At the beginning of the season, players’ performance gets blown out of proportion — the good, the bad and yes, even the ugly. It’s early. You can’t get carried away with such a small sample, but it’s still fascinating to see how players fare out of the gate and analyze whether they can maintain hot starts.
Often, the best player on a team gets off to the best start, but on the flip side, players such as Yermín Mercedes of the White Sox, Tyler Naquin of the Reds or Phillip Evans of the Pirates can surprise as a team’s top performer in the early going. That is a great part of the game.
Here is my rundown of the standout starts from each team through nine to 11 games, and what I expect for these players this season.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Ronald Acuña Jr., RF
Slash line: .447/.500/.947 2B: 5 HR: 4 RBI: 8 SB: 3
Ronald Acuña Jr. was my pick for the NL MVP Award, and he has not disappointed, getting off to a blazing start to the season. He’s making diving plays in the field, taking the extra base on the basepaths, and hitting for power and speed while bringing his high level of energy, enthusiasm and passion to the park. I’m expecting the most consistent year of his career and believe he’ll become the fifth player to join the 40-40 club (40 home runs, 40 stolen bases). The only other players to accomplish that feat were Alfonso Soriano, who did it when I was the general manager of the Nationals, along with Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Canseco.
Miami Marlins: Sandy Alcantara, RHP
W-L: 0-1 ERA: 2.45 IP: 18 1/3 H: 10 BB: 7 SO: 21
The Marlins rotation has looked stellar. Through Saturday, their three best starters, Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López and Trevor Rogers, owned ERAs under 2.00. The battle for the best start to the year is between Alcantara and Rogers, who are running neck and neck. Alcantara had the slight edge in ERA, strikeouts and batting average against through two starts apiece, so he gets the nod. Alcantara is in the 90th percentile in xwOBA and xERA, and in the 88th percentile in xBA. The 25-year-old ace has consistently reached 97 to 98 mph with his sinker and four-seam fastball, with dominating late life on both pitches in every quadrant of the strike zone. Opponents are hitting .077 against his change-up, .125 against his slider and .143 against his four-seam fastball. His stuff is for real, he’s mature, and I’m expecting him to be a Cy Young Award candidate.
New York Mets: Jacob deGrom, RHP
W-L: 0-1 ERA: 0.64 IP: 14 H: 8 BB: 2 SO: 21
It’s no surprise that Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ best player, is off to the best start on the team. He’s the best pitcher in the majors, with the best stuff. It’s also not a shock that he hasn’t won either of his two starts despite a 0.64 ERA and allowing only one run in 14 innings. Since 2018, deGrom has a 2.06 ERA, and yet the Mets are 36-42 in his starts. He just never seems to get run support, or the bullpen can’t hold a lead, or the defense makes a miscue at a key juncture. I expect deGrom to win his third Cy Young Award this year regardless of how many wins he’s credited with. However, at some point, doesn’t the trend have to change and the Mets start scoring runs for him?
Philadelphia Phillies: J.T. Realmuto, C
Slash line: .333/.375/.533 2B: 3 HR: 1 RBI: 6
J.T. Realmuto has done a fabulous job of calling games behind the plate, framing, blocking balls, and limiting opponents’ run game. The solid starts to the season for Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have a lot do with the way Realmuto has been sequencing pitches. On offense, Realmuto leads the Phillies in average, ranks second in RBIs, and has consistently produced quality at-bats. He’s living up to his five-year, $115.5 million contract as he continues to be the best overall catcher in baseball.
Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, RHP
W-L: 0-0 ERA: 0.00 IP: 6 H: 1 BB: 2 SO: 8
Stephen Strasburg’s first start of the season was sensational as he dominated the Braves, allowing one hit in six shutout innings. His change-up was his best pitch, buckling the knees of Braves hitter after Braves hitter. The deceptive, late-breaking, dead-fish pitch was so nasty that the hitters could have known it was coming and still had no chance. It brought back memories of pitchers such as Pedro Martinez, Mario Soto, Trevor Hoffman and Chris Hammond, who all had special change-ups. Strasburg’s fastball was in the mid-90s and his curveball was terrific, coming in at 80 mph with a late downward break; he threw the curve 30 percent of the time. If he pitches like this all season, he’ll be in the Cy Young conversation and could be a difference-maker in the Nationals’ quest to get back to the playoffs.