2-week check-in: Will these 7 storylines stick?

April 23rd, 2022

We’re now two weeks into the season, with roughly 22 more to go -- a lot is going to change, and there are plenty of takeaways we’re all coming up with right now that will look a bit ridiculous when we look back at them in mid-September. One must be careful of believing one has figured out this season at any point, but particularly so a fortnight in.

But: There are some signs that some of these early indicators may have some staying power. Here are seven things that have become apparent in the first two weeks that might just stick around.

1. Francisco Lindor is taking over Queens the way he was supposed to.
When the Mets traded for Lindor, everybody knew they were getting a great player. What was most exciting, though, was that they were getting an identity. Lindor is one of the most purely enjoyable players in Major League Baseball, the sort of talent and personality who can carry your team and make the fans levitate above their seats. Unfortunately, the first year didn't go according to plan for a variety of reasons. But the way it's going right now, Mets fans might not even remember that. Lindor has been electric so far, with four homers, three steals, incredible defense, everything the Mets could have imagined. And he’s doing it with style, flair and joy. The Mets are the most fun thing going in baseball right now. Lindor might be the primary reason why.

2. The Angels have some good vibes going.
Not everything is going right for the Angels. Anthony Rendon isn’t really hitting yet. They still don’t have a shortstop. You’ll never believe this, but it looks like there might be a shortage of arms in their rotation. But you’ve still gotta like the vibe, right? The Angels are in first place in the AL West and they’re doing it with the panache, and the star power, that we’ve been waiting on for several years now. Shohei Ohtani’s “slow” start still has him launching moon shots and making hitters look silly. Jared Walsh has become a building block at first base. Taylor Ward has become a handy piece, as has Matt Duffy. Noah Syndergaard looks as dominant -- and, more important, as healthy -- as he has in four years. But let’s not overcomplicate it. The thinking is that if you put the right mix around Mike Trout -- who is destroying the ball right now, and still warming up -- good things are bound to follow. Health is always the issue here, with him and the whole team. But might we finally be getting the Angels we were promised?

3. The veterans can still pitch.
As you might have expected, there aren’t that many starters going deep into games: The shortened Spring Training and general rocky vibe leading up to the start of the season has led teams to be understandably cautious with their young pitchers. That’s why it probably shouldn’t be surprising that the ones who have been through all this before, since their teammates were wee whipper-snappers, are carrying the load early. Check out the numbers for these veterans:

Adam Wainwright (40): 2-1, 2.81 ERA
Justin Verlander (39): 1-1, 0.69 ERA
Zack Greinke (38): 0-1, 2.25 ERA
Max Scherzer (37): 3-0, 2.50 ERA
Corey Kluber (36): 0-0, 1.86 ERA
Carlos Carrasco (35): 1-0, 1.47 ERA

Oh and Clayton Kershaw, who is a pup compared to all those guys at 34, almost threw a perfect game. And because they’ve been doing this so long, even with this success, you can see them pacing themselves for the long haul. There’s a reason they’ve made it this long, after all.

4. The Yankees might be carried by their pitching.
Remember a few years ago, after the Giancarlo Stanton addition, when people were openly speculating that the Yankees might score 1,000 runs? Much of that lineup is still around, but the reason the Yanks are staying afloat in the early going isn’t because of those bats: It’s because of their arms. Specifically: Starting arms that aren’t Gerrit Cole. Cole has a 6.35 ERA, but he’s being buoyed by Jordan Montgomery (2.51 ERA), Luis Severino (2.08), Jameson Taillon (3.72) and Nestor Cortes, who hasn’t given up a run in 9 1/3 innings. The bullpen has been aces too: Aroldis Chapman, Michael King and Clay Holmes have given up two earned runs in 20 innings between them. The Yankees upset their fans by not being more aggressive in the offseason. But if this pitching can hold up, they’ve got all the time in the world to figure out that lineup. (And you’ve got to think Joey Gallo and Stanton will come around.)

5. Nolan Arenado may be having his career year.
Arenado has never won an MVP Award. He finished third in 2018, fourth in '17, fifth in '16, sixth in '19 and eighth in '15. It feels like he’s won one, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is time. Arenado is off to the best start of his career, putting up a .405/.468/.881 line in his first 11 games and winning a Player of the Week Award. And he has of course been even better in the field. The Cardinals look a little better so far than a lot of pundits predicted, and if Arenado can keep his career year going, and this team can outlast the Brewers in the NL Central, this could be the year Arenado finally wins that honor. Just in time for him to potentially use that old Rockies opt-out too ...

6. The NL West is stacked.
Last year it was supposed to be Dodgers-Padres all year. It turned out to be Dodgers-Giants. This year … we might have four teams at each other’s throats all year? The Dodgers are rolling like they always do, but they’re one of four teams in the division over .500. The Padres’ pitching looks light-years better than it was last year, and the offense, led by an MVP-level Manny Machado, could carry this team. The Giants are winning again, in that magical, mystical way only they seem to know how. And look at those Colorado Rockies, who have the highest team OPS (.798) in baseball but also have a rotation that’s holding up as well. Pity the poor D-backs: Even if the Rockies fall off a little, this division is going to be a gauntlet all year.

7. The new playoff format is going to make the entire year like this.
Everything is so tight already, but the new format assures it’ll stay like this. For the sake of fun, here’s what the playoff matchups in each league would look like if the season ended today:

American League:
Byes: No. 1 seed Blue Jays, No. 2 seed Angels
Wild-Card Round: No. 6 seed Mariners at No. 3 seed Guardians, No. 5 seed Yankees at No. 4 seed A's

National League:
Byes: No. 1 seed Dodgers, No. 2 seed Mets
Wild-Card Round: No. 6 seed Brewers at No. 3 seed Cardinals, No. 5 seed Padres at No. 4 seed Rockies

For all the talk of "too many" playoff teams, there are no cheapies there: Every one of those teams is pleased with its start so far. They’re going to be tightly jammed all summer. It’s going to be like this all year.