Five Takeaways from the First Two Months of the 2023 MLB Season
What a wild two months.
The first two months of the 2023 MLB season have been interesting — to say the least. With the 2023 campaign into its eighth full week, now seems like a good time to go over our five key takeaways from what we’ve seen so far. And we’ll start with what appears to be two interesting division races that have our full attention.
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Get Ready for Wild Races in the East
The two East divisions will be interesting to watch moving forward. Let’s start in the AL East, a division that features five teams with record above .500. Four teams in the AL East finished the year with records better than .500 last season, but it’s not out of the question that all five can do just that this season — thanks to the new schedule.
What’s rather remarkable about the AL East is that the Rays, who tore up the league over the first six weeks and boast multiple MVP candidates in Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena, are just 2.5 games in front of the surging Orioles as of May 22. Baltimore might be young, but a rotation filled with breakout arms and a tough lineup have kept the O’s very much in it. The Yankees, meanwhile, are 5.5 games out of first place.
And as for the NL East, the Braves are five games up on the Mets. However, Atlanta is 4-6 over its last ten games and are down Max Fried and Kyle Wright for a while. The Mets, meanwhile, struggled for a good month, but the returns of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and timely hitting has pushed the Amazins’ back into a playoff spot. But aside from the Mets, don’t count out the Phillies or even the Marlins just yet.
Gorman and Kelenic Are for Real
If we were to pick the AL and NL breakouts stars now, those honors would have to go to Cardinals INF Nolan Gorman and Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic. Gorman is tied with Matt Olson, Aaron Judge, Luis Robert Jr., and Rafael Devers for fourth in the Majors in total home runs (13), and his 1.032 OPS is tied for third. The 23-year-old showcased plus power in the Minors, but it didn’t come together in his first full season in the league last year. Now, Gorman looks like one of the game’s premier infielders.
Kelenic’s first two seasons in the Majors were ones to forget, but adjustments at the plate have led to the young M’s outfielder to jump into the top ten in the league in total extra base hits (22). Sure, Kelenic has continued to strike out at high frequency, but his contact and batted ball numbers have all taken a sharp jump up.
Two Soon-to-Be Free Agents Have Stood Out
When Rafael Devers and Manny Machado both signed extensions this past winter, Blue Jays 3B Matt Chapman became the best third baseman that was slated to become a free agent after the 2023 season.
It seemed likely prior to the 2023 campaign that Chapman would do well on the open market given his power and fielding ability, That, however, was before what’s become a career season for the Jays infielder. Chapman hit .300/.381/.515 with six home runs, 24 RBI, and 25 extra base hits — the latter of which is tied for third in the league alongside the aforementioned Rafael Devers — over his first 46 games of the season.
But Chapman isn’t the only soon-to-be free agent that’s dominated the competition this season. Twins starter Sonny Gray owns the league’s best ERA (1.64) and could be a favorite to win the AL Cy Young at this pace. Gray will be 34 years of age when he hits the open market this fall, but that shouldn’t stop the Twins righty from procuring a hefty multi-year deal so long as he continues to dominate on the hill.
The Pirates Are Not for Real, But…
It’s fair to say that the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are slated to pick first in the upcoming 2023 MLB Draft this summer, were arguably the best story to come out of April. Pittsburgh ended the first full month of the regular season atop the NL Central, but have since sunk to second after a tough May. Still, there’s a lot to like about the Pirates’ future.
Right-hander Mitch Keller has emerged as the ace of the rotation and Bryan Reynolds — who at one point looked like an ex-Pirate this past offseason — is now locked up long-term. Between those two and a deep crop of prospects, the Pirates could contend for real within the next two seasons.
The Reigning Champs Are Back on Track
The Houston Astros hovered around .500 for much of the first six weeks of the regular season. But after an uneven start, the defending World Series champions look more like the team that disposed of the Mariners, Yankees, and Phillies last fall. Infielder Alex Bregman‘s numbers have improved, and Yordan Alvarez continues to mash. The Astros lineup received a boost earlier in the month, when Jose Altuve, who missed the first six weeks of the regular season thanks to an injury sustained in the 2023 WBC, came back from the IL.
As of May 22, the 27-19 Astros sit just 2.5 games behind the first-place Rangers and occupy the third AL Wild Card spot.
There’s still some questions, however, that linger around the Astros. Houston is currently down two starters in Lance McCullers Jr. and Jose Urquidy, while offseason acquisition Jose Abreu has gotten off to a very difficult start. Abreu, a former AL MVP who’s been one of the more consistent sluggers over the past decade, recorded just seven extra base hits and posted a .534 OPS over his first 45 games in Houston. Among the 222 hitters with at least 115 plate appearances, just three — Tony Kemp, Jean Segura, and Elvis Andrus — own lower OPS figures.