Spring lessons: What we learned in an exciting May
One-third of the way through season, trends have been set throughout MLB
It finally feels like summer in most of the country, and we've passed Memorial Day, historically the first major milepost in the six-month baseball campaign. With about one-third of the season in the books, we're starting to get a real feel for what the 2013 season is going to look like.
It's still essential, even after two months, not to overreact to what are still pretty small amounts of information. But the small sample sizes keep getting bigger, and before we know it, the halfway point will be upon us.
So with the caveat, as always, that all of this could look awfully wrong in 30 days, here's a look at five things we seem to have learned during the second month of the 2013 regular season.
Joey Votto is not, in fact, too patient: There were some worries early in the year that Votto was being too passive, that he was squandering opportunities by taking too many walks. This was a fairly silly worry. If there's one reliable constant in baseball, it's that hitters hit. And Votto is most assuredly a hitter.
Votto hit like himself in May, which is to say he hit like the best hitter in the National League, the best left-handed hitter in the game, and one of two viable candidates for the title of best hitter on the planet (along with a fellow named Cabrera, and we'll get to him in a moment). Entering Friday, Votto was batting .400 with a .496 on-base percentage, a .650 slugging percentage, six homers and 16 RBIs in May.
Oh, and he was also 9-for-22 with "only" four unintentional walks with runners in scoring position for the month. So he's driving in runs when he gets the chance, too.
Miguel Cabrera might be better than ever: Over the past three years, only Cabrera has been a better hitter than Votto. During that stretch, he leads the Majors in average, slugging and RBIs, and is second in on-base and homers. So, what's he doing now? Getting better.
Cabrera followed up a great April with an even better May, and he now leads the American League in just about everything that Chris Davis doesn't. He's batting .369 entering Friday. He's amassed 59 RBIs in 52 games. He is, as usual, playing every single day -- perhaps one of the few things about Cabrera that seems to stay under the radar is his remarkable durability.
Yes, Davis' numbers were every bit as good as Cabrera's for May, and that's pretty absurd in itself. But you kind of get the notion that Cabrera might be able to do this for a full season.
Stephen Strasburg is just fine: Strasburg lost five straight decisions earlier this year, which tells you more about the value of pitcher decisions than about how he was pitching. Still, there were times when he seemed a little bit less than at his best. As of May 4, he had a 3.45 ERA, which combined with his record to cause a few worries in the nation's capital.
No need. Strasburg is not what's wrong with the scuffling Nats. He's what's right. Over his past three starts, he's piled up 23 innings, struck out 20 against six walks, and brought his ERA down to 2.49. Sometimes you're going to have ups and downs in a season. Strasburg's stuff and command are as good as ever, and once the run support starts coming (if it starts coming), he'll rack up the wins as well.
The Rays can hit: Tampa Bay's home ballpark means that the Rays will always be perceived to have a weaker lineup than they actually have. Tropicana Field is simply a brutal place to hit, and even good Rays offenses won't score as many runs as they would in another park.
Still, the Rays struggled to score early in the year. But things have gotten a lot better lately. Luke Scott is healthy, Evan Longoria is hot, and Desmond Jennings and Yunel Escobar are hitting to their capability. Tampa Bay leads the Major Leagues with 157 runs scored in May.
This isn't going to be a video-game offense. But it should be a good one.
The Jays can hit, too -- but about that pitching: Toronto's lineup has also found its way after some early struggles. But that's not the problem with the team that so many people thought would win the AL East. The issue with the Blue Jays is on the run-prevention side of things. They entered Friday with a 5.20 ERA for May, and 4.86 for the year -- worst and second worst in the Majors, respectively.
Josh Johnson has made only four starts and J.A. Happ has seven, and health issues are surely a part of the problem. But the guys who have stayed healthy just haven't been effective. R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow all have ERAs of 5.18 or higher, and they've combined to allow 35 homers in 196 innings. They're throwing strikes, they're just not keeping the ball in the park. Until that gets fixed, it's hard to see the Blue Jays making a run in the AL East.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.