After two months, who’s still off to a good start. Stats through Thursday’s games; last rankings in parentheses:
1. Houston (2): After two months, Justin Verlander has a 1.11 ERA. If he keeps it up, even Bob Gibson, whose 1.12 ERA in 1968 is the lowest since Dutch Leonard’s 0.96 in 1914, might be impressed.
2. Boston (1): ESPN headline this week: “Yes, he’s amazing — but Mookie Betts still isn’t Mike Trout.” True that. Trout still has a better WAR, but on offense Betts has been better, batting .359 to Trout’s .302 and slugging 1.187 to Trout’s 1.108.
3. N.Y. Yankees (11): Giancarlo Stanton has only two more homers than rookie Gleyber Torres with nearly twice as many at-bats. Torres is batting .319 and slugging .593 and seems a good bet to be the AL Rookie of the Year. The Yankees have all the principals in the midseason 2016 trade with the Cubs — Torres, Aroldis Chapman, Adam Warren and Billy McKinney — but if it ended a 108-year-old drought, it was still a good trade for both.
4. Chicago Cubs (9): The Cubs tried to send Tommy La Stella to Iowa two years ago and La Stella went home to New Jersey, which is a curious way to avoid Iowa. It turns out La Stella was right. In 64 part-time at-bats, he’s hitting .344 with a .426 on-base percentage. The days of Jerry Lynch and Smokey Burgess and Manny Mota and the great pinch-hit specialists might be expiring, but not because of LaStella. He leads MLB with 11 pinch-hits, and is batting .440 off the bench.
5. Washington (12): Max Scherzer, who’s won the last two NL Cy Young Awards, has a good head start on a third. He leads the NL in wins (9-1), innings (79.2), strikeouts (120) and FIP (1.95); his 1.92 ERA and .546 OPS against don’t hurt. Scherzer is the only NL pitcher in the last two years to win 20 games (20 in 2016), and he’s on pace to do it again. The last NL pitcher who wasn’t Max Scherzer to win 20 games was Jake Arrieta in 2015.
6. Cleveland (7): Jose Ramirez started the season 1-for-25 and 2-for-33; since then he’s batting .346 with 17 homers and 17 doubles for a .302 total and 1.030 OPS.
7. Milwaukee (16): Josh Hader has fanned 66 in his first 33 innings, and his 18 strikeouts per nine innings are more than two better than Aroldis Chapman’s 15.81. Batters aren’t doing much against Hader when they make contact, hitting just .211 on balls in play. His .347 OPS against is second in MLB.
8. Atlanta (15): Nick Markakis hasn’t been an All-Star for his first 12 seasons, but with a .333 average, .405 on-base percentage, .501 slugging percentage and NL-highs in hits (74) and doubles (17), he’s a good bet to break that streak this year.
9. Philadelphia (17): Seranthony Dominguez is apparently well worthy of the honorific his name implies. He’s fanned 15 in his first 13.2 innings, allowed two hits and no walks, won one game and saved two others — both of those coming in retro two-inning appearances.
10. Seattle (20): The one Mariner who can’t afford to be hurt hasn’t been. Edwin Diaz leads MLB in saves with 19 and the AL in strikeouts by a reliever with 48 in 28.2 innings.
11. St. Louis (10): Cardinal leader in WAR among position players? Thanks to injuries, it’s sidelined shortstop Paul DeJong and rookie outfielder Harrison Bader at 1.7. In 104 plate appearances, Bader is batting .290 with an .847 OPS, but about half his value comes on defense, even though he’s only played in 42 of the team’s 54 games, and part-time in some of those. Injured pitcher Carlos Martinez is at 1.8, and injured catcher Yadier Molina (1.6) should pass Bader when he returns shortly.
12. L.A. Angels (4): Andrelton Simmons, a lifetime .269 hitter with a .700 OPS, is batting .337 with an .875 OPS (he hasn’t been hurt by a .339 average on balls in play, compared to a .282 lifetime mark). Last year’s Gold Glove winner trails only Francisco Lindor this year in runs saved at shortstop. So in a league with Lindor (311/383/579), Manny Machado (324/392/612), Carlos Correa (262/347/465) and Jean Segura (339/354/487), who gets left off the All-Star team? Besides Segura.
13. Arizona (3): Patrick Corbin, who has averaged 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings over his career, is averaging 11.7 this year, tied for fourth-best in MLB. In 121 starts previous to 2018, he had 6 double-figure strikeout games; in 12 starts this year he’s had three.
14. Colorado (18): You were expecting Ian Desmond? Adam Ottavino, who had a 5.06 ERA last year, has an 0.95 ERA this one with 45 strikeouts in 28.1 innings and an MLB-best .340 OPS against.
15. Tampa Bay (27): Former enigma Blake Snell has allowed just 47 hits in 70.1 innings and lowered his walk rate from 5.2 per nine innings as a rookie to 2.9. Not surprisingly, that’s resulted in career lows in ERA (2.56) and OPS against (.595).
16. L.A. Dodgers (8): Remember when the Dodgers and Braves exchanging Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp (and others) was a mutual salary dump? The Braves cut Gonzalez, and he’s a Met. The Dodgers kept Kemp, and he’s batting .343 and slugging .550. As for his defense, his two-month -0.3 WAR looks good compared to last year’s -2.2, but they’re not paying him $21 million for his glove.
17. Pittsburgh (13): Rookie Austin Meadows has four homers and eight extra-base hits and is slugging .814 in his first 44 at-bats; he had one homer and 11 extra-base hits and slugged .396 in 126 minor-league at bats this year, and five homers and 28 extra-base hits and a .384 slugging percentage in 318 minor-league at-bats last year. Gleyber Torres’ career high in homers in the minors was 11; he had 24 minor-league homers in 1,398 at-bats. Go ahead and tell us the minor-league and MLB balls are the same.
18. Oakland (19): Matt Chapman has fallen to a .228 average, but his defensive WAR of 1.6 in two months is equal to his offensive WAR for 84 games last year, and leads all of MLB in defensive value (Brett Gardner, Francisco Lindor and Orlando Arcia are next, tied at 1.2).
19. N.Y. Mets (5): With all the Mets who have been hurt, it’s hard to believe Brandon Nimmo hasn’t. He’s been hit by pitches eight times (only Nelson Cruz and Kris Bryant at nine have been hit more; four others have been hit eight times). When not being hit, Nimmo has been doing the hitting, slugging .574, walking 21 times and putting up a 1.005 OPS.
20. Detroit (22): The Tigers moved Nick Castellanos from third base to right field to improve his defense. Instead it’s his offense which has been bettered. Castellanos is still a negative on defense — -0.6 WAR — but his average has jumped 60 points over last year’s to .332, and he’s at career-highs in slugging (.514) and OPS (.890). He’s sixth in the AL batting race behind Betts (.359); thanks to Ty Cobb, Harry Heilmann and Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers have won 28.
21. San Francisco (21): Gorkys Hernandez had no homers last year in 310 at-bats, and five, including a breakout of three with the Marlins in 2012, in 525 at-bats in parts of four seasons before this year. Hernandez has six in 120 at-bats this year, is batting .300, and his .492 slugging percentage is 132 points better than the .360 for his career.
22. Toronto (6): If there’s no tariff, it seems certain J.A. Happ will be traded. He’s in the last year of his contract and pitching as he normally does. He has a .648 OPS against, a 3.84 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 65.2 innings for a team that’s 13.5 games out of first place, nine games out of the wild card and leaving the organization’s best hitter (Vladimir Guerrero, who’s 417/465/701) in Class AA when the parent team could use him.
23. Minnesota (14): Eddie Rosario isn’t picky — he’s walked eight times in 217 plate appearances — but he leads the Twins in average (.308), home runs (nine) and RBIs (33). He’s tied for ninth in walks, and still trails Jason Castro, who’s out for the season and hasn’t played since May 4, by one.
24. Texas (23): Bartolo Colon is in his 21st season, which means his career is about as old as his pitching opponent Friday, the Angels’ Jaime Barria, who was born nine months before Colon made his MLB debut. Colon has a 3.55 ERA and .684 OPS against this season, a considerable improvement over last year’s 6.48 ERA and .909 OPS against. Don’t expect it to last. Colon has a .210 average on balls in play, which has nowhere to go but up.
25. San Diego (26): Tyson Ross is the early leader for Comeback Player of the Year. After pitching to an 8.11 ERA over the last two post-throacic-outlet-syndrome-surgery seasons, he has a 3.29 ERA, .624 OPS against and 68 strikeouts in 65.2 innings.
26. Kansas City (28): Why was it again that Mike Moustakas settled for a one-year, $9 million contract ($6.5 million and $2.5 mill more for getting 225 plate appearances) with the Royals? He’s hitting .280 and slugging .518; now that Ryan Flaherty has stopped hitting, how that would look at third base in Atlanta?
27. Chicago White Sox (24): After pitching to a 5.99 ERA over his first two White Sox seasons, James Shields is down to 4.54 and pitching better than that, as his .627 OPS attests. It’s understandable that Shields is still a sore point for White Sox fans, 1.) because he probably can’t maintain this year’s succes, as a career-low .255 average on balls in play suggests, and 2.) he was traded for Padres prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., who will likely be an All-Star long after Shields is off the Hall of Fame ballot.
28. Baltimore (25): Manny Machado is not the defender at shortstop (-0.3 WAR) he was at third base (11.4 over the last six years, with a high of 4.4), but that’s won’t hurt his trade value while he’s hitting .324 and slugging .612.
29. Cincinnati (29): Eugenio Suarez signed a $66 million, seven year contract extension in spring training. So far he’s been a bargain for the Reds, batting .306, slugging .599 and ranking second in the NL in OPS (minimum 150 plate appearances) with a .982 OPS.
30. Miami (30): Manager Don Mattingly says he’ll handle Brad Ziegler “differently” after Ziegler turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 loss on Wednesday. It’s a good thing Mattingly said so or no one might have noticed for a week, when the Marlins are in position to win again. The next closer is likely to be Kyle Barraclough, who has a 1.48 ERA, .485 OPS against and just nine hits allowed in 24.1 innings.