5 Biggest Takeaways from This Week's MLB Action
With the calendar turning to May, baseball jumps to the second month of the season. With that comes an increase in context when talking about individual players or teams.
Hot starts are leaning more toward an acceptable sample size. Early slumps are skating on the edge of becoming a rough start to the season rather than just a bad week or two.
Within the ebb and flow of the major league season comes storylines, takeaways and talking points from the week of action that was completed.
As you sit around watching baseball and chatting about the sport this weekend, keep in mind these five takeaways from the week that was in MLB action.
Cheating or Not, Clay Buchholz Is a Different Pitcher
The allegations surrounding Clay Buchholz (via The Boston Globe) have overshadowed the larger point with the 28-year-old right-handed pitcher. He's a different pitcher right now than at any point in his major league career.
Yes, he had tremendous success in 2010, posting 17 wins and a 2.33 ERA in just over 173 innings. Yet despite the many battles won with American League hitters just a few years ago, it was hard to call Buchholz overpowering or dominant.
Heading into 2013, his career K/9 rate was 6.6.
Now, through spitballs, doctored substances or organic improvement, hitters can't touch his offerings. Buchholz is striking out 9.5 batters per nine innings.
Success can be fleeting, but with his command and stuff, averaging more than a strikeout per inning could vault him into ace status for the Red Sox rotation.
Cold Starts Could Doom Seasons
When the calender flipped to May, teams with losing records sought to turn the page, start anew and make a run back toward .500 and beyond.
Unfortunately, it may be too late.
As we learned watching the Los Angeles Angels last year, a really bad April could doom a season, regardless of how well May through September turns out. In fact, no one in baseball had a better record than the Angles after May 1 last year, making them a dangerous team in October.
Of course, they didn't qualify for the tournament in October. An 8-15 start eventually haunted a talented, dynamic roster.
Our very own Zach Rymer did the research earlier this week on lousy teams after April, their chances at October and who might be doomed already.
If the Blue Jays and Angels turn it around to meet in the ALCS this October, consider a very big trend bucked.
San Francisco Giants' Formula Works for Them
Coming off their second World Series championship in three seasons, the San Francisco Giants chose to make minimal changes to their everyday lineup, returning the same rotation and hoping their young talent would emerge.
Of course, just like after their last title, doubters wondered about their chances to make it back to October.
Tim Lincecum looked to be trending downward. The rotation surely couldn't stay as healthy as last season. With the Dodgers fielding an All-Star team in Los Angeles, San Fran would have little margin for error.
Yet here are those Giants, one game back of the lead in the NL West in spite of Matt Cain's horrendous start.
Night after night, there seems to be a new hero. Brandon Belt doesn't start? No problem. He'll just pinch hit and win the game with a big hit. Brandon Crawford wasn't expected to ever produce power? His production early on is ruining that narrative.
They don't spend big on free agents, shake up the nucleus of the roster or amaze anyone with power or speed.
The Giants just win.
Bullpens Can Make or Break Seasons
Heading into play on Friday, the New York Mets have scored 126 runs. That number is better than the vaunted offenses in Atlanta, Toronto and Los Angeles.
Led by Matt Harvey, their starting rotation has posted a 3.75 ERA. That number is better than the rotations in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.
Yet the Mets sit at 11-15, are recent losers of six straight and are on pace for another long season in Queens.
Why? A bullpen that, despite yearly changes under Sandy Alderson's front office, can't seem to string together a quality season.
As a group, in spite of the tremendous work from closer Bobby Parnell, New York has a collective 4.87 ERA from its 'pen. That number is good for 28th in the league, behind even the Astros and Marlins.
Bullpens are fickle, but New York can't seem to get it right on a yearly basis.
Kansas City Royals Can Pitch
Acquiring James Shields to headline the rotation was the key to the Royals offseason, but it's the supporting cast behind him that has added up to give Kansas City consistency and quality outings throughout this season.
With a young, powerful lineup and hard-throwing, shutdown bullpen, Kansas City entered the winter believing consistent starting pitching was the last hurdle keeping it from contention.
Of course, finding multiple arms capable of 200-plus innings of average to above-average baseball is easier said than done.
Along with Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis arrived, not to mention the re-signing of last year's revelation, Jeremy Guthrie.
So far, so great.
Kansas City's rotation ERA is a collective 3.85. Shields is eighth in the AL in strikeouts. Santana has a 2.00 ERA. Before getting hit hard by Cleveland on Monday, Wade Davis was sporting a 3.20 ERA. With a 3.92 xFIP, Jeremy Guthrie's peripheral numbers are better than at any point in his big league career.
These Royals have a chance every time they take the field.
What was your biggest takeaway from this week in MLB action?