We’ve reached Memorial Day, the first real milestone of the MLB season. The first seven weeks or so don’t decide who makes the playoffs, but it gives us a pretty good barometer. But which (at least somewhat surprising) starts are here to stay?
Texas Rangers (31-18, 1st in AL West)
The Rangers spent heavily in free agency this offseason and it looks like it’s working out for them. They currently lead the AL West and have one of the best offenses in baseball. They’re top three in average, OBP, slugging, and OPS. Everyone in their rotation has either met or exceeded expectations, including Jacob DeGrom who met the expectation that he would be injured before long. I’m guessing their stay at the top of the division will be short-lived because I’ve come to accept the three certainties of death, taxes, and the Astros being really good no matter what.
Arizona Diamondbacks (29-21, 2nd in NL West)
They were a fun story in April but in May they’ve proven that they’re here to stay. Zach Gallen is going to be a Cy Young contender, and Merrill Kelly, fresh off of committing high treason on Team USA, has a sub-three ERA. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. waited until he was traded from Toronto to have the best year of his career. 23-year-old Geraldo Perdomo might be the starting shortstop for the NL in the All-Star game. Corbin Carroll’s $111 million contract looks like a bargain. All this is to say that they’re really good, young for the most part, and going to be around for years to come.
Baltimore Orioles (33-17, 2nd in AL East)
Full disclosure: I’m an Orioles fan, so I’m terribly biased. This team is legit and probably better than yours. They just won five of six on a road trip through Toronto and the Bronx, and the one loss was in extra innings. One of the knocks on them is that they don’t blow teams out. Their largest margin of victory is five runs and they’ve only done that twice in 32 wins. But this isn’t some statistical anomaly like the Marlins starting 12-0 in one-run games. At a certain point, you’re just that good.
Los Angeles Angels (28-23, 3rd in AL West)
I’ve seen this movie before. The Angels are right outside of the wildcard picture, chasing the Astros, and Yankees. They called up Zack Neto a few weeks ago to make him the first player from the 2022 draft class to reach the majors. While Neto has been a big improvement over David Fletcher offensively and plays incredible defense, I think part of the reason they rushed him to the majors is that they know the massive implications of this season, and are feeling the pressure to try anything to help the team win. While they’ve been hot lately, I don’t trust this team more than I can throw them.
Minnesota Twins (26-24, 1st in AL Central)
Putting them on the “teams that are off to great starts” list is pretty generous considering they’re barely treading water over .500, but they’re in 1st place so I’ll let it slide. They’re in first place in easily the worst division, and they wouldn’t be a playoff-caliber team if they were in any other, but that’s the luck of the draw. That’s not to say that there aren’t things to like about this team.
Their whole pitching staff is great with Sonny Gray returning to his Oakland form and Joe Ryan emerging as a star. The Pablo López trade in the offseason is one of the few that both sides can feel good about. Their problem is they don’t hit, even though Joey Gallo beat the “worst player in the sport” accusations with 11 home runs already. Byron Buxton is now a full-time DH. You hate to lose his defense, but if that’s what will keep him healthy for a full season then so be it. The Twins were in first place for the early part of last year as well but faltered down the stretch. I don’t see that happening if only because their division is abysmal.
San Diego Padres (23-27, 4th in NL West)
I mean… Jesus Christ. Juan Soto leveraged a trade from the Nationals just so he could be on a team with basically the same record. I thought this team would easily win 100 games and supplant the Dodgers as NL West champions but it’s not going to happen. I know it’s not wise investing to sell low, but I don’t care. I’m dumping all my Padres stock if only because I can’t bear to look at it anymore.
Their insistence on being mediocre is baffling. They easily have the best top four in their lineup but are last in MLB in average. Manny Machado being on the IL has only exacerbated that problem. Their bullpen ERA is top five. Their rotation has been fine despite Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove having the worst seasons of their careers. Their problem is that they have more everyday players hitting below .200 than hitting over .260 because they don’t have a single player hitting over .260.
Cleveland Guardians (21-28, 3rd in AL Central)
Last year I felt like they were a year away and then they won their division and a playoff series. Their main deficiency last year was the same as this year, only it’s gotten way worse. They are absolutely inept on offense. They are dead last in runs, home runs, and OPS. For reference, the Rays, who have the most home runs (97) have more than three times as many as the Guardians (30).
Last season, they were able to squeak out a weak division with a lot of 3-1 wins with an excellent starting rotation, and small ball. It’s not happening this year because to win you need to be able to score. Like, at least one run. Their terrible division will keep them in the hunt long enough — they’re only 4.5 games back right now — but this isn’t a playoff team.
Toronto Blue Jays (26-25, 5th in AL West)
This team is in large part a victim of the division they play in. They’re in last place in the AL East but they’d be 0.5 games back of the AL Central-leading Twins. It’s getting to be the time where the rubber needs to hit the road for this young core. They’ve been a trendy World Series pick for two years in a row but so far this iteration of the Blue Jays with Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and the like, have made just two playoff appearances and were swept both times. One of them was in the shortened 2020 seasons where everyone and their mother was invited to the postseason.
Blue Jays (cont’d)
I think this team will at least be in the hunt for the entire season. They’re near the top of the league in most offensive stats. They also just set the record for most trash talk and cheating accusations during a 2-9 stretch. Their rotation is really good with Yusei Kikuchi and José Berrios returning to pre-2022 form, even if the only thing more inflated than Alek Manoah is his ERA. This team’s biggest problem just seems to be inconsistency. For example, the other night they beat the Rays 20-1, but still managed to lose the four-game series.
New York Mets (26-25, 2nd in NL East)
Queens was struggle city for the first 40 games, and they still haven’t fully recovered from that bad start, but there are signs of life. A Pete Alonso walk-off home run against the Rays in extra innings was the beginning of a five game winning streak that got them back over .500. He saved his pre at bat deadlift session for a good time. Pitching acquisitions Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga have been pretty underwhelming so far.
They’ve already had nine different starting pitchers this season, and it’s not because they’re so deep that you just gotta let them all play. The rotation needs to stop getting injured (and suspended) for them to be real contenders. To steal a fun exercise from the movie Moneyball, let’s calculate how much they’re spending per win. They’re on pace for 83 wins, and with a payroll of $345,913,716, they’d be spending $4,167,635 per win. The Mets are playing moneyball, but in reverse. Even with their terrible start though, they’re currently in the last NL wildcards spot, so I guess it’s worth it.
Philadelphia Phillies (23-27, 4th in NL East)
I have no clue what to make of this team. The names on the roster make me think that they’re going to get their act together at some point, but who can really be sure? They won the NL last year, but this year’s team isn’t last year’s team. For them to overcome Bryce Harper starting the year on the IL and Rhys Hoskins probably missing the whole season, the other guys in the lineup had to pick up the slack, which didn’t happen.
Kyle Schwarber, last year’s NL home run leader, is batting .172 with an OPS+ of 100. Trea Turner, in his own words, has “sucked” and he was even booed by his own mom. He hit a home run in his next at-bat though, so maybe he just needs more tough love. The much bigger problem is that the starting rotation has been pretty bad. Their ace, Aaron Nola, got off to a pretty bad start, and Ranger Suárez has an ERA close to 10 since coming off the IL.