The First Quarter Is Over

Like so many things, baseball seasons used to last a lot longer, or so it seems.  It seems like only yesterday we could figure everyone’s batting average in our heads, and now we approach the end of May and a full quarter of the new season has passed.  MLB.com has now been around long enough to become as much of an irritant as it is a helpful resource, selling stuff  to an obnoxious extent and pushing us to vote for all stars already.  It still is too early for that, but it’s not really early anymore.

The divisional races are providing some surprises, particularly the American League West, where it is equally astonishing to most of us to see that not only are the formerly woebegone Houston Astros in first place by 5.5 games as of May21 but also the formerly contending Oakland Athletics 13.5 games behind in last place with a paltry record of 14 wins and 29 losses.  I haven’t seen either team play very much, but as a box score devotee I can vouch that the records they have established so far have been well earned.  Oakland no doubt is suffering without their prize acquisition Ben Zobrist while another winter addition, Marcus Semien, has been even worse at shortstop than his predecessor Jed Lowrie.  Former coach Ron Washington has now been brought back to Oakland to help with the infield woes, and Bob Melvin had better watch it or Washington may be given his managing job because the whole team has, well, stunk.  As for the Astros (I hope they still have a farm club in Florida, the Kissimee Astros), the safe thing to say is that their youth and breathtaking ability to accumulate strikeouts as hitters will eventually bring them back to Earth, but, in the meantime, they are fun. Certainly, their youthful potential will be keeping them in contention in future seasons as well.

The most pleasant surprise so far has been the play of the Minnesota Twins, arrogantly written off by yours truly and many others before the season began.  Still, it looks like a battle all the way between Detroit and Kansas City in the Central.

Another happy surprise is seeing the Tampa Bay Rays atop the A.L. East.  Losing managerial genius Joe Maddon  hasn’t stopped them yet.  Now if only someone could safely disintegrate their hideous yard.  I still like Baltimore best in that weak division.

In the preseason many of us thought that the Miami Marlins were ready to contend.  They are 16-26 despite good talent, which shows that having a real butthole for an owner can be harmful.  Maybe they can import a Cuban to manage, or is Ozzie Guillen still around?  Otherwise, I’m afraid Washington can sleepwalk to another division title.  Atlanta appears to have made some good changes, but not enough.  Forget the Mets.  They were blessed with a favorable schedule and the usual New York media hype at first but reality is setting in.

It’s not surprising that St. Louis leads the Central N. L. but it is somewhat surprising that they are 27-14.  Wow!  They look good while Pittsburgh is under .500 at 18-22.  The Pirates have lots of time but have to catch fire at some point because the Cardinals are strong and deep.  The Cubs have enough to stay close and the Brewers and Reds are not as bad as they have sometimes looked.  That race should tighten up.

The Dodgers were sailing away from everybody in the West until this past week but now, after a three game sweep of them by the Giants that included three shutouts, things are looking a little different.  The home of the bouncing beach balls is missing Yasiel Puig but they still have a lot of weapons and an improved defense.  The Giants, despite their recent surge, still have questions about their pitching.  Meanwhile, winter darlings San Diego is yet to make a move, while Arizona has been starting to play better and win more often.

Let’s see what the next quarter has to offer; it should be fun.  Meanwhile, it’s not too late to cast that all star ballot and remember: this time it counts.

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