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Early trends may not predict long-term success

Looking back at 2017's initial storylines that did not pan out
MLB.com @feinsand

If the season ended today, the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers would miss the playoffs, Didi Gregorius would be a serious candidate for the American League MVP Award and Nick Markakis would be the National League batting champion.

Of course, the season isn't ending today. In fact, there are nearly five months left before all of these things will be settled. So why do we make such a big deal about early-season records, trends and stat lines?

If the season ended today, the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers would miss the playoffs, Didi Gregorius would be a serious candidate for the American League MVP Award and Nick Markakis would be the National League batting champion.

Of course, the season isn't ending today. In fact, there are nearly five months left before all of these things will be settled. So why do we make such a big deal about early-season records, trends and stat lines?

Let's take a look at some of the major storylines that dominated the game one year ago this week that were long forgotten by October.

Storyline: Three-team AL East race
The Orioles are 19-10, only a half-game behind the first-place Yankees. The Red Sox, losers of nine of their last 15 games, sit four games out of first in the American League East.

How it turned out: Boston went on to win the AL East by two games over the Yankees, though after June 29, the Sox held sole possession of first place for all but four days through the end of the season, claiming the top spot in the division for good on Aug. 1. As for the Orioles' hot start? Baltimore finished the season in last place at 75-87.

Storyline: Slumping Encarnacion returns to Toronto
Edwin Encarnacion goes back to play in Toronto for the first time since signing a three-year, $60 million deal with the Indians. He is off to a slow start, with five home runs, 11 RBIs and a .726 OPS through his first 30 games, while Kendrys Morales -- his replacement with the Blue Jays -- has been more productive, hitting six homers with 20 RBIs.

How it turned out: Despite mediocre April stats, Encarnacion finished the season with 38 home runs, 107 RBIs and an .881 OPS, helping the Indians to an AL-best 102 victories. Morales posted solid stats with 28 homers, 85 RBIs and a .753 OPS, though they proved inferior to Encarnacion's final numbers.

Storyline: Kansas City looks lost
Through 30 games, the Royals' offense is on pace to be the worst in Major League history. Kansas City's 82 runs scored (2.7 per game) have the team on pace to score just 443 runs, which would be the fewest in the expansion era in a non-strike-shortened season. The Royals are 3-13 in their last 16 games, falling to 10-20 as they sit 10 games below .500 for the first time since the end of 2012.

How it turned out: The Royals missed the playoffs for the second straight year, but the offense posted a respectable 4.7 runs per game over the next 132 games, finishing the season with 702 runs scored. Six teams ended 2017 with fewer runs scored than Kansas City, which ended up making a respectable run for an American League Wild Card spot.

Storyline: Reds-Yankees is a marquee series
The Reds open a two-game series at Great American Ball Park against the Yankees in a matchup of first-place teams. Yes, you read that right: At 17-14, Cincinnati is riding a five-game winning streak and stands in sole possession of first place in the NL Central. Reds starters are 5-0 with a 1.72 ERA during the winning streak.

How it turned out: That was the high point of Cincinnati's season. After winning two of their next three, the Reds dropped seven in a row, never getting back to the .500 mark. The Reds finished the season in last place at 68-94, trailing the division-champion Cubs by 24 games. Cincinnati's 5.17 team ERA was last in the NL and 29th in the Majors.

Storyline: D-backs have closer crisis
Fernando Rodney has a 10.80 ERA on May 6, having already blown two saves in the season's first month. Some are wondering how long a leash the 40-year-old will have before the D-backs make a change at the closer spot.

How it turned out: Rodney rewarded Arizona's faith in him, not allowing an earned run in May or June. He successfully converted 33 of 37 save opportunities after May 1, finishing the year with 39 saves, good for third in the NL, as the D-backs earned a Wild Card berth for their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Storyline: Stanton's slump raises eyebrows
After hitting seven home runs in his first 17 games, Giancarlo Stanton cools off considerably, going 48 plate appearances over 11 games without hitting one out of the yard. Stanton is hitting .186 (8-for-43) with a .550 OPS during that stretch, striking out 13 times.

How it turned out: Stanton only hit 52 more home runs after his two-week skid, finishing the season with 59 home runs, 132 RBIs and a 1.007 OPS, winning his first NL MVP Award.

Storyline: Yankees vets on divergent paths
Two Yankees veterans are off to vastly different starts after the first month-plus of the season. Matt Holliday is thriving, belting six homers with 19 RBIs and a .952 OPS in his first 27 games with New York, making the 37-year-old look like one of the best signings of the offseason. CC Sabathia, on the other hand, has a 5.77 ERA through his first seven starts, his 4.1 BB/9 ratio marking his highest since his rookie season of 2001.

How it turned out: Holliday's season was sidetracked by a viral infection and never got back to his first-half level (.877 OPS), struggling during limited playing time after the All-Star break (.525 OPS). Meanwhile, Sabathia shook off his subpar start, going 12-3 with a 2.95 ERA over his remaining 20 outings and re-signs with the Yankees.

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.