10 Biggest Takeaways from May's MLB Action
It may be hard to believe, but the second month of the 2015 Major League Baseball season is over already.
A lot happened in May that changed the landscape not only from April but also going forward into June and beyond.
What did this month mean, and what does the rest of the season hold? Let's review with the 10 biggest takeaways as May flips to June.
The Red Sox Need Their Offense to Improve as Much as They Need Pitching
While the pitching staff, particularly the rotation full of No. 3 and 4 starters, wasn't getting it done, the Boston Red Sox still started May with a 12-10 record and having scored the third-most runs in baseball.
That's when things took a turn for the worse—the worst, in fact—as Boston's lineup fell into a massive slump, scoring the fewest runs in the sport in May. It's no wonder the Red Sox enter play Saturday at 22-27 and in last place in a mediocre AL East.
The club's need for a front-of-the-rotation arm remains, but the offense as is should be good enough to pick up the pace going forward. It's hard to imagine the likes of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and youngsters Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and the recently recalled Rusney Castillo continuing to have this much trouble.
"We feel like we're on the cusp," manager John Farrell said recently, per Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. "I don't know that we're at the point of a fumigation of the clubhouse or an exorcism, but hopefully it starts to fall our way."
Corey Kluber Is Just Fine
Hey, remember when everybody was all worked up over the fact that Corey Kluber, none other than the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, was sitting with a 5.04 ERA and had yet to win any of his first seven starts through May 7?
Yeah, well, the Cleveland Indians right-hander has since stated loud and clear that he's back. Over his past four outings, Kluber has gone 3-0 with a 1.41 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and—get this—50 freaking strikeouts against just two walks in 32 innings.
Between Kluber and second baseman Jason Kipnis, who just set a franchise record for most hits (now 49) in the month of May, both getting hot, the Indians had a much-needed solid May, going 15-12 after an ugly 7-14 April. The team that was considered a World Series contender remains in last in the AL Central, but at least Cleveland is in the picture again.
The Minnesota Twins!
Uh, hey there Minnesota Twins. What are you doing there at 28-19 with the third-best record in the AL? You guys are, like, at least a year too early on your revival from four straight 90-loss campaigns.
But here you are, thanks to an impressive 18-7 May that was the best mark in the Junior Circuit.
The club is benefiting from good production—and good fortune—with runners in scoring position, but first-year skipper (and Hall of Famer) Paul Molitor has the Twins playing well, especially at home, where their 17-7 record is tied for the best mark in the AL with the Central rival Kansas City Royals, who are just one game up on Minnesota entering Saturday.
"Molly has so much info wound up in that head," said Torii Hunter, who rejoined the team that drafted him back in 1993 this offseason after seven years away, per Jim Caple of ESPN.com. "And he just wants to give it away. If you're not seeking it, something's wrong with you."
The Rangers Returned to Relevance
After injuries ravaged the Texas Rangers in 2014 and they went just 7-14 in April, it appeared the club was headed for another lost season.
Not so fast. The Rangers have since turned things around dramatically to get back to a game below .500 through Friday, thanks to an offense that has piled up the most runs in baseball this month. The club has received stellar production, in particular, from Prince Fielder (.386 BA, 9 HR, 28 RBI, 1.116 OPS in May), Shin-Soo Choo (6 HR, 18 RBI, .896 OPS), Adrian Beltre (.296 BA, 4 HR, 14 RBI) and even Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr. (.800 OPS, 9 SB).
Oh, and now prodigal son Josh Hamilton is back and doing things like this, which is a very good sign for new Texas manager Jeff Banister.
Admittedly, the pitching is thin with ace Yu Darvish's season over before it even began, but with arms such as Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Martin Perez due back in the second half or sooner, the Rangers could get a lift if they can hang around a little longer.
The Nationals Are Who We Thought They Were
In other words: The Washington Nationals are the best team in the NL East.
The Nats, preseason favorites on everyone's ledger, flummoxed everybody with a 10-13 April that had them in fourth place in the division and five games back of the fast-starting New York Mets. Injuries and bad defense were the main culprits.
But on May 6, Bryce Harper smashed three home runs to start a five-game winning streak that put them above .500, and neither he nor they have looked back since. For the month, Harper is hitting .369 with 23 runs, 13 homers and 28 RBI in 25 games, while Washington has gone 18-7, good for the second-best record in the NL.
Even though right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who left Friday's start with a gnarly 6.55 ERA and a re-aggravation of his lingering neck injury, can't get right and outfielder Jayson Werth is expected to miss at least two months with a fractured wrist, the Nationals at some point will get back Anthony Rendon, who has yet to play this season.
And the club might be better off with Tanner Roark, banished to the bullpen for the first six weeks because of the ridiculous rotation depth despite a 2.85 ERA in 2014, in the rotation over Doug Fister, who is out with an arm injury.
Regardless of the slow start and injury issues, it's hard to see the Nationals, behind Harper and $210 million free agent Max Scherzer (1.51 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 10.7 K/9), surrendering the lead in this division.
The Marlins Made a Managerial Mistake
While the Washington Nationals were thriving in May, their NL East rival Miami Marlins were just trying to survive the month. They haven't.
After getting to within a game of .500 at 15-16 on May 9, Miami lost (gulp) 11 of its next 12, during which the Fish fired manager Mike Redmond, only to replace him with Dan Jennings, the former general manager who had not a wink of experience on the bench at any level or in the major leagues as a player.
"Part of Jennings' shortcomings as a manager is that he has no track record," Buster Olney of ESPN The Magazine writes.
The club lost the first five games of Jennings' tenure as part of that 11-of-12 rut and is just 3-8 overall under him. For the season, the Marlins are now 19-30—worse than all but three teams—and already the critics of this questionable decision appear to be revving up for a big, fat "Told ya so!"
The NL Central Should Be a Showdown
The St. Louis Cardinals, winners of the NL Central the past two years, remain on top with the BRIB (best record in baseball) at 32-16. But they also have lost ace Adam Wainwright for the season and now first baseman Matt Adams, potentially for just as long.
Meanwhile, the now-perennial contender Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten hot again behind a revitalized Andrew McCutchen, recently winning seven straight before Friday's loss.
The upstart Chicago Cubs, behind MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo, new $155 million ace Jon Lester and young stars-in-the-making Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell, have continued to show they're ready this year.
Three teams from this division could wind up making the postseason, which would mark only the second time that has happened in MLB history. The other instance? Incidentally, it was—you guessed it—the NL Central in 2013 when each of the Cardinals, Pirates and Cincinnati Reds made it to October.
The Reds Are Living Out Their Doomsday Scenario
Speaking of the NL Central and those Reds, Cincinnati did not enjoy this month.
The Reds opened the season on the fence, especially since so many of their highly paid players, such as Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey, looked like question marks, while ace Johnny Cueto and rotation mate Mike Leake were entering their walk years.
April provided no clear answer to what the Reds were, as the club went 11-11. But May has made it pretty clear, as Votto has slumped, Bruce hasn't hit, and Bailey underwent Tommy John surgery. Cincy has gone 9-16 this month to fall to 20-27.
For all intents and purposes, the Reds appear to be out of it already, which is especially disappointing because they're hosting the All-Star Game and might not even be relevant by the time it comes around in mid-July.
On top of all that, Cueto, a potentially huge trade chip as a free-agent-to-be, is dealing with elbow soreness, undercutting his value on the market and potentially limiting the return the Reds can get for their stud starter.
The World Champions Aren't Taking the Odd Year Off
Winners of three of the past five championships, including last year's, the San Francisco Giants looked just about dead in the water in late April, struggling to stay within sight of .500 and wallowing in last place in the NL West.
Well, they have gone only 21-7 in May—that's the best record in the sport—and even surpassed the on-paper favorite Los Angeles Dodgers, whom they swept a week ago, at the top of the division by a half-game entering Saturday.
Stars Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner have been as steady as ever, but the team's turnaround really has been spurred by the return of Hunter Pence, as well as the strong, underrated play of Brandon Belt, Nori Aoki, Angel Pagan and Joe Panik. Meanwhile, a pair of unheralded rookies in Matt Duffy and right-hander Chris Heston—the former has seized the third base job, and the latter has become a mid-rotation arm—are stepping up regularly.
It's not an "even" year, but the Giants look like they have the staying power to defend their crown. For once.
The NL Could Go Chalk, and the AL Could Be Just the Opposite
Granted, the Giants just overtook the Dodgers for the NL West lead Friday, as we just mentioned, but the National League looks like it's going pretty much according to expectations with the Nationals, Cardinals and Dodgers all right at or near the top of their respective divisions.
The American League, on the other hand, is totally the opposite. The East remains a complete and utter jumble with the aging, injury-prone New York Yankees barely on top, thanks in large part to hot starts from Mark Teixeira (!) and Alex Rodriguez (!!).
In the Central, the Kansas City Royals have looked better than most folks imagined, as they have the Junior Circuit's best record and sit in first place, albeit by just a game over, uh, the Twins.
And exactly nobody predicted the Houston Astros, coming off six straight losing seasons, would be 30-19 and owners of the second-biggest division lead in baseball at five games with June upon us.
In short, the first two months have provided some developments that might have been anticipated—and a whole heck of a lot more that weren't.
Boy, it's going to be fun to see how the final four months play out.