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Zuba: Baseball hot starts could last (April 23)

| Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The MLB season is at that stage when parity among teams still exists, with many clubs sitting around the nine-win mark.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Brewers had ridden a four-game winning streak to an MLB-best 15-5 record, and the Braves and A’s each sit at 13-6, but even these teams have not separated themselves too far from the pack. 

Several players, however, have jumped to impressively hot starts.

The kinds of numbers that lead the league right now have little chance to endure to the end of the season, but the current leaders could stay at the top of the board if they can produce consistently — if not quite so extraordinarily — over the course of the season.

So who is most likely to stay at the top of MLB in terms of individual stats? Here is a look at a few of the MLB leaders.

Charlie Blackmon, batting average

Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon currently leads all hitters with a .411 batting average. No one since Ted Williams in 1941 has been able to keep up a .400 pace, so a .400 average in April means little, but Blackmon’s production deserves a look.

What is surprising about Blackmon is that he has yet to play a full season in the majors. Last season, he split time with Colorado and its AAA affiliate, hitting .309 in the majors and .288 with the minor league club.

Blackmon, however, has played 172 major league games, spread out over the course of several seasons. Blackmon has a .308 average in 530 at-bats — a full season’s worth of at-bats. Blackmon has yet to play 162 major-league games within a single grueling season, but a batting average over .300 in over 500 at-bats shows that, although Blackmon’s production so far this season might be extraordinary, his talent is not a fluke.

He won’t bat .400, but he may very well stay near the top of the leaderboard. Keep watching this guy.

Mark Buehrle, ERA and wins

The Blue Jays lefty is tied with Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn with an MLB-leading four wins, but Buehrle owns the ERA lead outright at a stingy 0.64.

If Toronto keeps providing Buehrle with enough run support, he should keep racking up wins. Buehrle might not have a high-90s fastball, but he is a crafty pitcher with experience that translates into wins.

His ERA is the more surprising stat. Buehrle has a career 3.81 ERA, not half-bad, but he has never finished a season with an ERA below 3.00, let alone below 1.00. It seems unlikely that Buehrle will be able to maintain a sub-1.00 ERA, especially once batters actually start to heat up.

Look for Buehrle to keep winning, albeit with a higher ERA.

Felix Hernandez, strikeouts

He is King Felix. He will keep throwing strikeouts.

Although the Mariners pitcher will have competition, especially from Washington’s Stephen Strasburg — if he stays healthy for the entire season — and Detroit’s Max Scherzer, he will finish among the leaders.

Giancarlo Stanton, RBI

Don’t expect this name to go away. Stanton hits when it counts, and the 24-year-old right fielder has shown he can do that by leading MLB in RBI with 26 so far. 

This season, the Marlins have a team on-base percentage of .343, good for fifth overall in MLB, and with that kind of production, Stanton will have plenty of opportunities to earn more RBI. The problem is, Miami finished dead last in the category for the 2013 season and only made minor upgrades for 2014.

If the team OPS tumbles, that could cut into Stanton’s production, but it shouldn’t crush his campaign to stay among the leaders.

Besides, he also has six home runs, so even if his teammates stop getting on base, he could at least drive in himself.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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