What many of us thought would happen, such as Strasburg dominating or the Dodgers and Blue Jays taking over their divisions with expensive players, hasn’t, at least yet. There are some great story lines that will be fun to track as May heats up into June. Some of these include the initial home run bursts by Justin Upton and Chris Davis, Clay Buchholz dominating for the Red Sox, and Josh Hamilton conforming to his usual very-hot or very-cold (the latter accurately describes his play to start the season) batting trends.
Boston Red Sox
What rebuilding stage? The Red Sox lead the AL East after many predicted them to finish last in the division behind a young and talented Orioles team, the perennial-powerhouse NY Yankees (despite the old age and injuries), the David Price-led Tampa Bay Rays, and the Toronto Blue Jays, a team fresh off high-profile offseason signings. But as Chuck Testa would say, NOPE. Clay Buchholz has been dominant and has started the season going 6-0 with a remarkable 1.01 ERA. David Ortiz is showing age or injury isn’t slowing him down one bit. Big Papi finished April as one of the hottest hitters in all of baseball. Speaking of hot hitters, Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia have also started strong. Pedroia has been his usual spectacular self, batting .330 with 19 walks. Napoli has been a very nice surprise for the Red Sox too after being brought to Boston mainly for crushing home runs, but he has also shown great improvement in average (.287) and run production, already with 31 runs batted in on the short season. Where the Red Sox will end in September is anyone’s guess, but through the first month they have really turned heads.
Terrible in Toronto
To avoid spending too much time focusing on the AL East, the Blue Jays have shown that contracting big-name players doesn’t necessarily translate into overall team success. Jose Reyes was playing very well before suffering a severe ankle injury sliding into 2nd base and without him at the top of the lineup the Jays have struggled to score runs (ranked 21st in the Majors). Jose Bautista is batting even lower than his career average of .251 and currently sits at .195. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey haven’t played for their contracts’ worth, either.
Perhaps the biggest off season signing of the year, Josh Hamilton is the perfect model to represent the Angels’ underachieving first month. 5 years for $125 million is buying the Angels a .214 average with 2 home runs and 32 strikeouts. And you thought going out to dinner an extra day this week was troubling for your budget? Pitching was the major concern for LA heading into the season and those concerns have proved to be legitimate. Jered Weaver fractured his left elbow during the early days of April and his return should help the pitching rotation who ranks 29th in the Majors in ERA (4.87) and 24th in quality starts (12). With a batting order stacked with the likes of Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Hamilton, and Mark Trumbo, the Angels should flip things around as the season progresses.
We all knew the immense potential of Bryce Harper leading up to his rookie campaign, but could anyone predict he would be this good in his second season? He’s crushing the ball for average and power alike, batting .356 with nine home runs for the Washington Nationals. It doesn’t look like a sophomore slump is in the cards for the former Rookie of the Year.
Perhaps even more impressive than Harper has been Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis. The 27-year old is showing much better plate discipline than in the past and this has helped him jump into early MVP considerations. With nine home runs and 28 RBI on the young season, Davis is on pace to dominate his personal bests and hopes to lead the Orioles to another postseason appearance.
Luckily one of the Upton brothers is producing in Atlanta. While older brother B.J. has been nothing short of disappointing, Justin Upton is the early favorite for NL MVP. He’s currently sitting at 12 homers on the year, only five short of his total from all of last season. His average has dipped off a bit to finish the month but he’s still sitting around that .300 mark. Both Upton brothers are considered “5-tool players” but it is the younger that has bolted out of the gates in 2013.
As was stated earlier, Clay Buchholz is storming through hitters like the German blitzkrieg of Poland. Some may cite his weak schedule thus far, but no one can deny that Buchholz has returned to his 2010 form when he went 17-7 and posted a 2.33 ERA.
While he may have sunk back a bit after giving up 4 earned runs to the Chicago White Sox, the whirling Darvish still has 58 strikeouts and an opponent’s batting average of .170. He’s one of the reasons the Rangers currently lead the AL Central.
While no one is going to forget about King Felix in Seattle, the Japanese-born Iwakuma currently sits at a 1.67 ERA with 37 strikeouts over six starts. He’s flying under the radar like his lethal split finger fastball flies underneath hitters’ bats. When batters do get wood on Iwakuma’s splitter, all they can do is drive it into the infield resulting in inning-ending double plays.
The first month of 2013 proves only one thing – the Chicago Cubs stink and the rest of the Major League is completely unpredictable. Will the Blue Jays and Angels turn it around? Can Hamilton respond to the boo birds? How the various divisions will unfold is anyone’s guess, but we can guarantee that no matter what happens there are some who will benefit – MLB fans all across the world.