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MLB first quarter(ish) reactions

Zach Plesac by Erik Drost via Flickr.

With a little over one-quarter of the season in the books (for most teams), we’ve gotten somewhat of a look at what this season is going to look like. From hot starts to early slumps and teams just not being able to play at all, it’s been hard to keep up with everything going on around the league.

This season has already been full of chock full surprises and plenty of problems, so let’s take a look at some of the biggest storylines. Oh, and all stats are accurate as of Friday, Aug. 15.

The Cardinals have a real problem right now.
There are a handful of teams who as of Friday have played 21 games. The Cardinals have played five. They haven’t played a game since July 29, and have since had 19 games postponed. Now, according to Bob Nightengale, they have to play at least 53 games in 44 days. In that stretch, they will play 10 doubleheaders.

They started with a doubleheader vs. the White Sox on Monday, finish the three-game series vs. the White Sox on Tuesday and then play another doubleheader vs. the Cubs on Wednesday. Then they’ve got one game vs. the Cubs on Thursday and yet another doubleheader vs. the Cubs on Friday.

That’s eight games in five days. Assuming each starting pitcher only goes once every five days, the Cardinals will need to find three people to start in this upcoming week. They will likely go with openers out of the pen, but that’s going to put an enormous strain on their bullpen. Eight games in five days would tax a pen even if a starter goes six or seven innings every single game, but now three of them are probably going to be bullpen games? The best-case scenario is no one gets hurt.

Yes, the doubleheaders will be seven-inning games, but it’s still a minimum of 14 innings in the day. That’s not to mention the other teams in the Central Divisions, like the Cubs, who will have to play more games in fewer days to help the Cardinals catch up. Forcing all these games into a limited period of time could have lasting repercussions, so everyone better cross their fingers no one has their career ruined by overtaxing their arm over the next two months.

Anyone has a chance at the playoffs this year.
The Miami Marlins have a commanding lead of first place in the NL East. Sure, they’ve only played 13 games, the fewest of any team in the division, but they’re still 9-4. A month ago I wouldn’t have been OVERLY shocked if they didn’t win eight games all season. Ok, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point. The Marlins were not supposed to be good this season. Then when they replaced a large chunk of their roster with people who were not supposed to play in the Major Leagues this season or maybe even ever, they were expected to do even worse. But they just kept winning.

The Baltimore Orioles are in second place in the AL East. They’re just one game back of the powerhouse that is the New York Yankees. They were supposed to be worse than the Marlins, but like Miami, they’ve somehow been able to win ballgames consistently.

The Detriot Tigers ad 9-8 and in third place in the AL Central, just two games back of first. The Texas Rangers are 9-9 and that’s good enough for second place in the AL West. The Colorado Rockies are 12-7 and just one game back of the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

None of these teams were even supposed to be playoff contenders this year, but here they are. Yes, it’s early and there is still time for those teams to fall back down to where people expected them to be, but honestly, it’s not that much time. It’s a 60-game season. Some teams have already played over a third of it. Oh, and 16 teams will make the playoffs this year. With over half of the teams making the playoffs, there’s a chance one of the teams that was expected to be a cellar dweller this season can make a surprise run at a playoff spot. This year more than any year ever, anyone can make the playoffs.

Except for the Pirates. The Pirates suck.

Don’t overreact to slow starts.
There have been plenty of players who have gotten off to hot starts. Nick Castellanos, Fernando Tatis Jr., Aaron Judge (fun while it lasted), Shane Bieber, Sonny Gray and a bunch more. But there have also been those superstars who have gotten off to slow starts. 

Stars like Christian Yelich, who is hitting under .200 through his first 74 plate appearances. He’s gotten a bit more back on track lately though and has an OPS of 1.141 over his past six games.

Cody Bellinger is right there with him, also hitting under .200 with a horrific .585 OPS in through his first 89 plate appearances. He hasn’t gotten back on track yet but did hit two home runs on Friday, so hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come.

Reigning home run champion Pete Alonso only has three bombs through his first MLB leading 94 plate appearances and his OPS is sitting at a mild .715. However, over his past eight games his OPS is .944, so he might have finally shaken his slow start.

In Alonso’s case, he even has a 103 OPS+ on the season, so technically he has been above average at the plate, a testament to how slow the majority of hitters have started this season.

Those are just a couple of the big-name stars off to slow starts, and it’s best not to look too much into it. Sure, it has probably already ruled them out of any possible award contention barring a historic second-half stretch, but these few dozed plate appearances are by no means a reflection on the player they are. I’m confident each of them will find their stride at some point this season and play at the level they’re expected to, and that goes for all the slumping stars.

This season is unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Just because some players have been able to adapt and shine right away doesn’t make it unacceptable for others to have some trouble. Have patience with them, they’ll break out eventually. We’re seeing it with some of them already.

Charlie Blackmon is on FIRE!
One player who has really thrived this season is the bearded man himself, Charlie Blackmon. Chuck Nazty has been nothing short than the best hitter in baseball so far this season. After raising his batting average to .500 a few days ago, he has come back down to Earth a bit and gone 0-for-8 over his past two games, lowering his batting average to .447, which is obviously still ridiculous. It obviously needs to be pointed out it’s through a very small sample size of plate appearances, but the question of if Blackmon could be the one to hit .400 this season is starting to be asked.

Can he? If I’m a betting man I’m still betting no. Hitting .400 would mean keeping up what has been an incredible pace, but if anyone can do it, it’s Blackmon.

A career .307 hitter who is averaging 27 homers a year ever since he became a full-time player, he has always been one of the best in the game at the plate, but this season he’s on a whole new level. He’s even defying the expectations for a Rockies player who has a good slash line, having great stats both in Coors Field and not, putting up an OPS of 1.104 at home and 1.156 away.

He’s even a left-handed hitter who is absolutely CRUSHING left-handed pitching, hitting an absurd .643/.667/.857 vs. southpaws in 30 plate appearances this season.

Cleveland set the right precedent for how to deal with players violating the rules.
About a week ago, Zach Plesac of the Cleveland Indians was quarantined after spending a night out with some of his friends. Then, a day later, it was found out fellow pitcher Mike Clevinger was with Plesac, so he was quarantined as well.

Team leader Francisco Lindor released a statement on the two pitchers where he denounced their actions, especially with their teammate Carlos Carasco falling under the category of being high risk because he is a cancer survivor.

Plesac and Clevinger were denounced by team president Chris Antonetti, manager Terry Francona and Lindor in an article on The Athletic, and after they were cleared to return and holding a team meeting, Cleveland optioned them to their alternate site.

Even in the middle of the season while currently in control of a playoff spot, the Indians set an example with two of their best starting pitchers. It’s a powerful message to send, that no one is above the rules no matter how valuable they are to a team.

It’s a precedent the rest of the league should follow. If, hypothetically of course, Mike Trout breaks protocol, he should not play anymore. The same goes for anyone in the league.

We don’t know if Clevinger or Plesac will return at all this season, but even if they do, the message has been sent. Care about others first, play baseball second.

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