This installment of our stock report looks at the beginning of the NL MVP race, the Bringer of Rain, Jackie Bradley Jr. and more.
Hello again and welcome to 3 Up, 3 Down, our weekly look at who’s trending up and who’s trending down. As we approach the season’s second month, this week features the no-name Yankees, Josh Donaldson’s big weekend and a pair of former headliners struggling in new homes. But first, we’ll dive into an impressive start to the NL MVP race.
↑ The Emerging NL MVP Battle ↑
The 2019 MVP race in the National League may not match the McGwire-Sosa battle of 1998, but Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger have put on quite the show thus far. Bellinger took round one over the weekend as Los Angeles stole a Sunday victory in Milwaukee. The Dodgers slugger robbed Yelich of a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth; then smacked a go-ahead home run off Josh Hader in the top of the ninth. Bellinger will have a tough time getting a meal near Miller Park anytime soon.
Bellinger leads baseball in all three slash figures, hitting .424/.500/.882. Yelich has 13 home runs in 103 plate appearances and is one homer away from tying Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez for the April record. He should to snag the all-time lead in his next eight games.
Los Angeles is on a 101-win pace and Yelich could carry Milwaukee to the NL Central crown. Each player is bound to slow down at some point, but through three weeks, we have a clear pair of favorites for the National League’s top honor, setting the stage for an exciting summer.
↑ Josh Donaldson Back on Track ↑
The self-proclaimed Bringer of Rain bet on himself when he signed a one-year “prove-it” contract with the Braves in late November. The 2015 MVP arrived in Atlanta after logging just 165 combined games in 2017 and 2018, battling a set of shoulder and calf injuries. He registered one hit in 11 at-bats against the Astros in the 2018 ALCS, ending his short-lived Indians tenure in frustrating fashion. A career revival remained in question.
Donaldson is slashing a solid .270/.400/.500 through his first 21 games, scoring 16 runs with seven RBIs. But his first Braves moment came over the weekend with a pair of dingers to beat the Indians on Sunday Night Baseball. Both homers were mammoth shots. He roped a laser to centerfield and then bashed a high fastball into the leftfield seats. Atlanta’s impressive lineup added a significant weapon this winter.
The Braves may fall short in the NL East, largely due to its shoddy bullpen. But their bats won’t go quietly into the night. Ronald Acuña Jr. could challenge Bellinger and Yelich for NL MVP and Freddie Freeman is one of the steadiest forces in baseball. Donaldson is another luxury in one of the National League’s best lineups.
↑ The Yankees' Replacements ↑
New York’s lineup on Sunday mirrored a spring training tilt as Brett Gardner manned the three hole and Mike Ford registered his first career hit. The Yankees injured list is a legitimate All-Star team, missing a combined 175 homers and 515 RBIs from last year’s squad. The significant holes in Aaron Boone’s daily lineup card could have spelled a disastrous start in the Bronx.
The Yankees have largely weathered the storm, entering Tuesday two back of Tampa in the loss column for the AL East lead. The Yankees are three clear of Boston in the loss column, winning six of their last ten. They’re treading water just fine, fueled by some unlikely faces. Mike Tauchman homered three times during last week’s four-game win streak, while Clint Frazier boasts a 1.109 OPS and six homers. The Yankees can’t win the AL East without Stanton and Judge, but thus far, they’ve managed to avoid losing it. The Bronx isn’t burning just yet.
↓ Yasiel Puig and the Refurbished Reds ↓
Cincinnati went on a mini-spending spree as a majority of owners clutched their cash this winter, adding Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark. The Reds also shelled out a three-year extension for reliever Raisel Iglesias, signaling their intention to compete in a crowded NL Central. The investment hasn’t paid off thus far.
The Reds enter Tuesday night last in the NL Central at 8–13. They are hitting a league-worst .197 and rank No. 26 in runs. Neither Puig nor Kemp are hitting above .200, combining for three homers in 132 plate appearances. The duo has yet to take advantage of Great American Small Park. Preseason optimism has faded after a slow start, and series against the Braves, Mets and Cardinals await them over the next two weeks. Cincinnati could dig itself quite a hole by the end of April.
↓ Regular Season Jackie Bradley Jr. ↓
Boston mashed its way through the 2018 playoffs, tallying five-plus runs in eight of its 14 postseason contests. The usual cast of sluggers shined, but the Red Sox also mined production from a slate of infrequent sources. Jackie Bradley Jr. was a key cog in Boston’s machine, knocking three homers and 10 RBIs across the postseason. Boston’s defensive stalwart buried the Astros in the ALCS and hit another bomb in the World Series, adding additional pop to one of baseball’s deepest lineups.
JBJ hasn’t been able to carry his postseason success to 2019. He’s hitting .141 and slugging .172, crossing the plate just five times in 19 games. Bradley fell back to earth in the past two seasons after an All-Star appearance in 2016. He’s taken another step back this year, one of many Red Sox to struggle out of the gate after last year’s run through October. Boston’s pitching is a massive question mark. Its lineup needs to pick up the slack.
↓ Jorge Soler, Whiffing Away ↓
There’s a lot to like about Jorge Soler, a potential extension candidate as Kansas City begins its rebuild in earnest. But along with 23 homers in his last 348 plate appearances (dating back to 2018) comes a whole lot of strikeouts, including a platinum sombrero (five strikeouts!) against the Yankees on Sunday.
Soler leads MLB with 36 strikeouts through his first 22 games, eight ahead of whiff-prone teammate Adalberto Mondesi. His strikeout percentage is the worst of any player in baseball aside from Jorge Alfaro. Soler has 30-homer potential, but he will continue to plague Kansas City as he racks up the strikeouts. A slight boost in contact will go a long way.