This is the start of the second season of our MLB Weekly column, taking a look at Major League Baseball, recapping what went on in the previous week and previewing the week ahead. As we are just one week into the six-month season, a lot of what has happened so far this season in terms of surprising teams and players could easily change in the coming weeks and months.
Probably the most surprising team so far is the Twins, who are off to a 5-1 record out of the gate after winning a MLB-worst 59 games last season. That puts them in first place in the AL Central. In the AL East, the Rays are a better-than-expected 5-1 when many people, including me, thought they would finish in last place in the division again this season. They’re not leading the division, though, as the Orioles hold that position with a 4-1 mark; the Orioles were the last undefeated team in the majors before losing to the Yankees on Sunday. The biggest surprises are out west in the National League, with the Diamondbacks leading the NL West with a MLB-best 6-1 record and the Rockies right behind them at 5-2. I noted in my season previews for the teams that they were on the verge of competing in the division, but I didn’t think it would be this year. We’ll see if they can stick around throughout the long season.
On the negative side of things, the Giants have gotten out of the gate slowly and are in last place in the NL West. The Cardinals are in fourth place in the NL Central with a 2-4 record after losing in a 8-0 shutout to the Reds on Sunday. In the American League, the top two teams in the AL West from last season — the Rangers and Mariners — are currently occupying the final two spots in the division. In the AL East, the Yankees are in fourth place in the division after picking up just their second win of the season on Sunday and the defending division champion Red Sox are in the middle of the division with a 3-2 mark after a week of action. The Blue Jays are at the bottom of the division with a 1-5 record that is among the worst in the majors. Again, it’s still early and these teams have plenty of time to get back into the thick of things if they can get past their early-season struggles and perform at the level people expected of them heading into the season.
As far as player performances in the first week, Astros OF George Springer has had a good week — the lone bright spot on offense for the team. The Astros have played in seven games so far, and Springer has hit leadoff home runs in three of them — the first player in MLB history to accomplish the feat. He also hit a 13th-inning, three-run walk-off homer to beat the Mariners on Wednesday.
On the pitching side, Springer’s Astros teammate SP Dallas Keuchel has made two strong starts, posting a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings. It looks like he may be back to how he pitched in 2015, when he won the AL Cy Young Award, and is having a strong comeback season after last year’s disappointing season in which he had a 4.55 ERA.
Speaking of comebacks, Rockies RP Greg Holland is a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities after missing all of the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has yet to allow a run and has 6 strikeouts while allowing 1 walk and no hits through four innings of work over four appearances. It appears as though he is now fully recovered from the surgery and should be a leading candidate for the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award if he can stay healthy and perform well all season.
The first week of the season has also had its share of injuries to big-name players, with the most recent example being young Yankees C Gary Sanchez, who strained his right biceps in Saturday’s game against the Orioles and was subsequently placed on the 10-day disabled list. A timetable for his return won’t be known until after he meets with team doctors on Monday upon returning to New York after the weekend series in Baltimore. Angels SP Garrett Richards is also dealing with a biceps strain, but he is hopeful he will be able to return to action once he is eligible to come off the DL on Easter Sunday.
The Week Ahead
There are more home openers happening in the coming week. The most notable will come on Monday when the Cubs host the Dodgers in the season’s first game at Wrigley Field, which will include a pregame ceremony honoring the first World Series title the team won in 108 years. The other noteworthy home opener comes at the end of the week, when the Braves open up their new stadium, SunTrust Park, with the facility’s first regular-season game following an exhibition game that was played there on March 31, a 8-5 win over the Yankees.
Pitching matchups to look forward to include the second game of the week, a day game on Monday when Red Sox SP Chris Sale faces off against Tigers SP Justin Verlander in Detroit. There aren’t many other matchups of aces scheduled in the first half of the week, but some performances to watch for include Mets SP Zack Wheeler looking to bounce back from a rough first outing when he takes on the Phillies and SP Vince Velasquez, who struck out 10 in four innings in his first start of the season.