This early into the season, what have we learned?
Don’t be silly — the season’s 162 games long. We haven’t learned anything yet. But, we’ve seen some trends that, if they continue, should be fun to follow over the course of the season:
Four out of the five teams in the AL Central have plus run differentials, with the outlier being the Tigers at -25. We knew the Indians, Twins and White Sox would be contenders this year, but is there room for one more? The 4-3 Royals are off to a fine start, though we’ll probably know more about where they fit into the picture after their upcoming three-team homestand against the Angels, Blue Jays and Rays — all contenders.
In the AL East, is it too soon to say the Red Sox are back? A 6-3 record and a +15 run differential is a good way to make a statement, though to be fair, six of those games were against the rebuilding Orioles. But the Sox dominated against the Rays in between, outscoring Tampa Bay, 26-9.
And just look at the shocking developments unfolding in the NL West. Just kidding — that one’s going as expected. The Dodgers and Padres are dominating, with two of the better run differentials (+23 and +16, respectively) in baseball. The teams meet for the first time this weekend (April 16-18) in San Diego.
Biggest jump: The Reds jumped a whopping 11 spots, from No. 19 to No. 8. This is what happens when teams actually play games — real life tends to negate preseason prognostications. Even with a series loss to the D-backs over the weekend, Cincinnati’s offense has been red hot; it entered the finale in Arizona Sunday leading the Majors in batting average (.289), slugging (.518) and runs scored (66).
Biggest drop: The A’s dropped five spots, from No. 12 to No. 17. Oakland salvaged a little of its early season mojo by taking two of three from the Astros this weekend, a welcome reversal of fortune after an absolutely dreadful start to the season. Their -32 run differential is last in the Majors.
1. Dodgers (1 previous ranking)
Clayton Kershaw turned in a second consecutive dominant outing on Sunday with six scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 3-0 win over Max Scherzer and the Nationals. In his past two starts, Kershaw has allowed one run over 13 innings with 14 strikeouts. Dodgers starting pitchers are now 6-0 with a 1.61 ERA over their past eight games, and the team is off to an 8-2 start for the second time in three years.
2. Padres (2)
A history-making weekend in Arlington began with San Diego native Joe Musgrove throwing the first no-hitter in Padres history, and it ended with a 2-0 win to complete the sweep over the Rangers. The Friars are 7-3 to start the season and are enjoying strong contributions from all corners of the roster. On Sunday, it was the bullpen that dominated, hurling 8 1/3 scoreless innings following an early exit by injured starter Adrian Morejon.
3. Yankees (3)
The Yankees have had the least impressive showing of the teams that made our top five, and we’ll soon find out if there’s more to this than just a prototypical slow start. This week will feature a repeat of two series against teams they dropped series to the first time around — they open a series with the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., beginning Monday, and then they’ll host a weekend series with the Rays.
4. Twins (6)
It’s always fun when the Twins crack our top five, because it gives us a chance to gush about the ageless Nelson Cruz. The fun facts are endless: He’s 40, he takes naps in the middle of the day, his nickname is Boomstick, and … ah yes, he’s off to a great start in 2021. Cruz has hits in all six games he’s started this year and already has four homers — one off the pace of teammate Byron Buxton, whose five long balls are tied for the MLB lead.
5. Astros (11)
The Astros made quite a bold statement when they opened the season by outscoring the A’s, 35-9, while executing a four-game sweep in Oakland. Now they hit a softer part of their April schedule, with a week’s worth of games against the Tigers, Mariners and Rockies. Veteran newcomer Jake Odorizzi is set to join the rotation this week and should make his season debut on Tuesday vs. A.J. Hinch’s Tigers.
The rest of the field of 30:
Voters: Alyson Footer, Anthony Castrovince, Jesse Sanchez, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn.