We're just three weeks into the MLB season and intriguing storylines are already emerging. Are the Rays for real? Are the Braves back? And are the A's really that bad? Those are just a few of the questions that come to mind as we approach the final week of April. Here's a look at several teams to keep an eye on as the diamond action begins to heat up.
Sleepless in Seattle
The Mariners were a sleeper pick by many to not only win the American League West but perhaps contend for a World Series title in 2023. While it's still way too early to jump to any conclusions, there's no denying it's been a rough start for last year's upstart team. Seemingly built for the ballpark they play the majority of their games in, the Mariners offense has mysteriously struggled to find any sort of consistency in the early going. They enter Thursday's action ranked 24th in the majors in team batting average, 21st in hits and 19th in runs scored. In a flipped script, their pitching has actually been terrific. Seattle sits top-10 in team ERA and hits allowed and a respectable 14th in runs given up. Only six teams have recorded a better WHIP. The schedule won't get any easier over the next couple of weeks as the Mariners welcome St. Louis for a three-game set before hitting the road for a difficult two-stop, six-game trip that will see them face the Phillies and Mariners. Even in May, Seattle will open with a three-game set against the lowly A's but then have to face the Astros and Rangers in succession. Again, it's early and the M's are still just 4.5 games back of the first-place Rangers in the A.L. West. If their offense can wake up in the coming weeks, they should once again become a club we'll be looking to bet on rather than bet against.
Guardians of the galaxy
We've made some money backing the Guardians, not to mention the 'over' in several of their recent games as I think their offense is being severely undervalued thanks to some poor metrics. Yes, Cleveland ranks a miserable 29th in baseball in home runs and in the bottom-third in run production. However, when the Guardians face a pitcher that puts batters on base on a regular basis, they can excel. That's because no team has been more aggressive on the basepaths and they have speed to burn with a Major League-leading 29 stolen bases to date. I think it's only a matter of time before the power numbers get better and when that happens, this offense has the potential to go off. Few teams put more pressure on opposing pitchers with runners on base and we certainly saw evidence of that in last weekend's series in Washington. Note that Cleveland's pitching staff has been rock solid, ranking in the top-half of the majors in ERA, WHIP and home runs allowed. I have the Guardians slated as a bet on team in the coming weeks, especially when you consider their next three series' will come against opponents with a combined 22-33 record this season.
The N.L. West has been one of the more interesting divisions in baseball so far this season with the upstart Diamondbacks leading the way with an 11-8 record. You may remember from a previous article, I suggested locking in the D'Backs at a generous price to win the N.L. West prior to the start of the regular season, even if it was a longshot at best. While it's still early, there's no question the Snakes are proving they can hang with the big boys (ie. the Padres and Dodgers). In fact, both the Dodgers and Padres currently own losing records on the campaign. While that's unlikely to last, I don't think the Snakes are going away any time soon. Arizona enters Thursday's series-opener against San Diego ranking inside the top-10 in hits, batting average and slugging percentage, not to mention sixth in stolen bases. As expected, the D'Backs pitching staff has been a mixed-bag but there's reason for optimism given what we've seen from the likes of Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly at the front of the rotation. When you can trot out guys of that calibre two out of every five games you're going to be alright.
Meet the Mets
As expected, the Mets find themselves near the top of the N.L. East heap as we head into the third week of the regular season. New York sits just two games back of the first-place Braves thanks to a 9-3 surge that culminated with a series with over the Dodgers in Los Angeles to start the week. Remember, it was just two weeks ago that the sky was falling in Queens after the Mets were swept (and outscored by a 26-6 margin) in a three-game series in Milwaukee. A six-game homestand seemingly vaulted them into their most recent road trip that saw them plate 37 runs in six games against Oakland and aforementioned Los Angeles. Keep in mind, New York is still waiting for prized offseason acquisition Justin Verlander to make his regular season debut after he was put on the shelf with a shoulder injury. He's getting closer to returning, scheduled to make a minor league rehab start a week from Friday. In the meantime, the Mets pitching staff ranks top-10 in baseball in runs and hits allowed helping to minimize the damage as they do sit a miserable 27th in home runs given up with 28. The offense has been as advertised for the most part, getting on base with some consistency but not hitting for a great deal of power, currently sitting 13th in the majors in runs scored. New York will close out its California road trip with a four-game set in San Francisco beginning on Thursday.