Baseball has turned into an all-or-nothing, strikeout-or-hit-a-home run game, but not all players are with the program.
Check out the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger.
In his previous two seasons, Bellinger has been all or nothing. In 2017, he hit 39 home runs with 146 strikeouts in 480 at-bats. The following season, the numbers were 25, 151 and 557.
Now Bellinger, the son of former big league infielder Clay Bellinger, is turning back the clock. He’s improved his strike zone discipline, shortened his swing, cut down on strikeouts, and is hitting .394 with 17 home runs and hard-hit line drive after hard-hit line drive.
He’s struck out 29 times in 170 at-bats. At a time when home runs are soaring at incredible distances, Bellinger’s story is refreshing.
He’s reached base in 45 consecutive starts to begin the season. John Olerud once did 57, Derek Jeter 53, Frank Thomas 52, and Mark McGwire and Alvin Davis 47 each.
Going into this weekend, he leads the majors in a list of statistics, including hits (67), average, home runs, slugging percentage (.765) and OPS (1.243).
In fact, he had seven home runs and 18 RBIs in his first 10 games. Only Hall of Famer Willie Mays has accomplished that feat.
There are other unexpected stories from the season’s first two months.
Gio Urshela, the Yankees’ third baseman is 27 and is with his third organization in 12 months. He hit .225 in two part-time seasons with Cleveland and was traded to Toronto for a player to be named last August.
Then the Yankees picked him up, and he’s been a steady force in their march into first place in the American League East. Urshela is hitting .333 with a .383 on-base percentage in replacing the injured Miguel Andujar, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
The Yankees are a surprise leader considering they are standing room only on the disabled list, including Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, James Paxton, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances and Luis Severino.
The Braves are trying to repeat as National League East champion with an ever-changing bullpen. They began the season with co-closers A.J. Minter and Arodys Vizcaíno.
That in itself is shaky.
Vizcaíno is out with a shoulder injury and went to Seattle in a trade. Minter is in the minors.
So the Braves have reacted. They moved starter Sean Newcomb to the bullpen. They picked up Anthony Swarzak in a trade, and they are getting help from a slider guy, Luke Jackson, who had a 5.19 ERA in 93 appearances over four seasons with the Rangers and Braves. In the last couple of years, he’s been designated for assignment or released five times by the Braves.
But he’s fixed his slider, and through one 12-day stretch during May, he’s saved five games.
He’s also blown two saves in his last three appearances, so where do the Braves go from here? We will see.
In 2015 and 2016, Jake Odorizzi was a consistent pitcher with an ERA in the 3.30 range. Then, his ERA moved up to more than 4.00, including a career-high 4.49 ERA in his first season with the Twins in 2018.
This season - thanks to improved mechanics, a better curve and the addition of a cutter - he’s the second-best pitcher in the league behind Houston’s Justin Verlander and a reason the Twins and their power-hitting lineup are building a commanding lead in the AL Central.
Odorizzi has a 2.38 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. In consecutive games against the strong lineups of the Astros and Yankees, he pitched 13 scoreless innings with 15 strikeouts.
For the last three years, Kansas City left fielder Alex Gordon, 35, has been the snapshot of slumping players with bad contracts. This year, Gordon is changing that reputation.
The Royals see nothing different about his workout routine, his approach, his stance or anything like that. All they see are statistics that say Gordon is hitting like the Gordon of old.
From 2011 through 2015, Gordon averaged .281 with a .359 on-base percentage and 20 home runs through 162 games. From 2016-18, his slash line dipped to .225/.310/.355.
This year, Gordon is slashing .287/.388/.515 with eight home runs.