Ozzie Albies, Atlanta arrive,
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.