Two years ago, I took my wife to watch a baseball game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. And I pointed to center field and said, “That’s Mike Trout. He’s the best player in baseball.” That same game, Trout went 0-for-3 with a walk and my wife said, “I didn’t think he was all that good.” Now I know that what we’re dealing with now isn’t that much bigger of a sample size than my wife saw in 2014. But through the first two weeks of this season, Trout had really struggled, hitting only .220 and looking especially un-Trout-like on off-speed pitches.
On the other hand, Bryce Harper has been on an absolute tear in Washington. Sure, the Nationals have only played garbage teams. But still, they’re off to their best start in club history, thanks in large part to Harper, who might actually be better than he was in last year’s MVP season. And that’s truly scary. He’s improved his contact rate. He’s cut down on chasing pitches out of the zone. And that’s led him to currently have more walks than he has strikeouts. Not to mention hitting his second grand slam of the season in as many tries on Tuesday night, which was also his fifth home run in six games. Plus, having Dusty Baker in the dugout doesn’t really hinder everyone from making the comparison between Harper and Barry Bonds, who Baker managed in San Francisco from 1993-2002.
So… are we ready to officially declare Bryce Harper the best player in baseball? That was the big question this week. Which is not meant to disparage Trout, by any means. There’s no question he’ll improve. Everybody knows that. And it looks like he’s heating up as we speak. But even so, Harper’s WAR was slightly higher than Trout’s last season. And, like I said, he seems to be getting somehow better. So even if Trout rebounds to a .300/.400/.550 hitter with a 9 WAR, would it even be enough? With the NL East the way it is, I’m not so sure it will be. But as of right now, I’d say Mike Trout is still the best player in baseball. I’m not quite calling it a ‘clown question, bro’ (had to) but check back in with me after Harper is still doing this against teams that aren’t the fuck awful Braves, Phillies or Marlins.
And please don’t get me wrong. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Harper is legit, the Nationals are legit. They were my pick to win their division, even when everybody else was picking the Mets. Especially if they stay healthy for once. Plus, what were they supposed to do – not beat the shit-ass teams they’ve beaten? Is Daniel Murphy not supposed to try to be the Lou Gehrig to Harper’s Babe Ruth, just because I hate him so much and because he probably thinks the Iron Horse is a down low bar in D.C. where he could run in to a lot of ‘like-minded’ conservatives who are totes just there because they “play such good house music” or whatever?
I’ll get over Murphy and last year’s NLCS at some point. I promise. But all that being said, the best team in baseball is still the Chicago Cubs. I think that’s safe to say at this point. I just watched their 16-0 drubbing of the Cincinnati Reds where Jake Arrieta just so happened to throw his second career no-hitter (the second-most lopsided no-no since Pud Galvin of the Buffalo Bisons defeated the Detroit Wolverines 18-0 in 1884). And it’s probably the greatest Cubs game I’ve ever seen in my life. Arrieta is 15-0 in his last 16 starts. He’s had 24 consecutive quality starts. And he also hasn’t given up a run at Wrigley Field since last July 25th. It’s bananas. Actually, all of their starters worked at least six innings in their first 14 games, which is also bananas. And even Jon Lester’s crazy, blooper-reel throws to first are getting outs. Just in case you needed more bananas.
What Lester should do is take a few throwing lessons from Jason Heyward, who those hillbilly Cardinal fans can boo all they want. Did you see that throw he made to nail Matt Holliday at the plate on Tuesday? He may have been 0-for-9 in those first two games of the series and batting .170 at the time, but that D don’t slump, son. And if Daniel Murphy is reading this, I’m talking about his defense. Double burn.
Anyway, with that pitching and that defense, the Cubs also lead the Majors in walks. Which is why their run differential still has them looking like the ’39 Yankees, even though Dexter Fowler is the only guy on the team with a batting average north of .260. But once those bats heat up, oh man, it’s crotch chop city in the Bridenstine household.
Man. It’s so weird to be this excited about the Cubs in April. But, again, let me have this.
This Week’s NL MVP: Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs
He leads the league in wOBA, WAR and OBP. Harper and Murphy lead in about everything else. Fowler really has been the only consistent weapon for that offense throughout April (not counting that 16-0 clinic). And he’s also done it against teams that have actually won more games than they’ve lost. Seriously, there are rumors that even the Braves’ ground crew is phoning it in. I’m just saying.
This Week’s NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
There was a brief moment right after I submitted last week’s post where I could have given it to Vincent Velasquez of the Phillies. But other than that, Thor has had this on lockdown. I’m sure Arrieta and/or Clayton Kershaw (with his new 46 mph eephus) will eventually put an end to this. But any time you’re getting compared to J.R. Richard and (especially) Nolan Ryan on a consistent basis, you’re doing something right. And it looks like the rest of his team might be ready to start turning things around too. The defending National League champions are not a .500 team, no matter how much I want them to be.
This Week’s NL Rookie of the Year: Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals
You can probably tell that I do not like the Birds on Bats, but you have to just shake your head and shrug at their next man up mentality. First Jhonny Peralta goes down. Then Ruben Tejada goes down. Then like, 17 other shortstops go down in a game of shortstop dominos and next thing you know, there’s a 20th string shortstop in St. Louis hitting .385. And it’s not like it’s just him, either. They also have Greg Garcia and Jeremy Hazelbaker doing the same shit. And then Seung-hwan Oh in their bullpen. Oh, by the way, has two amazing nicknames that you need to know. They called him ‘Stone Buddha’ for showing no emotion when he pitched in Korea and Japan. And also, ‘The Final Boss’, which as far as relief pitcher nicknames go, has got to be in the top 5. Trevor Story is still having his moment in Colorado. But in terms of overall WAR, this week it’s Diaz.
This Week’s AL MVP: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
With all the Harper vs. Trout talk this week, I guess everyone forgot that Manny Machado is the best player on the (current) best team in the AL and he leads in every offensive category that Josh Donaldson doesn’t. I feel like more people talk about Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo than they do Machado. And the only time this guy should come in 4th in a baseball conversation is if the first three people mentioned are Harper, Trout and Donaldson.
This Week’s AL Cy Young: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
That Sox staff has been insane so far. Chris Sale is 4-0. Mat Latos has been outstanding, which is odd to say. And the guy with the second-lowest FIP in baseball (and tied for the AL lead in WAR) is actually the 1-1 Quintana. Actually, his FIP is almost a full run better than the 3-0 0.00 ERA’d Jordan Zimmermann of the Tigers, who apparently gets a little bit of help from Jose Iglesias at short. The White Sox have been doing well early. And they’re probably a little annoyed by all the attention on the North Side. But just imagine what this team would look like if they weren’t also 24th in baseball in runs scored.
This Week’s AL Rookie of the Year: Tyler White, Houston Astros
He’s still my pick, even though everybody would rather talk about Nomar Mazara in Texas and what they’ll eventually do once Shin Soo-Choo returns. We should be talking about the regression of that Astros staff and how it’s squandering some great individual performances by White, Jose Altuve and Colby Rasmus though. Because right now, the Astros are in a category with the Yankees and Twins as AL doormats. And in a league with this much parity, that is not an ideal place to be.
Okay. See you next week. Where hopefully, I can be even more annoying about the Cubs.