It’s funny; we analysts wait throughout the off season for regular season games to begin so that we can have meaningful stats to write about and then once the season does begin, we have to hold off further still until decent sample sizes can be established. Still, though everything comes with menacing caveats of sample size warnings, I will forage on. For now, a look at two teams that surprised me from the first week of play:
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals seemed a bit underrated coming into the season. Many people concluded that the Cubs were the class of the National League, much less the NL Central. While that may still portend to be true, there is always the case of the Wild Card and a weak class of divisional foes. The Brewers are suffering from a lack of pitching depth (as are many many teams it seems) and their offense just doesn’t seem as up to the task as the Cardinals’ is.
That offense for St. Louis has certainly shown up early in the season. Albert Pujols is no surprise, but fast starts from Chris Duncan and Ryan Ludwick are good news for Cardinal fans who might have been worried about regression from the duo. Newly acquired Joe Thurston has been a welcome surprise to date, helping to quelsh some fears about the infield production outside of Big Al. All told, they’re team .371 wOBA is fourth best entering play today.
More than the hitting though, it’s been the pitching, especially in the rotation, that has fueled the Gateway city. A 3.23 staff FIP is good for third in all of baseball to date. The unit seemed shaky at the start of the year and though one week should not alleviate those fears, Chris Carpenter looking healthy and dominant is a big weight off the backs of the other members of the rotation. You weren’t going to build a playoff rotation with the likes of Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro, but having Carpenter front and center gives everyone else a little more margin for error.
Kansas City Royals
Staying in the same state (sort of), but moving leagues, how about those Royals? On one hand, they’re the most impotent offense in the leauge by a wide margin, with just a .269 wOBA with both Arizona and Oakland next worst at .290. It’s just a woeful collection that was never expected to score many runs. Granted, it seems unlikely that they will stay this bad (378 run pace) but it might accelerate the Royals on the subjects of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moutaskas down in the low minors and might even get them to admit that Kila Ka’aihue might be a better idea than Mike Jacobs.
On the other hand, they boast the league’s best pitching staff with a 2.78 FIP, almost a full half run better than the second place Padres who are at 3.23. The bullpen has been boosted with the addition of Juan Cruz to the already dominant Joakim Soria and he’ll hopefully replace the production of Ramon Ramirez. The rotation has seen some solid first performances from Sidney Ponson and Kyle Davies which you will have to excuse my skepticism of sustainability, but Luke Hochevar is hanging around in Triple-A. Given the dearth of offense and the questionable back end of the rotation, it seems unlikely that the Royals will contend for the playoffs, but the AL Central is looking weak this year and the Royals could find themselves pushing .500 and a spot in the middle of the pack.
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