Form can be fleeting, but also fun
Eric Thames’s run for the Milwaukee Brewers, as well as the success of the Colorado Rockies, have entertained baseball fans and left them intrigued
Hot streaks are embedded in the fundamental fabric of Major League Baseball. One might even argue that, from week to week, most players and teams could be described as “hot” or “cold”.
When prosperity lasts a month, though, there is an elevated sense of intrigue. Can this be for real?
Which brings us to Eric Thames, the out-of-nowhere slugger from the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Colorado Rockies, a team that have never won their division since they began play in the National League in 1993.
Baseball always has early-season surprises. Thames, with 11 home runs, and the overachieving Rockies are easily this year’s April Anomalies.
Thames, a first baseman, had brief, part-time stays with the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners in 2011/12, before slipping back to the minor leagues in 2013. He seemed to be just another guy who came up short at the big league level.
From 2014 to 2016, Thames, 30, found himself in a foreign land – literally and figuratively. Playing in the Korea Baseball Organisation, he became a power-hitting star. Over three seasons, he crushed 124 homers, culminating in a Most Valuable Player trophy in 2016.
Milwaukee believed in his reinvention, signing him to a threeyear, US$16 million (Dh58.7m) deal, which, at the moment, leads the “bargain of the year” contenders.
Thames said he learned how to be patient as a hitter in South Korea. That is, he stopped swinging at bad pitches and entered the batter’s box with a plan.
“It is amazing when stress levels decrease, you actually have fun and are able to relax,” Thames explained recently.
It is not just the homers, which lead MLB. Thames is getting on base at a .489 clip, while posting a .904 slugging percentage.
So, have the Brewers discovered a late-blooming All-Star? Or is Thames just in one of those inexplicable “zones” familiar to athletes from basketball to golf to darts, when everything just works?
We have a whole season to find out.
Not that everyone wants to take Thames’s performance at face value. The sport still carries suspicions from the steroids era.
After a recent series with the Chicago Cubs, disgruntled voices from their club suggested Thames’s MLB do-over may be chemically fuelled.
For his part, Thames already has been randomly drug tested twice this month, saying he is happy to cooperate.
Almost as big of a surprise are the Rockies. Slotted in the NL West with large-market powers the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, smallbudget Colorado have a dubious history.
The Rockies count a mere six winning seasons in 24 years, have made the post-season just three times. They have not been in the play-offs since 2009.
Yet even after being swept 3-0 by the high-flying Washington Nationals this week, Colorado are battling atop their division, strangely competitive.
Their offence looks as good as expected. Any team would gladly stack Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu throughout their line-up.
But Colorado’s often-battered and traumatised pitching staff is faring well, too, so far. Perhaps pleasantly effective rookie starters Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland will eventually succumb to the demoralising effect of pitching half their games in Denver, and sink to mediocrity, as their rotation often does.
Maybe newly acquired closer Greg Holland will have fewer chances to lock down victories, and his 9-for-9 start in save opportunities will become irrelevant as the season plods on.
As we forge into May, we can expect Thames and the Rockies to regress somewhat. Perhaps they will collapse entirely.
But at least they had April, and made everyone wonder.
Eric Thames of the Milwaukee Brewers is this year’s ‘April Anomaly’ after hitting 11 home runs so far this season.