Quarterly report: Things are just getting started
Brewers, Giants, Tigers, as well as Cueto and Abreu, among those fast out of the gate
By any measure, the baseball season is one-quarter of the way home on its annual journey to October. That's long enough to allow 2014 to establish its own identity with a few trends and breakout performances, giving us a glimpse of what's ahead. But that's about it, same as it ever was.
One-quarter of the way through might be enough for some to judge a movie, or a song, or even a sports article. And, getting to the point quickly with that in mind, one-quarter of the way through simply is not enough time to judge how a full baseball season will turn out.
It'll be true for a while: There's a lot of baseball left. Even with more than 45 days in the 183-day championship season behind us and with most teams having hit or passed the 40-game mark on the road to 162, hundreds of games and dozens of storylines have yet to be played out.
You don't just Ctrl-C the first quarter of the season and Ctrl-V it three more times. That's not how you make a mark as an individual, and that's not how you get to the postseason as a team.
Much as the Brewers, for example, would like to duplicate their hot start over the next 40 games, and the 40 after that, manager Ron Roenicke has been around long enough to know that his surprisingly successful team hasn't accomplished anything. Not yet, anyway.
"It's too long of a season. And there's lots of clubs that haven't played well for 40 games and you know they're going to play well," Roenicke said as the Brewers wrapped up a series win over the Pirates.
Already, the Brewers have established themselves, with a 26-15 mark, with one of the best starts to the season, joining with the Giants and A's at the same high standard. The Tigers, with 24 wins through 36 games, are poised to overtake all of them once they catch up after several postponements.
But you can't simply multiply those results by four and expect that they'll all break the 100-win barrier this year. That's not how it works.
Likewise, it's too early to etch Johnny Cueto's name onto a National League Cy Young Award plaque, despite the Reds ace's amazing start. Ditto the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki and the NL Most Valuable Player Award. And we can't just call it 60 homers for Jose Abreu, although the White Sox rookie is making a powerful impression.
Said teammate Gordon Beckham of Abreu: "He's a stud, there's just no way around it. He's going to be really good for a long time."
With off-the-charts individual performances like those, the first chunk of the season already has proven to be unique, that much is true. Some of what has stood out has been predictable, with significant changes in plays at the plate and instant replay bringing about some unfamiliar scenarios. Other trends have emerged as curiosities, such as a precipitous spike in infield shifts and a horrible rash of elbow injuries. How all that affects the bottom line -- the team that reaches the World Series, and wins it -- remains to be seen.
For everything in the balance this early in the year, the standings remain one place where being one-quarter of the way through the season can tell you a thing or two.
What can be said for this season is that there are a high number of teams with their heads above water. There are 19 clubs as of Thursday that could be at or above the .500 mark through 40 games and another five clubs that are within two games of it. Last year, 17 teams won at least half of their first 40.
What can be said about pretty much any season is that by the time the race hits the three-quarter pole -- the one on the backstretch with all that track remaining in the race -- you're better off being off to a better start.
The trend continued last year. Of the 10 teams that made the playoffs, all but one were at or above .500 after 40 games. That one was the Dodgers, and of course they used a 42-8 summertime charge to pass up the rest of the NL West en route to an NL Championship Series berth.
But, again, that's an outlier. Out of 52 playoff berths earned over the past six seasons, 45 of those teams were .500 or better after 40 games, or 86.5 percent. Among those that overcame a rough start, only the 2012 Tigers (19-21) made it to the World Series. The '13 Dodgers (17-23) and '11 Brewers (19-21) won in the Division Series, while the '11 D-backs (17-23), '09 Twins (18-22), '09 Rockies (16-24) and '08 White Sox (19-21) did not advance.
What that means for teams off to a hot start or teams that are already hoping to flip the script, nobody knows. But it only makes sense that if you give yourself a good start, there's a better chance for a good finish. Naturally, there are exceptions -- the Rangers were last year's MLB co-leader at 26-14 through 40, but lost out in a 163rd tiebreaker game to the Rays. In 2012, the Dodgers were an MLB-best 27-13 and wound up out of the picture. Similar fates befell the '11 Indians (26-14) and the '08 D-backs (25-15).
Lesson learned? One-quarter of the way around the 162-game oval, the race is just beginning.