With the second full week of the regular season completed, divisional dark horses and breakout players are beginning to emerge.
Every MLB April has its stars, and while some fall back to Earth in the subsequent months, an impressive start can sometimes be indicative of a player’s mechanical adjustments or an improved roster that will generate a full season of greater success.
This April’s surprise star is 30-year-old Brewers outfielder, Eric Thames. Thames left the MLB for the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) after a lackluster 2012 season. In Korea, Thames enjoyed several strong seasons and posted ridiculous power numbers, slashing .321/.427/.679 in his 2016 season. Of course, success in the KBO is not always transferable to the MLB, but Thames has been the hottest hitter in baseball thus far.
Thames has already hit seven homers in just 14 games and tied a Brewers franchise record by homering in five straight games.
The Atlanta Braves opened their new, suburban ballpark over the weekend and home fans were certainly not disappointed with the on-field product. The Braves completed a four game sweep of the Padres on Monday, capping the series with a walk-off single from their young shortstop, Dansby Swanson.
First baseman Freddie Freeman looked right at home in the new park and he has extended his remarkable 2016 second half into the new season. Freeman homered twice in Monday’s game and currently boasts an OPS of 1.347, the second-highest mark in the league.
After a disappointing 1-4 start, the New York Yankees have rallied to win eight straight games. The Yankees lead the league with a +23 run differential and they have yet to drop a game in their home ballpark.
Their bullpen, led by fireballer Aroldis Chapman, holds an ERA of 1.36 and a WHIP of 0.96, each of ranking second in the MLB. The Yankees’ recent performance should instill a sense of confidence in their fan base that their lineup and bullpen can carry their mediocre rotation. If the Yankees continue to perform, the AL East race will surely be one of the league’s best.
The Mariners recently won four straight games after their rocky start and starting pitcher James Paxton has looked like one of the league’s top pitchers in the early going. Paxton has struck out 22 batters in 21 scoreless innings and his success appears to be sustainable. In the offseason before 2016, Paxton changed his arm slot and he saw an increase in fastball velocity from 94.2 mph to 96.8 mph.
This season, Paxton is learning to locate the quicker fastball. His strikeout rate increased from 7.52 K/9 in 2015 to 8.70 K/9 in 2016, and in the early portion of this season, Paxton has struck out 9.43 batters per nine innings.
In a more disappointing turn of events, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte has been suspended for 80 games after violating the league’s Performance Enhancing Drugs policy.
In 2016, the 28-year-old outfielder posted career-best numbers with a .311 BA, 47 stolen bases, and an .818 OPS to compliment his Gold Glove defense in left field. The Pirates’ playoff hopes are significantly damaged by this suspension, as they are already missing 3B Jung Ho Kang while he appeals his offseason DUI charge and applies for a US work visa.
The standings across the league are unexpected, as the Cardinals, Giants, Indians, and Blue Jays are all currently last in their respective divisions. The reigning champion Cubs are also off to a disappointing 6-7 start.
Of course, it is far too early for any of these ball clubs to panic, as the year is very young, but the 2017 MLB season has already given fans some surprises, and there are sure to be more in the coming months.