Baseball, Sports

Fair or Foul: Which teams’ starts tell you everything, or nothing, about their upcoming season

With just shy of two weeks in the books for the 2021 MLB season, there is now a large enough sample size to judge every team’s start. Some are doing very well and some very poorly. Some teams are playing well above expectations right of the gate, while others are stalled in first gear. Let’s take a look at some of the teams whose starts, whether good or bad, are legitimate and those whose current performance is just a fluke.

Legitimate Strong Start: Houston Astros

Despite the players this team has lost either to injuries or departures in the last year, including George Springer, Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and more, the Astros are white-hot through the first 10 games. What matters even more is the 6-4 start comes against AL West division rivals in the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels.

Their entire starting infield is batting more than .280 thus far, and young outfielder Kyle Tucker already has four home runs. Meanwhile, Lance McCullers Jr. and the ageless Zack Greinke are leading the pitching staff to a strong start. The Astros are still a very talented team, and if they keep up this strong start they will cruise to another division title.

Legitimate Poor Start: Washington Nationals

The 2019 World Champions relied heavily on the veterans of the team to lead them through the tumultuous regular season and action-packed postseason. The problem is we are now in 2021, and those same veterans who are now two years older and two years closer to retirement are the same ones leading the team today.

Other than the two star youngsters on the team in Trea Turner and Juan Soto, no one else on the team is hitting. As of Tuesday, the Nationals rank 29th in MLB in runs scored with 22 — trailed only by the New York Mets at 16. Yes, they have only played eight games, but Washington’s rotation is old, its lineup is not hitting and its bullpen has no recognizable talent. A return to the cellar of the NL East already looks to be in the cards for this team.

Facade Strong Start: Cincinnati Reds

Even though the team’s three most convincing wins have come against the currently worst-ranked team in baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Reds are doing in 2021 what they were supposed to do in 2020: hit.

The Reds are led so far by Nick Castellanos and two others who are off to surprising starts: Tyler Naquin and Jonathan India. Along with that trio, catcher Tucker Barnhart is hitting just as well through the first 10 games.

Although the offense has been good, the main reason this team’s start is a facade is its pitching is off to a bad start. The Reds have allowed the 17th most runs to opponents so far, and as soon as the team stops hitting, the pitching will let the team down. The Reds’ start is undoubtedly strong, but there is no way it holds up for another 152 games.

Facade Weak Start: Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays’ biggest concern entering 2021 was its bullpen — and its pitching staff as a whole — and so far that part of the team is doing the best job. Led by Hyun-Jin Ryu and the surprisingly sharp-looking Steven Matz in the rotation, along with the quartet of Jordan Romano, Ryan Borucki, David Phelps and Julian Merryweather in the bullpen, the Jays’ pitching looks great.

Conversely, the team’s lineup is missing George Springer and Teoscar Hernández and not hitting as well as it was supposed to before the season started. Randal Grichuk is off to a hot start, but his performance won’t last, and only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is raking alongside him. With key players hitting the COVID-19 Injured List or the Standard Injured List, Toronto needs its hot start from the hurlers to keep up until the team returns to full strength.

Impossible to Judge: Boston Red Sox

Boston has a 7-3 record to kick off the season. However, let’s look at who this team has played. After getting swept by the Baltimore Orioles during the Opening Weekend, the Red Sox then swept Baltimore back this past weekend. J.D. Martinez has 12 extra-base-hits out of his total of 17 so far. Rafael Devers and Christian Vázquez are playing just as well to supplement him.

On the mound, Nathan Eovaldi looks healthy, and the bullpen is performing well above expectations. The team’s offseason adds may have been mostly “B-tier” players, but Boston has slugged its way to seven-straight wins, including a convincing sweep of the reigning AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays. There is no way to tell yet how real or fake this team is yet, only time will tell for the Sox.

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