While the 2019 MLB season is still in its early stages, a lot has unfolded over its opening month.
Essentially everything that went right last year for the Boston Red Sox has gone wrong this year. For two division rivals, it’s been a very different story. Christian Yelich was unbelievable for the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of 2018. The beginning of 2018 has been more of the same. Meanwhile, the team who edged Yelich’s Brewers in the NLCS is off to a tremendous start, thanks to budding superstar. And unfortunately, the game’s best player continues to get little help from his team.
One month into the action, these are the biggest winners and losers from the first month of the MLB season.
Winner: Cody Bellinger sparks Dodgers
While the Dodgers ended the 2018 season in the World Series, they took a bumpy road getting there. Through 31 games last season, Los Angeles was at 14-17 and in fourth place in the NL West. Through 31 games in 2019, the Dodgers lead the NL West and do so with a cool 19-12 record. Bellinger has been a huge part of that. He’s hitting .434/.508/.906 with 14 home runs, seven additional extra-base hits, 30 runs scored, 37 RBI, and five steals. Bellinger has turned an immense corner in 2019. In doing so, he’s helped his team win a lot of games.
Loser: MLB teams not signing Craig Kimbrel
Kimbrel has been one of MLB’s best closers for the last decade. In 2018, he posted 42 saves with a 2.74 ERA, 0.995 WHIP, and a 13.9 K/9 rate. Despite that, and the fact that he’ll be only 31 at the end of May, Kimbrel remains unsigned. The real kicker is that 11 of the worst 15 team bullpen ERAs belong to teams that entered 2019 with a realistic chance to contend. Kimbrel can help any bullpen in the league. Plenty of good teams can really use that help.
Winner: Prized acquisition soaring for surging Red Birds
The St. Louis Cardinals went for the fences this past offseason trading for superstar Paul Goldschmidt. The early returns have been positive. Any concerns about Goldschmidt moving to a more pitcher-friendly environment have definitively been muted. He’s hitting .270/.362/.541 with nine home runs. The Cards also lead their division at 18-10. The NL Central is arguably MLB’s best top-to-bottom division. A slow start would have hurt. But thanks in no small part to Goldschmidt, St. Louis has done the exact opposite. We’d call this a clear win for both the player and his new team.
Loser: World Series hangover rocking Red Sox
The champs have struggled in 2019. They’re 12-17 and sit ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. Now, it’s easy to look at an underperforming team at this time of the year and say that there’s time to turn it around. But through 28 games in 2018, Boston sat at 21-8. The Red Sox went on to have one of the best regular seasons in MLB history en route to a World Series win. If Boston is going to be playing in late October again, a much different script will be required.
Winner: Rays best in the junior circuit
The Tampa Bay Rays sit at 19-9 through 28 games. That’s MLB’s best record. And at +47, they have MLB’s best run differential, as well. So this doesn’t look like a fluke. In fact, the Rays have achieved this record despite Blake Snell missing some time. It’s been a team with few glaring weaknesses. Tampa suffered through an uneven start to 2018. And while it wasn’t enough to prevent a good season (the Rays finished 90-72), it certainly contributed towards Tampa missing the playoffs in a top-heavy American League. If the Rays miss the playoffs this year, a bad start won’t be to blame.
Loser: Chris Davis still getting crushed
Davis struggled mightily in 2018. And unfortunately for Crush, the beginning of 2019 hasn’t been any better. He’s gotten a little better since a record-setting poor start, hitting .176/.253/.353 with three home runs. That .176 average is only marginally better than the .168 he hit last year, and that was a record low for qualified hitters. And this is a guy who’s in the league primarily because of his bat. From 2012-2017, Davis hit 53 home runs once, 47 another time, and averaged 37 home runs a year. If Davis is going to be that guy again, he has an awfully long way to climb.
Winner: Christian Yelich still going
As locked in as Yelich was in spring training, it still seemed impossible that he would pick up where he left off last season when he hit .367/.449/.770 with 25 home runs after the All-Star Break. But Yelich has done just that. He’s hit .353/.460/.804 with 14 home runs on the season. That’s .363/.452/.779 with 39 home runs in only 358 at-bats. One year ago, that kind of run seemed unfathomable. That’s obviously not the case, though. Now we just can’t wait to see what he has in store for the rest of the season.
Loser: Unwritten rulebook not going away easily
Hunter Strickland gained very little public support after throwing at Bryce Harper two years ago. At that point, it seemed like the unwritten rulebook was in its final days. But this year, we’ve seen the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds have a brawl and the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox have another over basically the same thing. The unwritten rulebook isn’t going away organically. As such, some pitchers still find throwing at hitters who dared enjoy a home run to be perfectly acceptable. MLB must be willing to change that attitude. And it can’t come soon enough.
Winner: Twins making noise in the AL Central
From 2015-2018, the Minnesota Twins went 83-79, 59-103, 85-77, and 78-84. So, figuring a preseason prediction out was easier said than done. The positive was that if the pattern continued, 2019 was going to be at least a decent year. It’s been better than decent. Minnesota is 17-9 and has a +28 run differential. The aforementioned Rays are the only AL team better in either category. A season ago, the Cleveland Indians took the AL Central almost by default. But the Twins are making things a lot more difficult in 2019.
Loser: Angels keep losing despite Mike Trout’s brilliance
Trout has started incredibly well. He’s hitting .305/.496/.585 with six home runs and four steals while making highlight reel grabs in the field. But as has so often been the case, it’s not translating to wins for the Los Angeles Angels. At 12-17, the Halos are dead last in the AL West. Trout is a once-in-a-lifetime player. It’s fun to see those players on the big stage like the postseason or at least a September playoff race. But if you entered the season wanting to see Trout in that position, you probably haven’t enjoyed the beginning of the season.
Winner: Beaten up Yankees stay strong
It’s safe to say that the New York Yankees have been bit hard by the injury bug. Presently, the injured list features Miguel Andujar, Dellin Betances, Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks,Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, and Troy Tulowitzki. That doesn’t even include Gary Sanchez, who has missed time but is healthy now. But despite that, New York is 17-11. That’s a 98-64 pace. The Yankees aren’t just treading water. They are one of MLB’s best teams and playing at a level that would have been acceptable with everyone completely healthy.