“You can’t predict baseball.”
We hear this tired cliché every spring, summer, and autumn. Baseball’s predictable unpredictability has reared its head already in the first three weeks of the season. Of course, the season is long and most of these surprising trends will level off and return to normal in a month or so, but it is still fun to look around the league and see things unfolding that no experts could have predicted (and would be lying if they said they did). Let’s look at the most unlikely scenarios that have surfaced early on this season.
The Flightless Blue Jays
The Blue Jays were expected to take a slight dip in the AL East following the departure of Edwin Encarnacion and his 42 home runs, but nobody could have expected a complete free-fall like the first 12 games of the season have been for the Jays.
Newcomer Kendrys Morales has hit a pair of homers and has an OPS+ of 103 to start the season, but the void of Encarnacion is proving massive for Toronto. Jose Bautista is carrying a putrid slugging percentage of .182, while striking out a team-high 15 times. Josh Donaldson has produced at the plate when in the lineup, but a bum calf has prevented him from playing every day.
Russell Martin has looked completely lost at the plate, and Steve Pearce has hardly provided the power boost the Jays had hoped. What was once a daunting lineup has been a welcoming sight for opposing pitchers, as the Jays are currently batting .212 as a team, good for 27th in baseball.
Ace Marcus Stroman has carried over his great pitching from the World Baseball Classic but is getting no run support. None of the staff is. The Jays need to turn things around in a hurry if they want to get back to the playoffs. I know it’s very early, but we have seen good teams return to form after terrible starts and still miss out on October. This 2-10 start for the team up north finds the Jays way down south in the AL East standings and showing little signs of life.
The red-hot Reds
The mood in Cincinnati is the exact opposite than in Toronto. Most baseball minds predicted the Reds to finish last in the NL Central with at least 90 losses. Currently, the Reds stand above the Cubs and everyone else in the division, with a first-place record of 8-5.
Shortstop Zack Cozart has been a hitting machine, batting .432 with an OPS of 1.218. His hot bat is part of a Cincinnati power surge that has them third in the majors with a .457 team slugging percentage.
The offense only tells half the story. Opposing hitters are batting just .211 against Reds pitching, the second-best mark in baseball. Starters Scott Feldman, Brandon Finnegan, and Amir Garrett all carry ERAs under three.
This is all with Joey Votto batting just .208 for the season so far. The Cubs will obviously find their stride and surge to the top of the division, but the Reds are certainly a fun story through the season’s first three weeks.
The Reds aren’t the only surprise in the NL Central. The Brewers have won seven of ten and have the resurgent Eric Thames to thank for that. Thames and his seven home runs lead the majors, and his OPS of 1.479 is just plain ridiculous.
Thames’ five straight games with a home run tied a franchise record, and his unreal rise from afterthought to baseball’s feel-good story has been unbelievable. After playing overseas and being out of Major League Baseball since 2012, Thames has returned with such ferocity that he was requested to provide a urine sample for baseball’s drug-testing program.
Of course, a rise from five years of dormancy to a 1.000 slugging percentage can bring about thoughts of suspicion. That only speaks to how amazing Thames has been. After all, he’s hit more homers than the entire Red Sox team. Fans should be grateful to be along for the ride.
At this time last year, Yankees’ third baseman Chase Headley was caught in the grips of a historic slump. Now, he’s doing it all, whether it be by hitting for power or strategically placing soft grounders to beat a shift.
Headley’s offensive WAR of 1.1 is best in baseball after Thames, and his OBP is also second in the league. Nobody could have imagined he would start the season with an OPS of 1.114 to go along with his .395 batting average. Not to mention his usual solid defensive play has helped the Yanks to eight straight wins.
Headley’s ability to beat shifts and put together quality at-bats (he has drawn 10 walks this year) is a great sign for the Yankees. We all remember Headley’s MVP-caliber 2012 season, and recent history has shown that a season like that is not in the cards. Still, if Headley can keep up even a fraction of these numbers, Joe Girardi and Co. will be more than thrilled.