- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
In time, a baseball season will reveal itself.
As Major League Baseball’s 2022 campaign eases past the quarter mark and lurches toward the All-Star break, we’ve learned a lot – about potential super teams, and a superstar putting on an MVP-caliber contract drive and perhaps most notably, a set of baseballs that defiantly stay inside the ballpark after sunning themselves in a humidor.
This year brings two more playoff berths to fight for, meaning few, if any teams, are totally out of it as June approaches. Still, we know a lot more now than we did on March, er, April 7. With that, a look at the top 30 things we learned as the Memorial Day checkpoint arrives:
1. There’s no catching the Mets: We are far beyond the new vibe and the magical first-year manager that heralded this team’s startling 29-15 start. This club is very well-constructed, with Steve Cohen’s quick-twitch checkbook yielding Max Scherzer and GM Billy Eppler spending mere mortal money the right way (really, who didn’t see Mark Canha’s .370 OBP coming?). Scherzer and Jacob deGrom’s injuries gave fodder for the false “lol Mets” narrative but they have survived both with aplomb. It doesn’t much matter that they keep up a 102-win pace, because…
2. The Braves are having a hangover year: Great team, still. Another emerging ace in Kyle Wright. More Ronald Acuña Jr. will make them better. Yet the defending World Series champs still haven’t won three in a row this season, the picture of inconsistency if ever there was one. No, it’s not sensible to count the Braves out. And it’s not as if they’re unresponsive and flat after morphing from an 88-win team to a squad hovering near .500. But Braves left fielders, center fielders and designated hitters rank 14th, 14th and 11th in the NL. Acuña can’t play everywhere; can rookie Michael Harris save them? This time, a September surge probably won’t be enough to run down the very good team above them.
3. Rebuilding – not so easy: A cynical sell-off of heroes (2016 Cubs) and sign-stealing scandal (2017 Astros) didn’t help the postscript for teams that perfected the art of tanking. Yet the mighty struggles of the Tigers (16-28) and Nationals (16-30) show us just how challenging those feats were. Detroit is five years removed from its #pivot to rebuilding, has a gaggle of young pitchers and a top rookie in slugger Spencer Torkelson. Yet the Tigers will be lucky to finish fourth in their division, as Torkelson is batting .175 and $140 million shortstop Javy Baez (.204/.248/.321) is having a rough adjustment to a new league. In Washington, the farm system remains a consensus bottom third in prospects, the current squad an unappealing mix of short-term veterans and marginal pitching hopefuls. Yeah, turning that ship around ain’t so easy.
4. No country for young men: The hitters, that is. Torkelson is one of several anticipated rookies or young sluggers who started the year in the majors, service time be damned, and were expected to mash forever, continuing a pattern set by juniors Vlad Guerrero and Fernando Tatis, and Bryce Harper and Mike Trout before them. Instead, in the worst offensive environment in decades, the minors might look more appealing. Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. began the year in a 10-for-54 funk (.185) and needed 80 at-bats to hit his first homer after slamming 33 in the minors last year. Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who struggled through parts of last year, returned to Class AAA with a .140 average and .219 OBP. Of course, there are certain factors beyond the kids' control, most notably ...
5. The baseball is a sad, soggy mess: Sure, you’ve had to run the AC a couple of times, but there’s still plenty of rain and a little chill across the country. The dog days will arrive soon enough. Yet we don’t believe it’s too early to chalk up MLB’s latest effort to control the baseball as an experiment gone bad. Pitchers hate it. Hitters are seeing balls die on the warning track. And the warming summer months should tell us if the problem was using a humidor to store balls early in the season – resulting in an offensive outage.
6. This will be the worst offensive season of your lifetime: Assuming you’re, like, 53 or younger. The aforementioned ball malfunction helped send averages tumbling to a record low .233 into the first week of this month. It’s since “corrected” to .238, though the climbing will be tougher as the sample grows. For now, 2022 is sandwiched between 1968 (Year of the Pitcher, prompted a lower mound, etc.) and 1898/1908 among the worst averages of all time. The .692 OPS is worst in a non-strike year since 1976 (.681). Is it the balls? Hopefully we find out, if only to clarify the need – or lack thereof – for incoming changes designed to stimulate offense.
7. The Padres move better in silence: Years of seemingly endless hype created the most disappointing third-place team in quite some time last year, when San Diego won 79 games and finished 28 games behind the Giants in the NL West. Nothing a Tatis absence can’t help, apparently. Minus their superstar shortstop but with possible Hall of Fame manager Bob Melvin in tow, the Padres are 28-16, including a 10-5 mark in one-run games (they were 21-26 a year ago). NL MVP is Manny Machado’s to lose, which would make “Slam Diego” a frivolous memory.
8. We’ve already seen the best in Sho: Let’s put to rest the “What can Shohei Ohtani do for an encore?” talk and realize we’ve seen the greatest year he’ll have. And that’s OK! Ohtani the hitter (46 homers, .965 OPS, 4.9 WAR) and Ohtani the pitcher (10.8 strikeouts per nine, 3.18 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) coalesced into a 2021 that put Babe Ruth to shame. Now, please just appreciate and enjoy a man who’s still hitting (nine homers, 123 adjusted OPS) and pitching (3.45 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) better than almost anyone.
9. The Orioles’ misery is easing: Not ending. But certainly easing. Baltimore is still just 19-27, but Adley Rutschman’s arrival, Jorge Mateo’s emergence and some competent, consistent pitching not seen on Eutaw Street this decade means GM Mike Elias’ Process is lurching forward. Their -33 run differential is a far cry from being 68 runs underwater this time a year ago.
10. Money’s not everything: Competence is. But money sure helps. Yet big spending paired with rudderless leadership is usually a recipe for disaster and that’s what we’re seeing in Texas. The franchise has taken a turn south under owner Ray Davis’ decade-plus reign, only now it comes with a shiny new stadium and a half-billion dollar infield after his splurges on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, who hits this holiday checkpoint batting .194 with and just one home run - finally, on Saturday - after belting 45 a year ago.
11. Aaron Judge is making the Yankees pay: Quite literally. We’ll see if the sides reengage on contract talks but for now, Judge’s 17 homers and 1.028 OPS in the face of a grim offensive environment shows just how rare his big power paired with the ability to play center field really is. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea for the club to publicly throw that $213 million contract offer out there.
12. A Juan Soto extension won’t work out: The parlor game of trade rumors and extension talk can’t be contested without irrational anger and blame, right? Well, it’s hard to point fingers in the Soto Saga, which will hang over the Nationals for two more seasons. The 22-year-old slugger famously turned down a $350 million offer from the Nationals in the off-season, and now the club’s desultory start and uncertain future means there’s two strikes against him agreeing to stay long-term. No. 1 is money: Soto will join Bryce Harper and Manny Machado as the only players this century to hit free agency at age 26. And No. 2 is competitive: The Nationals are seeking new ownership and their farm system is fallow. In short: Enjoy and appreciate this man.
13. Freddie Freeman is different: And not just because he’s well worth the $162 million deal from the Dodgers, or that he has the ability to seamlessly integrate himself into a powerhouse squad without so much as a shrug. No, his wizardry with the bat, his ability to hit to all fields and with power only stands out more with each year. Freeman’s .307 batting average is right in line with his .305 mark in more than 3,000 at-bats since 2016. But now he’s hitting 69 points better than the league average.
14. Both reigning Cy Young winners are unvaccinated: Funny what a three-game series in Toronto can reveal. The Mariners signed lefty Robbie Ray to a $115 million deal yet could not pitch him at Rogers Centre, left at home due to stringent protocols in Canada. Those protocols were not in place in 2021, when Ray won a Cy Young award before the Blue Jays pivoted away from him last winter. Last year’s NL winner, Corbin Burnes, missed a pair of 2021 starts with a case of COVID-19 that nearly dented his innings total enough to cost him the award.
15. The new playoff format is creating discord: One veteran player recently admitted he’s not even sure who makes the playoffs under MLB’s new format. Come September, though, everyone should know the stakes, and in this final year of the unbalanced schedule, there will be gripes. Most notably: There’s a decent chance division champs from the floundering Central divisions will receive first-round byes, thanks in part to fattening up on three losing teams who are already five to 15 games below .500. Next year, everyone will play everyone at least once, which will help. But there will always be gripes.
16. Coastal elites rule: It’s the law of this jungle: More revenue, more want, more pressure resides on either side of the country, and thus the AL East and NL West are dominating, exacerbated by Tampa Bay’s smarts and Toronto’s “win curve” trending upward. The Yankees (33-14) and Dodgers (32-14) have been baseball’s best teams, but three AL East teams are above .500 with the Red Sox nearly even and the aforementioned Orioles respectable. The fourth- and fifth-place NL West teams are just a collective six games under .500.
17. Tim Anderson is that dude: If anything’s worse than being subjected to a reductive slur of “Jackie” for three years, it’s hearing it chanted by fans booing you once you dare raise objection to it. That’s what makes Anderson’s crowd-sushing three-run home run at Yankee Stadium the night after his Josh Donaldson problem was revealed so remarkable. Hard enough to stay cool under such circumstances. Even harder to perform at the highest level.
18. Hitting’s not dead: Anderson brings us to our favorite stat of this quarter-season: He is hitting .354 with a .392 OBP – and has just six walks. Anderson is famously unapologetic about hitting his way on in an era of three true outcomes, and he trails only J.D. Martinez (.379) in batting average. Of the 14 players with an OPS of at least .900, only Houston’s Yordan Alvarez (.254) is hitting worse than .290.
19. Great players stay great: Remember when Martinez had to wait until Valentine’s Day to accept a five-year, $110 million deal from Boston in 2018, the “industry” clearly fearful of decline? In Year 1 of that contract, Martinez led the majors in total bases (358) and RBI (130), finished fourth in MVP voting and won a World Series. In Year 5, his 1.036 OPS trails only Mike Trout. It hasn’t all been linear greatness for five years, but it’s proof that long-term deals can, in fact, be investments.
20. Bloodlines rule: As July’s draft approaches and a consensus top 20 emerges, just another reminder that having a Hall of Fame caliber-player or a major coach usually means a huge advantage. Baseball's top three draft prospects, led by Druw Jones (son of Andruw), five of the top 10 and nine of the top 20 have connections to former major league or NFL players or college coaches. Feeling old? The sons of former Steelers tight end Eric Green and Rockies/Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday should be off the board before the 10th pick.
21. Josh Hader is an MVP-caliber reliever: Courtesy of our friends at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Brewers are 103-61 in one-run games since 2018, which was Hader’s first All-Star season and also marked the first of Milwaukee's four consecutive playoff berths that will stretch to five this year. Hader has given up no earned runs this season and just three hits in 14 ⅔ innings. Always the subject of trade rumors, the Brewers are better off keeping him around and the ninth inning locked down.
22. Elite shortstops grow on trees: Really. Remember when last winter’s star-studded shortstop class – subtracted by one when Lindor agreed with the Mets – seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime convergence? Well, next winter’s bunch will be almost as good, thanks largely to Carlos Correa’s opt-out after the first of his $35 million seasons in Minnesota. Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson – yeah, those who missed on the ’21-’22 bonanza will get another crack at improving up the middle.
23. Shane McClanahan may be the best Rays hurler ever: It’s an impressive lineage of dudes drafted, acquired, developed, extended and then traded: From James Shields to David Price to Wade Davis to Chris Archer and many more. Now, McClanahan has emerged as possibly the best hurler in the AL: First in strikeouts (74), third in WHIP (0.88), tops among starters in whiff percentage on his slider (45.6%). Consider the clock started on the Rays’ chances to try and extend him long term.
24. The Astros can catch the ball: And maybe that’s why they contend every year? They’re in the black on Statcast’s outs above average at five of seven field positions, led by Jeremy Pena and Jose Siri, who lead Houston’s charge with 7 OAAs at shortstop and center field. Alex Bregman and Co. are fairly neutral (-1) at third base, while the Astros can shrug at Yordan Alvarez’s -3 in left knowing it’s a short porch and his better than .900 OPS will make up for it.
25. Adam Wainwright and Zack Greinke will pitch forever: Well, technically we already knew that. But when these two right-handers on opposite ends of Missouri can largely flourish without striking anyone out? That only confirms it. Wainwright, 40, has fashioned a 3.12 ERA, one year after going 17-7 with a 3.05 ERA, while striking out 38 batters in 52 innings. His average fastball? Eighty-nine mph. That’s the same average velo as Greinke, 38, who has punched out just 23 batters in 47 ⅔ innings. While he totes a 4.53 ERA, he’s soaked up 47 ⅔ innings, second on a young Royals staff that badly needs them.
26. Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols will hit forever: OK, this one is tougher, but it’s been gratifying to see the two greatest right-handed hitters of their time bag a few more milestones and finish strong. Cabrera notched his 3,000th hit April 23, joining Pujols as two of just seven players to pair 3,000 hits with 500 home runs. Miggy seems galvanized: He’s batting .300 with a .754 OPS, his best mark since his most recent All-Star season of 2018. Pujols, who at 42 makes the 39-year-old Cabrera seem spry, has hit four homers in his victory lap as the Cardinals’ right-handed DH, his second pit stop as beloved elder since the Angels dumped him one year and two weeks ago.
27. It’s not easy attending A’s games: The poem is called The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but its famous line is more analogous to another AL West team: “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Sounds like an afternoon at the Oakland Coliseum, where the A’s have drawn 10 crowds between 2,500 and 5,000 – yet remain aggressive in preventing fans from moving to the thousands of available, superior seats. Perhaps they should let the fans roam freely, appreciative that they navigated brutal traffic, overpriced parking, a terrible team and the ever-present threat of relocation to be there. Sheesh.
28. Bold trades are good: We’ve been tracking this one since 2019: Zac Gallen for Jazz Chisholm Jr. This so-called “challenge trade” has worked out brilliantly for all, Gallen with a 2.22 ERA, Chisholm a .921 OPS, both probably bound for the All-Star Game, the Diamondbacks and Marlins both plenty happy. Let’s see many more like it.
29. “The MLB” is inevitable: Players say it. Many kids know it by no other name. Much to Rob Manfred’s chagrin, his league will colloquially be known as “the MLB,” joining “the MLS” as organizations that will go to their grave screaming, “Don’t call me that!”
30. Don’t mess with fantasy football: Tommy Pham’s ridiculous slap of Joc Pederson brought to the surface the No. 1 game behind the game – clubhouse fantasy football. These often-high stakes leagues dominate the discourse once August rolls around, which means Pham and his Reds teammates should have plenty of time for draft prep.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB at Memorial Day: 30 things we've learned in baseball's 2022 season