Never too early: 10 Week 1 takeaways

April 9th, 2017

You're probably thinking it's too early to spot trends. I mean, who draws conclusions after eight days of baseball? The long and winding road of a season has just cleared the starting gate.

On the other hand, some teams have to be heartened by these first few days. Don't underestimate their importance.

Baseball seasons are so long that they expose every weakness and reveal every strength. But teams trying to figure out how good they are can use the opening month to build confidence and create a cohesive environment.

Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa urged his players to simplify things in the first days of a new season: make the routine plays, don't give away outs, focus on process more than results.

He didn't take any loss well, but the ones that really set him off were the sloppy ones. But we digress. Here's what we've seen so far:

1. The Tampa Bay Rays finally may have enough offense to support all that terrific pitching.

First things first. Tampa Bay's pitching staff gives it a chance to win every single game, and how many teams can say that? On the other hand, the Rays have finished 24th, 25th and 27th in runs over the last three seasons. No pitching staff can overcome that lack of support.

President of baseball operations Matt Silverman added and in the offseason. But the key to Tampa Bay improving probably is for Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. to take the next step in their development.

Both have been highly touted prospects who have yet to produce consistently in the Major Leagues. Tampa Bay is off to a 5-2 start and averaging 4.7 runs per game.

Here's the key: Dickerson is hitting .360 with two home runs. Souza is hitting .417 with a home run. Yes, it's early, but this is just what the Rays need to remain competitive in the AL East.

2. The Orioles just won't listen when we tell them how lousy they're going to be.

Baltimore has won four of five. The Orioles' defense hadn't allowed a run until Sunday. Their defense is very good. And they're doing all this with an offense that hasn't gotten going yet.

They're not a perfect team. To put it another way, their starting rotation looks very shaky, at least until ace Chris Tillman returns, and who knows when that'll be?

But their questions must be balanced against their many strengths. They do more things well than almost anyone. Their manager, Buck Showalter, gets everything there is to be gotten from a team. Their leader, , sets an aggressive, defiant tone.

There's also some confidence after going to the playoffs in three of the last five seasons. So go ahead and sleep on the Birds because they thrive on your doubt.

3. I'm also buying stock in the D-backs.

Arizona is leading the Majors in runs, but that's not the big news out of a 6-1 start. With and A.J. Pollock, the D-backs are going to score enough runs.

The news was Sunday when right-hander threw six shutout innings and added two more in relief in a 3-2 victory over the Indians.

These are two of the best arms in baseball. The D-backs have others, particularly , acquired from Seattle for shortstop . If this is the season the D-backs harness some of their reservoir of pitching, it could be an interesting baseball summer in the Valley.

4. Don't look now, but the Tigers are a young team.

You didn't see this coming, did you? The Tigers have five regular position players 27 or younger, including 24-year-old center fielder and 25-year-old third baseman .

And three starting pitchers -- , Matthew Boyd and -- are 26 or younger, including the 25-year-old Fulmer, an emerging star.

Sure, the core guys are not young. (33), (34), (38), (34) and (35) are veterans. But the addition of so much youth -- especially in the starting rotation -- adds an interesting dynamic to a team that has a chance to be competitive if the bullpen issues can be solved.

5. And the biggest reasons the Tigers will be competitive ...

. He might be the key to tying the whole room -- or roster -- together. After an offseason focused on rehabilitating the neck and shoulder muscles, Zimmermann looked like his old self in a solid six-inning performance in his first start.

Verlander, Fulmer and Zimmermann form the core of a potentially nice rotation. There's going to have to be some shuffling of the bullpen, and it may be a season-long work in progress, but the Tigers are good enough to contend.

6. The Rockies have a bunch of young starters and a proven closer to go with all that offense.

Here's to you, Greg Holland. Four save chances, four saves. Throwing 94-95 mph again. Funny how one guy so dramatically changes a baseball team. Holland may have stabilized an entire team by giving the Rockies a proven guy to pitch the ninth inning.

The Rockies have young starters, too, lots of 'em with big, big upsides. And that new guy with the lineup card -- Bud Black -- there aren't many better. OK, we've only been playing for a week, but there are a long list of reasons to believe in the Rockies.

7. Have the Angels surrounded with a postseason team?

So far, so good. is on the disabled list, and the Angels will be holding their breath until they're certain his right elbow is sound. Otherwise, all is well.

General manager Billy Eppler's addition of speed and defense has given the offense a nice look, and even with Richards hurt, the Angels have gotten solid work from , and Ricky Nolasco in the rotation.

hit his 592nd home run on Sunday in the middle of an offense that is going to be one of the best manager Mike Scioscia has had in recent years.

8. So that's why the Dodgers added all that depth.

President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman structured his entire team to withstand injuries and to give manager Dave Roberts flexibility. This isn't why the Dodgers are favored to win the NL West, but it's another reason they probably will.

Left-hander Rich Hill is back on the disabled list with a blister issue that bedeviled him at times last season, but the Dodgers have lefty Alex Wood to insert in the rotation on Monday.

They won the NL West despite using 15 starting pitchers last season. They hope they don't have to do so again, but they're built to do just that if necessary.

9. just gets better and better.

If you don't love watching this guy pitch, you just don't know what greatness looks like. He has pitched 15 innings in two starts. He has 16 strikeouts and has allowed less than a baserunner per inning.

When he lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to the Padres on Saturday night, reporters wondered if the Giants' slow start might be dampening preseason optimism.

"We're the San Francisco Giants. That's all the optimism we need," Bumgarner said. "I know the kind of organization we work for and our goals. That's all you really need to know there."

10. Is there a better reliever in baseball than ?

We could have had this discussion last season when the Astros right-hander finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting after compiling a 2.16 ERA in 48 games. He combines a 93 mph fastball with an 80 mph changeup that is on the short list of baseball's best pitches.

He threw four no-hit innings on Wednesday to help the Astros beat the Mariners in 13 innings. He went four more innings on Sunday, allowing a run this time, but getting the win when the Astros beat the Royals, 5-4, in 12.

"I've run out of good things to say about him," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.