Hello, and welcome to my annual column, "Grant looks at monthly splits and points out the players and teams that were good or bad in May." That's really all it is, and I'm sorry to ruin the illusion, but this is one of the easier columns of the year. It's not without its purpose, though.
When baseball starts in April, we've had five months of imaginary baseball. The Boston Red Sox winning games with David Price. The Arizona Diamondbacks winning games with Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller. We've played the season over and over and over in our minds, ending with whatever standings we've predicted, but there's never new evidence to support them. Once the moves are made, the moves are made, and we just loop our imaginary outcomes.
Then April comes, and there's new evidence. NEW EVIDENCE. So we shoehorn the new evidence into our assumptions and opinions. It's kind of like a producer coming onto a movie set and yelling, "Hey, this movie should have mermaids! But don't change the production schedule." And the tender romance in space suddenly has mermaids, and we're forced to pretend it's all still cohesive. Then the lead actor says, "I think my character shouldn't just be the captain of the starship, he should be the juggling captain of the starship," and everyone agrees and keeps shooting, making changes as they go.
That's how we start thinking April is making an indelible point about the 2016 baseball season. It probably is not. At least, not always. So here are the stories we'd be perseverating on after a month of baseball if April didn't exist. We've already forgotten about spring training. What if we forgot about April?
Sample headline: The Brewers just might be good this season
We've played a month of baseball, and most of the bad teams have proven that they're unequivocally bad. The Atlanta Braves are eight games under .500, and they're lucky to be that close. The Cincinnati Reds are 12 games under .500, and their team ERA is above 6.00. The Philadelphia Phillies are 12-16, and they have the worst offense in baseball. The Minnesota Twins, the San Diego Padres, the Colorado Rockies ... where are the unexpectedly good teams?
There, a glimmer! From underneath the rubble, the Milwaukee Brewers are over .500 and just 3½ games behind the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, which is one of baseball's tightest divisions. The Brewers are pitching well enough, sure, but it's the lineup that's turning heads. They're fourth in the NL in runs created so far this season, with Jonathans Lucroy and Villar making bids for the early-season MVP. Aaron Hill has an OPS over 1.000, and he's walked as often as he's struck out. Ryan Braun is as good as he's ever been, which is saying a lot.
There's an unexpected team that contends deep into the season every year, sometimes even making the postseason without a single preseason prediction pegging them to be over .500. It looks like this year, it's the Brewers' turn.
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Sample headline: Did Bryce Harper turn into Adam Dunn?
Bryce Harper was the unanimous MVP last season, having one of the greatest offensive seasons of the decade. He was just 22, too, about the age of a blue-chip prospect making his debut. That didn't just add to his mystique -- it made him a fascinating, rare specimen in baseball history that we got to study. What if he got even better?
What this column presupposes is, maybe he didn't?
Don't mistake this for dirt being shoveled on Harper's career. It's not that, not even close. His OBP is still .400. He's still shown enough patience to walk 31 times in 116 plate appearances, which suggests he'll go on a tear soon.
But how can you not worry a little bit? He's right at the Mendoza Line, and that can't all be bad luck. What's more worrisome is the relative lack of power. He's at four home runs, which is fine and dandy, but he's hit just one double, and his slugging percentage is a modest .363.
It's possible that he's pressing, trying to live up to his historic 2015 season. It's also possible that the league has figured something out, a youthful tic that will require a counter-adjustment.
Those counter-adjustments don't always have to come, you know.
Don't be worried about Harper just yet. Just be worried that you might have to be worried about Harper soon. This isn't the player we saw last year, and there's no end in sight.
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Sample headline: There is nothing unusual going on with the Astros
The Houston Astros are 17-12 and a half-game out of first place in the AL West. This is a weird idea for an article, but my editor insisted for some reason. Okay, we'll try to make it work.
The AL West might be the best race in baseball, with the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, and Astros all at the top, playing well. This is pretty much what we expected before the season started, with the only real surprise is that the Mariners are hitting like the '76 Reds. Still, this is about what we expected?
Where's the hook? Why is this news? Sometimes I don't get this job.
There are reasons for the rest of the league to be scared, too. Carlos Correa has slumped for most of the month. Dallas Keuchel has been mostly forgettable, and so has Lance McCullers. All of those players could catch fire.
When they do, they'll support a pitching staff that leads the American League in FIP and the world in WAR. The Doug Fister gamble looks like the offseason's greatest steal. Jose Altuve and George Springer are good enough to carry a lineup, but that's ignoring the contributions of Jason Castro and Luis Valbuena, who might be All-Stars.
The Astros were in the postseason last year. Why should it be news that they're good again? I'll file this story, but I don't have to be happy about it.
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Sample headline: Clayton Kershaw is awesome ... but so is CC Sabathia
Clayton Kershaw struck out 65 batters and walked two in his first 49⅔ innings this year. That's like a baseball stat line that Google translated incorrectly from Esperanto. He's the best pitcher in baseball, and it's why he's the proud owner of a 0.91 ERA, which is the lowest in the NL, obviously.
The lowest ERA in the AL? That belongs to CC Sabathia, whose 1.04 mark is hinting at a Hollywood-worthy comeback. The complete games and shutouts aren't there yet -- and he missed two starts out of spring training -- but he's reeling off quality start after quality start, doing his best to keep the New York Yankees relevant.
The Yankees are 16-13, just 2½ games behind the division-leading Red Sox, and unexpected gifts like the Sabathiassance are giving them hope. What if, instead of being a sunk cost, Sabathia were actually good this year? What if he was every bit the pitcher who got the mega-contract in the first place? Just how good would the Yankees be?
It's still early, but there's no way the Yankees can't be pleased with Sabathia's start. He's preventing runs. He's missing bats. He's keeping runners off the bases. He's keeping the ball in the ballpark. It's been a dream start for the 2007 Cy Young winner and franchise cornerstone.
Clayton Kershaw's unbelievable stats since 2009
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Sample headline: The Giants are the best team in baseball -- but watch out for the Cubs, Red Sox and Dodgers
In the first month of the season, we've run the San Francisco Giants narrative into the ground. They have the best record in baseball. Their pitching has been among the best in baseball. All of their major free agent moves are working out. Every article is Giants this, Giants that. Every national broadcast is making sure to point out their 21-8 start, easily the best in the majors.
Don't sleep on the Cubs, though. Don't sleep on the Dodgers or Red Sox, either.
The Cubs are off to a great start at 18-10, don't get me wrong, but they can get even better. They were one of just three teams to allow fewer than 100 runs in the first month of the season (Dodgers, Giants), and they were second in runs scored, 11 runs behind the St. Louis Cardinals. That combination suggests that they are trending upward, not downward.
Now take the Dodgers, who have been supremely unlucky. They've allowed just two more runs than the Giants, but they've also scored 10 more runs. I don't understand how that translates to a 4½-game deficit, and the simple explanation is that it probably shouldn't. There will be a market adjustment, possibly as soon as next month.
Which brings us to the Red Sox, apparently the best offensive team we've seen in ... well, since last year's Toronto Blue Jays. All of their young players are hitting. Their pitching has been middle-of-the road, but they're absolutely blowing the rest of baseball away when it comes to runs scored (and runs created). The Red Sox have hit .305/.371/.525 as a team, with a 140 wRC+ -- the equivalent of every hitter on the roster being a top-15 hitter in baseball, essentially.
They're clearly an elite team, just like the Cubs and Dodgers might be. The Giants have been good, but there are reasons to wonder if they're something of a mirage. Look out for these potential super-teams. Maybe we'll be "Cubs this" and "Dodgers that" after a month.
You never know.