MLB Overreactions to 2021 Season Thus Far
The 2021 baseball season is young, but that doesn't mean fans aren't already starting to overreact to small sample sizes, bad performances and bloated ERAs.
A few bad starts is all it takes to declare a pitcher done or a hitter a bust.
But the reality is that no team has ever won a World Series in April. Sure, a team can use a hot start to create some momentum entering the summer and create some cushioning in the standings. But a team can just as easily overcome a bad month and gain some ground later on in the season.
Sometimes it's just too soon to tell whether spring numbers are indicative of what's to come. Sometimes April numbers aren't indicative of anything. They're simply outliers in a 162-game season.
File these five storylines under the "Too Soon to Tell" category, because it's entirely too early to be panicking. It's a long season, so don't overreact to anything in April.
The New York Yankees Are Wasting Their Window
Fans of the New York Yankees have had enough. Between a tepid start to the season and some listless play, the Yankees find themselves at the bottom of the AL East standings with a 5-9 record. Fans hit their breaking point Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first game of a homestand. Only 10,000 fans are allowed inside Yankee Stadium right now due to COVID-19 distancing measures, but they booed enough for 50,000 of them when the Yankees made two costly fifth-inning errors to drop the first game 8-2.
The pinstripe faithful threw baseballs back on the field, which is a dangerous move but it shows just how frustrated the fanbase is with the state of the team.
Lindsey Adler of The Athletic summed it up perfectly: This fanbase wants a superteam like the Los Angeles Dodgers with All-Stars at all positions. It's what they were conditioned to expect for several years, and while cost-conscious players like Gio Urshela and Luke Voit have been successful, the defense is bad (-4.7 Fangraphs rating, 28th in the league) and the starting rotation is thin. Sure, the Yankees have Gerrit Cole, but this is a team that regularly trotted out multiple aces for years. Behind Cole there are no All-Stars, but there are reclamation projects with Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon.
As always, the AL East is a tough division. But that doesn't mean the Yankees are already out of the race. They can and should acquire some starting pitchers. They can and should shore up their infield defense. But it's not time to panic yet.
The San Diego Padres Won't Be Able to Catch the Los Angeles Dodgers
The San Diego Padres loaded up in the offseason in an attempt to compete with their NL West rivals to the north, and the team became one of the favorites to challenge the defending World Series champions for the National League crown. But the narrative all spring has been that their efforts, while valid and good, may not be enough to catch one of the best baseball teams ever assembled.
To be fair, it may be impossible for any team in Major League Baseball to catch the Dodgers.
But so far, the results have been underwhelming. After taking three of four from the Arizona Diamondbacks to start the season, the Friars lost two of three against the rebuilding San Francisco Giants. They swept the Texas Rangers, but then split a four-game series with the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Padres returned home to host the Dodgers for the first time this season. Fernando Tatis Jr. came off the injured list. The Petco Park crowd chanted "Beat L.A." before the first pitch was even thrown.
Then came one of the more thrilling, intense games you'll see in April. The Dodgers defeated the Padres 11-6 in 12 innings. Manager Dave Roberts said it felt like a playoff game and he was "spent emotionally" when it was over.
The Padres have struggled with runners in scoring position and illustrated that Friday night. At the end of Saturday, San Diego was hitting just .216 with runners in scoring position. The Padres are also making a lot of costly defensive errors. Their -4.4 defensive ranking is a bad number for a team with so much money dedicated to its infield.
Maybe the Padres can't catch the Dodgers. Maybe they will in the regular season. It's too early to draw those kinds of conclusions. But here is one conclusion we can draw: It's going to be a fun summer in Southern California as the rivalry continues to heat up and two of the best teams in baseball go toe-to-toe in the NL West.
The Boston Red Sox Are Back
After a dismal 2020 season, the Boston Red Sox brought back World Series-winning manager Alex Cora. But other than that, the club was relatively quiet throughout the winter. A quiet winter with few expectations probably weren't bad things for a team that ended up in the Houston Astros' sign-stealing investigation last winter. Maybe sliding under the radar is a good thing sometimes.
The Red Sox went into the weekend as the best team in the AL East. As of Saturday, Boston owned the third-best slugging percentage in the league and the third-best OPS. J.D. Martinez's 1.253 OPS ranks fourth in Major League Baseball. Catcher Christian Vasquez, second baseman Christian Arroyo and shortstop Xander Bogaerts are also off to strong starts at the plate. Rafael Devers has five home runs and a .925 OPS, an improvement from how he ended last season (.156 average, .441 OPS and one home run over his final 10 games).
Rounding it all out is the pitching. The Red Sox have a top-10 ERA.
Boston saw its a nine-game winning streak that came to an end Thursday in Minnesota against the Twins. But that winning streak came after some mild panic from an 0-3 start to the regular season. The question is how long the Red Sox can sustain this pace? Can the starting pitching keep up with the bats? Can the Red Sox keep up with the Yankees, Rays and Toronto Blue Jays in the division?
Boston is having a great April, but the Rod Sox have a lot to prove before anyone can declare them contenders again.
So Are the Kansas City Royals
The plucky underdogs of 2014 and 2015 were never able to build on their World Series win. As is the case with many small-market clubs, they had to part ways with their stars and rely on player development to bring in a new group of players, like second baseman Whit Merrifield, shortstop Nicky Lopez and right-hander Jakob Junis. A few of the old standbys remain, like catcher Salvador Perez and left-handed ace Danny Duffy, and the club has done a good job of supplementing young and old with acquisitions like Carlos Santana, Hanser Alberto, Michael A. Taylor, Andrew Benintendi and Mike Minor.
The Royals are looking royal once again at the top of the AL Central, but there are questions as to whether or not their starting pitching staff can hold up throughout the season, especially considering Kansas City will have to fend off threats like the Twins and the Chicago White Sox.
Duffy has been lights-out in his first two starts, allowing only a single earned run on 10 hits through 12 innings and going 2-0 in the process. Junis has been good as well, allowing only two earned runs in the same number of innings. But Brad Keller and Brady Singer have been roughed up to the start the season. Minor has been fine, but this rotation is lacking depth.
Luckily, the bullpen has been good, which was Kansas City's calling card when the team went to back-to-back World Series. But a thin rotation can tax even the deepest bullpens.
Madison Bumgarner Is Done
Madison Bumgarner fell off a cliff last year when he went to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Through three games this season, he hasn’t been any better, so it appears as though last season was not an outlier.
Bumgarner looks nothing like the pitcher that recorded the final out of the 2014 World Series and went to four straight All-Star games from 2013-2016. Now 31, Bumgarner looks nothing like he did in San Francisco.
Bumgarner has allowed 22 hits and eight walks over 13.2 innings for 17 earned runs (11.20 ERA).
Once one of the best pitchers in the game, Bumgarner has been getting crushed since he left the Giants. According to Fangraphs, he’s not throwing his fastball as much as he has in the past, instead he’s throwing more sliders than anything. Probably because his fastball velocity has dipped to about 90-mph.
Bumgarner is in the second year of his five-year, $85 million contract, which is the second-highest contract in Diamondbacks history (Zack Greinke’s six-year, $206.5 million contract is the most expensive in club history). There is a lot of pressure on Bumgarner to perform because a contract like that can become a hindrance to any team, but a small-market team like the Diamondbacks won’t be able to absorb it the way another team, like the Dodgers, might be able to.
Maybe all of those Octobers have put some mileage on his right arm. Maybe that’s the price he paid to help the Giants form a dynasty. The jury is still out on whether or not Bumgarner has anything left in the tank, but if he can find his fastball once again then he may be able to get back to something resembling his late San Francisco-era self.