6 Things We've Learned from the First Week of MLB Action
The first week of Major League Baseball action can take on far more importance for fans than it truly should.
A three-game losing streak in early June is taken with a grain of salt, but getting off to a slow start in April can set off alarms.
Of course, we can learn from every single game of the season. In a micro world, there are 162 mini-seasons to digest and break down. From a macro perspective, each series rolls over into the next, providing the long-term answers to our questions.
From a fun sense, Chris Davis and Mike Morse are hitting baseballs to the moon every time you look up at your TV.
Here are six things we have learned from the first week of Major League Baseball action.
1. Philadelphia and New York look to be living up to the narratives
The 2009 World Series feels like a long, long time ago, doesn't it?
While the 1-2 starts for the Yankees and Phillies, respectively, don't necessarily tell us anything about where either will finish in 2013 standings, the roster concerns from spring training haven't been answered.
In fact, they have been more exaggerated through one week of action.
Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia did not look the part. When you consider Doc's decline and ailing shoulder and Sabathia's innings load and two disabled list stints from 2012, there should be concern.
While Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay all contributed offense for New York in the series against Boston, none has overly impressed scouts.
Chase Utley looks more like his old self than at any point since the 2009 World Series, but his right side of the infield counterpart, Ryan Howard, can't say the same.
With the young, Beltway contenders in Washington and Baltimore off to good starts, the middle-of-the-division predictions for New York and Philadelphia seem apt right now.
2. Washington has the potential for true dominance
It's easy to compare the mid-'80s New York Mets to the current day Washington Nationals.
First, there's the managers seat. Davey Johnson was brash and tough, with the ability to rein in a wild bunch of Mets during the Shea Stadium glory days. Now, that same Davey Johnson, while a little less brash, is tough enough to mold this Nationals team from good to great.
Second, there's the talent, led by the phenoms. The idea of landing Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in back-to-back drafts is seemingly unfathomable until you remember the early '80s Mets turning around a rebuilding effort on the backs of two picks: Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.
Here's where this comparison is heading: The 1986 Mets won 108 games on the way to a World Series championship, cementing their place as one of the greatest teams of all time.
Through one week, Washington has surrendered exactly one run, not dropped a game and been led by Strasburg and Harper.
Watch out, baseball.
3. Miami and Houston are going to be difficult to watch
At least when it comes to 2013.
The future may be bright for both of these franchises—in varying degrees.
Houston, led by a sharp front office and new ownership, is the better bet to be a consistent contender before long.
Miami, in part due to the trade that landed it half the Blue Jays system, could boast one of the best Double-A clubs in recent memory. Of course, it's anyone's guess as to whether the ownership and fan support will care.
As for the here and now, well, cover your eyes.
Through six games, Miami and Houston have combined for one win, 60 strikeouts and 22 unwatchable at-bats from the Placido Polanco/Carlos Pena tag team.
In case you were wondering, no, Miami and Houston are not scheduled to play this season.
4. Leaderboards can be deceiving
A quick snapshot of the statistical leaders around the sport:
American League batting average: Chris Davis, Baltimore: .636
National League home runs: John Buck, Mets: 2
American League earned run average: Erik Bedard, Houston: 0.00
It's early, folks.
5. The game is dominated by pitching
Heading into action on Friday, the composite league earned run average was 3.52, and hitters were batting a collective .227.
Reds pitchers have recorded 33 strikeouts, a new club record for the first 3 games of season and a club interleague series record. #Elias— Reds (@Reds) April 4, 2013
Compare that to the 2012 season, when the composite league earned run average was 4.01 and hitters batted a collective .254.
Of course, the numbers will likely rise closer to the levels of last year. As the weather heats up, so will some of the big bats.
But the lack of offense isn't just an early season anomaly; it's a year-by-year trend that has been happening in front of our eyes for some time.
In 2011, teams scored 4.28 runs per game, the lowest figure since the 1992 season. The results we're seeing now are from a combination of factors: bigger ballparks, tremendous pitching, bullpen specialization, Yu Darvish and the war on performance-enhancing drugs.
If you were a fan of The Kingdome, hitters who looked like Popeye and 12-11 games, you're watching in the wrong era.
6. Strikeouts are becoming the accepted norm
With the pitching renaissance in baseball has come a rise in strikeouts.
Sports Illustrated chronicled the rise in strikeouts in its 2013 preview issue, a prescient column considering how this season has started. Heading into Friday, the average team has struck out 25 times or 8.1 per game.
On the flip side, those lineups are only taking nine walks or three per game.
In 2012, only four batters—Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and Carlos Lee—walked more than they struck out over the course of the season.
It's one thing to work deep into counts and make pitchers work, but the advantage seems to shift toward the pitcher as the count deepens.
As Tom Verducci pointed out in the SI piece, two-strike hitting has declined in six straight years. When the pitcher sees two strikes on the scoreboard, batters virtually have no chance.
If power and walks—think Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds—are the trade-off for big strikeout numbers, fans and evaluators can deal with the uptick in strikeouts.
But we may be getting to the point where nearly every regular hitter in baseball strikes out 100-plus times in a season.
What is your biggest takeaway from the first week of Major League Baseball action?
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