It might be time to start looking at the 2016 Cubs as a historically good team. That’s a weird thing to say. But after the Cubs swept the Pirates on the road, they had a +93 run differential, which is the 3rd highest ever after 26 games since 1900 (after the +103 1902 Pirates and the +96 1905 Giants). I mean, they won 97 games last year and only finished with a +81 for the whole season. Now we’re bringing Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson in to the conversation? Oh boy.
And let’s look at the Cubs-Pirates series for a second. It was billed as the bitter rematch of last year’s NL Wild Card Game, the budding of a great new baseball rivalry. The Pirates had been red-hot coming in. They’re a very good team. And then the Cubs murdered them 20-5 in three games. All without Jason Heyward and Miguel Montero and the grand-slam-hitting Matt Szczur, not to mention Kyle Schwarber. And all while they showed up in wacky fucking suits. You’re goddamn right Sean Rodriguez is tipping his cap. If the Cubs can stay relatively healthy (oh please, God), and actually start hitting on a consistent basis (other than Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo), you could be looking at the ’98 Yankees. Or something even better entirely. I guess we’ll see what we learn after the big weekend series with the Nationals.
NL MVP: Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs
Oh, I forgot to tell you; the Cubs have also yet to lose consecutive games this season. And they’re on pace for that run differential to end up at +576 for the season. Which is nuts. The all time record is +411 by the 1939 Yankees. And I have a strange feeling that you might hear them get brought up more as the season goes along.
NL Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Your entire team is in a shit-awful hitting slump? On top of that, your middle relief is horrible? Okay. Just have Kershaw go out there against the Padres and pitch a 3-hit complete game shutout with 14 strikeouts. Oh, and also have him single in your only run. Amazing. And that’s how Kershaw edges out Noah Syndergaard and Stephen Strasburg this week. I know there’s been a whole lot of talk about what Jake Arrieta has done in Chicago since last season. And there should be, the Cubs have won his last 19 starts. He’s basically 1967-1968 Bob Gibson, if Bob Gibson also did sexy, bearded Pilates and had a better batting average than his opponents. But that being said, Arrieta is still the second-best pitcher in baseball and Kershaw remains #1. Hell, I would have given him his 4th Cy Young Award last season. And that’s coming from someone who loves Jake Arrieta and would love to have it be the other way around. But if Kershaw keeps this up for one or two more seasons, he’s a bona fide first ballot Hall of Famer and (dare I say) probably the best pitcher in the history of that franchise. Except, you know, in the playoffs.
Speaking of playoffs, how garbage is that NL West division right now? The Giants are technically still in first place. Even though the back of their rotation is completely no bueno. In fact, the lowly Phillies and Marlins would actually be in first place right now if they were in the NL West. Speaking of which…
Look at the Phillies! They’re not legit, but look at them, anyway! It’s fun to see when a team that’s supposed to be terrible is actually playing well in May. And the Phillies are playing well. They swept the Nationals last week. They’re getting some pretty decent pitching – especially from Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola. And no team has struck out as many batters so far this season. However, their run differential is at -27. The team just doesn’t score. And FanGraphs has them sitting at a 0.1% chance to make the playoffs. Only the Braves and Reds (with their historically awful bullpen) are lower that that. I’d love for Odubel Herrera and the rest of the Phillies to prove me wrong, but I don’t think this team will even have a winning record at the end of the year. In other words, they’re about as legit as a Dee Gordon piss test (Marlins burn!).
NL Rookie of the Year: Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals
It’s still Diaz, but I keep forgetting that Steven Matz of the Mets is a rookie. And as it turns out, he’s a pretty freakin’ good one. I told you I thought the Mets might be in first place for this week’s post. Let me give it one more week. Those guys are playing home run derby in almost every outing.
AL MVP: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
Do you have any idea how much attention Manny Machado would get if he played for the Red Sox or the last place Yankees? He’s been lights out this season, but it seems like the only thing the media cares about in that division is how much Clay Buchholz and/or Dellin Betances suck. I’m so over it. At least Pablo Sandoval is out for the year, so I might not have to hear much about him anymore. Guys, it’s over. Travis Shaw is the Red Sox’ 3rd baseman. He’s doing okay. Just not as okay as the Orioles’ former (?) third baseman.
And for the love of Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor and (probably) Edgar Martinez, can we please stop referring to Big Papi as the greatest DH of all time? I know everyone loves him. I know he’s retiring. Yes, that “this is our fucking city” speech. Yes, the walk-offs in the 2004 ALCS. I get it. But come on. And, while we’re at it, can we also stop saying he’s the second-greatest Red Sock ever behind Ted Williams? Every time somebody does that I want to recreate the the Marshall McLuhan scene from Annie Hall, except I’m standing with Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans, Tris Speaker, Bobby Doerr and Jim Rice. All that being said, Ortiz and the Red Sox’ bats are hot.
AL Cy Young Award: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
This is just about the same scenario we had last week. Except now it’s May and it’s becoming clearer that the White Sox are actually good enough to dethrone the slumping Kansas City Royals in the AL Central. The Indians are still slightly favored to win the division, even though they badly need hitting and everyone in that city is still watching the Cavs. Meanwhile, the White Sox finally cut John Danks and will be going with a fluid 5th starter going forward on their very impressive staff. I think this is shaping up to be a pretty big summer in the city of Chicago.
AL Rookie of the Year: Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers
Shin Soo-Choo can come back whenever he wants. This dude isn’t going anywhere. Did you see that ALDS rematch series between the Rangers and Blue Jays in Toronto? If you did, then you saw Mazara, unfazed by the playoff atmosphere in May, show off his power at the plate and his cannon for an arm. And I’m sure Adrian Beltre will eventually have a say in this, but Mazara might already be the best player on that team.
The current most interesting team in the AL West (once we finally get over the Astros being bad) is the Seattle Mariners. Taijuan Walker and Robinson Cano have been great. Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez have not. But they’re winning. And you can smoke weed there. And like I’ve said before, a lot of experts picked Seattle to go to the World Series last year. Partially on how high they were on all four of the dudes I just mentioned. I’m going to go ahead and assume Seager (.260 lifetime AVG) is going to get above the Mendoza Line at some point this season, but there is a real concern with King Felix’ velocity. And that sucks to see a player who has been so good for the Mariners for so many years start to drop off when everything else finally seems to be falling in to place.
Okay. That looks like it’ll do it for this week’s Angelino in the Outfield. Last week, as soon as I turned in my post, it was announced that Paul Rudd would be playing Moe Berg in The Catcher Was a Spy movie. So I guess this column has magical powers. Or that anything can happen in baseball. Either or. In the meantime, check me out on the MLB Weekly recaps on the Comedians Talking Sports podcast with Joe Kilgallon on iTunes. Go Cubs.