May is a month for movement, away from the statistical absurdity of a shortened April schedule and toward the truth.
Frankly, it seems doubtful that any team is going to win 110-plus games this year (sorry, Mets fans) and equally doubtful any team will lose 135-plus games (you’re welcome, Reds fans), so May will point us toward standings that look a little more real.
So let’s march into May with some predictions for what’s to come this month. Will any of these actually come true? May-be, may-be not.
Look, we all seem to think this dude is going to be dealt with between now and the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline, so let’s get on with it.
We saw the value of the earlier-than-expected strike when the Brewers and Rays made the swap last May that sent shortstop Willy Adames to Milwaukee and pitchers JP Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen at Tampa Bay — a beautiful baseball trade that immediately benefited both parties. The A’s stronger-than-expected start is a mirage, every Montas start is precious, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t at least continue talking about a trade at a time when contenders are scrambling for innings and assistance.
The Rays are as good a pick as any to make another early impact deal, because while their predominantly young rotation has pitched well (and will hopefully get Shane Baz back before long), their lack of length is putting a lot of pressure on a bullpen that entered Saturday leading the Majors in innings (98 1/3). Sure, that’s the Rays’ style, but a difference-maker like Montas, who is under reasonable arbitration control through 2023, fits their organizational framework and is worthy of depletion from a strong farm system if it helps them repeat in a brutal American League East . The Rays would be loath to part with right-hander Taj Bradley or the versatile Vidal Bruján, but either of those prospects would make sense as the centerpiece of a return for the A’s.
A popular AL MVP pick prior to the start of the season, Robert — much like the White Sox, as a group — has had a dreary first month. He slashed .205/.222/.386 in his first 11 games before joining Chicago’s absurdly long list of walking wounded with a right groin injury. He returned to action Friday.
In May, a healthy Robert will help kick the Sox into gear. He has been a victim of bad luck on both the health and performance front. The difference between his batting average (.188) and expected batting average (.338) is the second-largest among qualified hitters in the big leagues, and the difference between his slugging percentage (.354) and expected slugging (.737) is the largest.
What looked to be a robust AL Rookie of the Year race has admittedly been a bit of a dud so far.
Perhaps that’s unsurprising. Scouts will tell you that, in part because of the lost Minor League season in 2020, the difficulty gap between Triple-A and the big leagues is wider than ever, and the unusual nature of the start to this season only added to the challenge of settling right into the Majors (unless your name was Steven Kuwan or Jeremy Pena). But Julio Rodríguez, Bobby Witt Jr. and Spencer Torkelson were highly touted for a reason, and here’s hoping all of them truly break out this month.
We’ll focus on the “J-Rod Show” here because, while his 35.9% strikeout rate is definitely alarming, he has shown a tendency to make quick adjustments, and all the noise that has been made about the abnormally high number of incorrectly called strike calls against him could make a dent in that department. When Rodríguez has made contact, it’s been hard contact (51.2% hard-hit rate), so that’s encouraging for a Mariners team that is above .500 despite the slow start from its shiny new objects in the outfield — Rodríguez and Jesse Winker.
This is probably wishful thinking, because the original timetable for Tatis’ return was mid-June, at the earliest. But in the spirit of Ronald Acuña Jr. rejoining the Braves a bit earlier than anticipated, let’s hold out hope that the Padres will have their star shortstop back for what already looks like another riveting divisional battle in the NL West.
Tatis, who is recovering from a broken wrist, is known as a fast healer. Unfortunately, he’s had plenty of experience in that department, as injuries have severely impacted an otherwise dynamic start to his big league career. In recent days, I have started light baseball activity. Even if he doesn’t come back before the end of May, a seamless rehab process could prevent him from missing the entire first half of the season, as he was initially feared. The Padres have held their own without him, but they also benefited from beating up on the Reds and D-backs. With CJ Abrams understandably looking overmatched at the plate after so little developmental experience, San Diego could really use Tatis’ stick at short.
5. Say hello to the first-place Fish
The Mets have been a force of nature this season. The Braves figure to come alive with Acuña. The Phillies will continue to claw back from a ragged first couple of weeks. The Nationals will, um, continue to exist.
But the story of the NL East this month will be the persistence of a Marlins team that has been riding a budding rotation and Jazz Chisholm Jr. to a very respectable start. Some jerk left Miami out of his top 10 rotations going into the year (and heard about it from every single Fish fan) on the basis of needing to see if that young group can reach its ceiling. It’s still early, but we’re starting to see it now. Behind the underrated Sandy Alcantara, the excellent-when-healthy Pablo López and last year’s NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Trevor Rogers, Jesús Luzardo has found his velocity and his footing from him. The lineup is no juggernaut, but it runs deeper than it once did and hasn’t received as much as hoped for from veterans Jesús Aguilar, Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler yet.
Odds are, the division still comes down to the Mets and Braves. But if Chisholm can keep cranking out extra-base hits and center fielder Jesús Sánchez can keep producing amid a high chase rate, Miami will remain relevant in that race this month, at a minimum.
6. Every team in the AL Central will spend at least one day in first place
The White Sox injuries have created an early opportunity in the Central, and so far only the Twins, behind a surprisingly stout performance from their starting staff, have seized it. The Guardians have been erratic offensively, and the Tigers and Royals have major rotation questions and haven’t shown any power at the plate.
But until or unless the Twins provide their staying power and the Sox get it going, none of these five clubs looks like a juggernaut. Any of them could conceivably get hot enough for a week to at least touch the top in what has been a sluggish division so far.
But yes, there will be multiple no-hitters in May. “Real” ones! With only one pitcher apiece! As workloads increase for starters, the odds of that ratchet up (though, sadly, the nearly 10-year drought between perfect games will continue).
Who will toss these no-nos? Well, the great Max Scherzer has held opposing hitters to a league-best .131 average going into Sunday’s start. But because no-hitters are pretty random, the guess here goes to… [closes eyes and blindly points to a name on the list of qualified starters] … the D-backs’ Merrill Kelly and … [repeats that process] … the Blue Jays’ Kevin Gausman. (Hey, those are actually pretty good picks.) Congrats to both.
8. The Pirates will somehow go another month without getting hit by a pitch
OK, so the chances of this actually happening are pretty much nil. But isn’t it fun to juxtapose the Pirates’ complete avoidance of getting plunked by a pitch so far against the handwringing about HBPs that stems from Queens? At this point, the Mets (19 hit by pitches, entering Saturday) and the Pirates (zero) basically cancel each other out as the two extreme ends of the spectrum.
The increase in HBP rate is not a new topic in MLB and involves many factors, including the increase of velocity and ensuing decrease in command we’ve seen leaguewide. But if all you watched were 2022 Pirates games, you’d have no idea it’s even a topic. The Pirates really Buc the trend.
Unfortunately, this does qualify as “bold.” Trout already missed three games after getting hit in the hand, and Buxton already missed five after wrenching his knee. But let’s hope they can keep suiting up enough to vie for the AL MVP, even if we have to cover them in protective wrap.
We deserve it, after all.