It’s human nature to allow the most immediate and palpable events to become one’s overarching and undeniable reality. It’s why the President is only as good as his most recent decision, why any company is only as good as its most recent earnings statement and why things that happen over the first week of every MLB season lead people to make wholly irrational assumptions and blanket generalizations.
The 2015 MLB season is no different. Through one week of action, we have seen teams that entered the season with few expectations jump out to a hot start, we have seen players come out of nowhere to light the scoreboard up and we have seen teams with World Series aspirations fall flat on their face through a handful of games.
But how do we separate the structural reality from the facade? How do we prevent ourselves from making such hasty suppositions? It’s not an easy task, but here are four overreactions that I will attempt to disprove by grounding the speculative in reality.
The Atlanta Braves Are For Real
Entering the season, the Atlanta Braves were generally slated for futility, with only the hapless Philadelphia Phillies preventing them from finishing in the basement of the National League. Nowhere did I see them being projected for any more than 70 wins, and typically that number hovered well below that. The generally accepted narrative was that they were at least a year, if not two years, away from being competitive.
Through one week of the season, the Braves are 5-1, squarely on the backs of a number of exceptional performances from their starting pitching staff and bullpen. All of a sudden, the Braves are flying up power rankings everywhere, and there’s talk about them being a darkhorse contender.
Whoa. Slow your roll. Let’s not forget that three of those wins came against a Miami Marlins squad that hadn’t won a game this calendar year. Sure, there’s a chance they can rely upon their pitching staff and a brand of small ball to exceed certain expectations, but realistically their power-starved lineup will eventually send them crashing back to earth.
The Washington Nationals Are Overrated
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Braves entering the season stood the Washington Nationals. They almost unanimously occupied the top spot in the NL East in every preseason prognostication and were a favorite of many writers to represent the National League in the World Series.
One week in, and two losses to the lowly Phillies later, and many people are already beginning to question their validity as a legitimate contender. But what many people who don’t follow the MLB closely may not know is that they have been missing their top three hitters from a season ago.
Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Anthony Rendon have all yet to play in a game, with Werth being the only one of the three that is nearing a return. Even so, their haplessness at the plate is definitely a cause for concern. They are currently sitting in last, or near last place, in nearly every meaningful team batting category that exists.
They are hitting a dreadful .194 (30th), while scoring only 13 runs (30th), on 39 hits (28th), with an OPS of .574 (26th). They may be missing some of their best hitters, but a team that still has Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond should be far more competent at the plate.
All that said, this season is only a week old. Let’s chill out a bit. It is far more likely that this team will begin to find their collective swing, and as their big bats get integrated back into the lineup, this once again becomes a top-tier offensive team. Combine that with their stellar pitching staff, and I still believe this team will be playing ball late into October.
Adrian Gonzalez Will Be An MVP candidate
Gonzalez has long been an offensive force in this game. Heading into his 12th season in the bigs, he is threatening to become the 128th member of the exclusive 300 home run club, needing only 33 more on the season to reach that mark. There has never been any doubting his offensive abilities.
Through one week, Gonzalez has absolutely torn the cover off of the ball. He currently leads the league in batting average (.609), home runs (5), hits (14), total bases (32), on-base percentage (.667), slugging percentage (1.391) and on-base plus slugging (2.058).
But at 32 years old, and with his highest finish in the MVP voting coming in 2010 at fourth place, it is very unlikely to think he can sustain anything remotely resembling this production. However, if the three-time Golden Glove-winner is somehow able to continue hitting at an impressive clip–and the Los Angeles Dodgers are the viable contenders they appear to be–it might not be out of the realm of possibility. I just wouldn’t make any sizable bets just yet.
Jose Iglesias Will Be A Break-out Star
Jose Iglesias and the Detroit Tigers have exploded out of the gates, playing what has to be deemed the best baseball of any team. Although they finally lost today, they have been pounding teams by an average of more than five runs.
Sure they beat up on the lowly Minnesota Twins, but they also swept the upstart Cleveland Indians in impressive fashion.
In the process, Iglesias has batted .526 with 10 hits, leading many to begin anointing him one of this year’s potential break-out stars. I’d like to halt the hype-train right there.
It’s very tempting to look at his second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year race in 2013 as evidence of an inevitable ascent. But you should also take a look at his performance in the minors during his initial rise to the bigs. That doesn’t tell as promising of a story.
Over the course of four years, and 1098 plate appearances, Iglesias only hit .257, with a total of 89 RBIs and 6 HRs. That is only eight RBIs for every 100 plate appearances and fewer than one home run for that same number of opportunities. This doesn’t exactly bode well for him at the next level.
All that said, he has clearly shown flashes at the next level, and we all know that success, or lack thereof, in the minors doesn’t always tell an accurate story about how someone will perform with the major league club. I am just reserving the right to be cautious about his potential until I see otherwise for a sustained period.
We all know that hope springs eternal, and optimism runs rampant with the start of every new MLB season, even for those teams with little to be optimistic about. But as happens every year, storylines emerge from the first few weeks of action whose flames flicker and die out as the grind of summer approaches.
This year will be no different, and I caution everyone to be wary of these storylines from the first week of baseball. Don’t believe the hype of spring. Only trust what summer brings.