Baseball is back. The season is a week old, and every fan base is either panicked, elated, or the Marlins. One week of action does not tell us much, but it is enough for some initial reactions.
MLB 2019 Initial Reactions
The Chicago Cubs
The early returns suggest PECOTA knew what it was doing. For those who don’t know, PECOTA is a projection system. During the offseason, the system made headlines for projecting the Cubs to finish last in the NL Central. After a disastrous first week, that projection suddenly seems realistic.
The Cubs still have a good offense. Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras are both off to good starts, which could further deepen the offense. Kris Bryant, a former MVP, is healthy and should hit with time. Anthony Rizzo is a consistent producer who has hopefully left last season’s back woes behind. Javier Baez was in contention for the MVP award last year. Kyle Schwarber, Daniel Descalso, Mark Zagunis . . . the list goes on. The Cubs have the bats to contend.
The problem facing the Cubs is not their offense, but rather their pitching staff. Seven games into the season, the Cubs are 1-6 with a 7.85 team ERA, good for last in baseball. It might be early, but every bit of that ERA has been earned. Through the first week, the Cubs staff has given up 59 runs (50 earned) in 57.1 innings. They have allowed 16 home runs, 75 hits, and 46 bases on balls, against 58 strikeouts. Opponents are hammering them to the tune of a .321 batting average and a WHIP of 2.11. Make no mistake, the Cubs’ pitching has been a disaster.
It gets worse. The Cubs bullpen has given up 26 earned runs in less than 23 innings with 23 strikeouts against 18 walks and 6 home runs. Carl Edwards Jr. has looked lost in his 4 appearances, giving up 6 runs, 2 home runs and 5 walks in less than 2 innings. With Brandon Morrow still on the shelf, the Cubs have little in the way of immediate reinforcements. Yes, it’s early. But the numbers are awful, and the Cubs are going to need more than mere luck to fix it.
Initial Reaction: Panic
The Numbers Say: Panic
The Tampa Bay Rays
If the Cubs are at one end of the spectrum, the Rays are at the other. The Rays have opened the season white-hot from the mound and struggling at the plate. The old adage about good pitching beating good hitting seems especially apt here.
Through eight games, the Rays are 6-2 with a team ERA of 1.58. They are giving up less than a home run per game and only slightly more than two walks per game. They have a team-wide strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.5:1, with 78 strikeouts (in 74 innings) to 17 walks.
During the offseason, the Rays jettisoned 30-homer slugger C.J. Cron and several other vets and traded Mallex Smith to make room for Yandy Diaz, Ji-Man Choi, Austin Meadows, and others. It’s still early, but so far that group is having serious issues with plate discipline, accumulating 87 strikeouts against 21 walks through eight games. Those numbers place the Rays in the bottom third of MLB so far and will need to drastically improve if the Rays are going to sustain their fast start.
The pitching should be good, maybe even great, but it will not be this good. The pitching staff will come back to Earth. When they do, and to what degree, the burden on a relatively unproven position player mix will increase. If that group can rise to the challenge, the Rays have a chance for a special season.
Initial Reaction: Elation
The Numbers Say: Work to Be Done, but Trending Up
If Twitter is not your thing, you may have missed that Zack Greinke has a higher OPS in his 500-plus career at-bats than Chris Davis does in his last 500 at-bats. Greinke also has fewer strikeouts and more doubles.
Davis hit .262 with 47 home runs in 2015 and parlayed that into a massive contract with the Orioles. He’s signed through 2023. His power numbers have fallen with each year, from 47 in 2015 to 16 last year. His average has tailed off as well, all the way down to .168 last season.
Davis was in decline long before this season started. If anyone needed a fast start or a multi-home run game to prove there was anything left in the tank, it was Chris Davis. Instead, he has yet to record a hit and has struck out 11 times in 17 at-bats.
Initial Reaction: RIP
The Numbers Say: RIP
Ozzie Albies made the All-Star team last year then fell apart down the stretch. He summoned a meager .624 OPS in the second half and looked especially lost batting left-handed.
It has to delight Braves fans what Albies has done so far in 2019. He is hitting over .400 from both sides of the plate and has five walks against two strikeouts so far. While his strikeout rate remained acceptable in 2018, if his newfound patience continues, Albies could be a terror in the Braves lineup this season.
Much of his second-half struggles last year were caused by a nagging injury and a propensity for trying to reproduce the kind of power he had flashed in April. If Albies can stay healthy and let the power come naturally like he did with his opposite-field home run against the Cubs, he could be in for big numbers and a return to the All-Star Game.
Initial Reaction: He’s Back
The Numbers Say: He’s Back
Madison Bumgarner and Yu Darvish
Bumgarner has pitched to a pristine ERA through two starts, but that number is misleading, considering he has also allowed five unearned runs. His walk and strikeout numbers are solid, but he has also given up a home run each game, furthering his trend toward being a flyball pitcher.
Darvish is actually pitching. That is the biggest positive for the Cubs. He has issued 11 walks in less than seven innings so far, which is obviously concerning. However, it is not all doom and gloom for Darvish. Joe Maddon has had a quick hook for Darvish so far, and both the weather and the bullpen have not been his friend. In his second start in Atlanta, he walked four, but he was pitching in the pouring rain.
Darvish has not been good, but just two starts back from injury, it might be too soon to expect good. He also has not been as bad as his numbers suggest, and most importantly, he seems healthy.
Initial Reaction: Not Dead Yet
The Numbers Say: Wait And See
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