MLB's Biggest Winners and Losers from the First 2 Weeks of the 2017 Season

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2017

MLB's Biggest Winners and Losers from the First 2 Weeks of the 2017 Season

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    Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson.
    Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Perhaps you haven't heard, but the major league season is long. There's time for peaks and valleys, lulls and resurrections. The last shall be first, and the first shall be lastmaybe.

    That said, we can gaze back at the first two weeks of MLB action to identify some winners and losers, including a hot team in the desert, a cold one north of the border, an ace struggling in the Bronx and a slugger raking in Queens.

    These labels aren't permanent or necessarily predictive. But they certainly apply for now.

Winner: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The Arizona Diamondbacks finished the 2016 season at 69-93, 22 games out of first place. They almost had nowhere to go but up.

    Now, with a new manager and general manager in place, the D-backs are seeking a wholesale culture change.

    So far, so good.

    Ten games into their season, the Diamondbacks sit atop the National League West at 7-3. They pace baseball with 55 runs scored and have gotten positive early returns from 2016 mega-bust Zack Greinke, who is 1-0 with a 2.31 ERA.

    It's early, to apply the obligatory caveat. The Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies will all make moves out West.

    Snakebitten Arizona fans, however, have reason to hope.

Loser: David Price, LHP, Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Granted, David Price is making progress.

    The Boston Red Sox left-hander threw a bullpen session Wednesday and could soon face live hitters as he works his way back from an elbow strain, per MassLive.com's Jen McCaffrey

    Still, every game Price misses is a blight on his Boston legacy. He signed a seven-year, $217 million contract with the Sox prior to the 2016 season and posted a 3.99 ERA while allowing an MLB-leading 227 hits.

    Now, he's on the shelf indefinitely with elbow issues. Not a good look for a guy getting paid upward of a million dollars per start.

    Perhaps the 31-year-old will return healthy and lead the Red Sox to the champagne-and-confetti promised land. Or maybe his arm will never be the same and he'll steal a whole lot of the franchise's money.

    Stay tuned.

Winner: Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    We know Francisco Lindor is an incredible defensive shortstop, both by the eyeball test and the metrics. But is he a power hitter?

    Lindor hit 15 home runs in 2016, his first full big league season. It was a respectable total and, along with his other enviable skills, made him one of the most exciting young players in the game.

    Through just nine games this season, Lindor has four homers.

    "I'm just trying to be myself, and if it goes, it goes," the 23-year-old said, per Cleveland.com's Zack Meisel. "I'm happy when they go. I'm happy when they hit the fence. I'm happy when they fall for hits. As long as it's a hit and I'm getting on base for my teammates, I'm doing a good job."

    Chances are, he's not going to surpass 40 dingers. Even a modest uptick in power, however, could vault Lindor into the American League MVP conversation and drastically increase the Cleveland Indians' title hopes.

Loser: Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Masahiro Tanaka logged his best season on American soil in 2016 and proceeded to have an excellent spring. He even inspired yours truly to predict he'd snag an AL Cy Young Award.

    Through two starts, it hasn't been pretty.

    In 7.2 innings, Tanaka has surrendered 10 runs on 14 hits, "good" for an 11.74 ERA. Opponents are hitting .400 against him, and he's issued six walks next to eight strikeouts. 

    "Obviously I'm disappointed," Tanaka said after his second rough outing, per Newsday's David Lennon. "I feel like I wasn't able to do what a starter is supposed to do. But you can't put your head down."

    He's got an opt-out clause after the season, but he isn't throwing like a man who wants to maximize his value.

    Add the partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament he's been dealing with since 2014, and you're talking about an ace in a precarious position.

Winner: Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Houston Astros

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    On the other side of the ace ledger, Dallas Keuchel is rebuilding his stock for the Houston Astros.

    After winning AL Cy Young Award honors in 2015, the hirsute left-hander posted a 4.55 ERA last season while battling shoulder issues.

    So far in 2017, he owns an 0.65 ERA in 14 innings.

    Impressively, Keuchel became just the fourth starter in big league history to throw at least seven innings while allowing a maximum of two hits in his first two starts, per Richard Justice of MLB.com.

    The last guy to accomplish the feat? Nolan Ryan.

    Keuchel must prove he deserves such a lofty comparison, particularly in Texas. For now, he's establishing himself as an early Comeback Player of the Year contender.

Loser: San Francisco Giants Left Fielders

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The San Francisco Giants rolled the dice in left field, eschewing offseason trade and free-agent targets and going for in-house options.

    So far, they've come up snake eyes.

    Jarrett Parker, who won the job out of spring, is 3-for-20 with 10 strikeouts. Non-roster invitee Chris Marrero, who crushed the ball in the Cactus League, is 1-for-18 with seven strikeouts. 

    San Francisco recently signed Melvin Upton Jr. to a minor league deal, per Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News, a sure sign it is fumbling in the dark for anything that works.

    As McCovey Chronicles' Grant Brisbee put it, "It's clear that the Giants just might have the worst left-field situation in baseball." 

    After watching their even-year magic disappear last season, the Giants are in unambiguous win-now mode. As such, they need to plug the gaping hole in left, a position they haven't adequately filled since Barry Bonds hung 'em up.

Winner: Yoenis Cespedes, LF, New York Mets

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    After his impressive three-homer outburst Wednesday, Yoenis Cespedes clubbed two more Thursday against the Miami Marlins.

    The muscular Cuban has an MLB-leading six home runs on the season and appears primed to once again carry the Mets offense.

    Not coincidentally, the Amazin's sit atop the NL East at 7-3.

    "His work ethic this year is off the charts," New York outfielder Michael Conforto said of Cespedes, per the Associated Press (h/t CBS New York). "He's taken a leadership role [in the outfield]. He's all about having fun out there and making plays. And he's a fun-loving guy."

    Fun-loving and baseball-crushing.

Loser: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Toronto Blue Jays have made the playoffs for two straight seasons after missing the dance every year since 1993.

    The Jays could flutter back on to the October stage, but they're off to an inauspicious start.

    Toronto is 1-8 to open the season, and their best hitter, third baseman Josh Donaldson, exited Thursday's game against the Baltimore Orioles with a sore right calf, per ESPN.com.

    That's the same calf that's bothered Donaldson since early spring. Maybe it's merely a lingering annoyance, but it's worth wondering whether the 31-year-old is succumbing to the injury bug.

    Either way, the Blue Jays need to find their footing soon or they'll be buried in the crowded, noisy AL East.

        

    All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball Reference

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