By Mike Ivcic
In what has become a regular staple of the second week column here at “The Tenth Inning,” it’s time for “Three Up, Three Down,” a quick look at some of the bright spots and low points of the first full week of the MLB season. Also, it’s never too early to start thinking about October, so this week marks the debut of the weekly feature, “If the playoffs started today…” based upon the regular season standings at the conclusion of play Sunday night. Baseball’s back, folks – get excited!
1. Miami Marlins
Sure, there are caveats – they played the Padres and Rockies at home, it’s one week into the season, etc. – but let’s not forget that this team lost 100 games last year, so to post a 4-2 opening week while scoring a league-high 42 runs for teams that didn’t open the season in Australia is definitely a strong first step. They still project as a last-place team because their overall talent doesn’t measure up to the other four teams in the NL East, but if they can lock up Giancarlo Stanton, he could combined with the emergence of Jose Fernandez to be a formidable backbone for many years in South Beach.
2. Atlanta Braves Pitching
The Braves have played 54 innings of baseball against the Brewers and Nationals and scored just 15 runs, yet they are 4-2 after one week. How? They’ve only allowed a total of 9 runs. Nine! They have already won games by a score of 2-1 and 1-0, and lost games 2-0 and 2-1, and haven’t given up more than two runs yet this year. They open their home schedule Monday against the Mets – not exactly an offensive juggernaut – before a return series in Atlanta against Washington as part of a stretch of 19 games within the NL East, so while it may be tough to win a division in April, the Braves may be able to put some distance between themselves and the other four teams if their pitching remains this dominant.
3. Seattle Mariners
Talk about return on investment. Robinson Cano will likely never be able to fully fulfill the $240 million he’ll be banking over the next 10 years, but a .391 average to start the season is certainly a sign of positive things for the Mariners. The real story, though, is that Felix Hernandez is pitching with a purpose, as if he feels like the organization has finally committed to putting a winner on the field behind him. He has to be considered a front-runner for the AL Cy Young, and if he keeps pitching like this and the rest of the Seattle club follows the King and Cano’s lead, some experts may turn out to be correct with their preseason prediction of playoff baseball returning to Safeco Field.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
This isn’t exactly a surprise to me because I’ve felt that the Diamondbacks overachieved in each of the last two years in comparison to their talent level, but it may be that perhaps their lack of depth, especially in the starting rotation, will finally come back to bite them this year. Mark Trumbo has certainly been a bright spot with 5 homeruns already in his first season in the desert, but the team ERA is 6.69 and Wade Miley has the only two wins in the nine games Arizona has played. With the rejuvenated Giants and the Monopoly-money Dodgers off to solid starts, the D-backs definitely have to improve their pitching quickly to ensure they stay in the hunt.
2. Boston Red Sox
So when you’re the defending world champions, the last thing you want to do is open up your home schedule by getting swept by an NL team that lost more than 90 games last year – except that’s exactly what the Red Sox did this weekend when the Brewers came to town. Milwaukee will be better this year than last, but they shouldn’t be walking out of Fenway with three wins, especially with the way Jon Lester pitched on Sunday afternoon. I mentioned in the season preview last week that everything went right for Boston last year and probably wouldn’t happen again this season, but this has certainly not been the type of start the Sox wanted. It’s a long season, sure, but this is also a tough division and Boston can’t afford to fall too far behind too early.
3. Los Angeles Angels Heart
At some point, this will simply be recognized as a team full of overpaid, over-the-hill names that can’t seem to put it all together consistently enough to fulfill expectations. They were supposed to win it all two years ago when Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson arrived and instead fell flat. They added Josh Hamilton last offseason and still completely underperformed for another third place finish. With the Mariners improving and the Angels still seemingly absent any real starting pitching of any serious note behind Jered Weaver, it could be another year where once again fans are showing up in August and September simply to watch Mike Trout. Which has to beg the question – if this is how the season plays out year after year, what will the incentive be for the game’s youngest and brightest star to stay put with LA’s second team?
Three series to watch this week…
1) KCR @ DET (3/31-4/3) – The Royals were awful against the Tigers last year in Detroit. They get the chance to start off this season on a different note.
2) BOS @ BAL (3/31-4/3) – The defending champs start off against my projected AL East winner, and the Sox are already minus Shane Victorino.
3) STL @ CIN (3/31-4/3) – We’ll get an early read on the NL Central, as the Reds will host their annual Opening Day parade with the hated Cardinals in town.
Three series to watch this weekend…
1) SFG @ LAD (4/4-4/6) – The two friendliest teams in all of baseball will renew their wonderfully pleasant rivalry. Or something like that.
2) ATL @ WAS (4/4-4/6) – The Nats won the NL East two years ago. The Braves captured the crown last year. This should be good launch pad for each team this year.
3) TEX @ TAM (4/4-4/6) – Two playoff-tested teams meeting in an early-season inter-division matchup. Always a good time.
If the playoffs started today…
1) Detroit Tigers
2) Seattle Mariners
3) Tampa Bay Rays
*4 and 5) Seven teams tied at 3-3
* = There are too many ties and not enough games played to go through all of the possible tiebreaking scenarios at this point. We’ll provide a complete description of tiebreaking possibilities starting in May.
1) San Francisco Giants
2) Miami Marlins
*3) Pittsburgh Pirates/Milwaukee Brewers*
4) Atlanta Braves
*5) Washington Nationals
* = The Pirates would host the Brewers in a one-game playoff for the NL Central division title. The loser would play the Nationals in a one-game playoff prior to the one-game wild card playoff against the Braves.