Ozzie Al­bies, At­lanta ar­rive,

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NEWS - Jorge L. Or­tiz

One month into the sea­son, base­ball fans have wit­nessed Sho­hei Oh­tani’s first steps in his two-way quest, Didi Gre­go­rius’ de­vel­op­ment into the most po­tent of the Yan­kees’ slug­gers and Sean Manaea’s emer­gence as an ace for the Ath­let­ics.

As in­trigu­ing as those story lines might be, it’s far too early to draw any iron­clad con­clu­sions a sixth of the way into a six-month jour­ney. Or is it?

Here are four (mostly) ir­refutable con­clu­sions drawn from the first month.

Red Sox-Yan­kees most com­pelling

All right, so maybe tele­vi­sion net­works’ ob­ses­sion with their ri­valry is war­ranted this time.

Bos­ton staked its claim to Amer­i­can League East supremacy right away by start­ing the sea­son 17-2, set­ting a fran­chise record. The Yan­kees then reeled off a nine-game win­ning streak that’s still ac­tive, slic­ing what was a 71⁄ 2- game deficit to two go­ing into the week.

Last year, the long­time ri­vals fin­ished 1-2 in the di­vi­sion for the first time since 2009. They’re jostling for the top spot again, and there’s lit­tle indi­ca­tion they’ll get a se­ri­ous chal­lenge from their AL East ri­vals, so now we’ll wel­come their matchups al­ways be­ing on na­tional TV.

Mid­dle in­field­ers rock

Remember when the likes of A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Miguel Te­jada and No­mar Gar­ci­a­parra el­e­vated short­stop into a po­si­tion of big of­fen­sive out­put? Well, their key­stone part­ners have joined the party. Short­stops Gre­go­rius (10) and Manny Machado (nine) of the Ori­oles sit among the top five home run hit­ters in the AL, while Braves sec­ond base­man Ozzie Al­bies is tied for the NL lead with nine.

It goes be­yond that for run- pro­duc­ing mid­dle in­field­ers. Didi Gre­go­rius has driven in more runs than any­body in the ma­jors with 30, and he’s fol­lowed (in a tie) by Ath­let­ics sec­ond base­man Jed Lowrie with 27. Cubs sec­ond base­man Javier Baez is tops in the NL with 26.

The Astros’ Jose Al­tuve was the AL MVP last sea­son and the Ori­oles’ Jonathan Schoop drove in 105 runs.The pro­lif­er­a­tion of of­fen­sively gifted mid­dle in­field­ers is a boon for the game be­cause they’re typ­i­cally among the most ath­letic and entertaining play­ers on the field.

The Braves are com­ing

For­get about the spiffy 16-11 April record, which is eye-catch­ing in it­self. And never mind the 3.42 starters’ ERA, the league’s sec­ond-best mark. Fo­cus in­stead on Ron­ald Acuña Jr. and Al­bies, the ma­jors’ two youngest play­ers.

No­tice how supremely tal­ented and con­fi­dent they are, how much fun it is to watch them play? Well, there are more com­ing, and they fig­ure to help turn the Braves into a pow­er­house in the near fu­ture.

Braves gen­eral man­ager Alex An­thopou­los ex­pects start­ing pitch­ers Mike Soroka and Kolby Al­lard — both sport­ing ERAs un­der 2.60 at Class AAA — to break into the big leagues this sea­son and for Class AA third base­man Austin Ri­ley (.310 bat­ting av­er­age) to join them as well.

In ad­di­tion, the Braves will have plenty of pay­roll room to pur­sue free agents, with only $38 mil­lion com­mit­ted for next year.

Spring train­ing mat­ters

Many of the play­ers who spent the spring search­ing for a con­tract in a tough new eco­nomic land­scape wound up en­dur­ing rough Aprils, and that’s likely not a co­in­ci­dence. The trend is es­pe­cially no­tice­able among start­ing pitch­ers.

The most glar­ing ex­am­ples in­clude Alex Cobb, who signed with the Ori­oles on March 21 and has a 13.11 ERA in three starts, and Lance Lynn, who reached agree­ment with the Twins on March 12 and has a 7.71 ERA in four starts. Closer Greg Hol­land, who came to terms with the Car­di­nals on open­ing day, had a 7.36 ERA in 10 appearances.

There’s the oc­ca­sional ex­cep­tion such as Jake Ar­ri­eta, who looks to be in top form with the Phillies (1.82 ERA in four starts) de­spite not join­ing them un­til March 12.



Didi Gre­go­rius is among a group of mid­dle in­field­ers pow­er­ing up with 10 home runs and 30 RBI, and he’s pow­ered the Yan­kees into a tight race with the Red Sox.

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