The Orioles’ Manny Machado and the Nationals’ Bryce Harper are each crushing baseballs during the first month of the season - big stories for each of the local nines.
Here are six other American League and National League East stories that could raise havoc for the Orioles and Nationals this season:
Nick Pivetta, Philadelphia: The Phillies are playing better than expected - maybe because of a soft schedule that has them a combined 8-1 against the Marlins, Rays and Reds? - and one of the reasons is right-hander Nick Pivetta, a fourth-round pick of the Nationals in 2013 traded two years later to the Phillies for closer Jonathan Papelbon. Last season, Pivetta had a 6.00-plus ERA with 3.86 walks per nine innings, fourth-highest in the NL. But, this spring, after hearing from new Phillies starter Jake Arrieta and former Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter about the importance of trying not to be too precise, Pivetta has a 2.57 ERA with four walks and 28 strikeouts in 28 innings. Pivetta throws a mid-90s fastball with an excellent curveball.
Rick Porcello, Boston: After winning the AL Cy Young Award for the Red Sox in 2016, Porcello, 29, struggled last season with a 4.35 ERA and a league-leading 17 losses. He went from the top of the Red Sox rotation to the No. 4 starter in the AL Division Series. In the offseason, he studied every game he pitched and discovered flaws that were leaving his fastball too low, his sinker too high. The adjustments are working: Porcello is 4-0 with 23 strikeouts and a walk. His ERA is 1.40.
Ozzie Albies, Atlanta: The Braves are rebuilding, and Ozzie Albies is a 21-year-old second baseman with defensive range, speed, power and a bat that hits for average, although it seems as if no one knows. In his first 77 games as a Brave, going back to last season, he’s hit .290 with 12 home runs, nine steals and a .352 on-base percentage. In Bryce Harper’s first 77 games with Washington, he hit .268 with nine home runs, 13 steals and a .341 on-base percentage.
Daniel Robertson, Tampa Bay: It’s not easy replacing a Rays legend, Evan Longoria, but Robertson, 24, is off to a good start and doing his part. He’s hitting .318 with eight hits in his last six games as the Rays come to Camden Yards this week. Robertson, 24, has played at second, third and short for the Rays. Perhaps that is fitting: He was a first-round draft pick by Oakland in 2012. Two years later, he was traded to Tampa Bay for Ben Zobrist, a player who has defined the utility role.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets: The 25-year-old right-handed power pitcher was limited to 30 innings last season because of a lat injury, but his health this season will help the Mets stay in contention. Syndergaard, acquired in a trade from Toronto, is a pitcher with who used to rely only on a fastball in the high 90s. And while he still has the blistering fastball, he’s become less reliant on the pitch, throwing more sliders, sinkers and changeups, and that makes his fastball more effective. Syndergaard has 39 strikeouts and five walks in his first five starts for the Mets. He has yet to be around in the seventh inning, but something says that if you give him time, he’s going to be pitching into the seventh regularly.
Miguel Andújar, New York Yankees: The 23-year-old third baseman joins Yankees greats and Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio as the lone guys in pinstripes with extra-base hits in seven consecutive games before turning 24. Andújar currently leads the AL in doubles with eight despite playing in just 14 games.