Despite bitter temps, baseball season is well underway

Courtesy of AP via Boston Herald | Boston outfielder Mookie Betts has been one of baseball’s best hitters this year, boasting a .389 batting average through 15 games.

Andrew White | Staff Writer

04/19/2018

The first three weeks of the MLB season have come and gone, and there have been plenty of storylines already. If you are just the casual fan who doesn’t pay too much attention to the regular season, or have been preoccupied with the recent starts to the NHL and NBA playoffs, here’s a quick catch up.

Let’s start locally. Cole? McCutchen? Who needs ‘em! The Buccos have gotten off to a great start, and as of Wednesday, April 18, the Pirates sit at the top of the NL Central with a 12-6 record.

The team, while playing generally well, has been paced by an offense that leads the National League in runs scored with 89. After the departure of Andrew McCutchen, the question for Pittsburgh became, “Who would step up for the Pirates, following the departure of the franchise’s former MVP?”

The answer: Pretty much every bat in the lineup, and more specifically, those from outfield spots. The biggest offseason acquisition for the Pirates was Corey Dickerson, who has been solid in left field for the Bucs, driving in 12 runs and batting .328 on the young season. In center, Starling Marte, who is coming off a season that was overshadowed by an 80-game PED suspension, has belted three homers to go along with a .305 average and great play defensively. And in right field, Gregory Polanco, who is batting just .197, has belted five home runs and recorded a team-high 13 runs.

The Pirates have also gotten decent pitching. After the departure of Gerrit Cole, the big question was who would take over the role of the ace in the Bucs’ rotation. Many thought the obvious choice was Jameson Taillon, who has been fantastic this season, posting a 2-0 record with a 0.89 ERA in three starts. But to many, the surprise has been rookie Trevor Williams, who has posted a 3-1 record with a 1.93 ERA in four starts. Williams, who was never a highly-regarded prospect, has been terrific this year for the Pirates, giving them not only a decent No. 2 in the rotation, but really a dynamic second ace for the time being.

Elsewhere in the National League, the big story has been in the East. The New York Mets, who are led by new manager Mickey Callaway, have taken the early lead in the division that everyone seemingly handed to the Washington Nationals before the season began. They currently sit at 13-4, which is the best record in the NL, and have gotten great pitching from all five of their starters, including Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, as well as from the bullpen. The team has an ERA of 3.06 through April 18, which is second in the National League to the Diamondbacks.

The Nationals, meanwhile, sit at 9-10 following an April 18 loss in Queens, putting them at fourth in the seemingly weak NL East early on in the season. Although right fielder Bryce Harper has been spectacular for the Nats, leading the majors in home runs with eight and runs batted in with 17, the team just hasn’t seemed to put it all together just yet.

In the American League, the talk of most fans has been centered on the exciting team out west: The Los Angeles Angels. The Angels made the biggest splash of the offseason in signing Japanese star Shohei Ohtani to a deal. Ohtani, who has been dubbed ‘the next Babe Ruth’ by some, has been great not only at the dish, but also on the mound. The 23-year-old has batted .357 with three homers and 11 RBIs in only eight games at the DH position, all while starting 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA on the mound before a rough outing versus the Red Sox. Ohtani even flirted with a no-hitter in his second career start, throwing seven no-hit innings. Ohtani has been so good for the Angels that he’s even overshadowed two-time MVP winner Mike Trout, who is having another great season for the surprising 13-3 Angels.

In the AL East, the storyline going into the year was the New York Yankees, who traded for Giancarlo Stanton from Miami in the offseason. Stanton joined fellow sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in the Bronx in what many considered to be the best hitting lineup in the MLB. So far, however, it has not gone as planned. In his Yankee Stadium debut, Stanton struck out five times and was booed off the field, but that wasn’t even the worst of it, as he did the same exact thing just a few days later. So far, Stanton has two more strikeouts (29) than he does total bases (27), and the Yankees sit at third in the division at 8-8. Yikes.

The Boston Red Sox, instead, have been the biggest story in the East, posting a major-league best 14-2 record under new manager Alex Cora. The Sox have been led by a balanced attack, getting great contributions from both the starting lineup, the rotation and the relief staff.

However, the biggest story of baseball in April of 2018 has been Mother Nature, as through Monday, April 16, there were 24 postponed games. The last time that there were that many postponements in one month was 2007, when there were 26 in the month of April. It’s safe to say that April 2018 will eclipse the mark set in 2007.

The biggest victims of poor playing weather have located in the Midwest, where games have been postponed in cities like Detroit, Minneapolis, Kansas City and Cleveland fairly often.

During the Tigers’ and Yankees’ series this past weekend, the teams had to postpone a game on Saturday, setting Sunday up for back-to-back games. Alas, that didn’t work, either, as both of Sunday’s games also got wiped out due to weather. A weekend blizzard in Minnesota forced the Twins to cancel the final three games of their series against the White Sox. A similar storm also forced the Indians to cancel the final two games of their series against the Toronto Blue Jays, where a hole in the Rogers Centre dome allowed snow to get inside.

It’s only been three weeks and a lot has happened already within MLB, whether the weather has permitted for it or not. As some World Series favorites have begun slowly, there are likely some great divisional races in store down the stretch for baseball fans.

Hopefully it just warms up.

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