MLB Weekly-ish: Surprising teams, injuries mark the start of the season

Looking Back

We’re a couple weeks into the 2018 MLB season with most teams having played about 15 games thus far and there are a number of teams that are surprising people by their performances — both good and bad — and some star players are dealing with injuries in this season’s first edition of MLB Weekly.

Taking a look at the standings entering Sunday, the Mets — who are coming off a 70-92 season — are coming out of the gate strong with the best record in the National League and leading the NL East at 11-2. The Nationals, who were the favorites to win the division, sit in fourth place with a 7-8 mark. The Mets’ struggles last season were caused by injuries, with the starting rotation hit particularly hard, so they were expected to have a better season this year assuming health. Through two weeks, their pitchers haven’t dealt with injuries, but C Travis d’Arnaud will undergo Tommy John surgery, which will end his season, and backup C Kevin Plawecki is also on the DL with a broken hand that is expected to keep him out of action for a few weeks. Apart from SP Zack Wheeler, who has a 1.29 ERA in his only start, none of the Mets’ starters have a sub-3.00 ERA but only SP Matt Harvey, who has the worst injury history of the group, has posted an ERA above 4.00 with a 3.60 ERA in his first two starts, but that should get better if he can stay healthy for the first time since 2015.

There’s also an unexpected team at the top of the standings in the NL Central, with the 10-4 Pirates 2.5 games ahead of the second-place Cardinals and the improved Brewers. The Cubs — who have won the division each of the last two seasons — are in fourth place at 7-7. After trading their best pitcher (SP Gerrit Cole) and hitter (OF Andrew McCutchen), the Pirates were thought to be in rebuilding mode and not expected to be competitive in the division in 2018. They are getting production, though, from two of the hitters they added this winter: OF Corey Dickerson, who they acquired in a trade with the Rays, is hitting .347 with 10 RBI and a couple of steals while 3B Colin Moran, who came over from the Astros in the Cole trade, is hitting .316 with 8 RBI in his first 11 games with the team. A couple of young pitchers have had terrific starts to their seasons, with SP Jameson Taillon posting a 0.890ERA with 18 strikeouts in his first three starts and SP Trevor Williams with a 1.56 ERA and 10 strikeouts in three starts.

In the American League, the Angels and Red Sox were both expected to be in the playoff picture this season but not many people expected them to get off to the kinds of starts they they have. The 12-2 Red Sox have been getting it done on the mound, with the second-lowest ERA in the American League. They’ve also been getting offensive production out of SS Xander Bogaerts — who is currently on the DL — and OFs Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez, who are all hitting .353 or better. For the Angels, the much-hyped Shohei Ohtani has shown his subpar spring training performance was a fluke and has gotten off to a hot start both at the plate and on the mound. He’s hitting .367 with 3 home runs and 11 games in eight games as a DH and has posted a 2.08 ERA with 18 strikeouts over 13 innings in his first two starts of the season. OF Mike Trout, a perennial MVP candidate, is having the type of season people have come to expect from him with 6 home runs in his first 16 games.

It’s not good news for every team, though. The Cubs are one of the bigger disappointments early in the season at .500. That is due in large part to their pitching. Of their five starters, only SP Kyle Hendricks has a sub-4.00 ERA, and it’s not overly impressive at 3.71. SP Yu Darvish, who the Cubs signed to a big contract this winter despite his struggles in the postseason, has a 6.00 ERA in three starts. The Yankees, who were a game away from making the World Series in 2017, are also 7-7 as they sit in third place in the AL East, but the biggest disappointment early in 2018 is the Dodgers. Coming off their first World Series appearance since 1988, the Dodgers are just 4-9 and 6.5 games out of first in the NL West. Part of that is because 3B Justin Turner started the season on the DL and has yet to play in a game, but they’re not getting much out of SS Corey Seager, who hit .293 last season but is at .196 entering Sunday. The starting pitching is a mixed bag, with Clayton Kershaw sitting at a 1.89 ERA but SP Alex Wood posting a 5.09 ERA and SP Rich Hill at a 6.00 ERA. Closer Kenley Jansen is 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA and a couple of saves in his first six appearances of the season.

The first couple weeks of the season haven’t been kind to teams in terms of injuries, with the list of players currently on the DL including: Angels SP Matt Shoemaker; Rangers OF Delino Deshields, SS Elvis Andrus and 2B Rougned Odor; Phillies SP Jerad Eickhoff; Blue Jays SS Troy Tulowitzki and 3B Josh Donaldson; Giants SPs Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and RP Mark Melancon; Indians SP Danny Salazar; Royals C Salvador Perez; Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia; Marlins C J.T. Realmuto; Yankees 1B Greg Bird, SP CC Sabathia and 3B Brandon Drury; White Sox SP Carlos Rodon; Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy and OF Adam Eaton; Pirates SP Joe Musgrove; Mariners DH Nelson Cruz; Diamondbacks 3B Jake Lamb; Padres OFs Wil Myers and Manuel Margot; Brewers SP Jimmy Nelson, RP Corey Knebel and OF Christian Yelich; and Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo.

The Week Ahead

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The Angels and Red Sox are the best teams in the American League right now, and they begin a three-game series in Anaheim on Tuesday after the Red Sox host the Orioles Monday in their traditional 11am start on Patriots’ Day. The Astros begin a weeklong road trip on Monday with the first of four at the division-rival Mariners in Seattle. The classic Cubs-Cardinals rivalry gets going for three games at Wrigley starting Monday, and longtime Yankee SS Derek Jeter brings the team he now co-owns, the Marlins, to Yankee Stadium for a two-game interleague series Monday and Tuesday. Over in Queens, the Mets look to keep their hot start going with a three-game series against the Nationals starting Monday. Later in the week, the Cubs visit the Rockies starting Friday in a series between two teams that made the playoffs last season but haven’t begun 2018 the way they would have liked. And the Dodgers look to get things going when they host the Nationals over the weekend.

In some pitching performances to look out for this week, Astros SP Dallas Keuchel looks to lock down his first win of the season Monday when he faces SP James Paxton and the Mariners. Sabathia is scheduled to come off the DL to get the start Tuesday in the Yankees’ second game against the Marlins. Wednesday sees Cole take the mound for his fourth start for the Astros as he looks to continue his streak of double-digit strikeout performances against Mariners SP Mike Leake. And there are aces scheduled to be dueling in Southern California Saturday night with Ohtani scheduled to start for the Angels and a pitching matchup of Stephen Strasburg and Kershaw on the docket for the Nationals-Dodgers game Saturday.

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