Here is a look at who is hot in Major League Baseball heading into the final days of April.
Roughly a month into the MLB season, things are finally picking up. Some teams are heating up, some teams are ice cold, some top prospects are coming up, while some starts are going down hurt. It’s been an interesting week, so let’s check out some of the top headlines.
Earlier this week, the Braves brought up top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr., and just based on his first few games, this kid’s the real deal. At just 20 years old, he’s the youngest player in the big leagues, but considered a true five-tool player whose ceiling is almost limitless. In his first three games, he’s 6 for 13 with two doubles and a home run. With Acuña up, the Braves have another piece of their long-term puzzle in place. Of course, Atlanta has had a promising April, and with Acuña up, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson off to hot starts, and the team’s young pitchers coming along, the Braves may be further ahead in their rebuilding than people realize.
The Brewers are already playing without closer Corey Knebel, and they suffered another big loss earlier this week when Eric Thames suffered a thumb injury that will keep him out an estimated six to eight weeks. Milwaukee has depth at first base, which should help, but Thames was having an outstanding season, already hitting seven home runs in less than a month. When Thames got hurt, the Brewers were in the middle of an eight-game winning streak, and they’ve now lost two in a row. That may be a coincidence, but there’s no denying that losing Thames for up to two months is huge for Milwaukee.
Without a doubt, the most surprising news of the week was the apparent return of Jung Ho Kang to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kang sat out the entire 2017 season because he couldn’t get a work visa following a DUI arrest in his native South Korea. For whatever reason, Kang has now secured a work visa and has returned to the U.S. After he completes a treatment program, he’ll report to extended spring training. However, with the emergence of Colin Moran at third base and a deep contingent of utility players on their bench, the Pirates don’t appear to have room on their roster for Kang, whose sudden appearance was unexpected.
Johnny Cueto was apparently dealing with a sprained ankle earlier in the year, but you couldn’t tell by watching him. In four starts this season, Cueto has allowed one run over 26 innings. That translates to a 0.35 ERA. You can talk about short-sample-sizes, but that’s some serious domination, especially after Cueto had such a down season last year that he decided not to opt out of his contract and hit the free agent market. There is also no question about the competition he’s faced, as Cueto has shut down the Dodgers, Mariners, Diamondbacks, and Angels. It’ll be tough to keep up this pace all season, but he’s definitely the early favorite for Cy Young.
The Rays had a disastrous start to the season, but out of nowhere, they have found their stride. With Friday’s win over the first-place Red Sox, the Rays have won seven in a row. The rotation that was supposed to be the strength of the team has started to turn things around over the last week. But even more surprisingly, the Rays have kicked things into another gear offensively. Mallex Smith has turned into a great table setter, with C.J. Cron, Daniel Robertson, and others starting to provide some power. Of course, even with seven straight wins, the Rays are still two games under .500 and have a long way to go to get back into contention.
After a strong start to the season, the Minnesota Twins have fallen off a cliff, losing eight games in a row. Friday night, they took a 5-1 lead in the first inning, only to end up losing 15-9, and that was against the lowly Reds. As you can tell, pitching has been the biggest culprit during the losing streak, as the Twins are giving up over nine runs per game during the streak. Closer Fernando Rodney, in particular, has struggled, posting a 6.75 ERA on the season with three blown saves. The losing streak has dropped the Twins to five games under .500, falling to third place in the AL Central, even behind the Tigers. On paper, they’re still a team that can compete for a playoff spot, but they’ve dug themselves into a hole with this losing streak.