Now that the 162-game baseball season is nearly one-quarter gone, already a number of interesting storylines have developed. Most may sort themselves out before October, as summer has yet to begin, but regardless, here are the most surprising:
1. The Yankees are somehow contenders … again. Many (including this writer several times) wrote off the aging, injured Yankees as finally being done for this season.
We may have been wrong.
With A-Rod, Jeter, and Teixeira all to miss significant chunks of the season, replacing three-fourths of the infield and still competing for the playoffs seemed unfeasible. The team has had such bad luck in the injury department that even the replacements for A-Rod and Jeter, Kevin Youkilis and Eduardo Nunez respectively, have joined them on the DL.
And that’s not even mentioning Curtis Granderson, who finally made his 2013 debut with the Yankees Tuesday—38 games into the season.
Even the pitching looked suspect heading into April with ace starter C.C. Sabathia coming off arm surgery while Mariano Rivera (43 years old,) Andy Pettitte (40,) and Hiroki Kuroda (38) were in danger of looking their ages.
But they haven’t.
Heading into Wednesday, Joe Girardi had the team at 25–14 and out in front of the toughest division in baseball. How did that happen we wonder?
On the stat sheet, Travis Hafner (6 home runs, 18 RBIs) and Vernon Wells (9 home runs, 22 RBIs) have been surprisingly good. The “old” pitching staff has pitched nothing like their advancing ages as Sabathia, Pettitte, and Kuroda are a combined 13–7 with a 3.08 ERA and Rivera has 16 saves and a 1.56 ERA. All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano is setting himself up for a major payday this offseason, currently hitting .306 with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs.
For once, the team came into the season with lowered expectations and something to prove and maybe that can explain the its hot start. Either way Joe Girardi is on the fast track to Manager of the Year—again.
2. Toronto has wilted under the expectations of its massive offseason overhaul—After acquiring nearly all of the Marlins great, yet expensive players, the Blue Jays were supposed to replace the Yankees at the top of the AL East.
It hasn’t worked out so far.
Toronto was 16–24 heading into Wednesday night. Meanwhile, the offseason stars they acquired have done little to help the team.
Former staff ace Josh Johnson is 0-1 with a 6.86 ERA, hasn’t pitched since April 21 and is having issues with his triceps. The normally dependable Mark Buehrle is slightly better at 1–2 with a 6.19 ERA. Reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey is 3–5 with a 4.83 ERA.
The only big acquisition that has played well has been shortstop Jose Reyes (.395 batting average) who is currently on the disabled list (ankle) and is expected out until July.
The Blue Jays didn’t acquire bad players but the ones that came from Miami (Reyes, Johnson, and Buehrle) were blind-sided by the trade and look like they’re still in shock.
Dickey is most likely finding that pitching outside the National League, and especially the spacious confines of pitcher-friendly Citi Field, isn’t so easy. Unfortunately for Toronto each player has come with a sizeable contract and the team has little financial wiggle room right now because of it.
3. The Angels suddenly have no pitching (or hitting)—This may be the most surprising on the list. Not many players underachieve under well-respected manager Mike Scioscia.
But heading into Tuesday night the Angels were just 15–24 and have lowly Houston to thank for keeping them from being in the cellar—a favor that will likely continue all year long.
After losing out on the bidding war for ace Zack Greinke the team signed slugger Josh Hamilton and has watched him hit just .214 so far. Of course, last year’s big offseason catch, Albert Pujols is hitting just .242 so at least Los Angeles did well not guarantee Hamilton the 10 years they gave Pujols.
Pitching has really hurt them though. The team has allowed 199 runs—only Toronto (207) and Houston (a whopping 253) have been worse in the American League. Starter Joe Blanton is second on the team in innings (46) yet has a whopping 6.46 ERA to go along with an 0–7 record, in just 8 starts. Ace starter Jered Weaver hasn’t pitched since April 7 (elbow issues) but may start his rehab assignment soon.
With Scioscia around we’ll give the Angels, which have thrown money around haphazardly of late, the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’ll turn it around.