MLB surprises and disappointments after one month

The first month of Major League Baseball’s regular season is in the books. While that’s a relatively short period of time considering the season stretches until October, it’s also a nice arbitrary cutoff for evaluating teams and players.

With one month gone, we’ve already seen our fair share of surprises and disappointments. No one could have predicted Eric Thames’ return to the majors would go this well. On the flip side, anyone who had the San Francisco Giants penciled into the World Series probably felt pretty good about that decision.

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That’s the beauty of baseball. Though we live in an era where stats and projections are more prominent than ever, it’s the unexpected that grabs our attention.

With that in mind, The Stew presents our biggest surprises and disappointments one month into the season. Let’s dive right in.

Eric Thames has been giving a lot of high fives in 2017. (AP)

“Surprise” doesn’t seem to be the right word to describe Thames’ early season performance. It’s really a combination of flabbergasted and incredulous. No one expected Thames to come back from Korea and bash like gangbusters, but here we are. His 11 home runs and .326/.446/.761 triple slash speak for themselves. (Liz Roscher)

If the Giants’ 2017 season were a country album, it’d be called “Dirt Bikes & Disappointments.” You know the Madison Bumgarner story by now — out until the All-Star break because of a dirt-bike accident. But the Giants’ worst-in-the-NL record thus far isn’t just because of MadBum. They are a MadMess. They’re in the bottom third of the league in batting average, ERA and runs scored. There’s not just one thing that needs to be fixed. The problem? Everything. (Mike Oz)

That Nationals offense was a nightmare to deal with in April, and it wasn’t Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy or even Trea Turner leading the charge. Instead, it was a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman. No one knew what to expect from Zimmerman coming off three straight seasons plagued by injuries. What they received in April was the National League leader in home runs (11 – tied with Eric Thames), RBIs (30), average (.424), and slugging (.859). That is definitely surprising production. Perhaps it’s not sustainable, but above all else it’s encouraging. (Mark Townsend)

Edwin Encarnacion hasn’t been himself at the plate thus far. (AP)

Encarnacion’s first month with his new club hasn’t gone that well. The first baseman is hitting just .198/.333/.333 over 118 plate appearances. Encarnacion is typically a slow starter, so there’s still plenty of reason to be optimistic about a bounce-back, but it’s hard to ignore two glaring issues. First off, he’s whiffing a lot more than usual. Encarnacion has a 33.1 percent strikeout rate this year, high above his 16.5 percent career average. You might usually write that off to small sample shenanigans, but the fact that Encarnacion is now 34 makes his struggles more worrisome. Is he simply having issues recognizing pitches right now, or are his strikeouts a sign that he’s lost bat speed and may not be able to adjust? (Chris Cwik)

For all the grief the D-backs have gotten the past couple years about their roster construction, trades and their front office, you have to hand it to them: They’re doing a lot better than everybody expected this season. They’re 17-13 entering play on Thursday. That’s better than the Cubs, Indians, Rangers — all of whom are expected to be postseason teams. And better than division foes the Giants and Dodgers. Can the D-backs keep it up? We’ll see. It won’t be easy. But maybe it’s time we start giving them a little less grief. (Oz)

The Kansas City Royals’ window seems to be closing a lot sooner than previously anticipated. Sure, it’s early and they can turn things around, but it’s hard to argue with the faction of fans who want to start selling. KC has scored just 75 runs total this season. It sits last in a weak AL Central (5.5 games back of the first place White Sox). As a team, the Royals have the worst slash line in the majors (.214/.274/.341.). With Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain scheduled to hit free agency in 2018, it’s hard not to wonder if selling now is the right move. (Blake Schuster)

Aaron Judge’s massive power is propelling the Yankees early. (AP)

In the Bronx they expected a big star turn this season. Turns out, it just wasn’t from the guy they were most expecting. Gary Sanchez, the Yankees slugger arrived with all the hype. But he quickly ended up on the disabled list. Instead, Aaron Judge has started a reckoning on MLB pitchers. The giant slugger — for real, he’s 6-foot-7 — leads MLB with 13 homers. No one doubted he’d hit some homers. That’s been his pedigree since college. But 13 already? And to think, the Yankees considered starting him in the minors this season. (Oz)

Porcello was the surprise winner of the 2016 AL Cy Young award, but six starts into the 2017 season he isn’t doing much to defend it. He’s got four losses and a 4.46 ERA, which is more like the Porcello from six or seven years ago than the one we saw last year. The Red Sox need him to find that 2016 form again, and fast. (Roscher)

Elsewhere on the list of hitters playing above their standards is Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano. A career .256 hitter, the 23-year-old is batting .314 in 2017 with an OPS of 1.129. A lot of that has to do with his ability to draw walks (20), but Sano’s eight home runs don’t hurt, either. If the Twins are going to start turning things around, they’ll need more players emulating Sano’s approach at the plate. (Schuster)

The Rangers bullpen has put them in a bad place to start 2017. (AP)

Texas seemed to stabilize things toward the end of April, but a rough first two weeks put them in a sizable hole. The main issue has been a bullpen that doesn’t stop at springing leaks, it typically gushes. We saw that early on with then-closer Sam Dyson falling apart in his first three save chances, and then the floodgates opened again on Monday night in Houston. It doesn’t help that Texas is bottom ten in fielding percentage, or that Adrian Beltre’s calf injury has kept him off the field all season. (Townsend)

It’s the same story every year with the Orioles. Though the team is coming off another playoff appearance, most analysts picked them to finish fourth or fifth in the division. On paper, it makes sense. You can look at the thin rotation, and over-reliance on power, and wonder if the team can keep it up over the course of the entire season. Despite that, Baltimore has jumped out to yet another strong start. At this point, it would be foolish to doubt the club. They’ve succeeded using the same formula for years (strong bullpen, immense pop, weak rotation). All those pieces are still in place. And while no one will forget Buck Showalter’s wild-card gaffe with Zach Britton, he typically does a fantastic job managing his relievers. (Cwik)

Maybe the rest of the league knew something the Toronto Blue Jays didn’t. After hitting the free-agent market and getting received like he was Lonzo Ball’s “signature shoe,” Bautista went back to the Blue Jays on a one-year deal with a couple of option years. If Joey Bats has something to prove, he hasn’t done it yet. While the Blue Jays flounder in the AL East, Bautista is hitting just .196 with two homers. At 36 years old, and coming off his worst season in about a decade, that’s not particularly encouraging. (Oz)

Ivan Nova has built off his second half success. (AP)

Nova had a strong second half in 2016, leading some to think he was Ray Searage’s latest reclamation project. But even the most optimistic Nova supporters couldn’t have expected this. Through 36 innings, Nova has a 1.50 ERA. He’s succeeded by keeping the ball on the ground and refusing to issue walks. Over those 36 innings, he walked just one batter (the opposing pitcher, somehow). His exceptional control has led to some odd fun facts. Since Nova joined the Pirates, he has more complete games than walks. Yes, we’re living in a world where Ivan Nova Fun Facts are a thing. Bet you didn’t see that coming. (Cwik)

You almost just want to give Mets fans a hug these days. No Noah Syndergaard, no Lucas Duda, no David Wright, no Yoenis Cespedes, no Steven Matz — you know, it might just be easier to name the players in New York who are healthy. Seldom will teams make it through a season without any injuries or adversity, but for this to happen to the Mets all at once is sad for baseball. The National League East was set up for one of the more intriguing division races in the majors this year. Now the road is clear for the Washington Nationals to run away with the crown and deprive fans of a thrilling summer-long battle. (Schuster)

The Rockies were on a lot of people’s list for potential surprise teams before the season. But that was before Ian Desmond, David Dahl and Jon Gray went down to injury and Chad Bettis’ cancer returned. Seemingly snake-bit, the Rockies proved resilient by finishing April at 16-10. A significantly improved bullpen deserves a bulk of the credit. New closer Greg Holland finished April 11-for-11 in save chances and the trickle down seems to be a team that’s gaining confidence by the day. (Townsend)

Noah Syndergaard has struggled with injuries already. (AP)

The disappointment here isn’t in Syndergaard’s overall performance, but with his recklessness regarding his health. No matter how good he thought he felt, refusing to get an MRI on the arm that provides his livelihood is massively stupid. Hopefully he considers that as he recuperates from his partial lat tear. (Roscher)

The emergence of Avisail Garcia as one of the American League’s best hitters is almost baffling. In a year where the Chicago White Sox seemed destined to lose 100 games, Garcia, who has a career average slash line of .265/.317/.715, has started the year hitting .370/.420/.609. His batting average is tops in the AL and he rounds out the top five in OBP, SLG and OPS. That’s impressive even before adding in the fact that Avi has been mostly slated as the No. 6 hitter in the lineup. And it’s one of the big reasons why the Sox have suddenly found themselves in first place of the AL Central. (Schuster)

With MLB shortening the standard disabled list designation from 15 days to 10, we figured the number of players going on the DL would increase. That held true in April, with the Wall Street Journal reporting a record 105 players hit the DL in April. But it’s not just the volume, it’s the value of the players who have suffered significant injuries. From David Price and Adrian Beltre, who haven’t even taken the field, to Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard, who are looking at extended absences, to Adam Eaton, whose season just ended with a torn ACL. Injuries are a part of the game, but it’s disappointing seeing them have this much impact. (Townsend)

Ervin Santana has the Twins in good shape entering May. (AP)

After 12 years in the majors, we thought we’d seen the best and worst of Ervin Santana. It turns out he had more of his best to show us. After six starts, he’s got a 0.66 ERA AND a complete-game shutout. What else do you have to show us, Ervin Santana? (Roscher)

After a lousy 2016, the Pirates were supposed to return to form this year. That hasn’t happened just yet. Former MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen hasn’t recovered from last season’s stumble, Starling Marte got suspended and Tyler Glasnow is walking everyone who comes to the plate. The Pirates came into the year needing many things to go right in order for them to get back to the postseason. We’re only a month into the year, but the team’s slow start may not be salvageable unless things turn quickly. (Cwik)

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