The 2012 season is nary 10 games old yet already we have seen some surprising starts to the season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are off to a 9-1 start, their best since their World Series Championship season of 1981. But before you rush down to make a bet on the Dodgers to win the 2012 World Series note that they opened this season with seven games against San Diego and three against Pittsburgh.
Both the Padres and Pirates are expected to fashion losing records this season.
Nonetheless there is much to like about the Dodgers, notwithstanding a rather sluggish start by ace starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Arguably now the best player in the National League, if not all of baseball, outfielder Matt Kemp is off to a torrid start.
The Washington Nationals sit atop the NL East with a 7-3 mark. Pitcher Stephen Strasburg has been brilliant in his first two starts and there is speculation that Las Vegas phenom Bryce Harper could be called up later this spring for his first look at major league pitching.
In that same Division the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies have gotten off to shaky starts. Miami’s woes can be partially traced to a pair of very poor outings by starter Josh Johnson, consider to be one of the top pitchers in all of baseball but returning from an injury that limited the ace to just 9 starts in 2011.
The Marlins have also been afflicted by distractions caused by the controversial comments of manager Ozzie Guillen which resulted in a five game suspension. The aftermath of his comments regarding Cuban dictator Fidel Castor is yet to be determined and may well hinge upon actions taken by the Marlins’ fan base which consists of many Cuban-Americans.
St. Louis’ 7-3 start which has the Cardinals atop the NL Central has to be thought of also as a pleasant surprise considering the personnel losses suffered this past offseason. Obviously the departure of Albert Pujols was expected to create a void in the lineup but veteran Carlos Beltran has played well.
The retirement of manager Tony LaRussa and the departure of pitching coach Dave Duncan was expected to have significant impacts as well. Yet St Louis has gotten better than expected pitching from starters Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn and especially Jake Westbrook.
As alluded to earlier, the season is young and it’s too early to draw solid conclusions on how this season will unfold. Clearly there are some teams that have not performed as expected, both good and bad. Less than 10 percent of the season has been played and many key players – both pitchers and hitters – have been known to get off to historically slow starts.
The first traditional milepost of the season – Memorial Day – is still six weeks away. By then teams will have played around 50 games and the season will have started to develop an identity.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.
Giants at Mets: The Mets have been an early season surprise with their 6-3 start which included a three game sweep of Atlanta to open the season and winning two of three in Philadelphia this past weekend. The offense has been just average but their starting pitching has been strong and their bullpen has been effective. San Francisco ace Tim Lincecum struggled in his first two starts. But Barry Zito has been outstanding in both of his starts after several hugely disappointing seasons.
Johan Santana has been sharp in his first two starts for the Mets and if he can remain healthy and pitch as effectively as he has thus far the Mets might not be as big a disappointment as has been predicted. The Giants’ offense has been better than expected. In losing to Pittsburgh 4-1 this past Sunday, the Giants scored fewer than four runs for just the first time all season. Known as a pitchers park since opening in 2009, the Mets’ Citi Field should see more offense this season with the fences having been moved in this past winter.
Braves at D’backs: Both teams are expected to contend for the Playoffs and each has gotten off to a positive start. Neither team is blessed with an outstanding offense although both teams rate as above average. Neither pitching staff has an elite ace although both have starters still on upward arcs in their careers as they continue to develop.
Arizona’s Ian Kennedy has been very sharp since coming over from the Yankees in 2010 and Trevor Cahill’s two starts have each been Quality Starts as he makes his NL debut after being acquired from Oakland this past off season. Atlanta’s best starter has been young Brandon Beachy. Control has been an issue for all of Atlanta’s starters in the early going and that could be an issue at this venue.
Yankees at Red Sox: Arguably baseball’s fiercest and most intense rivalry. The 2012 version finds both teams rebounding from being swept in their opening series of the season to display the offense expected of each over the past week. Both teams are similar in many respects with each offense aging but having been infused with some younger high grade talent over the past season. Both teams have concerns with their starting pitching although the Yankees have greater depth and more proven options should injuries take a toll.
Both staffs have been hit hard in the early going. Of the 10 pitchers who have made starts thus far only the Yankees’ Hiroki Kuroda and Boston’s Jon Lester have ERA’s below 4.00, albeit in a limited number of innings. Still, those stats are in line with what should be a typical high scoring season between these long time foes.
Rangers at Tigers: Two of baseball’s most potent offenses collide in a four game series starting Thursday. Texas has the best record in the American League, 8-2, and the Tigers are second best at 6-3. Texas’ pitching has been a pleasant surprise with former closer Neftali Feliz smoothly transitioning into a starter’s role. Rookie Yu Darvish rebounded from a rough initial start to pitch well in his second outing although control has been an early issue.
Detroit is led by Justin Verlander but there is a significant drop off thereafter. The Tigers also are below average defensively, a factor that may not receive too much attention because they should easily win a weak Division but, unless addressed, could be their downfall in the Playoffs.