MLB's Biggest Winners and Losers at the 2015 Quarter Mark
In some respects, the one-quarter mark of the 2015 MLB campaign is an arbitrary signpost. In another way, we've reached an important milestone.
There's still enough baseball left for anything to happen. Hot streaks will turn cold, injuries will hit, slumps will end, teams will rise and fall and maybe even rise again.
But we've also watched enough action to draw some conclusions and make a few semi-definitive statements. Like, say, naming the biggest winners and losers of the season's first lap.
Keep in mind: A "winner" label doesn't guarantee continued success, just as our "losers" aren't doomed in perpetuity.
This is based solely on what we've seen so far and not what the remaining three quarters have in store.
Loser: Milwaukee Brewers
When you fire your manager in May, it's safe to say things aren't going according to plan.
So it's been for the Milwaukee Brewers, a surprise contender last season that collapsed down the stretch and limped out of the gate in 2015.
When Milwaukee canned skipper Ron Roenicke on May 3, it was 7-18. Since Craig Counsell took the helm, the Brewers are 7-7, so maybe there's a glimmer of hope.
The bottom line, though, is that the Crew entered the 2015 campaign with designs on contending in the National League Central, yet is currently buried in last place.
Winner: Dee Gordon
Go ahead, point to Dee Gordon's ridiculous .457 BABIP, per FanGraphs, and say regression is right around the corner.
Gordon will be over here, legging out hits.
No, the speedy Miami Marlins second baseman isn't likely to sustain the .406 average he carried into play Tuesday. But it sure has been fun watching him so far.
Grantland's Michael Baumann spelled out the inherent, unbridled excitement of Gordon's game:
Between batted balls in play and stolen base attempts, Gordon has forced 138 confrontations between batter/runner and fielder, whether that confrontation is as mundane as tracking down a pop-up or scrambling into the corner to retrieve the ball and return it to the infield before Gordon can stretch his hit into a triple.
That number, 138, is second only to Jose Altuve’s 142 confrontations for the most in baseball this season. Gordon represents the game as played by, to paraphrase Bill James, young guys who run rather than old guys who walk. Nobody in the game causes more running than Dee.
Much has gone wrong for the Marlins this season (more on that in a moment). But since Gordon arrived in South Beach, he's done a whole lot right.
Loser: Miami Marlins Brass
When you fire your manager in May, it's safe to say things aren't going according to plan.
Yes, we're repeating ourselves. And yes, it's still true.
Like Milwaukee, the Marlins hoped to contend this year. In fact, they spent the offseason adding pieces around super-slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who inked a record-shattering 13-year, $325 million contract in November.
Instead, the Marlins are 16-23 and in the NL East cellar—half a game behind the dysfunctional Philadelphia Phillies.
Apparently, dysfunction loves company. On Sunday, the Marlins fired manager Mike Redmond, and on Monday they announced his replacement: general manager Dan Jennings.
Yes, the man who built the team that's currently in last place, a man with no previous managing experience above high school, is now going to slide into the dugout.
Really, we shouldn't be surprised. Head-scratching machinations have been the norm for Miami under polarizing owner Jeffrey Loria.
How bizarre is this move? Not even Jennings' mother is sold.
"It is outside the box, I will not deny that," Jennings said at a news conference announcing his hiring, per Steven Wine of the Associated Press (h/t ABC News). "My mom, whom I love deeply, asked me, 'Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind?'"
Winner: Kansas City Royals
Hey, remember how the Kansas City Royals were a flash-in-the pan success story destined for a crash in the competitive American League Central?
So much for that.
Entering play Tuesday, Kansas City sits atop its division at 24-14. And they're winning with the same formula—speed, defense and a shutdown bullpen—that got them to Game 7 of the World Series in 2014.
After years of futility, Royals fans are eating it up. According to Austin Alonzo's report in the Kansas City Business Journal, Nielsen Media Research Inc. data shows Royals TV broadcasts garnered the highest ratings of any MLB franchise from April 6 to April 30.
Will the American League's new powerhouse return to the Fall Classic? Stay tuned.
Loser: Colorado Rockies
If you want one statistic that sums up the Colorado Rockies' 2015 futility, here it is: 135.
That's how many runs Colorado has scored, second-fewest in the NL. That is simply inexcusable for a club that plays half its games at Coors Field.
Not surprisingly, the Rockies are 13-22, good for dead last in the NL West.
As the trade deadline nears, expect Colorado to offer up its chips, including shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, as it lurches toward a painful but necessary rebuild.
Winner: Max Scherzer
In a way, Max Scherzer was a winner the moment he signed his seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals this winter.
But while the money is guaranteed, there's still the stuff that happens on the field to consider. So far, so good for the Nats' new ace.
Yes, we said ace. On a starting staff loaded with studs, Scherzer has galloped ahead of the pack, posting a 1.75 ERA and 0.918 WHIP with 66 strikeouts in 56.2 innings.
In fact, with Clayton Kershaw scuffling early, Scherzer has emerged as the front-runner for the NL Cy Young Award. If he wins it, he'll join Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay, Roger Clemens and Gaylord Perry in an elite fraternity of hurlers who've claimed the prize in both leagues, per Baseball-Reference.com.
Loser: Cleveland Indians
We don't know if the Sports Illustrated cover jinx is real, but there are definitely a few folks in Cleveland who grudgingly believe.
In March, SI featured the Indians on its cover, next to a tagline that read, in part, "Why the Tribe will win its first Series since 1948."
Not much has gone right for Cleveland since. Catcher Yan Gomes, a key contributor at and behind the plate, went down with a knee injury April 11. And the Indians' vaunted starters own an ERA of 5.07.
There are causes for optimism. Gomes has started a rehab assignment and could return within the next two weeks, Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti told MLB Network Radio. And reigning AL Cy Young Award-winner Corey Kluber has fanned 30 hitters over his last two starts.
For now, innumerable Indians fans are cursing Sports Illustrated's name.
Winner: Pace-of-Play Rules
To the purist, the idea of a ticking clock is antithetical to baseball, a game that has always been timeless.
So MLB's effort to implement pace-of-play rules was bound to be controversial. But with the average length of a major league game ballooning beyond three hours, something had to be done.
And something has been done, with success, as the Washington Post's Barry Svrluga noted May 1:
[By] instituting a series of subtle-yet-effective protocols, baseball has gotten instant results. Through Wednesday, according to MLB, games averaged less than 2:54—down more than eight minutes from last year’s average, and down more than seven minutes from a comparable point last year. ...
The new standards were to be enforced by umpires, but also through a series of warnings and, eventually, fines for repeat offenders. But the early results have been so encouraging that a source said MLB and the union agreed Thursday night to “relax” the fining system.
The league will still be able to fine egregious offenders, but warnings for one-time violations won’t be issued.
The entire endeavor is a work-in-progress, obviously. Thus far, time is on MLB's side.
Loser: The Record Books
There was a time when the top three names on baseball's all-time home run list—Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth—inspired nothing but awe.
Then Barry Bonds crashed the party, supplanting Aaron as the game's home run king. Now, Alex Rodriguez is knocking on the door.
When A-Rod passed Willie Mays with home run No. 661 on May 7, fans at Yankee Stadium dutifully stood and cheered and even demanded a curtain call.
Many of us, though, chose to sit on our hands.
Like Bonds, Rodriguez wears the stain of the steroid era. Every milestone he reaches and record he sets will be judged accordingly.
He's entitled to his accomplishments, but we aren't required to enjoy them.
Winner: Houston Astros
The Houston Astros are for real.
Yes, they enter Tuesday with a 25-14 record, tops in the American League. More importantly, however, with its combination of pitching, defense and pop, this 'Stros squad is built to withstand the rigors of the 162-game grind and stay in the hunt until October.
That's a big deal for a club that suffered through three consecutive 100-loss seasons before "breaking out" with a 70-92 record last year.
"It's satisfying to be relevant again," general manager Jeff Luhnow told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. "We're not naive. We know the Angels, Mariners, A's and Rangers will be fighting all year long. We just want to be a part of that fight."
With regard to that mission, Houston has no problem.
All statistics current as of May 18 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.