We’re approximately over a quarter of the shortened 60-game season and it’s worth noting the performance of several teams that have been pleasant surprises or frustrating disappointments as the season unfolds.
At 10-3 the Chicago Cubs have baseball’s best record, a burgeoning 4.5-game lead in the NL Central and is the only team in the division with a winning record, albeit St. Louis has played only five games (2-3) due its COVID-19 breakout. The starting pitching, but for one horrendous Tyler Chatwood start, has been excellent. Yu Darvish struggled in his season debut but has had a pair of brilliant outings since and could be the key to the Cubs being a serious contender come the playoffs.
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Colorado has been an early-season surprise. At 11-5, the Rockies hold a half-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West. That they lead MLB in averaging 5.5 runs per game is not surprising. That they are allowing a top-five 3.8 runs per game certainly is. Expect their offense to continue to be productive but for the pitching to regress in coming weeks.
Oakland has started quickly and is an American League-best 12-5. Their MLB-best nine-game winning streak was snapped in a 10-9 loss at the Angels Monday night. The As have gotten excellent starting pitching from Chris Bassitt, Jesus Luzardo and Frankie Montas through their combined nine starts but supposed ace Sean Manea has struggled in his four starts.
Projected to win 35 games, the Astros have gotten off to an 8-9 start, having yet to win more than two in a row and Monday night snapped a five-game losing streak. Justin Verlander is progressing slower than expected after suffering a forearm strain in the opener and his return this season is in question.
Cleveland has started a solid 10-7 and has allowed a minuscule 2.2 runs per game on the strength of outstanding starting pitching. But the Indians may be on the precipice of a short-term decline after a pair of starters — Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger — violated team protocols over the weekend in Chicago. It remains to be seen if either player tests positive for COVID-19 but another concern might be if or how their teammates react to an apparent disregard of team rules while others have been abiding.
The Tribe could be a fade over the next week or so and it might have begun Tuesday night in a two-game series against the red-hot Cubs.
Baseball does have a nagging issue that persists. Miami experienced the first widespread coronavirus breakout that sidelined the Marlins from July 27 through August 2, missing a total of seven games that will need to be made up. Surprisingly, Miami won its first five games back before dropping its last two games over the weekend to the Mets.
Miami’s difficulties seem trivial compared to those of St. Louis. The Cardinals last played on July 29 before an outbreak caused 17 games to be postponed, including through this Thursday. If those games are to be made up, it will mean a schedule heavily laden with doubleheaders and few days off.
On Tuesday morning, Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed confidence the Cards could complete all or most of the 60-game schedule. But if they return to the field on Friday they’d need to complete 55 games in 44 days in order to play the full 60.
Between now and the end of the season St. Louis has just two scheduled days off with none scheduled between Sept. 4-27, the final day of the regular season.
Brewers at Cubs: As noted above, the Cubs have MLB’s best record due largely to solid starting pitching. Tyler Chatwood has a pair of strong starts at home and one humiliating performance on the road. One of his two strong efforts came against Milwaukee in a 3-2 loss in which he pitched six shutout innings of three-hit ball.
Expect Milwaukee to have success the second time around against Chatwood who, in his last start at Kansas City, lasted just 2.1 innings, allowing 11 hits and eight runs. BREWERS over Chatwood
Mariners at Astros: One very bright spot for the Astros has been Framber Valdez. The 26-year-old made a handful of starts in his first two seasons but is now part of the Houston rotation. He has been very solid in his first three starts with an impressive 19/3 strikeout to walk split.
Seattle is allowing an MLB-high 5.9 runs per game. Through its first seven home games Houston has scored six runs five times. The Astros should come heavy favorites in Valdez’s start so the play will be on the run line. VALDEZ -1.5 runs over Mariners
Mets at Phillies: Both teams are off to slow starts with each under .500 through Monday. The Mets have been ravaged by injuries to their starting rotation that places added burden on the bullpen. The opt out of Yoenis Cespedes weakens their offense.
The Phils’ Aaron Nola followed up a breakout 2018 season with a disappointing 2019. But he’s regained his form and is off to a solid start in 2020 that includes a sterling 29/2 strikeout-to-walk split. All three of his starts have been at home, including a brilliant effort against the Yankees on Aug. 5.
The Phillies should be modest chalk in his start but given his current form Nola’s worth backing either straight or on the run line if favored by more than -150. NOLA over Mets
Last week: 3-0