Looking at MLB’s early-season belief system

Posted Saturday, May. 31, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Top five

1. Giants: Leaving rival Dodgers behind, 61/2 games behind.

2. A’s: Power, pitching, part-time players. It’s clicking again.

3. Tigers: Only 4-6 in past 10, but still class of AL Central.

4. Blue Jays: Started to heat up two weeks ago at Rangers.

5. Brewers: Survived Ryan Braun injury to keep division lead.

Bottom five

1. Cubs: Can Curse of Billy Goat hex goal of getting No. 1 pick?

2. D’backs: Were 11 games under .500 at home, overall. No good.

3. Rays: Joe Maddon reaching deep in bag of tricks. Has nothing.

4. Astros: Won seven straight (craziest thing written all year).

5. Red Sox: Countered 10-game slide with five-game win streak.

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The major-league season is one-third of the way home, which in some instances is enough of a sampling to determine which players are for real, which teams are for real and which teams need to shake things up.

But the one-third mark, in some cases, isn’t enough of a sampling to give up on players or teams.

Some clubs, though, have already determined that their seasons are in need of a makeover.

Arizona circled with wagons after its miserable start and hired Tony La Russa as grand poobah over all things baseball.

The New York Mets and Kansas City Royals turned their frustration against hitting coaches Dave Hudgens, who was fired, and Pedro Grifol, who as reassigned to catching instructor.

Being a hitting coach on a struggling team is the equivalent of that cute babe in horror flicks that wanders off into the woods. Both are the first to go.

(Calls for the head of Dave Magadan, by the way, have dropped considerably during the Texas Rangers’ offense-heavy road trip.)

So, here’s what to believe, what not to believe, and what is hard to believe.

Believe it

Nelson Cruz’s power: How good would he look in the Rangers’ lineup? The slugger who became “The Boomstick” in Arlington has hit a baseball-best 20 home runs in his first season away from the Rangers, who let him go to Baltimore for only $8 million. Cruz is doing most of his damage on the road, where he had hit 12 homers. The homers will come at Camden Yards, a hitter’s paradise.

San Francisco Giants: The joke entering the season was that this was the Giants’ year because it’s an even-numbered year and they won world titles in 2010 and 2012. The rest of the National League West isn’t laughing as the Giants had started better through 54 games than in 2010 and 2012.

Toronto Blue Jays: It wouldn’t have been hard to believe that any of the other four teams in the American League East would be leading the division. Instead, the Blue Jays are in first place, riding the bat of slugger Edwin Encarnacion and 11 brilliant opening starts by soft-throwing, quick-working, slick-fielding, age-defying left-hander Mark Buerhle. They also got rid of J.P. Arencibia in the off-season. That could prove biggest of all.

Don’t believe it

Tampa Bay Rays: Joe Maddon’s bunch entered Saturday with the worst record in the American League. That means worse than Houston. The Rays entered 2014 as a favorite the East, but injuries to their pitching staff, a mediocre 11 starts from David Price, a closer with a 5.49 ERA and a lack of offense have doomed them. The Rays, though, typically get better as the season goes along. Expect the same this year.

Milwaukee Brewers: The leaders in the NL Central since April 5 have the second-most wins in the league, but they aren’t going to be division champions. St. Louis will be, even though the Brewers continue to get plenty of offense, led by Carlos Gomez and, yes, Ryan Braun, and quality starting pitching. Don’t dismiss a wild-card spot for them, though.

Mike Trout: The preseason favorite to be the AL MVP entered Saturday as the league leader in strikeouts at 63. He’d whiffed more than noted strikeout machines Adam Dunn and Chris Carter. Trout was hitting a mere, according to his standards, .294, and he wasn’t leading the world in WAR. Gasp. Check back at the end of the season.

Can’t believe it

Boston Red Sox: The defending world champions are showing more fight when they get hit by a pitch or if someone violates their idea of the unwritten rules or if they don’t like the official scorer. But this team hasn’t come remotely close to replacing Jacoby Ellsbury, and a pitching staff that proved to be so good last season hasn’t come close to matching that. The Red Sox had won five straight should be better, just like Tampa Bay, but to see them repeat doesn’t seem feasible.

Atlanta Braves: This isn’t the first time the Braves have been in first place. Remember the 1990s, the 2000s, or last year? But Atlanta has remained atop the NL East with brilliant pitching despite losing three starting pitchers in spring training to Tommy John surgery and despite an offense that has some serious dead weight in it. Hello, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, finally a part-time player but still playing too much. Jason Heyward has been mostly a disappointment, too.

Jose Fernandez: Of all the torn elbow ligaments, the one suffered by the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year has been the most sobering. Even Miami owner Jeffrey Loria, famed for dismantling teams, feels terrible. But the Marlins were tied atop the NL East entering the weekend thanks to Giancarlo Stanton, who hits balls farther than anyone, and a pitching staff that has picked up the slack with Fernandez out for the year.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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