It’s still April, which means the overused trifecta of “it’s still early,” “it’s too early to panic” and “they’re off to a slow start” is not quite ready to be shoved to the back of the sock drawer just yet.
It truly is much too early to glean a lot from what we’ve seen in the first three-plus weeks of the season. But it is notable that more than half of the 30 teams -- 19, to be exact -- are playing at a .500 clip or better, including four in each of the National League East and Central divisions. Only the Marlins (6-16) and Reds (8-13) aren’t at the break-even mark.
The American League East has only two over-.500 clubs -- the Rays and the Yankees -- but Boston may soon jump into the fray. Fresh off a weekend sweep of the Rays, the Red Sox have to be feeling better about their pitching, which has been good lately, after a dreadful start. Boston’s rotation has a 3.15 ERA over its past nine games, a dramatic improvement over the 8.79 mark it posted In the first 13.
Biggest jump: Two teams jumped nine spots -- the Indians, from No. 17 to No. 8; and the Pirates, from No. 18 to No. 9.
The Pirates have won 11 of their last 15 games, and, during their recent five-game winning streak that was snapped on Sunday, they compiled a 2.09 ERA, allowing 10 earned runs over 43 innings. Even their loss Sunday didn’t end their streak of good pitching performances -- starter Chris Archer yielded three runs over five innings, and four relievers held the Giants scoreless in a 3-2 defeat. Entering that game, Pirates starters had the second-lowest ERA (1.96) in baseball, behind only the Rays.
Biggest drop: The A’s dropped eight spots, from No. 11 to No. 19. The only team the A’s have played well since they took three of four from Boston to open April is Baltimore, and, well, with little else to show, that’s going to get you dropped a few slots. A weekend sweep at home against the Blue Jays further illuminated the A’s ongoing offensive struggles -- they’ve been outscored 38 to 16 over their past six games.
Power Rankings top 5:
1) Astros (1 last week)
It’s highly unlikely the Astros and Rangers will be anywhere near each other in the American League West standings come Sept. 29, but as of Sunday, the only team the Astros haven’t had any luck against so far is their in-state rival. Against all other opponents, Houston is 11-4. Against the Rangers, they’re 2-4. Still, poor starting pitching performances Saturday (Gerrit Cole) and Sunday (Collin McHugh) should not diminish the fact that the Astros are off to a nice start, having won 11 of their past 14 games.
2) Dodgers (3)
A 7-3 stretch that included the Dodgers taking three of four over the weekend in Milwaukee has put them back on top in the National League West (though we realize it’s way too early to be seriously looking at the standings). Fueled by an offense that leads the NL in slugging and on-base percentage, the Dodgers are especially enjoying the exploits of Cody Bellinger, who through Sunday’s game was slashing a ridiculous .424/.500/.882 -- an OPS of 1.382.
3) Rays (2)
The Rays have lost four in a row, matching their entire loss total from their first 21 days of the season, when they won 14 of 18. That’s our way of saying this recent skid isn’t quite enough to knock them out of our top five just yet. But the Rays are about to be tested. Austin Meadows, who was hitting .351 with a team-best 19 RBIs, landed on the injured list Sunday with a sprained thumb. With uncertainty surrounding the exact return date of ace Blake Snell, the Rays will be without contributions from two key areas for a bit longer. Some good news -- they play the Royals seven times in the next 11 days.
4) Phillies (4)
The Phillies' bullpen has been a strength over the past week, even through a mediocre stretch that included losing three of four to the Rockies in Denver. The ‘pen has a 2.16 ERA over its past eight games (8 ER/33 1/3 IP). Hector Neris has been especially good all season, posting a 1.86 ERA and 0.62 WHIP. He has struck out 15 of 36 batters he’s faced and has three saves, including a five-out save on Saturday.
5) Cardinals (7)
The Cardinals’ offense is starting to find its groove -- over the past week, St. Louis led the NL in batting average (.298), on-base percentage (.384) and it ranked second in slugging and runs scored. Marcell Ozuna, who walked three times Saturday, has an 11-game on-base streak, during which he’s hitting .316 (12-for-38) with seven homers and 14 RBIs.
The rest of the Top 20
- Yankees (10)
- Brewers (5)
- Indians (17)
- Pirates (18)
- Twins (15)
- Nats (6)
- Mariners (9)
- Cubs (16)
- Mets (8)
- Red Sox (13)
- Padres (14)
- D-backs (24)
- Braves (15)
- A’s (11)
- Rockies (20)