Even casual baseball fans know you shouldn’t put too much stock in what happens in the first few weeks of the season. The reason: it’s a period of very small sample sizes. For example, light-hitting Detroit Tigers’ shortstop Jose Iglesias registered a jaw-dropping .600 batting average through his first 15 at bats, but don’t hold your breath expecting such numbers to be sustainable.
Nevertheless, some trends are emerging that are worth following. One hopes that length of games will be one of them. Through the first four days of the season, new pace-of-play rules led to games going an average of eight minutes shorter per contest than last season. Let’s look at some other trends emerging for week two of the Major League season that actually have meaning moving forward:
Pitchers are dominating. This isn’t a new development but it’s becoming more pronounced. In the first six days of the 2015 campaign, there were 17 shutouts. Batting averages, on-base percentages and slugging percentages are all tumbling. League-wide, those three numbers have been .233 (batting average), .301 (on-base) and .365 (slugging) through Saturday. Compare that to .251/.314/.386 over the same stretch in 2014. But the biggest question for our purposes is who is most likely to continue this offensive downward spiral this week?
I’m going with the Minnesota Twins, particularly in their series against the Kansas City Royals (April 13, 15-16). The Royals have started the season hot – posting an average of six runs per game through their first five (which is saying a lot considering the overall dip in production). In contrast, Minnesota is averaging just a little more than two runs a game and have already been shutout twice (and scored one run in a third contest.) Royals’ starter Danny Duffy didn’t pitch well in his first start, but look for him to bounce back on Monday against the scuffling Twins – a team he’s owned in his career (3-1 with a 2.09 ERA against Minnesota in nine appearances).
Matt Harvey is certainly healthy. Whenever a pitcher returns from elbow reconstruction surgery, you hold your breath through the first few starts. Although the rebound rate from that type of procedure is generally good, it usually takes some time to regain command and control of pitches. Well, New York Mets’ ace Matt Harvey doesn’t appear to have lost a beat after missing all of 2014 following said surgery.
The 2013 all-star dominated the Washington Nationals on April 9th, going six innings, while allowing just four hits and one walk and striking out nine. This week Harvey gets two starts – on Tuesday he’ll face the Philadelphia Phillies and on Sunday he’ll square off against the Miami Marlins (both games are in New York). Between the two, I’d take Harvey against the Phillies. In 38 career at bats, Philadelphia hitters own a meagre .161 batting average and .194 slugging percentage.
Another ace who looks good: Adam Wainwright. Like Harvey, Wainwright will enjoy two starts this week – one against the Milwaukee Brewers (Monday) and the other versus the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday. Both contests will have Wainwright pitching at home. Wainwright is an ace wherever he pitches, but he’s particularly lights out at Busch Stadium. In 143 games in St. Louis, Wainwright has a 62-35 record and a 2.77 ERA (in away contests, his ERA is a little less impressive 3.24).
In particular, I like his and the Cardinals’ chances against the Brewers. He’s historically done well against the Brew Crew (12-7 with a 2.31 ERA) and this is one of the weaker iterations he’s seen of that Milwaukee roster. During the first week of the season, Milwaukee averaged less than three runs again – which was well below the league average. That week included being shutout by a far less impressive pitcher than Wainwright – the Colorado Rockies’ Kyle Kendrick.