Sports

Klein ’20: Which MLB frontrunners are legit?

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, April 20, 2018

The Major League Baseball season is underway, and now, after a couple of weeks, some teams look surprisingly unstoppable. The Boston Red Sox came into spring training with plenty of attitude and team chemistry questions but have since raced off to a 15-2 start. The Los Angeles Angels, with the boost of Shohei Ohtani, currently stand with a 13-5 record. Meanwhile, in the National League, it’s 2015 all over again for the New York Mets — with dominant pitching, New York is in first place in the NL East with 13 wins and only four losses. But are any of these early season trends sustainable over the course of the year? Could these teams really be the league’s best?

The Red Sox have the talent to remain at the top; Boston is the best bet of the three frontrunners to make a deep playoff run. Mookie Betts has more than bounced back from a down 2017 season. He has a .390 batting average and a 1.249 OPS thus far. Hanley Ramírez is a far more surprising comeback candidate. At the age of 34, his swing looks noticeably quicker and more compact, helping him amass a .912 OPS.

The pitching, of course, is the biggest story of Boston’s season so far. The staff as a whole currently holds a 2.66 ERA and 1.107 WHIP. While those figures are sure to regress, at the very least, they do show us that Boston’s pitching talent is finally performing closer to their collective potential. David Price struggled against the New York Yankees while battling a hand issue, but his other three starts were fantastic. He only allowed one run in 19 innings. Price, as Boston’s biggest wildcard, will have a major part in dictating the outcome of this season. Chris Sale, on the other hand, continues to dominate consistently. He has already struck out 31 hitters in only 22 innings, to go along with a sparkling 1.23 ERA. Rick Porcello looks like 2016 Porcello again, another welcome sight. Those three can form a dangerous postseason rotation if everyone performs as expected.

The Mets are another team that can remain in contention all summer long. The rotation is healthy for the first time in three years, and the results speak for themselves. While health remains an obvious caveat, the Mets showed in 2015 that they can make a deep and successful postseason run.

Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom are performing up to expectations. Taking into consideration Syndergaard’s 13.92 K/9 ratio and deGrom’s 10.80 mark, it is evident that the Mets boast two of the game’s best strikeout artists. Zack Wheeler, finally back on the mound, surrendered only one run in seven innings in his first start of the season. He labored more in his second game, but it is good for New York to see him pitching respectably. Matt Harvey has dropped off big time, and there is talk of sending him to the bullpen. If Harvey can miraculously regain even a little bit of his peak form, this team can reach an even higher level of dominance.

Some members of New York’s lineup are definitely overperforming and should be in for some decline. Asdrúbal Cabrera won’t end up as one of the league’s best hitters with a .343 batting average and .996 OPS. Todd Frazier’s hack-filled approach will drag his on-base percentage far lower than his current .438 mark. With that being said, Yoenis Céspedes, Wilmer Flores and Jay Bruce have all gotten off to slow starts and should heat up soon. The net effect of regression will be minimal. And with that pitching rotation, the Mets don’t need incredible amounts of offense to compete.

The Angels are the one team that I don’t believe in. To get this out of the way, Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. Nothing more needs to be said. However, Jefry Marté is not a .364 hitter, the bullpen is not one of the best in history and Ohtani is not Babe Ruth.

Ohtani’s start has been impressive though. After he struggled in spring training and some scouts claimed that he should start the year in the minor leagues, Ohtani has been proving doubters wrong from his very first pitch of the season. On the mound, he has a 0.80 WHIP and an 11.4 K/9 ratio. At the plate, Ohtani is hitting .367, with a 1.191 OPS and three home runs. In other words, the 23-year-old has been one of the best pitchers and hitters in the game. That won’t last — eventually, scouts will figure out his weaknesses and force him to adjust. But it has been a lot of fun to watch.

The problem with the Angels is a lack of depth. Ohtani will eventually hit the rookie wall at some point, and Los Angeles doesn’t have other above-average hitters with whom to surround Trout and Justin Upton in the lineup. Andrelton Simmons, Luis Valbuena and a more-than-washed-up Albert Pujols won’t scare anyone. Add in the inevitable regression of the bullpen and the Angels could face some tough times late in the season.

George Klein ’20 can be reached at george_klein@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.