USA Today/Jeff Hanisch
The Major League Baseball season is heading into summer as we hit the quarter way point of the season. There have been teams that have started off struggling, while others have grabbed early division leads. Who knows what will happen the rest of the season, but for now lets see the surprising teams so far this season.
Early Season Risers
New York Yankees:
Gary Sanchez missed the beginning part of the season; however, Aaron Judge has provided enough power to propel the Yankees into first place. Along with solid starting pitching and the revival of Starlin Castro, the Yankees are going to stay as a threat in the American League East. The young Yankees have been an early season surprise and they should not be overlooked.
The American League Central is to a unique start with the Twins atop the division. Miguel Sano has put up dominant statistics for the surprising Twins and Ervin Santana has been the standout for an otherwise middle-of-the-pack rotation. Expect the Twins to fade in the division with the Indians and Tigers emerging stronger and more experienced.
Eric Thames took the league by storm with a monstrous April, crushing 11 home runs. He has since cooled down but the team leads the National League Central. The acquisition of Travis Shaw has looked well so far while stars Ryan Braun and Jonathan Villar have struggled with injury and slumps, respectively. The Brewers need to improve their pitching in order to stay near the top of the division; look for them to slide back but remain in the playoff picture this year.
Colorado has always had the bats to compete for a playoff spot, and now the pitching has shown strides. Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland have been the aces of the Rockies pitching staff. Looking at the National League, Colorado is a legitimate playoff team; however, playing in the NL West against the Dodgers could cause some issues. Get ready to see the Rockies back in the playoffs this season.
Zach Greinke finally looks like the old Zach Greinke. Arizona has finally got their individual pieces working well with a solid hitting combo of Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb. The real question for Arizona will be whether both the hitting and pitching can stay consistent all season. Their pitchers have struggled to stay healthy, especially with Shelby Miller set for Tommy John surgery. Arizona will stay in the playoff picture though with the NL East struggling.
Teams in Confusion
New York Mets:
Nothing has gone right for the Mets this year. Noah Syndergard is injured, along with Steven Matz and Seth Lugo. Matt Harvey was suspended and the bats have not found the baseball. Yoenis Cespedes is still injured, and David Wright has had yet another setback. A team which looked ready for a playoff run before the season now is just hoping that things won’t get worse. No playoffs for the Mets this year.
Talk about a World Series hangover! The Cubs’ pitching has been inconsistent while their bats are still waiting to wake up. Look for the Cubs to bounce back pretty quickly here. They’re still young and talented enough team to get over the hangover and still be the team to beat in the NL Central and all of baseball. One possible move is to drop Kyle Schwarber out of the lead-off spot. He is struggling hitting and would benefit from dropping down in the lineup.
Toronto Blue Jays:
Injuries have been the biggest issue for the Blue Jays. Power hitters Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki have been injured throughout the early season and pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Francisco Liriano have joined them. Playing in the AL East also does not help Toronto’s chance of returning to baseball’s playoffs this season. Look for the Blue Jays to make a run though and finally head into September fully healthy.
San Francisco Giants:
The same issues from last season have haunted the Giants to being the year. Hunter Pence keeps finding his way to the disabled list, while the left fielder void is causing chaos in San Francisco. If things bounce back for them, expect them to trade for a left fielder, perhaps revisiting Ryan Braun if the Brewers fade. Pitching is the main issue, though, as it has been inconsistent away from Johnny Cueto. The Giants’ run at the postseason will end this year.
The Marlins have power hitters who have struggled, to say nothing of the starting rotation. The death of Jose Fernandez has really taken a toll for the Marlins, who have not looked the same since. Luckily they play in a terrible NL East and could rebound by the end of the season. Look for the Marlins to be sellers at the trade deadline and start to rebuild for the future.
Predictions for the Summer
Nationals build a 15 game lead in the NL East:
Washington is firing on all cylinders with Bryce Harper returning to MVP form. Ryan Zimmerman has been fantastic with Trea Turner showing great upside. Along with dominant pitchers in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals will continue to run away with the division.
Mike Trout puts Angels in the playoff picture:
Is this the best Mike Trout has ever looked? He continues to be a dynamic hitter and is showing huge power numbers. The Angels seem to finally have decent pieces around him to help win games on a regular basis. The playoffs are coming soon for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Astros stay put at the trade-deadline:
Houston is doing everything right this season and has all the pieces. Rumors have spread that they are looking to add a starting pitcher, but having Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Collin McHugh and Charlie Morton already gives them a tough rotation to go against. Along with solid bats in Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer, Houston will go all in with what they currently have. It is about time we see the Astros back in the World Series.