5 hot starts to bring major excitement
Clubs hope April achievements give way to sustained success
Every April, we see a number of teams get off to a surprisingly good start and we're all left to wonder which of them are for real.
The following five clubs have exceeded expectations to some degree thus far, and I expect them to do so all season.
Despite injuries to key players like Zack Wheeler, David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud, the Mets have been one of the great stories so far this season. The scary part for their opponents is Matt Harvey has not been at his best for a full game ... yet. Bartolo Colon and Jacob deGrom have been fantastic, however, and the bullpen has survived despite missing some key pieces, including Jenrry Mejia (suspension), Vic Black and Bobby Parnell (injuries).
Offensively, Lucas Duda is emerging as one of the top hitters in the National League, and New York has reversed course under new hitting coach Kevin Long. The Mets have been the third-toughest team to strike out this season. Unlike past years, there are no easy outs in this lineup.
Injuries continue to test the Mets' depth, but years of hoarding prospects have put them in good position to withstand most of these issues without skipping a beat.
The expectations skyrocketed at the end of last season when first baseman Anthony Rizzo claimed the Cubs were ready to win this year. Chicago's front office then brought in Joe Maddon, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler this offseason to help support the best group of position player prospects in the Majors.
It's kind of crazy: Jorge Soler is one of the best players in baseball under the age of 25 and he is overshadowed by Kris Bryant. Those two, combined with the recent arrival of second baseman Addison Russell, give the Cubs the best group of rookies in recent memory.
That trio offers plenty of upside, and once Lester finds his groove, this is a team that will be in contention all season.
After revamping the roster during the offseason, some thought that it might take a little while for the Padres to jell. That does not seem to be an issue, and San Diego -- thanks to new acquisitions Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Will Middlebrooks and Derek Norris -- leads the NL in runs by a wide margin. That is an impressive feat for a team that plays its home games in the notorious pitchers' haven that is Petco Park.
Defense in the outfield will always be an issue, but the Padres' pitching staff, which enters play on Friday tied for third in the Majors in strikeouts, is able to minimize balls in play, and therefore make them less reliant on glovework.
The Royals seem to be playing with an added level of urgency so far this season, trying to show the world that, James Shields or not, last year was no fluke.
Lorenzo Cain has led the charge and taken his game to an MVP level, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have maintained their impressive postseason form, and newcomer Kendrys Morales has been resurgent in Kansas City.
Despite an injury to Greg Holland, Kansas City's bullpen has again been dominant. Ned Yost's relief crew has allowed just three runs in 52 1/3 innings this year, good for a 0.52 ERA, by far the best of any bullpen in the Majors.
The 2015 version of the Tigers may be better than recent versions of the squad, because it is a lot deeper than previous years and also much better defensively.
With Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes all hitting well, opposing pitchers have to fear a lot more than just Miguel Cabrera. Also, Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon have minimized the departure of Max Scherzer, not to mention Justin Verlander's injury.
Detroit's bullpen is still a bit of a question mark, and Joe Nathan's impending Tommy John surgery means that he is no longer part of the equation, but I expect the Tigers to be in the postseason once again.