ balky groin just might be. The offense isn’t in sync and the bullpen is a liability. Of course, they look like world-beaters compared to the Houston Astros. Not only are they proving 2015 was a fluke, they may be downright back to being the Astros. Of all the moves they made, and didn’t make, the worst might have been bringing in Ken Giles from the Phillies. His altercation with former manager Ryne Sandberg last season epitomized his lack of maturity and the fact that it overrides his electric pitch arsenal. The Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, and Seattle Mariners are all very flawed teams, but they also could be in the mix for the division crown. Of that trio, the Mariners might be the least flawed.
D-Backs reaping benefits of Segura trade
One of the quieter trades this offseason was the one the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers made to bring middle infielder Jean Segura to the desert. A young player who had shown flashes in Milwaukee, Segura wasn’t expected to be a big contributor. Instead, Segura, who endured a terrible personal tragedy in 2014 when he lost his infant son, is leading the Majors in hits thus far with 32. He is batting .352 with four homers and 15 RBIs, helping make up for some of the lost production from injured center fielder A.J. Pollock. On the flip side, the Brewers’ two acquisitions are doing virtually nothing. Chase Anderson has a 4.50 ERA in four starts, and Aaron Hill is batting .185.
A relaxed vibe in DC
Last year, count me as one of the few people not buying the Washington Nationals hype. Everyone seemed to be picking them for the World Series, but I wasn’t even confident they’d win their division — which they didn’t. Clubhouse dissension and a lack of mental toughness were major red flags that ultimately reared their ugly heads in 2015, resulting in a missed postseason berth. But I believe a big part of that was former manager Matt Williams, and jettisoning him and bringing in the veteran presence of Dusty Baker has been more than just addition by subtraction. The team is no longer underachieving and playing like paper champions. Bryce Harper is the best hitter on the planet, and we know that the rotation is still very good. Adding Daniel Murphy has not only been good for the clubhouse, it’s been good everywhere. Murphy is the Majors’ leading hitter at .397, a carryover from his monster 2015 postseason with the New York Mets. The Nats still have some holes in their roster, namely the bullpen, but they look like the cream of a tepid National League East division.
I still believe you could make a strong case for four different teams (everyone except Tampa Bay) to win the American League East. The Yankees’ incredible 1-2 bullpen combo is about the get that much scarier when Aroldis Chapman returns from his suspension on May 9…. Who is Aledmys Diaz, and why does it seem that the Cardinals always seem to come up with these unheralded gems? Diaz is hitting a ridiculous .491 (26-for-54) since replacing one of the team’s top power bats, Jhonny Peralta, when Peralta had thumb surgery before the season began…. I still think the Giants are the top dog in the NL West, but the Sergio Romo injury is going to hurt. The loss of Romo shortens the bullpen considerably and forces unproven pitchers like Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich into bigger roles. Jeremy Affeldt retiring may not seem that big, but he was a valuable team leader whose presence will also be missed…. The White Sox are 13-6 and making more believers every night, like rallying from four runs down in the seventh inning last night. It may not hold up, but Chicago boasts the league’s top bullpen ERA and figures to hit better than it has thus far.