By: Mike Carter
Well, the first month of the 2017 major league baseball season wraps up today. What do we know? Not much, as the season is still very young and so much can change as the weather warms into the summer. As always, there are the annual April surprises. We can look back at Tuffy Rhodes hitting three home runs against the Mets on Opening Day 1995. We think of teams (my beloved White Sox last year) that surprised early only to fade later in the season. The opposite is also true; teams and players that start poorly have time over the course of a long season to right the ship and string together long winning streaks.
What are the biggest surprises of April 2017? Can I point out that I was right for once? Mitch Haniger of the Seattle Mariners was taking the American League by storm until injury sidelined him last week. You may recall (but probably don’t) that I picked Haniger to be the Rookie of the Year in the American League this year in last month’s Bold Predictions essay. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that I actually guessed something that was looking correct.
But let’s get to it. What has surprised me the most? I’d have to say the bevy of injuries all over the game. To name just a few players, Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Adam Eaton, Miguel Cabrera, Zach Britton, Troy Tulowitzki (shocking), J.D. Martinez, Sonny Gray, etc., have all missed significant time. It seems like a litany of injuries to major stars this April. Hopefully these injuries haven’t kept you up nights worrying about your fantasy teams like I have been this month.
The Milwaukee Brewers boast a fantastic slugger in Eric Thames. You may remember him; he failed in seasons past in other organizations before his agent suggested he try smacking offspeed pitches in Korea in 2014. And hit them, he did, to the tune of 41 home runs per year in the KBO. This past offseason, many armchair GMs scoffed at the Brewers giving him $16 million American dollars for the next three seasons. Thames has 11 home runs now and shows no signs of letting up. He just doesn’t swing at pitches outside of the zone, and murders anything in his wheelhouse. The league will adjust, but his power looks very real.
The New York Yankees have to qualify as a surprise team. The prodigious power of Aaron Judge and his ten home runs makes him look like the second coming of Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees have surprised thus far. They have a professional lineup of experienced hitters, but do they have the starting pitching to hold up in the always tough AL East? They have a terrific bullpen. Time will tell, as it always does in baseball.
The Colorado Rockies look like a solid team all around, and were missing three key players in Ian Desmond (who returns today), David Dahl and Jon Gray. What is fueling their hot start? Pitching! In Colorado? The humidor effect doesn’t seem to be impacting them…yet. Rookie starters Anthony Senzatela and Kyle Freeland have been finds, and the bullpen has been lights out in Denver. Will it continue as the weather warms? We’ll see.
On the flip side, the San Francisco Giants and the Toronto Blue Jays have been woeful to start the year. Things got worse for the Giants when they lost Bumgarner to a dirt bike accident on an off-day last week. What was he thinking? He wasn’t, and that’s the problem. Jose Bautista has gotten off to an abysmal start for the Jays. You can add the Kansas City Royals to the list, too. Their window looks to be closing after two consecutive World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015. I enjoyed their core talent together and I wish they could stay together, but the reality is that Kansas City can’t afford to pay all of their talent. All three teams may be looking to shed payroll this summer if they can’t turn themselves around in May.
And here’s one thing that always surprises me, but really shouldn’t in this day and age. The 80 game suspension for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Starling Marte comes as a shock to me. Primed for a big season as the new starting center fielder, pushing Andrew McCutchen to right field, he gets busted for performance-enhancing drugs. If it was an accident, as he says, I’ll never get it. I have never been and never will be mistaken for an athlete, but I know what goes into my body. If I were making millions of dollars to play this game, you’d bet I know what was in my system. I think it’s a sham; like so many before him, he’s hiding behind the “it was an accident” claim. The fact is, he tested positive for nandrolone, a known and powerful steroid. It was likely used widely during the so-called Steroid Era earlier this century. Why not stand up and say you did it purposefully? Admit what you did and move on. It’s disappointing.
I hope May shows us more surprises as the season reveals itself to us. I am off now to launder my son’s baseball clothes for practice tomorrow night. I hope to pass my entrenched love for the greatest game on earth to my six-year-old, who thinks he’s going to be a shortstop this year. That’s not happening. But he’s willing to try hard, and that is what the game of baseball demands of you.
Leave your own surprises here in the comments section. As always, thanks for reading my ruminations on this dreary April Sunday.