"Talkin' Baseball" with Matt Ambrose: Six Weeks of SurprisesDate: May 15, 2017
May 15th. Six weeks into the 2017 Major League Baseball season. To put it lightly, things have been a bit wacky to begin the season.
If I had told you before the start of the season that on May 15th, the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies would be in first place in their divisions, the San Francisco Giants would be nine games out in their division, and the defending champion Chicago Cubs would be in fourth place in the NL Central, you would have smacked me straight across the face.
And I wouldn't blame you.
But that's the reality of the Major League Baseball landscape right now. The Minnesota Twins are leading the AL Central by one game over the Cleveland Indians, and they're doing it with a losing record at home.
Yes you read that right. The Twins are 8-10 at Target Field this season, compared to 11-5 away from the Twin Cities.
So what's been working for the Twins so far this year? They're 20th as a team in runs scored, 17th in batting average, and in the middle of the pack in every major offensive category. The same can be said for the pitching – 14th in ERA, 16th in batting average against, and dead last in strikeouts. Where is this success coming from?
For the Twins, two guys have been leading the charge: Miguel Sano and Ervin Santana. Sano leads the Twins in every single major offensive statistical category, with the exception of at-bats and doubles. He is hitting .297 with 10 homers and 30 RBI's, and his OPS currently sits at 1.106. His 2.1 WAR won't jump off the page at you, however none of Sano's teammates have a WAR above 0.9. Offensively, the Twins live and die by the bat of Miguel Sano.
On the mound, it has been the Ervin Santana show. He owns a 6-1 record with a 1.50 ERA (3rd in MLB), while also maintaining a WHIP of 0.81. He threw his fourth scoreless outing of the season on Friday night against the Indians, in which he gave up just two hits in seven innings. People often forget how good of a pitcher this guy really is. After coming up with the Angels in 2005, he has logged 200+ innings five times in his 13-year career, and came just four innings shy of a sixth 200-inning season in 2014. He has had six sub-4.00 ERA seasons, including each of his last three full seasons. He's no Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax, but Ervin Santana has been just what the Twins have needed to find a resurgence so far in 2017.
Then there's the other surprise team, and oddly enough the team the Twins will begin a three-game series with this week: the Colorado Rockies. This Rockies offense has been on fire this season, as they are in the top-10 in runs scored, as well as in the top half of the majors in home runs and team batting average. Of the seven Rockies hitters who have collected 100+ at-bats this season, only two have a batting average below .270.
Of those scorching hot Rockies, the hottest of them all has been Mark Reynolds. Reynolds leads the club with a .326 average, and his 12 home runs and 33 RBI's are tied for fourth and third in the majors, respectively. Reynolds is already two home runs shy of surpassing his total from all 117 games he played in last season, and his .294 average in his 155 total games with the Rockies is by far his best average with any of the seven teams he has played for during his 11-year career.
The offense is hardly in question for the Rockies due to the elements in Denver, however this is where the pitching typically finds its downfall. Let me just rattle off all the pitchers the Rockies have used as starters this season: Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman. None of those names give off a particular wow-factor, and considering Jon Gray went on the disabled list back in mid-April, the pitching looked to be headed towards another downward spiral.
This has not been the case, however, as it has been the rookies Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland that have stepped to the forefront of this rotation and have performed at very high levels. Senzatela leads the team in wins, innings pitched and WHIP, while Freeland's 2.93 ERA leads the club as well. They have been the saving grace of a pitching staff that has been looking for answers for several years now. Once Jon Gray returns, the Rockies suddenly have a solid foundation that could continue to make some noise in the NL West.
Now from the surprisingly good to the surprisingly bad, the San Francisco Giants are perhaps the biggest disappointment of the season so far. Point all the fingers you want at Madison Bumgarner and the dirt bike accident. It doesn't matter. This team is bad with or without him. Their pitching took an obvious hit, as they sit in the bottom third of the league in ERA and opponent's batting average.
It didn't start well for the Giants, as they got out to a 1-5 start. The team's record was 6-10 when Bumgarner went down with the injury that will keep him out until after the All-Star Break. Since then, they have gone 9-14, and what looks to be a deep rotation on paper has been anything but. Johnny Cueto has done the best job for the Giants, posting a 4.15 ERA in 52 innings this season, whereas fellow starters Matt Cain, Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija have combined to post a 5.21 ERA this season.
The offense has been lackluster as well in the Bay Area. Other than Buster Posey, who is hitting .370 and has an OPS of 1.026, the bats have been quiet for the Giants. Guys who are expected to produce have been falling short, such as Hunter Pence and his .243/.289/.338 slash line. Or what about Brandon Belt, who though he is leading the team in home runs with seven, is still batting .221 for the year.
The Giants as a team rank dead last in the majors in home runs, second to last in runs scored, and are tied for the second worst on-base percentage at .286. The Giants are simply not a good baseball team, something that many (myself included, I had them winning the pennant) did not see coming. Don't be shocked to see this team selling off some pieces come July 31st.
It's been a wild first six weeks of the regular season. As for this upcoming week, my eyes will be glued to that Twins-Rockies series that begins at Target Field on Tuesday night. Yours should be too.
Matt Ambrose is a journalism major from Exeter, N.H. and an Assistant Sports Director at 89.5 FM WSOU. He can be found on Twitter @mambrose97 and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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