As previously established, I am helplessly addicted to season preview magazines, the kind you can grab at the supermarket for, like, eight bucks. (This always seems … a lot.) They're usually a bit bloated and helplessly outdated, and you can usually get better and more recent information on your phone waiting in the checkout line to pay for the magazine itself. But I'm still a sucker for them: Athlon, Lindy's, Sporting News, I buy every single one of them the minute they hit the stands. They are a reminder that a new season is coming, that the long dark offseason will finally end. The college football and NFL magazines have hit stands in the past week, and they're already scattered all around my home.
Funny enough, the baseball preview magazines that came out in January and February are lying around too, and if you thought they looked dated when they came out, imagine what they look like now. So much happens in an MLB season, so quickly, that any sort of "prediction" is bound to look ridiculous, likely overnight. We publish millions of words previewing a season, and they vanish into pointlessness in a matter of hours.
I picked up one of those magazines -- with Greg Bird, a man batting .100, on the cover -- and flipped through it, and I was astounded by how anachronistic it seemed already. It was as if the magazine was describing a different sport entirely. It assumed things as facts that have been definitively disproven, it saw breakouts that never happened, it dismissed players and teams who are now dominating. This is not the magazine's fault: You can't predict baseball, as they say. But this year has had so many out-of-nowhere breakouts that they look particularly ridiculous.
Thus, here are the 10 facts from this baseball season, more than two months in, that would be the most shocking to any baseball fan who fell asleep on March 30 and just woke up. There are quite a few.
10.The Giants have collapsed. San Francisco was the consensus second-place team in the National League West and the likely NL Wild Card Game host. But after Madison Bumgarner crashed his bike -- who would have ever predicted Bumgarner would be on the disabled list? -- the whole team went into a ditch. Every hitter not named Buster Posey and Brandon Belt has fallen off the table, Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto are average pitchers, and the best starter has been Ty Blach. Now there's a legitimate question as to whether the Giants will be sellers at the Trade Deadline. This was a sleeper NL pennant contender two months ago. Now they might be starting a rebuild.
9. Home runs are up again? By how much? Teams hit an average of 1.16 homers a game in 2016, the highest mark in baseball history, but that was widely considered an aberration: They couldn't go up that much more, could they? Well, we're currently at 1.23 moonshots a game, another massive increase. There are still fewer runs scored than every year from 1993-2007, but the homers are out of control.
8. Schwarber goes from rock star to lead-off head scratcher: Joe Maddon has outdone himself on this one. Schwarber might be the most beloved folk hero on the most popular team in baseball, and many thought, with a full season, he might hit 45 home runs. After all, if he could step in cold at the World Series and hit like he did, what could he do with a whole season to prepare? Well, Schwarber is hitting .162 after spending time at the top of the order this season (before getting dropped down) and is striking out in every third at-bat. Maybe his grand slam against the Cardinals over the weekend will get him going.
7. No rule changes yet! Man, the first two weeks of this season had us convinced that baseball was going to have a ton of ties, and you'd start tossing random players on random bases by the 11th inning. Would runners get jet packs? Would we have to prepare for random tiger attacks? Well, so far, nothing has happened. This honestly might be the biggest upset of all.
6. The Yankees are in first place? There was excitement about the Yanks in the offseason, but mostly about the trades they made to set them up for future years. This year was to be the final transition year. But nope, here they are, one of the best teams in baseball, thanks to resurgent seasons from Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday, some surprising starting pitching, and breakthrough seasons from Aaron Hicks and another guy we'll talk about in a moment. They have done this despite Aroldis Chapman getting hurt and Masahiro Tanaka, the ostensible ace, being terrible. The underlying stats hold up, too: This team is for real. Pretty good for a team I saw picked last in the American League East in a couple of these magazines.
5. Aaron Judge is your AL MVP Award favorite. Judge had shown power before this season, but his batting eye was wobbly, with few walks and many, many strikeouts. (He struck out in more than half his at-bats last year and hit .179.) The idea that he might take a step forward was plausible -- though more people were excited about his aforementioned teammate Bird -- but seriously, Judge is without question not just your most likely AL Rookie of the Year Award winner, but your likely AL MVP Award winner as well. He leads the AL in homers and runs, he's hitting .324, he has an OPS of 1.110 and he even has five steals. He's the best player in baseball right now. Aaron Judge! He even has his own cheering section, at Yankee Stadium no less, a place where I thought that would be illegal. This is probably a little too low on this list for Judge's surprise, to be honest.
4. Mike Trout is hurt. This is a shock not just because Trout is the best player in the sport, but also because he never gets hurt. All it took was one unfortunate headfirst slide. Now we're all the poorer for it. Just typing this paragraph made me so sad that I have to stop now.
3. The Twins are in first place? The only reason this isn't No. 1 on the list is that it still seems a big of an aberration. The underlying fundamentals don't support a first-place team; you know the Indians are going to go on a run at some point and the Twins are still probably a year away. Nonetheless, Minnesota lost 103 games last season! And here we are, on June 6, with the Twins in first place. If this is still the case two months from now, this is without question the most amazing thing of 2017.
2. The NL West resurgence. We all knew that the Dodgers would be good. But Colorado and Arizona aren't just off to hot starts -- they both seem to have the underlying performance to sustain legitimate playoff runs. The implosions by the Mets, the Cardinals and the Giants has thinned out the herd, to be sure, but at this point, it would actively be a surprise if the Diamondbacks and Rockies weren't in the playoffs. Considering we all spent the offseason mocking the Rockies for signing Ian Desmond and the D-backs for the whole Tony LaRussa/Dave Stewart fiasco, to see both teams looking like two of the best 10 teams in baseball is quite a shift.
1. The Astros look like an all-time team. Sure, sure, we all knew they would be good. But the Astros, still in the midst of an 11-game win streak, are on pace for 117 wins. 117! No big deal on that one, it's just the most wins in the history of Major League Baseball. They can't possibly keep up that pace, right? We potentially have an all-time, classic, 1984 Tigers, '98 Yankees, 2001 Mariners, '04 Cardinals, '16 Cubs sort of team, something no one saw coming. Here's another way to look at it: To win just 100 games, the Astros would have to go 58-46 the rest of the way, which is roughly the pace the Red Sox have played at so far, and no one thinks Boston is setting the world on fire. And Houston, considering its desire for pitching, has a chance to be even better the rest of the way. We all thought the Astros were the best team in the AL West. Nobody thought they were the freaking Golden State Warriors.
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