You know what they say in baseball, right? (Besides, "Watch out for that right fist of Rougned Odor," I mean.) They say: "Be wary of thinking you know anything about anything until those first 40 games are out of the way."
And if that's what they say, well, guess what? It's now officially OK to start panicking, jumping on bandwagons or figuring out which guys your team ought to trade for in July -- because the first quarter of the baseball season is just about over.
Nineteen teams already have reached the 40-game mark. All 30 teams will have gotten there by the end of the weekend. So what better time to review what we've seen and learned so far.
AL MVP: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles. With apologies to Jose Altuve, David Ortiz, Mike Trout and Robinson Cano, if it hasn't dawned on you yet that Machado is a special, generational talent on both sides of the ball, then pay more attention. He's currently on pace for just your average 47-homer, 64-double, 213-hit, 128-run season, which looks like a stat line out of Lou Gehrig's greatest hits -- except for the fact that nobody, even Gehrig, has ever had a year like that. One AL exec's review of Machado: "The best hitter I've seen this year. And it's not close."
NL MVP: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies. I could make an eloquent case here for Dexter Fowler, Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Ben Zobrist, Clayton Kershaw or Jake Arrieta. But it's time to salute the ascendance of Arenado into the realm of elite, franchise-changing players. Did you know he's the only player in either league to rank among the offensive and defensive leaders on baseball-reference.com's wins above replacement leaderboard? Did you know that you'll be fined heavily for saying stuff like "Coors Field creation," because he has a .296/.367/.568/.935 slash line on the road? Did you know he has hit more road homers (28) than Coors homers (27) since the start of last season? All 100 percent true. Here's one NL scout's assessment of Arenado: "He's now moved into the top five players in baseball."
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox. I'd like to have 10 bucks for every time I've said or written, "Chris Sale is the best pitcher in baseball who has never won a Cy Young." But this just might be the year, ladies and gentlemen. Eight starts into his season, he's a picturesque 8-0 with a 1.67 ERA. And that "8-0 in Eight Starts/ERA Under 2.00 Club" is way too cool. The only other starters in the club, since the mound was lowered in 1969, are Pedro Martinez in 1997 and Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, the Elias Sports Bureau reports. And the last AL starter that club admitted? How about Ed Lopat -- in 1951!
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers. Here we go again. Kershaw or Jake Arrieta? Impossible, isn't it? Impossible not to pick the guy with the 1.29 ERA (i.e., Arrieta), that is. But guess what? I'm picking Kershaw anyway. On Tuesday night, Reds reliever Steve Delabar faced six hitters -- and walked five of them. Meanwhile, Kershaw has faced 253 hitters this year -- and walked four of them. So I'll take the man with the unheard-of 88-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The man with six straight double-figure strikeout games that have included a TOTAL of two walks. The man who bears the weight of his franchise every time he goes out there, averages more outs per start (23) than any pitcher in the sport and owns the late innings like no other starter alive. He has now faced 54 hitters from the seventh inning on. Seven have somehow reached base. Not a one has scored. He's amazing, this dude.
AL Rookie of the Year: Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers. It's pretty much a coin flip between Mazara and Minnesota's Byung Ho Park. So what was the tiebreaker? Well, there have been only two players named Nomar in baseball history. (Nomar Garciaparra was the other, naturally.) So how can we not root for both of them to win rookie-of-the-year awards? All right, there's that, plus the fact that Mazara is the youngest player in the major leagues, and you'd never know it. He leads all AL rookies in batting average (.307) and on-base percentage (.357). He kills fastballs, hitting .400 with a 1.038 OPS against pitches clocked at 95 mph and faster. His at-bats are so good, he's second on the team in pitches per plate appearance. He already has won a game with one of the best outfield arms in baseball. So he's got "star" written all over him. Which is what rookie-of-the-year awards should be all about.
NL Rookie of the Year: Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals. Way too many choices here that could all be the right answer. Trevor Story. Corey Seager. Steven Matz. Kenta Maeda. Seung Hwan Oh. All great. But Aledmys Diaz can mash, friends. He's a rookie shortstop who was actually leading the league in slugging (at .648) until Yoenis Cespedes (.656) passed him Wednesday night. And who's the last first-year player to lead the National League in slugging? How about John O'Rourke. In 1879! Call me crazy, but I have a tough time not picking a guy hitting .376/.403/.648/1.051 who has struck out 12 times all season.
Best NL team: Chicago Cubs. You were expecting maybe the Braves? This just in: The. Cubs. Are. A. Juggernaut. How 'bout this: Only five other teams in the World Series era had a better run differential after 38 games than this Cubs team (plus-108). They all went to the World Series. They all won at least 102 games. And they finished a combined 282 games over .500. OK then.
Best AL team: Boston Red Sox: Want to argue for the White Sox? Or the Orioles? Or the Mariners? Go for it. I'll take a Red Sox team with the best run differential of any team not named the Cubs (plus-57). A team that just averaged 10 runs a game for an entire seven-game homestand, thus becoming only the third team since 1900 to do that. A team that has outscored the next-best offense in the American League by 54 runs. A team on pace to score 948 runs -- in a league where no one else is on pace to score 800. (Yeah, yeah. I know. They also have to pitch. We'll get back to you on that topic some other time.)
Surprise team: Philadelphia Phillies. Before Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus played out the season 1 million times, based on its PECOTA projections. The Phillies were the only team in baseball that was given a zero percent chance to win the World Series (although, to be technical, that was just because they computed to have less than one-tenth of a 1 percent chance). Then, however, the real season started. And something crazy happened: When those same Phillies hit that magical 40-game mark, they were six games over .500 (23-17). They also had a minus-30 run differential. So how many other teams since 1900 had a record that good and a run differential that lopsided after 40 games? Right you are. That would be none, according to baseball-reference.com. What a story this team is.
Most disappointing team: Houston Astros. The good news for the Astros is, at least they have a better run differential than the Phillies (minus-23). The bad news is, it took them just a month and a half to go from a trendy win-the-World-Series pick to being the last team in baseball to win two games in a row. Do they even want to know that of the 191 previous AL teams to lose at least 24 of their first 40 games in non-strike years, exactly two made the playoffs? Right. Didn't think so.
Best R.A. Dickey impression: Steven Wright, Red Sox. Over the past 50 years, only three knuckleballers have finished in the top five in the American League in ERA -- Charlie Hough in 1983, Tom Candiotti in 1992 and Tim Wakefield in 1995. Who knew two months ago that Wright (currently sixth, at 2.52) would threaten to be the fourth? Then again, even more shockingly, who knew he'd be the Red Sox's best starter?
Best Shin-Soo Choo impression: Odubel Herrera, Phillies. The Phillies' hyperactive center fielder walked exactly 28 times last season -- in 537 trips to the plate. He already has walked 29 times this season -- in 174 trips to the plate. That's because Herrera somehow has improved his walk rate from 5.2 percent last year to 16.7 percent this year. And how improbable is that? Here's how improbable. Only one player since 1900 has had his walk rate jump by more than 10 percent in one year. That player was Barry Lamar Bonds in 2003-04. Except that Bonds was helped slightly in his quest by those 120 intentional walks he got in 2004. Herrera has been honored with two intentional walks. In his career. Go figure.
Best Craig Biggio impression: Brandon Guyer, Tampa Bay Rays. Ever noticed a giant X marked on Guyer's uniform? Nah, me neither. But he must have some sort of magnetic force field around him because he already has been hit by 12 pitches this year. Yep, 12. Before his team had even played 34 games. So who else in the past century has been drilled that many times in his team's first 33 games of the season? That would be none, the Rays report. The single-season record is 50, by Ron Hunt in 1971. Guyer is right on schedule.
Best Ryne Sandberg impression: Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners. Unless you count four-way ties in strike years, no second baseman has ever led the American League in home runs. Only two second basemen since 1900 have ever led the National League in home runs for that matter. One was Rogers Hornsby. The other was Ryne Sandberg. But guess who is tied for the AL lead in homers? That would be Robbie Cano. Who still plays second base. I don't like his odds of holding on. But what the heck. Can't waste these great tidbits.
Best Babe Ruth impression: Bartolo Colon, New York Mets. You didn't think I could get through this column without mentioning the long-ball event of 2016, did you? So here it comes. Presenting your All-Bartolo-Homered-Before-Us team: Jason Heyward, Nick Markakis, Carlos Gomez, Russell Martin, Austin Jackson, Howie Kendrick and Billy Butler -- just to name a few!