New York Yankees' surge, Mookie Betts' destruction and other highlights of first quarter of MLB season

Jay Asser 01:11 21/05/2018
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Mookie Betts is putting together and MVP-calibre season.

We’re now more than a quarter of the way through the Major League Baseball season and though a lot of baseball still remains (and we mean a lot), the first couple months have been a fun ride.

If you haven’t been able to keep up with everything that has been going on – we don’t blame you – here’s a refresher on some of the biggest storylines in the season so far.

From huge winning streaks to insane stats, there’s been no shortage of intrigue.

Which teams have been the best?

Let’s start with defending champions. The Houston Astros (29-18) are currently behind the Boston Red Sox (32-15) and New York Yankees (29-13) in terms of win percentage, but they’ve still been a dominant side, posting the best run differential in baseball at plus-96. That’s been due to their stellar pitching, which has allowed a league-low 122 runs and owns a league-best 2.46 earned run average. Last year it was their bats that powered their run, but they’ve become a much more balanced side since winning the World Series.

In the American League East, the Red Sox and Yankees are in a battle at the top of the division after both went on early-season tears. Boston won 17 of their first 19 games to take the lead, but New York had a run of their own with 17 victories in 18 contests to surge back. The rivals rank one and two in the league, in some order, in runs, slugging percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging). With how well each team is doing, it’s possible there may be a 100-win side fighting for their life in the AL Wild Card Game.

Yankees

Which stars have shined the brightest?

Speaking of the Red Sox, Mookie Betts has arguably been the best player in baseball this season. The 25-year-old leads the league in batting average (.365), on-base percentage (.438), slugging (.760), OPS (1.198), home runs (15), runs (48) and doubles (19), while being sure-handed in right field.

It’s only arguable that Betts has been the best player because Mike Trout has a strong case himself. The Los Angeles Angels star doesn’t have the same batting stats as Betts, but his WAR (wins above replacement) is higher (3.9 to 3.6) thanks to his superb defence and all-around game. In fact, Trout is on pace to have the greatest season in MLB history based on WAR, as detailed here.

Trout

Other standouts so far have been Astros starter Justin Verlander, who is 5-2 with a 1.05 ERA; Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer, who is 7-1 with a 1.78 ERA; Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, who is hitting .343 with 14 home runs and 42 runs batted in; and Red Sox outfielder J.D. Martinez, who is hitting .343 with 15 home runs and 14 RBIs.

What have been some of the biggest surprises?

He could have easily been mentioned in the last section, but Angels two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani has surprised from this standpoint: he’s completely lived up to the hype, and then some. The Japanese slugger and flamethrower is hitting .321 with six home runs and 17 RBIs, while going 3-1 on the mound with a 3.58 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.

The Atlanta Braves have also been a surprise – specifically their offence. After ranking 21st in runs scored last season, the Braves are currently third thanks to a mix of youth and experience, as players like Ozzie Albies, Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman have been forces at the plate.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ offence has also exceeded expectations as they’re on pace to win more than 78 games for the first time since in three years. The loss of franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen has been mitigated by Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, Francisco Cervelli and others.

Pirates

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