Believe it or not, we are 25 percent of the way through the Major League season, which is deep enough to come to some conclusions ("I think Mike Trout might actually be good at baseball!"), but, alas, not deep enough to answer all the questions we took into the year.
If anything, it's only created more questions. And here are a few of them.
Are the 2017 Astros basically the '16 Cubs?
The fantastic formula of stinking for several seasons, reaping high draft picks to build a young core and then topping things off with the right veteran presences when the time comes ended what was a 108-year drought for the Cubs and could bring Houston its first-ever Series title in '17. The Astros hit the 40-game mark at 28-12, just a game behind the Cubs' insane pace of a season ago.
Like last year's Cubs, the Astros are not only running away with their division but are also well-equipped enough in their farm system that they'll be able to land whatever finishing touch is deemed necessary midyear. For the Cubs, it was Aroldis Chapman. For the Astros, it could be a starter to support a rotation in which Lance McCullers Jr. has never thrown more than 157 2/3 total innings in a single season, and another bullpen weapon might be in order, as well. But right now, the Astros look like the most complete team in baseball, and the scary thing is that more upside exists as Alex Bregman settles into his sophomore season and Carlos Correa gets hot.
What will the Nationals do to improve their 'pen?
The Nats would be right up there in esteem with the Astros if not for the mess they've got going on in the ninth. Quite frankly, dopes like me probably needed a reminder that as much as we might romanticize the idea that the "proven closer" is dead and that teams can piece it together in the back end by committee, it's much easier said than done. The Nats gambled with their ninth-inning outlook and, judging by the eight early blown saves, have lost that bet. Koda Glover is still a really interesting young arm that could eventually settle into that spot, and the Nats have been so good in other departments (most notably that explosive offense with two early MVP candidates in Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman) that the bullpen problems have only made the National League East a mere layup as opposed to a total laugher. But this is obviously an outlook the club will look to improve externally this summer, and a farm system thinned by the Adam Eaton trade will make this a challenge. Kelvin Herrera, Tony Watson, David Robertson and Alex Colome are among the names to work with on the trade front.
How concerning is the Cubs' slow start?
Only one of the last six reigning World Series champions (the 2012 Cardinals) made it back to the postseason and none reached the Series. It was widely assumed the Cubs would waltz back into October, and the projections still insist that'll be the case (FanGraphs, for instance, still sees Chicago as a 90-win team that'll win the NL Central over the Cardinals by four games). But the so-called hangover effect on the starting rotation has been real, and the defense -- particularly the outfield defense -- has exacerbated that issue. It's looking more and more likely that the Cubs will have to search for starting help in what could be a deep market midseason, and with Arrieta and Lackey nearing free agency, they'll most likely prioritize guys with multiple years of control.
Which surprise contenders are, you know, really contenders?
The Rockies, Brewers, D-backs, Yankees and Twins had a combined .444 winning percentage last year but hit the midweek mark at a combined .583.
OK, the Yankees did finish with a winning record last year, as they always do, but suffice it to say this has been much more than the transition year that was anticipated for them. And though that rotation still rates as iffy and they've had some veteran players over their skis, the depth of talent in their farm system gives them amble upside potential.
If the Rockies could survive a litany of Spring Training and early season setbacks to important pieces like Ian Desmond and Jon Gray, it's not hard to imagine them sticking around in the NL West race. Their offense hasn't even reached its full potential yet, and they'll be aggressive on the trade front.
Personally, I'm less sold on the overall stability of the others mentioned here, but all but one season in the Wild Card era has produced at least one postseason club that had a losing record the year before, and that formula is likely to hold true again.
Is the American League Central more interesting than advertised?
With the White Sox in clear rebuild mode, the Royals and Tigers potentially on the verge of roster upheaval and the Twins coming off a 103-loss season, the defending AL champion Indians seemed like the safest of picks to repeat. Only the Twins, who have benefited from their recent graduation to the 21st century, have outperformed expectations in the early going, but the key Central storyline so far is the underperforming of the Indians. Their purportedly great rotation has the highest ERA in the AL (with ace Corey Kluber on the shelf with a back issue), and the expected impact free-agent acquisition Edwin Encarnacion was supposed to bring to their lineup has not yet arrived.
The Tribe is fortunate to be in a division in which the Tigers, in part because of their annual bullpen instability, and the Royals, in part because of their early offense absence, haven't really forced the issue.
Did awful Aprils sink some would-be contenders?
Last year's Astros are a textbook example of how costly a poor start can be. They went 7-17 in April and 77-61 the rest of the way, finishing five games back of the Wild Card.
The Giants (9-17 in April), Blue Jays (8-17) and Royals (7-16) might be in similarly dire straights after posting the only single-digit win totals in the opening month. The Mets (10-14), Mariners (11-15), Rangers (11-14) and Pirates (11-13) were a bit better but also had unexpectedly uneven entries into the new year.
The saving grace for the Giants, Mets and Pirates is that the NL field simply isn't replete with sustainably great teams. The Giants showed this week, when they won five straight to pull within 5 ½ games of a Wild Card spot despite looking lousy early on, that the Senior Circuit postseason picture is very much a moving target. It was pretty easy to assume when Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard went down that last year's Wild Card clubs were D.O.A., but the NL bar for entry might not be that high this year. The Pirates, though, have the Andrew McCutchen trade situation to consider, and there could be an argument for exploring the markets for their closer Watson and maybe even their ace Gerrit Cole.
In the AL, the Rangers have been the hottest team in baseball in the middle of May, even though they're still a few weeks from welcoming back Adrian Beltre and a couple months from returning Cole Hamels. The Blue Jays have also played better, and, with Troy Tulowitzki due back as soon as Thursday and Josh Donaldson not far behind, are getting healthier. Those clubs could have difficult decisions midseason because their farm systems could use a boost and they have some interesting trade possibilities (Yu Darvish, Jonathan Lucroy, Donaldson, Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano). But the Royals might be the team with the strongest incentive to sell, as a small-market club with a litany of pending free agents.
Which pending prospect promotions will move the needle?
The in-season wave has already begun. Cody Bellinger totally changed the Dodgers' offense upon his late-April arrival, and his spot in the order is secure with Andrew Toles' torn ACL. The Indians pulled the trigger on top prospect Bradley Zimmer this week, hoping he can help shore up their erratic outfield picture.
You know there's more where those came from. Will the Red Sox be prompted to push Rafael Devers to the hot corner in the big leagues? Will the Mets follow the advice of #MetsTwitter and bring up Amed Rosario? Any chance Gleyber Torres, after working through early season injury issues, is a finishing piece for a contending Yankee club? Will the Nats' bullpen get a jolt from top pitching prospect Erick Fedde's transition to relief work this week?
As we've seen many, many times before, sometimes the best upgrades come internally, not externally.
Will David Price's return wake up the Red Sox?
The Red Sox have been too good to inspire the kind of unhinged dread that their rabid fan base is so good at but not nearly good enough to inspire the kind of unhinged enthusiasm their fan base is equally good at. What was supposed to be one of the most dominant teams in baseball is instead just sort of meandering along a mediocre path.
Price's pending return -- possibly after a rehab start Friday in Triple-A Buffalo -- is obviously a potentially big boost, considering he'll fill a rotation spot in which the injured Steven Wright and the miscast Kyle Kendrick posted a combined 9.46 ERA in seven starts. But there really is no telling where Price, who is pitching through some sort of non-surgically-corrected elbow issue, is at in this stage of his career and how quickly he can recapture his solid form from the second half of '16 (3.58 ERA in 16 starts). The Red Sox aren't in a great position to make bold Deadline moves, so Price's return is elemental.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.