April Surprises

By: Mike Carter

Let’s start this one off by noting one thing none of us are surprised about: that Pablo Sandoval’s belt could not restrain his formidable girth last week as it snapped in one of his last at bats before hitting the disabled list with a bad shoulder. Could be some pork loin stuck up there that he is saving for later…

Story with a unreal start to his rookie season

Story with a unreal start to his rookie season

Colorado Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story and his eight home runs to start the year has to be the biggest surprise. What should surprise no one is to see him fade; he’s had 28 strikeouts in 70 at bats, with only four walks. He’s a good player but will cool off even as the Colorado weather heats up. But what a beginning; the first player since 1900, yes, 1900, to homer in his first three games. Jose Reyes will eventually return and cut into Story’s playing time, but he is making a case for keeping the spot with his all-or-nothing hitting so far being more “all” and less “nothing.” You know the league will catch up to him…

The Baltimore Orioles and their hot start has surprised even them. Their pitching has been better than expected, but keep in mind, it’s been three weeks. They sit today at 11-5. They will come back to earth, but they could be a surprise team this year. They have talent in Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Adam Jones, and Jonathan Schoop is a huge sleeper this year who may hit 20 home runs. This team bears watching. My guess will be that pitching will let them down, inevitably, but they will contend all year in a mediocre AL East.

On the opposite side of the ledger, the Houston Astros are off to a horrid start. What happened to the preseason media darlings? Well, tell the guys over at Sports Illustrated to recant their 2016 World Series pick. The starting pitching has been awful. Dallas Kuechel has been fine, but Mike Fiers, Scott Feldman and Collin McHugh are not fine. And while Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve continue to look like megastars, the rest of the team left their bats at Spring Training. Houston, there is a problem. Who goes into a season with those arms and expects to contend?

What is going on with former aces and huge struggles this year? Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright, Corey Kluber, Chris Archer, David Price….where are you guys? All will likely emerge based on their pedigrees, but there is no denying their rocky starts. What is going on here? Are hitters starting a new revolution against the stranglehold of pitching? Quick glances at FanGraphs shows us that hitters are being less aggressive in 2016 so far, and while strikeouts are still prevalent, power seems to be on a bit of an uptick as well. I also find myself remembering that all of those arms have lots of miles on them. These guys are proven winners but are struggling to find their composure…and the strike zone…and wins. I am guessing they will figure it out, and soon. These arms are too good to be this mediocre.

The hot start of my beloved Chicago White Sox has them with a nearly identical record as their Crosstown Chicago counterparts, the Cubs, the World Series favorite, this third week in April. Led by solid starting pitching, improved defense and the addition of real baseball players like Todd Frazier, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Lawrie and Austin Jackson, the Sox look like they could hang around the playoff race all year. The Sox sport the most wins (12) in the American League thus far. The Sox will need to hit better; Frazier and Jose Abreu both sport averages below the Mendoza line right now, and that cannot continue if the team plans to contend for the AL Central.

Baltimore must be thinking what could have been.

Baltimore must be thinking what could have been.

And speaking of the Cubs, Jake Arrieta is downright frightening. In his last 24 starts dating back to last year, Arrieta has simply been unhittable, and unbeatable. The stat line seems unreal, but it is just plain awesome: 20-1, 0.86 ERA, 178.0 IP, 91 Hits, 173/33 K/BB, 0.697 WHIP. I don’t know how long he can keep up those video game numbers, but it seems safe to say that for now, at least, he has surpassed Clayton Kershaw as the best and most dominant starter in the game. The Cubs are looking very tough, and have not missed a beat without the injured Kyle Schwarber, a demigod here in Chicago. But they will have competition in the National League; the Washington Nationals look very good so far as well, with better pitching and a stalwart lineup.

We’re just heating up. What has surprised you thus far? What did I miss here? Let me know!