The 2017 major league baseball season has now passed the one quarter mark, so while it may still be appropriate to say “It’s early!”, it is no longer apt to say that it is new. The most significant thing about the season so far has to be the way that several teams that have been post season regulars in recent years have stumbled out of the gate and looked , well, bad in the first six weeks. And at the same time, Cincinnati, Colorado, Milwaukee and Arizona have surprised people by their winning ways.
For instance, Kansas City. The 2015 champions do not look very scary to American League Central opponents at this point. Pitching and defense made the Royals hard to beat as they played in the World Series in 2014 and ’15 but, while Jason Vargas has been a very surprising star so far, the rest of the staff has been sub par while the team struggles to score runs. We all knew that Cleveland had gotten better than Kansas City but the fall to last place has been as much of a shock as the Minnesota Twins’ rise to the top of the standings after their 103 loss 2016 season.
Texas and Toronto both appear to have found their way after terrible starts, but the vulnerability shown early may persist after injuries to key players like Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson return to action because Houston and the New York Yankees have been winning a lot and may just continue to win. 2014 seems like a very long time ago to the San Francisco Giants. Despite winning five of their last seven games, the Giants have a record of 47 wins and 67 losses since the 2016 All Star break and, without Madison Bumgarner , they may have lost their status as a contender in the N.L. West for quite a while. St. Louis looked bad in April but, as they somehow always manage to do, they have caught fire and are second only to the mighty Milwaukee Brewers in the Central.
There have always been June swoons and late surges so the four and a half months to follow will no doubt contain some reverting to form, but what keeps things interesting is the fact that, as Joaquin Andujar reportedly once said, “You never know, you know?”
However, uncertainty, refreshing though it may be, never completely obliterates solid, reliable, scientifically proven facts. I will present some of those here as a reminder that, just as the tweet commander in chief always has his steady hands on the udder, I mean rudder, of state, so does the resolute baseball fan always have some things to maintain his or her faith based fanaticism.
1.Whoever or whatever buys the Miami Marlins from the loathsome Jeffrey Loria, even if it includes one of the Bush brothers, the team and baseball in general will be better off. This is a team with a lot of young talent, as was the Montreal Expos before baseball’s version of Donald Trump ruined that team.
2.Some day, perhaps within our lifetimes, the crazed obsession with using half of each team’s roster with pitchers will come to an end. When that happens, the games will speed up. Plus, there will be fewer 17 and 18 inning games that result from the current lack of pinch runners and pinch hitters and defensive replacements in favor of eight guys who can’t face more than four batters.
3.WAR, hunh, good god y’all, what is it good for? Ah, absolutely nothin’ will be recognized. This means in sabremetrics as well as international relations.
4.The denigration of a particular statistic, that is, the winning pitcher in each game, will cease. Learning how to pitch (and field, and bunt) to win was a long tradition in the game before the current fascination with velocity and other side issues came along and it will come back as teams tire of spending gazillions of dollars on contracts with guys who don’t throw very often or very long after age 20. As with #2, economics will eventually prevail. Yes, we should insist that the starter goes at least five innings even though his relief might pick up some wins for only getting one man out. The first pitcher I ever heard of that was limited to 100 pitches was Billy Swift back in 1993 after arm trouble of some sort. Now, they go to spring training with the goal of building up their arms to 100 pitches. With this system, Nolan Ryan and Robin Roberts would have had average seasons of 3 wins and 11 losses with 4 strikeouts per game. Teen aged pitchers will again learn the merits of sticking to fast balls and resting their arms with a thing called off season. Some surgeons may need to take second jobs.
5.With little in the way of recognition other than highlight videos, outstanding defense will remain the way most solid teams succeed. Headlines and hype aside, the Brandon Crawford and Alex Gordon types will usually be on more winning teams than the Chris Carter and Yasmany Tomas types.
6. We will never stop missing Vin Scully.