In some respects, the early part of the 2019 MLB season has gone as expected. But the early games have also offered their share of surprises.
Any people saying that they expected the Baltimore Orioles to start 3-1 should be taken about as seriously as the people who constantly insist that they liked bands before they were popular. The Chicago Cubs brought the lumber early, but struggled pretty much everywhere else. The Houston Astros rocked one of baseball’s best pitchers, but did little afterwards. And while it looked like the Seattle Mariners were rebuilding entering the year, nobody told the hitters.
Of course, there’s a lot of baseball to be played. We don’t know how long these surprises will last. But in the early part of the season, these have been the biggest surprises.
Orioles get off to hot start
The Orioles opened the series by winning two of three on the road against the New York Yankees. On Monday, a no-hit bid from David Hess moved Baltimore to 3-1. It must be remembered that last year’s team had Manny Machado until the All-Star break, Adam Jones all year, Brad Brach and Zach Britton until late-season trades, and still lost 115 games.
Those gentlemen are all elsewhere now. This was a team destined to perhaps be even worse. And of course, that could still happen. But four games in, the Orioles look pretty decent.
Dodgers turn Chavez Ravine into launching pad
The Los Angeles Dodgers got 2019 going in style, launching an Opening Day record eight home runs on Thursday. They continued swinging the big bats over the weekend and entered Monday with 14 homers. Only the Mariners have more with 15, and they played two more games.
We know that the Dodgers have power. Even still, this was a surprise. For starters, Dodger Stadium isn’t exactly known as a hitter’s yard. It’s a hard place to hit homers. Additionally, not one of those home runs came off the bat of Justin Turner, Los Angeles’ best hitter. We understood that the Dodgers were good. But even with that understood, this start was surprising.
Astros bats go quiet against Rays
The Houston Astros looked like MLB’s best team on Opening Day when they touched up Blake Snell, the AL’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, for five runs. Things went in another direction after that. Not only did the Tampa Bay Rays win each of the next three games, but they completely shut the Astros down.
While Houston did win the opener, it didn’t score in any of the final three innings. And over the next three games, the Astros scored only four combined runs. Four total runs over 30 innings for arguably baseball’s best offense. It’s too early to press the panic button, for sure. But especially given what Houston did against Snell, those struggles are darn surprising.
Chicago pitching fails in Texas
If someone would have told us that the Chicago Cubs were going to score at least three runs in each game in the opening series against the Texas Rangers, a sweep would have been a pretty good prediction. But the Cubs didn’t sweep the Rangers. In fact, Chicago didn’t even win the series.
The Cubs did win 12-4 on Opening Day, but lost the second game 8-6 and the third 11-10. It was the polar opposite from what we saw from this team at the end of 2018. On Monday, the bats were quiet but the arms still struggled. If Chicago wants to regain the top spot in the NL Central, the pitching will need to get a lot better.
Red hot bat of Cody Bellinger
Bellinger has four home runs. On it’s own, that’s not especially surpsising. Looking a little deeper into his statline, though, is another story.
Heading into Monday’s game, Bellinger had 10 hits (which tied for the league lead) and was hitting .500. More impressive, he had struck out only twice. This is a guy who’s always been prone to the strikeout. The home run totals are great. But if the rest of the stats signify that Bellinger has improved his overall approach as a hitter, it’s very encouraging for the Dodgers and their fans.
Yankees have disastrous opening weekend in the Bronx
While losing two of three to the Orioles was surprising , it got worse for the Yankees. Giancarlo Stanton was placed on the injured list on Monday and was joined later by teammate, Miguel Andujar. Unfortunately, Andujar’s injury could be a season-ender.
The good news is that Stanton’s injury doesn’t seem to be too bad. Still, losing Stanton for a period of time and Andujar for maybe the entire year so early in the season really is a stunning blow to one of baseball’s top teams.
Has Yoan Moncada turned a corner?
Once upon a time, Moncada was arguably MLB’s top prospect. But he entered 2019 as a career .234/.319/.399 hitter. Through Monday’s game, Moncada was hitting .412/.444/.706 for the Chicago White Sox. Of course, we know that he’s not going to maintain that pace. But he can still take a massive step forward from what we’d previously seen. And one element of what Moncada has done gives us reason for optimism.
Through four games, he’s only struck out three times. Over 162 games, that’s a pace of roughly 122. That would be a dramatic improvement from 2018, when Moncada struck out 217 times. Yes, strikeouts are less stigmatized now. But even so, that was an alarming total. But if Moncada is finding a way to make better contact, he has a real chance to live up to the hype that once followed him.
Mariners offense too much for two of 2018’s best
In and of itself, we’re not too surprised by the 5-1 start from the Seattle Mariners. The fact that the 5-1 record came via a two-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics and winning three of four from the Boston Red Sox definitely adds to the surprise factor. And it’s not as though Seattle’s pitching was dominant. Not by any means.
The Mariners allowed at least four runs in each game. But the offensive output from guys like Tim Beckham (.435/.519/.913, three home runs), Domingo Santana (.308/.419/.731, three home runs), (.360/.407/.840, two home runs) was enough to overcome it. Winning five of six from two of last season’s best was surprising. But simply out-slugging two of MLB’s best offenses was not something that anyone saw coming.