Just one week into the season, there’s a lot that is going according to plan (the Braves look fantastic) and a lot that isn’t (why are some Cardinals already arguing with the manager)? It’s obviously too early to start drawing any firm conclusions -- by mid-June we will have all forgotten any of this ever happened -- so one must be careful not to get carried away.
But! But! It is worth keeping in mind that there were all sorts of big questions facing each team, and even some individual players, heading into the season. If you were looking for any early signs or proof that those questions will be answered in a positive way, well, you’re in luck.
Looking for encouraging first-week signs? Here are seven positives we’ve seen so far.
They waved goodbye to Trea Turner, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner, and they lost Gavin Lux to injury in Spring Training. The Dodgers are doomed! How will they ever recover? It turns out that the team’s decade-long plan to strengthen its depth was a good one, because L.A. still has quality hitters everywhere. Whether it’s resurgent veterans like Trayce Thompson or Jason Heyward, stars like Mookie Betts or Will Smith, or promising youngsters like James Outman and Miguel Vargas, the Dodgers are scoring just like they always have. Better, actually. Entering Wednesday, they ranked fourth in the Majors in runs per game, first in homers and walks and second in OPS. Worried about their offense? Don’t be.
Everybody knows how terrific the Brewers’ pitching is. That’s the reason everyone takes Milwaukee as seriously as they do, after all. But while the hitting was a little better in 2022 than most people think, for what it’s worth, it still was the team’s biggest concern this season, with Christian Yelich no longer looking like an MVP candidate and a bunch of other question marks. Well, one week in, the Brewers have one of the top offenses in the National League. And the production is coming from some unlikely places, from the suddenly Ruthian Brian Anderson (who was non-tendered by the Marlins last November) to rookies Joey Wiemer, Brice Turang and Garrett Mitchell. Wait until Yelich, Rowdy Tellez, Willy Adames and William Contreras get going. The Brewers are in first place in the NL Central right now -- and it’s not because of their pitching.
The Twins obviously knew they had an issue with their starting staff heading into the offseason. They traded Luis Arraez, one of their most popular players, to bring in Pablo López to head up their rotation. Carlos Correa made all the headlines by staying (eventually), but it was the acquisition of López that signaled what the Twins (and many of the rest of us) were concerned about. Well, so far so good, to say the least. The Twins, until an ugly eighth inning on Wednesday afternoon, had the lowest ERA in baseball. That’s an excellent way to get off to a 4-2 start, with one of those losses a 1-0 shutout at the hands of reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara. (Maybe we should have been more concerned about the offense, actually.) López has been a clear standout, giving up only one total run over his first two starts, while Kenta Maeda’s stellar return from Tommy John surgery on Tuesday was another bright spot.
Three-fifths of the expected rotation hit the injured list in the month before Opening Day, including star offseason acquisition Carlos Rodón. Were the Yankees really going to try to hold on with Clarke Schmidt and Domingo Germán? Those two have been the only Yankees starters to struggle so far, though. Gerrit Cole has made two excellent starts, Nestor Cortes has made one and, most encouragingly, Jhony Brito threw five scoreless innings in his MLB debut. The bullpen has looked solid, too, from Jonathan Loáisiga to Jimmy Cordero to Ron Marinaccio. The Yankees have a top-five ERA in the Majors so far, which is all the more impressive considering who they’re missing.
It’s not that Franco was bad for the Rays last year -- far from it. He was surely more productive than any of the rest of us were at anything when we were 21. But he wasn’t quite the franchise-changing superstar most of baseball was expecting him to be, the one that inspired the Rays to sign him to an extension that runs through at least 2032. Apparently turning 22 last month made all the difference. Franco’s tearing the cover off the ball early, slugging .792, hitting .417 and, perhaps most impressively, walking more than he’s striking out. If he has turned the corner and become that MVP candidate we thought was coming, it could change the contours of the entire AL East race.
For all the joys of everything the Braves have done over the last two years, it’s been a bit of a bummer to see how little Acuña -- who was certainly primed to be the centerpiece of this team for a decade or more -- has gotten to be a part of it. The knee injury that cost him the 2021 World Series run was still clearly a little bit of a problem in 2022. He was never quite was the transcendent superstar we had glimpsed before. Well, now Acuña is as healthy as he’s been since before the injury, and we’re seeing the results. He’s launching homers, he’s stealing bases, he’s unleashing that million-dollar arm to throw out speedsters at the plate -- it’s the full Acuña experience. Imagine the Braves of the last few years, but with one of the five best players in baseball rediscovering his health and reaching his peak form. Look out.
The top prospects
You’ve heard the debates about Jordan Walker vs. Anthony Volpe long-term, but in the short-term, for all the excitement about both players, it’s pretty important that they are able to help their teams right now. The Cardinals and the Yankees are trying to win a World Series this year, after all, something reflected in the fact that both top-five prospects made Opening Day rosters. While neither is atop any leaderboards yet, it’s clear neither of them are going anywhere. Walker is the only Cardinals outfielder -- in a crowded, constantly rotating cast -- to have started every game so far, and he launched his first homer on Wednesday afternoon. And Volpe has drawn rave after rave from his Yankees teammates as a guy who was ready from Day 1, something the Yankee Stadium crowd clearly agrees with. We’ll be watching them be stars for years to come.