MLB Progress Report: May Edition

With nearly two months complete, even though the season is still relatively young, it is not too early to evaluate how things have started around the majors. While there is a lot of baseball left to be played, here is an early look at the standings, as well as what the first couple of months of the season can teach us.

Current standings in the American League

AL West
  1. Astros: 31–16
  2. Angels: 22–24
  3. Rangers: 21–23
  4. Mariners: 23–26
  5. Athletics: 22–25
AL East
  1. Yankees: 28–17
  2. Rays: 27–17
  3. Red Sox: 25–22
  4. Blue Jays: 19–28
  5. Orioles: 15–31
AL Central
  1. Twins: 30–16
  2. Indians: 25–20
  3. White Sox: 21–24
  4. Tigers: 18–26
  5. Royals: 16–31

Current standings in the National League

NL West
  1. Dodgers: 31–17
  2. Diamondbacks: 25–22
  3. Padres: 23–24
  4. Giants: 20–25
  5. Rockies: 20–25
NL East
  1. Phillies: 27–19
  2. Braves: 25–22
  3. Mets: 20–25
  4. Nationals: 19–27
  5. Marlins: 13–31
NL Central
  1. Cubs: 27–17
  2. Brewers: 28–21
  3. Pirates: 24–20
  4. Cardinals: 24–23
  5. Reds: 21–26
What to learn from the first two months

Two early lessons stand out. First: The Astros, when healthy, are an absolute force. Second: Baseball is unpredictable. Thanks to two ten-game win streaks, the Astros seem to have their division firmly within their grasp. The biggest challenger, at least in my eyes, was Oakland; but the A’s are going in reverse after making the playoffs a year ago. After the Dodgers in the National League West, the Astros currently hold the second-largest division lead at 8 games over the second place Angels.

The big lead Houston has built can give them a breath of fresh air, as the Astros have been hit with the injury bug. Jose Altuve is still on the mend with a hamstring injury; George Springer was lost to back stiffness in Sunday’s loss to Boston, and utility player Aledmys Diaz is also dealing with a hamstring injury. All three are currently day-to-day. The distance the Astros put between themselves and the rest of the division allows Houston the flexibility to allow each of their wounded as much time as needed to be 100 percent the rest of the season.

Prior to the start of the season, I mentioned that Hinch might be thinking of using the Popovich strategy of occasionally resting his best players in order to let them be fresh in the late season. After seeing the Astros at full strength up until the past couple of weeks, it seems to be the best strategy. Nobody’s catching Houston in the division, and I’d give a full-strength Astros team a great chance to win the World Series.

Another team that’s no stranger to the injury bug is the New York Yankees. Despite looking like a MASH unit through the early portion of the season, New York is 28–17, neck and neck with the Rays in the AL East. The biggest challengers to Houston for a trip to the 2019 World Series have always been Boston and New York. From what I have observed so far, a healthy Yankees team presents a bigger challenge to Houston than Boston.

After getting off to a sluggish 13–17 start, the Red Sox appear to have found their mojo. Coming off a World Series, as well as seeing them start slow, the biggest question regarding Boston is: How hungry are they to go back-to-back? Talent-wise, Boston is strong enough to repeat; however, can the Red Sox get their 17th-ranked pitching straightened out as the season progresses? I predict that either Boston or New York will play in the Wild Card Game, threatening to end their postseason in a single game.

The only team I see as a danger to New York, Boston, and Houston is Tampa Bay. Led by Charlie Morton and last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, the Rays are not a team to sleep on. Despite winning 90 games and missing the playoffs a season ago, Tampa Bay seems determined to right last year’s wrongs. The Rays have wild-card potential, thanks in large part to their pitching, which is the best in the league. But if they want to be more than just a wild-card team, they will have to improve their 21st-ranked offense by adding another bat or two.

As for the AL Central, despite good starts by both Cleveland and Minnesota, neither team is a real threat. Unlike the Rays, Minnesota does not have two guys you could feel comfortable giving the ball to in a big game. The Twins are second in baseball in runs scored, but will that be enough to carry them through the season? Cleveland got railed by a banged-up Astros team last October; now they’re one of the worst run-producing offenses so far this season (24th in the league in runs scored). Whoever wins the AL Central is prime for an early playoff wipeout.

On the National League side, there is less to be learned. The biggest disappointment, however, has to be the Nationals. Losing Harper was going to hurt their offensive production, despite having Scherzer-Strasburg-Corbin atop their rotation. But their pitching has not picked up the load, as they are just 18th in the league. The Nationals are currently 19–28 and now 9 games behind the Phillies for the division, as well as 6.5 back of the Wild Card. If they don’t turn things around soon, there could be a fire sale at the trade deadline.

Final Word

It is still early, and a rough start to the season doesn’t eliminate any playoff possibilities. But poor starts make the late-season hill much steeper. The fun is just beginning, so let’s enjoy the ride and see how 2019 unfolds.

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