Real or Not: Which hot starts in the standings should you take seriously? – SweetSpot

MLB


Frigid temperatures have blanketed ballparks across the land, but that hasn’t prevented some hot starts. Six teams are 8-3 or better, creating some fun early plot twists to the season. Let’s take a quick look at those six clubs.

New York Mets (9-1)

Tuesday: They scored two in the eighth and benefited from shaky Marlins defense with two more in the ninth to win 8-6.

How they’re doing it: Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom have started six of the team’s 10 games and Jeurys Familia has racked up six saves already.

Hot take: It has been all positives for the Mets. The starters are healthy. Michael Conforto returned sooner than expected from shoulder surgery. The bullpen has been excellent, with former starters Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo looking like potential weapons down there. There are long-term issues on how much offense they’ll get at catcher, first base and shortstop, but manager Mickey Callaway has a lot of depth to work from in the lineup and bullpen.

Gut feeling: They’ve already increased their odds of winning the division from about 20 percent to 34 percent per FanGraphs, and their projected wins from 84 to 88. I think they stay in the race all season, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they look to add rotation help at some point (assuming they keep Gsellman and Lugo in the pen).

Boston Red Sox (9-1)

Tuesday: The anticipated Luis Severino vs. Chris Sale showdown was a letdown as the Red Sox pounded the Yankees 14-1. Mookie Betts went 4-for-4 with a walk, five runs and a grand slam.

How they’re doing it: The starting rotation has 1.68 ERA.

Hot take: They should be 10-0, as the only loss was on Opening Day, when they blew a 4-0 lead in the eighth inning against the Rays. It’s worth noting that nine of these first 10 games came against the Rays and Marlins. Still, David Price has had two scoreless outings and Rick Porcello has been solid. If you get some bounce back from those two to go with Chris Sale, it’s going to be a great rotation.

Gut instinct: I had the Yankees at 99 wins and the Red Sox at 95 to start the season. Given the early 4.5-game lead over the Yankees, it’s basically even now in my book (FanGraphs gives the Red Sox a 17 percent advantage to win the division). It’s hard not to overreact to Price’s great start or Giancarlo Stanton’s bad start, but that’s why we exercise caution: It’s early. The Red Sox and Yankees finish the season with a three-game series at Fenway. That could decide the division.

Pittsburgh Pirates (8-2)

Tuesday: Beat the Cubs 8-5 as they pounded out 12 hits to spoil the Cubs’ home opener.

How they’re doing it: Offense. They’re hitting .286/.357/.462 and averaging 6.6 runs per game (best in the majors).

Hot take: Everybody crushed the Pirates after they traded Andrew McCutchen and then Gerrit Cole, so a good start here was imperative. They’re not going to score six-plus runs a game all season, but in watching the Pirates a few times already, the lineup has some depth to it, and Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte should all be better than they were last season. Pitching depth will be a big issue, but Felipe Vazquez — the closer formerly known as Felipe Rivero — gives them an elite late-game ace. Put it this way: If they play .500 the rest of the way, they’d finish 84-78 and based on last year’s standings that would put them in the wild-card race.

Gut feeling: Probably not enough pitching depth to stay in the race all season in what looks like a tough division, but if you want to go all-in on a deep sleeper, the Pirates are your team.

Los Angeles Angels (9-3)

Tuesday: Ripped out 18 hits in an 11-1 victory over the Rangers.

How they’re doing it: Ohtani fever plus the best slugging percentage in the majors.

Hot take: Shohei Ohtani hasn’t been the only one raking and he helps extend the lineup that has played without Ian Kinsler so far after he was hurt on Opening Day. This is a very good defensive team, especially once Kinsler returns, and Ohtani gives them a potential ace-caliber starter. The six-man rotation already has some issues, however, as JC Ramirez is out for the season with Tommy John surgery and Matt Shoemaker is on the DL with a forearm strain. Andrew Heaney could return later this week.

Gut feeling: If they get 50 to 55 starts from Ohtani and Garrett Richards, they’ll win the wild card. I’d like to see a bullpen upgrade and I’m not convinced Albert Pujols and Luis Valbuena will give them the offense you want at first base and DH, but Mike Trout‘s awesomeness covers a lot of weaknesses.

Houston Astros (9-3)

Tuesday: Lost 4-1 to the Twins.

How they’re doing it: The rotation has a 1.88 ERA with 88 strikeouts and just five home runs allowed over 70 innings.

Hot take: They’ve won 75 percent of their games even though the offense hasn’t been anything special. One issue to watch: The Astros had the second-lowest strikeout rate in the majors last season, one reason they led the majors in runs. They’re at the fifth-highest rate right now, with Derek Fisher, J.D. Davis, Jake Marisnick and Evan Gattis all above 30 percent. Those are all complementary players, but it was lineup depth that made the Astros so tough last season.

Gut feeling: There’s no reason to change my prediction of 100-plus wins.

Arizona Diamondbacks (8-3)

Tuesday: Lost 5-4 to the Giants.

How they’re doing it: The rotation has picked up from where they left off in 2017, posting a 3.18 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 65 innings.

Hot take: That’s right, Paul Goldschmidt hadn’t homered until the ninth inning of Tuesday’s tough loss. Patrick Corbin had dominated with nine K’s through five innings before unraveling in the sixth. Anyway, they’re off to a good start even though Goldschmidt is hitting .158, Jake Lamb is on the DL and Alex Avila and Jarrod Dyson are hitting a combined .295. But Corbin’s new approach of throwing sliders and more sliders has been effective and Zack Godley has allowed one run in 14 innings.

Gut feeling: I love this rotation and my man Robbie Ray hasn’t even put it in gear yet. Health and production from David Peralta and A.J. Pollock are absolutely vital and I’d like see another bat (even off the bench) to help out, but the pitching keeps them close to the Dodgers all season.


About that cold weather: The cold weather across the Northeast and Midwest has played havoc with canceled games and low attendance figures. While the Cubs were snowed out on Monday, the White Sox plowed forward and played the Rays to an almost empty stadium, with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reporting the actual in-person attendance was 974. There have been more ski caps than at the Winter Olympics.

The son of a friend of mine had tickets to the Cubs game, but instead headed over to Guaranteed Rate Field, paid $14 for a ticket, sat a few rows from the field and got an autograph from Rays outfielder Mallex Smith. Official attendance on the 35-degree day was announced at 10,377.

Also on Monday, the Orioles drew just 7,915 fans on a 44-degree night, the smallest crowd in Camden Yards history (not including the game on April 29, 2015, when fans were locked out in the wake of the Freddie Gray unrest in the city). Attendance is always lower in April anyway due to colder weather and with kids still in school, but only three of the 12 games on Monday drew more than 20,000 fans and five drew fewer than 15,000 (and those are the announced figures reflecting tickets sold, not the in-game attendance).

Tuesday featured more sparse crowds, with the Orioles once again having fewer than 10,000; the Twins announced 15,500, but the in-game figure may have been half that; the Indians and White Sox both had crowds suspiciously just north of 10,000. And then we have the Marlins, where the weather isn’t an issue, but the ballclub is. They drew 6,516 for the Mets. Good luck, Derek.





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