By: Chris Larson
Week 1: March 29-April 8, 2018:
Over the past 10 days, we have seen plenty of excitement around the league from an Opening Day filled to the brim with special moments from the outstanding debut of Shohei Ohtani (both pitching and hitting) to Jose Berrios throwing the first complete game, shutout of the season to Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper's hot start and Andrew McCutchen's career high 6 hits game, which happened on Saturday.
While there have been plenty of special moments thus far, there has been a distinction so far between the teams that are elite, those that are considered very good, and then everyone else who for the most part weren't expected to contend this year.
Here is my list of the Top 15 teams from the first 10 days of this regular season:
1. Astros (8-2) [Pre-Season Ranking: 1] - Take your pick here between the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox because both have been elite and have shown why many suspect they will ultimately end up playing each other at some point in the postseason. For ranking purposes, we'll give the Astros a nod here because they have thrown more innings than Boston (59.0 to be exact), yet their starting rotation ERA is a tick higher at 1.83 over that span. Add on the stellar offense and defense that we've seen so far and you have a great team. The only thing I would pick apart is their bullpen at this point, but even they have a 2.32 ERA over 31.0 IP, which ties them with the Milwaukee Brewers for 6th best in the league, so it's certainly not time to press the panic button yet.
2. Red Sox (8-1) [Pre-Season Ranking: 7] - Essentially, Boston is the 1A because like I mentioned above, you could flip a coin and put either the Astros here and the Red Sox as number one or vice versa. The Red Sox are off to their best start in franchise history and are showing no signs of letting up under rookie skipper, Alex Cora. You gotta remember Cora worked with the reigning World Series Champion, Houston Astros, last year so he knows what it takes to win and make a standout impression in the league. Thus far, the biggest thing to like about the Red Sox has been their starting rotation especially David Price. To date through 2 starts, Price has a 0.00 ERA over 14.0 IP with 10 punchouts. If he can continue that and Boston has Chris Sale to make a powerful 1-2 punch, look out.
3. New York Mets (7-1) [Pre-Season Ranking: 13] - As some suspected prior to the start of the regular season, the Mets are finally showing us who they truly are and doing a good job of it. New York has not only pitched well to date, but also provided a ton of offense. Currently, the Mets rank fifth in the league with a team batting average of .260 over 223 at bats. Who would have thought that the Mets most productive hitter through the first 10 days of the regular season would be Asdrubal Cabrera? Cabrera currently leads the team in batting average (.313), on-base percentage (.389), and hits (10) over 32 plate appearances. So far the Callaway Effect has done wonders for the Mets and they should continue to be a very powerful club in the coming weeks who many might still be sleeping on.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks (7-2) [Pre-Season Ranking: 8] - Yes, you read this right. The Arizona Diamondbacks rank in the Top 5 in baseball right now and it's simple to figure out why. Arizona has three series wins so far to start the year, which is a first in franchise history, and Torey Lovullo, following his fight with Cardinals catcher, Yadier Molina, yesterday, notched down his 100th win as skipper, which makes him the fastest skipper to do that in franchise history. Add to the fact that Arizona has experienced so much success without, Steven Souza Jr. and Jake Lamb, and you can understand why this team can be so dangerous. Arizona has established the thinking that pitching and defense wins games and that can be illustrated by their pitching staff's cumulative ERA of 2.92, which currently ranks as fifth best in baseball.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (7-2) [Pre-Season Ranking: N/A] - You might think I am absolutely nuts for putting the Pirates, who aren't expected to contend this year, as the 5th best team in baseball right now, but based on their record and how they've performed, they deserve it. To date, the Pirates are currently sit a top the NL Central, Jameson Taillon tossed a complete game, shutout yesterday afternoon against the Reds, and their offense has been surprisingly stellar to date. Right now, Pittsburgh ranks third in runs scored (53) over 281 at bats, which puts them behind only the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels, and have a .357 on-base percentage thus far, also good enough for third place. Many of us didn't expect the Pirates to start like this, but if they continue, who knows what the true potential for them is.
6. Chicago Cubs (5-4) [Pre-Season Ranking: 2] - The Cubs have experienced somewhat of a dismal start to the season, but that doesn't take away from the talent that they possess on their 25-man roster currently. The biggest selling point for the Cubs thus far has been their bullpen where they have a league leading 0.94 ERA over 38.1 innings of work. A big reason why their bullpen has been so effective is because of southpaw, Eddie Butler. Butler has a 1.13 ERA over 8.0 innings of relief so far and really came through for the Cubs during the 17-inning marathon down in Miami the day after Opening Day. If the Cubs can find more consistency within their starting rotation and figure things out in the leadoff spot, they will quickly climb the rankings.
7. Los Angeles Angels (7-3) [Pre-Season Ranking: N/A] - If your ranking the Angels solely on Shohei Ohtani, they should be number one right now because Ohtani has been a beast thus far both at the plate and in terms of pitching. Ohtani has jacked three home runs so far and put together two phenomenal starts against the division rival, Oakland Athletics. As for the rest of the team, the Angels have illustrated that they know how to hit and score runs in bunches thanks to not only Ohtani, but the best player in baseball, Mike Trout, as well as Albet Pujols, who jacked a 440 foot home run yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, the Angels have been hit with two injuries so far in their starting rotation, but if they can continue playing like they have, then they should have no problem making up for that loss.
8. New York Yankees (5-5) [Pre-Season Ranking: 6] - It's hard to not put the Yankees in the Top 5 and I might take some criticism for it, but these rankings are suppose to be based on whose playing the best and performing at a high level day in and day out, so this is only being honest. To date, the Yankees bullpen has not been the biggest sales point of the team, like many expected, but rather much of their success has come from their offense. Currently, the Yankees rank 4th in runs scored (48), but fall to 14th when it comes to on-base percentage (.325) over 304 at bats. The starting rotation has also faired well to date as illustrated by their 3.64 ERA over 84 innings of work, which ranks 11th in the league.
9. Washington Nationals (4-5) [Pre-Season Ranking: 4] - For a team that came into the season in win-now mode, they have sort of disappointed over the past few days and are in the midst of a 5-game losing streak. At no point last year, did they have a losing streak that long. The Nationals still should run away with the NL East, but it won't be easy if the Mets continue playing the way they have. Regardless, the biggest problem for the Nationals has been pitching, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Unlike the Cubs, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find out what the Nationals bullpen ERA is (6.57) over 24.2 innings of work which puts them 28th in the league. Simply put, the Nationals are going to have to figure out their pitching problems especially in the bullpen, which plagued the club last season, if they wish to rise in the rankings.
10. San Francisco Giants (4-4) [Pre-Season Ranking: N/A] - The Giants lost yesterday afternoon in extra innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers and managed to only score two runs during a four-game series against the Dodgers to open up the season thanks to Joe Panik, but they are certainly one of the Top 15 teams currently as they sit in third place in the NL West. Some might be surprised to hear this, but the Giants pitching staff currently ranks 7th best in the league with a 2.96 ERA over 76.0 IP. Through two starts, Johnny Cueto has a 0.69 ERA over 13.0 IP and Pierce Johnson has been the team's best reliever as illustrated by his 1.50 ERA over 6 innings of relief. If that wasn't enough, the Giants are expected to recall Tyler Beede prior to the start of Tuesday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. If this continues, the Giants could find themselves staying relevant fairly late into the season.
11. Toronto Blue Jays (6-4) [Pre-Season Ranking: 11] - The Blue Jays are one of the teams that have been a pleasant surprise so far even though I never counted them out entirely as being a potential contender. Right now, the Blue Jays have the fifth best offense in the league in terms of runs scored (55) and rank sixth in slugging percentage (.442) over 326 at bats. To date, the Blue Jays pitching staff has posted an unimpressive 4.15 ERA over 89 innings of work, but are tied for 7th place in the league in strikeouts (89) with the Milwaukee Brewers. The most impressive part of their starting rotation has been Marco Estrada, who has a 2.77 ERA over 13.0 IP, along with Jaime Garcia who currently has a 9.53 strikeouts-per-9 rate. If the Blue Jays can find a way to get their pitching to be more effective and continue to hit like they have, then they should be able to stay relevant in the AL East.
12. Los Angeles Dodgers (3-6) [Pre-Season Ranking: 3] - It seems like no team has disappointed more than the Dodgers here in the early going and it might be due to the dreaded, World Series Hangover, that some teams experience after playing deep into October the year before. Regardless, Los Angeles got off to a slow start last year so you can't read much into it, but when there are questions surrounding the starting rotation, questions about Kenly Jansen's velocity, and the fact that the lineup shows signs that it truly misses having third baseman, Justin Turner, in it, it's not the best sign. However, they still have Clayton Kershaw, the best starting pitcher of this generation on their roster. If the Dodgers keep this up for the rest of the season, then Arizona may very well be the team to beat in the NL West despite what some might say and have thus far far outperformed the Dodgers.
13. Atlanta Braves (6-3) [Pre-Season Ranking: N/A] - Atlanta might not be a true contender this season, but they have defied expectations to start the season so far. It seems like the young talent is finally starting to show their true potential and everything is starting to click especially at the plate. Here in the early going, the Braves lineup currently leads all of baseball in runs scored (62), ranked second with 23 doubles, and rank second behind the New York Mets in on-base percentage (.366). Between Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Ryan Flaherty, Preston Tucker, and Dansby Swanson, the Braves have a lot of forceful offensive pieces. All of that lineup success has translated to a 6-3 record and second place in the NL East for the Braves. Who knows, maybe they will wind up being the surprise team of 2018.
14. Minnesota Twins (4-3) [Pre-Season Ranking: 10] - Minnesota currently sits atop the AL Central and haven't necessarily run away with the Central to this point. The Twins are getting a lot of offense from the usual suspects in Brian Dozier, Miguel Sano, and Joe Mauer here in the early going and have showed signs of how much talent and depth they have on the 25-man roster as well. As mentioned earlier, Jose Berrios threw a complete game, shutout during his first outing and leads the team in strikeouts (13) and Kyle Gibson has been especially effective posting a 0.87 ERA so far this season in 10.1 IP. If Berrios and Gibson continue to perform at that high of a level, not only will they find themselves up higher in the rankings, they will also give the Indians a run for their money in the Central.
15. Cleveland Indians (4-5) [Pre-Season Ranking: 5] - Even though the Indians have struggled at the plate since Opening Day (47 hits over 296 at bats), there is still a lot to like about the big league club. With the cold temperatures the team has endured as of late, its understandable why the hitting hasn't been able to keep pace, but Cleveland's starting rotation has posted a 3.74 ERA over 55.1 IP thus far and when you combine that with their bullpen, you get an even more impressive 3.54 ERA which ranks 11th in the league right now. Beyond the pitching, the biggest thing to like about the Indians here in the early going is the defense as illustrated by their .997 fielding percentage, which ranks second behind only the Boston Red Sox. Once the weather warms up, look out because the Indians are no pushover and will eventually be a threat at the plate and climb in the rankings.