Cubs, Jake Arrieta earn MLB’s first-quarter superlatives

Jake Arrieta has been the baseball’s best pitcher in the first quarter of 2016.
Jake Arrieta has been the baseball’s best pitcher in the first quarter of 2016. AP

Two National League West clubs, the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks will play their 40th games of the season Sunday, meaning that the first quarter of their 2016 campaigns will be done.

The other 28 MLB teams aren’t too far behind, though the Cleveland Indians will be at only 34 games thanks to the combination of two rainouts and five days off. But even the Indians will have one-quarter of their games completed this week.

Within a quarter-season, regulars have surpassed 100 at-bats, often the benchmark for when hitters start to click. Some do well before then (Daniel Murphy, Manny Machado), and some don’t (Troy Tulowitzki, Jason Heyward).

Some pitchers roll from the get-go (Jake Arrieta, Chris Sale), and some don’t (Adam Wainwright, Luis Severino). Their teams generally tend to follow suit.

Twenty-five percent of the 2016 MLB season is behind us or soon will be. Here’s a look at the highlights and lowlights of the first quarter:

Rangers right-hander Matt Bush said that his MLB debut was better than he expected and that the crowd gave him chills (video by Jeff Wilson).

Best team: Chicago Cubs

This isn’t even close. The Cubs entered Saturday 26-8, down from their .800 winning percentage at 24-6 a few days go, but still a staggering opening pace.

They led the NL Central by eight games, and they became the first team since the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates to have at least a plus-100 run differential (102) through 30 games.

It’s early, of course, but a Windy City World Series is looking like a realistic possibility. The White Sox have the best record in the American League.

Worst team: Atlanta Braves

Entering Saturday, the team that couldn’t lose a division title not that long ago was 8-26. That’s the same record as the disappointing Minnesota Twins, who hold the quarter-mark crown for the most disappointing team after just missing that postseason last year, but the Braves are worse.

General manager John Hart has stripped them down about as much as possible, though pitcher Julio Teheran could be moved before July 31. Freddie Freeman, a cornerstone only two years go, remains along with veterans Nick Markakis and Erick Aybar. Poor guys.

Just think how bad the Braves would be if they weren’t tanking (insert Al Czervik eye roll here).

Best player: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

The AL Player of the Month for April has continued his impressive start. He was batting .350 entering Saturday for the AL East leaders with 10 homers, 15 doubles and a .671 slugging percentage. His defense at third base is elite.

The NL Player of the Month in April was Bryce Harper, who was knocked off the rails by a 2-for-26 slump and entered Saturday without a homer since May 4. Of course, it’s hard to hit homers when teams won’t throw him strikes. Even while slumping, the Cubs walked him 13 times, including six in a 13-inning win last weekend, in a four-game sweep.

Despite a .278 average, Harper had a .456 on-base percentage and .639 slugging percentage. He’s pretty good, too.

Worst player: Carlos Gomez, Houston Astros

This guy is way too good to have a .490 on-base plus slugging percentage, but that’s what the soon-to-be-free agent owned after Friday. He’s not hurt, as he was down the stretch last season, but he’s hurting the Astros with exactly zero homers in his first 32 games.

Gomez has company, namely Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder, Justin Upton and Heyward, but his team, the preseason darlings in the AL West, haven’t been able to cover up his blemishes, unlike the teams of his struggling counterparts.

Best pitcher: Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs

A tough call here, with South Sider Chris Sale 8-0 after a complete-game win Friday. There’s also Clayton Kershaw, Jordan Zimmermann, Jose Quintana, Jason Hammel and a few more, but the former TCU great gets the nod here.

Arrietta hasn’t lost a decision since Cole Hamels beat him July 25, six days before his trade to the Texas Rangers, and all Hamels did that day was throw a no-hitter. Arrieta has thrown two no-nos in one of the best stretches in baseball history, and after an 8-2 win Saturday, has gone 18-0 in 21 starts and an ERA under 1.00. The Cubs have won all 21 starts.

Worst pitcher: Luis Severino, New York Yankees

Another tough call, with Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals posting an NL-worst 6.80 ERA and college teammates David Price and fellow All-Star Sonny Gray currently the not-so-proud possessors of dueling 6.00 ERAs.

Severino has them covered at 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA after getting bounced around again Friday night. He also was bounced to the disabled list, which might explain the poor performance or could be the Yankees’ way of hiding him without sending him to the minors.

A promising young pitcher after a nice breakthrough, Severino needed a break. It’s hopeful that his sore triceps is just that and he can bounce back quickly.

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