Mookie Betts is hot, the Mets and Marlins are not: 9 surprising MLB opening week storylines

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Mookie’s blazing start, small sample size fun and a few teams that made opening week really count (for better or worse). Today, we’re bringing you nine surprising storylines from baseball’s opening week. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

1. Mookie Betts is killing it

It’s no surprise someone with Betts’ talent is playing well. But even by his standards, this is absurd.

Let’s start with the home runs: Betts has five. Eight teams have fewer, and four teams have exactly that many. But he’s not just selling out for power. He’s hitting .485 with a .595 OBP, thanks to a league-leading nine walks. Add the 1.091 slugging percentage, and that’s a 1.686 OPS (all league-bests). The man has been absolutely incandescent at the plate.

What’s more, Betts has been worth 3 Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop, second only to Bobby Witt Jr. among all position players. Reminder: This is his first year as a full-time infielder. In 82 innings at shortstop and second base, Betts has just one error.

2. More fun with home runs

GettyImages 2113293260 1 scaled

Jung Hoo Lee (Brandon Sloter / Getty Images)

New Giant Jung Hoo Lee is known more for contact than his power (65 home runs in 884 games in Korea). But it took home runs yesterday by Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge to finally catch up to Lee. They all have … one.

Put the trio together, and they have more homers (three) than the entire roster of the Minnesota Twins (two).

Judge and Ohtani will get theirs, but … are we worried about the Twins? Even the Guardians — who finished last in baseball last year with a dismal 124 dingers — have five already.

3. Young Royals barreling it better than anyone

It’s not shocking to see that, according to Baseball Savant, Bobby Witt Jr. is in the top two in barrel rates. The shock is that his teammate, Maikel Garcia, is No. 1.

That is certainly an encouraging sign for the Royals. Garcia had just four home runs in 132 games before this season. He hit his third of the year last night, tied for best in the AL.

OK, let’s check in on a few early-season win-loss surprises, shall we? For No. 4, here’s Ken …

4. Ken’s Notebook: The Marlins are winless

From my latest story with Dennis Lin:

They are 0-7, with four starting pitchers on the injured list. No, it is not too early to envision the Miami Marlins as a trade-deadline seller, not when they already have moved one veteran player and entertained offers for some of their biggest names.

The veteran the Marlins traded, infielder Jon Berti, 34, was only a part-time contributor. Second baseman Luis Arraez, 27, and left-hander Jesús Luzardo, 26, are more valuable commodities. The Marlins resisted trading both before Opening Day. But if their play does not improve, first-year general manager Peter Bendix almost certainly will be more inclined to dismantle his roster.

The San Diego Padres showed interest in Arraez throughout the offseason and made a strong offer for him during spring training, according to sources briefed on the Marlins’ discussions. A Padres source, however, said the team was more focused on Luzardo, who represented an alternative in trade conversations to right-hander Dylan Cease, the pitcher San Diego acquired from the Chicago White Sox on March 13.

Arraez is a two-time batting champion, but how he might have fit with the Padres, a team that cut its Opening Day payroll by more than $80 million from 2023 to ’24, is an open question.

The Padres announced early in camp that they would move Xander Bogaerts to second base to clear shortstop for Ha-Seong Kim. The only way to create a spot for Arraez — and accommodate his $10.6 million salary — might have been to trade Kim and return Bogaerts to short, or trade Jake Cronenworth and play Arraez at first base. The Padres, according to FanGraphs, are $14 million away from the luxury tax threshold, and they want to retain flexibility in case they need to address multiple needs before the trade deadline.

Arraez’s contact skills certainly would have been welcome in a San Diego lineup that lacks established left-handed hitters. Padres general manager A.J. Preller sometimes collects players with little regard for their natural positions. But the Marlins, with the start of the season approaching, feared they could not adequately replace Arraez, whom previous GM Kim Ng acquired from the Minnesota Twins in a four-player exchange that included right-hander Pablo López in January 2023.

Luzardo, obtained from the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Starling Marte in July 2021, was another Ng acquisition. He is earning $5.5 million this season and is under club control for two more. Arraez, on the other hand, is under control only through next season. The way Miami is operating, neither he nor Luzardo appears likely to receive a contract extension.

The only question seems to be whether they will be traded sooner or later.

5. The Mets … are also winless

OK, let’s give the Mets a little grace since they’ve only played four games (yesterday’s game against Detroit was postponed due to weather). Guess which teams had four-game losing streaks last season? Literally all of them! The 2023 Phillies started the season 0-4 and came within a win of the World Series.

But this is starting to feel distinctly concerning. Their starting pitching depth has been battered — they just signed Julio Teheran to help — and their team batting average through four games is a paltry .188.

It could be another long year with an active trade deadline in Queens.

6. The Tigers are the only undefeated team

Detroit has also played just four games, and do you know which teams had a four-game winning streak last season? Again — all 30 teams (even the A’s and Royals!). So the Tigers have work to do before they become this year’s version of the 2023 Rays, who started last season 13-0, a modern-era record.

But hey, nobody else has zero losses.

Like the omens in New York, there are beacons of hope in Detroit. Carson Kelly, Mark Canha and Kerry Carpenter are OPS’ing over 1.000, while their rotation — besides one very bad day from Kenta Maeda — has been brilliant. Tarik Skubal, Reese Olson and Jack Flaherty all looked like world-beaters.

Sure, it was against the White Sox and Mets, but stack those wins where you can! The A’s await. And then it’s Pittsburgh. Speaking of which …

7. Pirates (5-1) and Yankees (6-1) have one loss each

yankees yay scaled

Pittsburgh’s four-game sweep to open the season was more impressive when we weren’t sure if the Marlins were bad. But Pittsburgh didn’t make the schedule; they’re doing what they should do, which is win.

Remember, though: they also started with a bang last year, going 20-9 in April. I won’t get fooled again.

After this series with Washington, they’ll have nine games against the Orioles, Tigers and Phillies. If they’re on pace for 20-9 after that stretch … actually, I absolutely will get fooled again.

Meanwhile, in the Bronx, the surprise isn’t that the Yankees look good, but that they’ve looked this good under these circumstances. No Gerrit Cole, no DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton is struggling again and they went 6-1 against the Astros (ALCS last year) and Diamondbacks (World Series).

More player surprises …

8. Evan Carter is the fastest player in baseball (but doesn’t have a hit yet)

Here are the current sprint-speed leaders, according to Baseball Savant (min. 10 opportunities):

That’s surprising, but far from the most surprising thing about Carter’s season so far. After hitting .306 in 23 regular-season games last September (and .300 in 17 postseason games), Carter is batting an even .000 (0-for-15).

Stranger still, his OBP is .318. The man knows how to take a walk.

9. Shane Bieber hasn’t allowed a run yet

There was some question as to whether Bieber would ever return to his Cy Young form. Elbow issues last year kept him out for more than two months, and his average fastball velocity was down to 91 mph.

It’s only been two starts, but …

Not only is the fastball velocity back up a tick, but he hasn’t allowed a single run, shutting down the A’s (which … OK) — and the Mariners, which … OK!  (in a very different tone of voice!) He also has a league-leading 20 strikeouts (and just one walk).

The Guardians have a history of trading their players as they approach free agency, even if the team is on the fringes of contention. If Bieber keeps this up, he’ll be the hottest commodity of the 2024 trade deadline.

Side note: When it comes to relievers, keep an eye on Bieber’s teammate Cade Smith, who has struck out eight batters in 3 1/3 innings. Of the 286 MLB pitchers to have faced 10 or more hitters this year, his 66.7 percent K-rate is the best.

Handshakes and High Fives

A really cool one today from Zack Meisel, who spoke to fans to get their favorite memories from Jacobs / Progressive Field, which opened 30 years ago today.

The jokes were funny, but these Nike/Fanatics uniforms are a disaster. Stephen Nesbitt and Tyler Kepner get to the bottom of what went so horribly wrong.

Justin Verlander is set to start a rehab assignment on Sunday, and Yordan Alvarez snapped out of his funk last night.

The last out of the Diamondbacks’ extra-innings loss came when Scott McGough — a relief pitcher — took a called third strike. The Cardinals’ rotation has thus far been better than many expected.

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(Top photo: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

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