Twenty-something days into the regular season probably isn’t the most scientifically accurate method of predicting 2017 outcomes. But guess what? It’s all we have to go on at this point. And if we don’t have some fun now with these early-season surprises, they might evaporate by Memorial Day. So let’s take a look at the top 10 trend-busting story lines before the first month is over, knowing full well that these are relatively small sample sizes. For those who saw this stuff coming in February, kudos. Here’s the list:
1 Allow me to
Recognize that line? We borrowed it from Jay Z’s “Public Service Announcement,” which fittingly is used by the Mets’ Jay Bruce as his walk-up music this season. It’s an appropriate anthem for the Yankees’ Chase Headley, too. Think about it: Bruce and Headley were two players their respective fan bases had no interest in seeing back for 2017, with the Mets failing in their attempts to trade the rightfielder. But now they have to be considered the April MVPs, with Bruce raking (six homers, .969 OPS — stats entering yesterday) and Headley off to a scorching start (.373 BA, .476 OBP). Bruce received his first Flushing curtain call Wednesday night and Yankees fans complained when Headley got a day off. Weird.
2 Brats, beer and pop!
After averaging 42 homers in three seasons for the KBO’s NC Dinos, Eric Thames’ power has traveled well to Milwaukee, where he already has mashed eight through the first 15 games. Before Thames moved to the KBO in 2014, he had totaled 21 homers in 181 games split between the Blue Jays and Mariners. The Brewers brought signed him to a three-year, $16-million deal that is shaping up to be the best bargain find in the sport.
3 Falling Star(ling)
by the Allegheny
We know what you’re thinking. How can anybody be surprised by a PED suspension in this day and age? That’s probably true to some degree, but when the offender is the caliber of Pirates centerfielder Starling Marte, the name still brings shock value to the drug revelation. Marte is only 28, has two Gold Gloves and was coming off his first All-Star season, when he had career highs in batting average (.311) and OPS (.818). Now he’s out for 80 games after testing positive for Nandrolone, an old-school steroid.
4 Rocky Mountain High
No, not the high that first comes to mind in Colorado. It’s the Rockies, who were looking down at the rest of the NL West heading into the weekend, and not for the reasons you’d typically think. Through Friday, the Rockies were hitting .228 as a team, ranked 21st in the majors, and were middle of the pack in home runs and OPS. Don’t credit the rotation, either, with a 4.60 ERA that’s the second-highest in the NL. What they’ve done is win close games, as they’re 6-0 in one-run margins. They also have benefited greatly from signing Greg Holland, who is 8-for-8 in save chances.
5 Woe Canada
In Toronto, it’s looking as if the Blue Jays might be eliminated before either the Raptors or Maple Leafs. April has been a disaster down the road at the Rogers Centre. The Jays are coming off consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1993, but this year they seem headed for a non-strike oblivion after losing perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson (calf strain) and co-ace Aaron Sanchez (blister) for an undetermined period. Jose Bautista was batting .131 through Friday, which is when he finally hit his first home run.
6 Red Storm
What Amir Garrett is doing so far for the Reds’ rotation isn’t a shocking development, as good as he’s been, with a 1.83 ERA and 9.6 K/9 ratio as a 24-year-old rookie. But when you consider the 22nd-round pick (2011) is coming off a college hoops career, as a 6-5 power forward for St. John’s, the story gets an added layer. In five minor-league seasons, Garrett was 25-29 with a 3.18 ERA and modest 8.0 K/9 ratio. But in his last start, Wednesday against the Orioles, Garrett struck out 12 to tie the Reds’ record for a rookie lefthander.
7 Giants Bummed out
Of the more bizarre April scenarios, Madison Bumgarner landing on the disabled list with bruised ribs and a sprained left shoulder after a dirt bike accident is one nobody could have seen coming. Bumgarner is famous for his horse-riding antics, and he showed up at spring training in Scottsdale last year with a trailer of his own steeds in tow. But that was the preseason. This happened during the off day in Colorado, where Bumgarner was not scheduled to pitch during the three-game series at Coors Field. The first trip to the DL of Bumgarner’s nine-year career is expected to cost him six to eight weeks, a major blow to the last-place (yikes) Giants.
8 Buck-ing the trend in Baltimore
While we’d never sell Buck Showalter short on managing ability or be stunned to see the Orioles in contention, the way they’ve jumped to the top of the AL East this month has been unorthodox — by riding the rotation. Through Thursday, the Orioles’ rotation had a 3.53 ERA, good enough for fifth in the AL and well ahead of the Red Sox’s 4.39 (12th) and the Indians’ 5.09 (15th). The headliners? Dylan Bundy (1.37 ERA) and Wade Miley (1.89), both of whom have balanced out Ubaldo Jimenez (5.51) and Kevin Gausman (7.23).
9 Yes, there is a K in Mookie (finally)
Players are striking out at a record pace this season, and the current K/9 rate of 8.25 is the highest for March/April since 2000, rising steadily from 6.35 in 2005. Yet, Mookie Betts had a streak of 129 regular-season plate appearances without striking out, dating to last year, until he whiffed on Francisco Liriano’s 2-and-2 slider in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jays. It was the longest such streak in the majors since the Marlins’ Juan Pierre went 147 in 2004.
10 Crown Royal
Mets fans probably don’t remember Jason Vargas, who had a 12.19 ERA in two starts as Mike Pelfrey’s replacement in 2007 before being shipped to the Mariners in the three-team, 11-player trade that netted them J.J. Putz, among others. But a decade later, at age 34, the Royals’ Vargas is the Cy Young pace-setter in April. He has the second-best ERA (0.44) in the majors after three starts, a 0.77 WHIP and an 11.50 K/BB ratio, better than Chris Sale (7.00). Is it sustainable? As a soft-tossing lefty, Vargas relies way more on guile than gas, so we’ll see how far those pitching smarts get him.