So, what have we learned so far two weeks into the Major League Baseball season?
• The San Francisco Giants are living up to their reputation of being an every-other-year World Series champion. This is an odd-numbered year, which means the Giants won’t be a factor and so far that’s played out. They have lost 10 of their first 14 and have looked pretty bad in doing it. Injuries and age in the pitching staff are major factors, and it was pitching and defense that vaulted them to the title last year. The Giants definitely miss Pablo Sandoval (now with the Red Sox) and the injured Hunter Pence. Where are the runs going to come from?
• The Detroit Tigers, who I picked to win the American League championship, are as good as advertised. The Tigers have baseball’s best record at 10-2 and so far haven’t missed Max Scherzer, now with Washington. Justin Verlander has been on the DL, but the Tigers’ pitching has been outstanding and the offense has been enhanced with some speed and power. The Tigers look like a playoff lock.
• The Kansas City Royals may not be a one-year wonder. The Royals won their first seven, and nine of their first 12, even with some injuries popping up. They appear to be a deeper team than last year and that playoff experience can’t be overlooked. You still have to wonder about their offense, as all their players came out of the gates swinging and now they are all cooling off at the same time. The Royals are a six-inning team, as their amazing bullpen has shortened games because it simply doesn’t allow many runs. The problem for the Royals is they’re in the same division with Detroit and they don’t appear to have enough to take down the Tigers.
• The American League East is just what I thought it was — a bunch of teams that are very even and it may take only about 86 wins to secure the division. Only 1 1/2 games separate the top from the bottom and it could be like that all season.
• The “Amazins’” are back. The New York Mets, who seemingly have gone into the Witness Protection Program in recent years, are the toast of the Big Apple and have pushed the Yankees to the back pages of the sports section. The Mets are off to a 10-3 start behind some terrific young pitching and Matt Harvey shows no effects of Tommy John surgery. Baseball needs a story like the Mets as when the New York teams are good, the spotlight seems brighter than normal.
• The St. Louis Cardinals are still baseball’s model franchise. I didn’t pick the Cardinals to win their division this year (I went with Pittsburgh), but they are 8-3 and their pitching is tremendous. There will be very few games where the Cardinals get blown out as they receive a quality start almost every time out. My concern is closer Trevor Rosenthal, who gets the heart pumping when he comes into games because of his command issues.
• The Chicago Cubs’ Jon Lester may be a id="mce_marker"55 million bust. Lester has gone all Steve Sax, unable to throw to first base. It’s gotten into his head and affected how he delivers the ball to the plate. He’s 0-2 so far and not the bell cow the Cubs anticipated when they paid him a king’s ransom. I’m sure Lester will be fine, but that’s a lot of coin for a pitcher who looks lost so far.
• The Washington Nationals continue to confound. You can have all the pitching in the world — which the Nationals have — but if you can’t catch the ball or hit the ball you’re in trouble. Washington was my pick to win it all, but its defense has been horrendous and its hitters slumping. I’m not giving up on them because we’re in the infant stages, but this team seems to be missing “it” and that factor could keep it from winning the championship.
• The San Diego Padres may be one of the best stories of the year. The Padres have remade themselves overnight with some bold moves and open checkbook, and they’re going to be a fun team to watch. “Big Game” James Shields has brought the same winning attitude to San Diego that he did to Kansas City and the Padres are 8-5 so far. They used to be baseball’s most vanilla team, with little reason to pay attention to them. But I like all the moves they’ve made and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re a wild-card team.