Jack Moore at Disciples of Uecker notes that the national league is lining up just about as we expected it, with the Phillies, Cardinals, and Giants leading their divisions and the Brewers duking it out for the Wild Card with Atlanta and (maybe) Florida. I thought the Brewers would be chasing the Reds, rather than St. Louis, for the Central lead, but as they often do, the Cardinals have patched up the hole that is Adam Wainwright’s injury with Wainwright-like production from Jaime Garcia and a more-than-adequate performace from fill-in starter Kyle McClellan.
In the American League, the Red Sox overtook the Yankees for first place last night, thanks largely to seven wins in their first eight games against New York. Meanwhile, the Tigers have clawed their way to within a game and a half of the suddenly-vulnerable Indians, with the White Sox just six games out, and the Rangers are building a lead over the AL West pack. Nevermind the status of my preseason picks in those divisions (Minnesota and Oakland now have a combined .403 winning percentage); the teams now at and near the top are the teams many experts picked to win their divisions.
On an individual note, there have been some surprises. Notably, Cole Hamels pitched another eight shutout innings last night to overtake teammate Roy Halladay for the NL lead in Season Score, 250-237. While Hamels was the preseason Cy Young pick of Buster Olney and Nick Youngstein alike, his resume suggested that he might have been the fourth most likely among Philly’s starters to have provided the most value to this point. Similarly, the Red Sox’s fourth starter, Josh Beckett, is sixth in the AL in Season Score despite having pitched fewer innings than anyone ahead of him, and the Rangers’ fifth starter, Alexi Ogando, sits in third place, behind only Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander. This is not to suggest that Hamels or Beckett were off of anyone’s radar; just that some of the strongest performances so far have come from players whose managers may have expected less from them this season.
If you’re looking for a surprise on the offensive side, it depends largely on your expectations for 2010 home run champ Jose Bautista, who’s done it all this season, earning an unfathomable 5.1 WAR (per fangraphs) to date, still on pace to be the greatest season ever by an offensive player. It should come as no surprise that Miguel Cabrera (2.6 fWAR) and Adrian Gonzalez (2.5) are raking, or that Ben Zobrist (2.8) is doing a little bit of everything, but Matt Joyce (3.0) and Alexei Ramirez (2.9) are surprising runners up for the title of Second Most Valuable Player in the AL.
In the NL, Lance Berkman (you may remember him from the 2001 Astros) is the biggest surprise with the bat, slashing .329/.447/.624 so far, but after a resurgent Jose Reyes (3.5 fWAR), it’s no surprise that Joey Votto (3.3), Andrew McCutcheon (3.1) and Matt Kemp (3.0) are leading MVP candidates.
I’ve written over and over lately that you can’t predict baseball, especially on a day-to-day level, but when you string together 60 games or 13 starts or 300 plate appearances, you start to see more predictable results than the early season numbers may have suggested. But then, there’s always someone like Kyle Lohse.