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Which Current MLB Trends Are Here to Stay?

Michael Baumann and Ben Lindbergh took a close look at the first few days of play

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Baseball is finally underway, and some wacky stuff has happened throughout the first few games. Which trends are here to say, and which are small-sample-size flukes? Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann played "Real or Not Real" to answer those questions on the latest Ringer MLB Show. This is the first half; they answer six more questions in the episode.

PS: The Ringer MLB Show is playing exclusively on TuneIn for the month of April.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Will Dallas Keuchel continue to pitch like an ace?

Keuchel allowed zero runs in seven innings in a win over Seattle.

Ben Lindbergh: Well, I think it’s important, potentially. Because Keuchel was a big reason why the Astros fell just short of the playoffs last year after making it in 2015. Coming off the Cy Young year and struggling, it seemed like injuries had played some part, but it’s hard to say how much because he’s one of those guys who everyone kind of questioned even when he was pitching at the high level because he didn’t have the "stuff" of the typical Cy Young candidate. So, if he is fully healthy and recovered now, as he seems to be, this is a positive sign that he can have 2015 Keuchel-like starts, which doesn’t mean he will continue to. But if he does, that will obviously be big for the Astros because they have a really incredible lineup and pitching is the weak spot. … I mean, he only had four strikeouts in this game. Did he walk anyone in this game, because that’s a thing … yeah, again, not to make too much of one game’s line, but I’ll say, "not real" that he posts a zero ERA all season long.

Will Joey Gallo keep mashing dingers, and will Nomar Mazara keep hitting?

Gallo has a homer, and Mazara has four hits through two games.

Lindbergh: I so want the first one to be real. I’ve been writing about him for years. I called him "the most interesting man in the minors" a few years ago. He has not been the most interesting man in the majors, although I’ll still be pulling for him because of his tremendous power. Is it real that he will occasionally hit a mind-blowing home run? That is definitely real. But I’m not going to make any pronouncement on whether he will make contact often enough to hit those runs with any regularity.

Michael Baumann: Just looking at Mazara hit, you see the gears turning. I’ve said the same thing about Kyle Schwarber. That it’s almost like a Joey Votto–like approach. That you can see him thinking through the at-bat. I think that’s good. He’s just not going to be as bad as he was last year.

Will Masahiro Tanaka bounce back from a rough first outing?

Tanaka had a 23.63 ERA in his first game.

Lindbergh: He’s always going to be a guy who, when he has one lousy start, is going to make everyone wonder. Because he had the partially torn UCL that he didn’t get repaired and he’s been pitching on it for years now and pitching at a high level.

Baumann: He might still be delaying the inevitable, but he’s delayed it for a really long time at this point.

Lindbergh: He was a down-ballot Cy Young candidate last year. I think he had a good spring training, so I wouldn’t make too much of it. But any pitcher is a guy whose elbow can give away at any moment, but with [Tanaka] there’s always an elevated risk.

Will the Cleveland Indians keep wearing their Chief Wahoo hats?

The club has worn the Chief Wahoo hats in each of its first three games.

Lindbergh: Unfortunately, I’m going to have to say real, at least for 2017. Because if they were going to make that change they would have made it over the winter rather than midseason. So I think it’s inevitable, but at this point I guess they’re committed for now.

Baumann: I wish anybody in that clubhouse would sort of look at the logo and be like, "Yeah, are we really doing this?" Because there are debates to be had … but that one is so beyond the pale. And yet here we are.

Will Mike Matheny continue to use Oh Seung-hwan for multi-inning saves?

He was brought in for a five-out save against the Cubs and gave up three runs.

Baumann: He was the setup guy for most of [2016] before Rosenthal finally lost it. He threw more pitches in this appearance than any other big league appearance he’s had. But he’d gone two innings and gone 30 pitches before. And not only was this a one-run game in the eighth, they brought him in to face [Kyle] Schwarber, [Kris] Bryant, and [Anthony] Rizzo.

Will the Javier Baéz hype train keep picking up speed?

Lindbergh: Defensively, yes. I’m not sure if the bat matched the glove. I don’t know whether it will continue to, because it really started building in October when he was hitting really well as well as playing defensively really well, so he looked like a superstar in every facet of the game, whereas during the season, the defense had been great but the bat hadn’t been. So, if he takes a step offensively, yes; otherwise I think he’ll continue to be a staple of highlights but won’t really graduate into the stratosphere, at least as far as value that some of the other Cubs occupy.

Baumann: I think he’s going to be this generation’s Yadier Molina. He’s going to do a couple of specific defensive things really well, and everybody’s going to extrapolate that out to him being the best defensive player at his position and they’re either not going to notice or not going to care that he’s not that good a hitter at this point.