- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
SAN FRANCISCO -- Let's get this out of the way: Yes, five weeks of a Major League Baseball season is a small sample size. But also remember that teams have been promoting and demoting dozens of players for weeks based on those small samples, because the talent evaluators are gauging what they expect the players to do. Because they believe that sometimes small samples become big samples of more of the same.
Roughly 20 percent of the season has been played, and some of the early-season trajectories are being established at record-challenging levels. When we say a player or a team is on pace to do something extraordinary, well, that almost always doesn't hold its course.
But there are some really interesting trend lines that threaten to intersect with history if the small samples become large samples of more of the same. Here are eight to watch:
1. Miguel Cabrera: on pace to drive in 201 runs.
He had six more RBIs Saturday night against the Astros, and now has 36 in 29 games. Because this is a statistic based on the performance of teammates, many things could prevent Cabrera from beating Hack Wilson's all-time record of 191 RBIs: slumps by the hitters in front of him, injuries or opposing pitchers choosing to work around Cabrera. There is bound to be some regression in how Cabrera is hitting with runners in scoring position, because he's hitting at an absurd pace: 23 hits in 42 at-bats, for a .548 average. He has a 1.472 OPS in those situations.
But right now, Cabrera looks as if he is swinging at the absolute peak of what will be a Hall of Fame career, hitting .390, 21 points higher than anybody in the AL.
Last weekend, I asked colleague Orel Hershiser to come up with a comparable to Cabrera in the type of hitter he is, in his production and his ability to make adjustments, and basically, Orel was stumped. And why not: Cabrera has a chance to be the first right-handed hitter to win three consecutive American League batting titles since Nap Lajoie, who had the highest batting average year by year from 1901 to 1904. Rogers Hornsby, a right-handed hitter, won the NL batting title every year from 1920 to 25, and Honus Wagner won every year from 1906 to 1909.
2. Houston Astros: on pace for a 42-120 record.
This is, of course, '62 Mets and '03 Tigers territory, although not in the Cleveland Spiders' territory. The Astros' 17-2 loss Saturday may have been the most humiliating of the season for them.
3. Cabrera: on pace for 256 hits.
That would be the most ever in a single season for a right-handed hitter.
4. Austin Jackson: on pace to score 167 runs.
It's not like Jackson is off to a terrific start at the plate -- he's hitting a very solid .297, with a .357 on-base percentage. But that Cabrera guy hits two spots behind him, and that helps.
A season of 167 runs would rank in the top 10 all time, and would be the most since 1936.
5. Astros: on pace for 1,620 strikeouts.
They have exactly 310 strikeouts in 31 games, including a whole bunch this weekend against the Tigers … and they face Justin Verlander today. At their current trajectory, they will obliterate the all-time strikeout mark.
6. Astros: on pace for a run differential of minus-344.
The good thing is that the Astros have no chance of matching the worst run differential in baseball history, established by the aforementioned 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who were outscored by 724 runs in that season. But the Astros are on a trajectory to challenge for the worst run differential since 1900.
7. Mike Napoli: on pace for 81 doubles.
He's got 15 in Boston's first 30 games. The single-season record for doubles is 67 by Earl Webb, but Napoli's home park may eventually hurt him, because in Fenway Park, so many would-be doubles wind up being long singles.
8. Yu Darvish: 13.62 strikeouts per nine innings.
The record for strikeouts per nine innings is 13.41, by Randy Johnson in 2001.
Sure, Darvish is a candidate for regression. On the other hand, think about all those starts he might have left against Houston.
News and notes
• The Dodgers had their hearts broken again by the Giants late Saturday night for the second consecutive night; Guillermo Quiroz hit a walk-off homer the night after Buster Posey did it. Tonight, Hyun-Jin Ryu will pitch for the Dodgers on "Sunday Night Baseball" and try to prevent a sweep -- and quietly, he is off to an excellent start in his big league career, with a whole lot of strikeouts.
He has the second-most strikeouts for pitchers in their first six starts over the past 10 seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The game on Saturday was crazy, writes Ann Killion. Yet another Giants starter is struggling: You can add Ryan Vogelsong to the list that includes Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Vogelsong says his arm is fine.
• The Dodgers are doing well off the field.
• You can't stop the Indians, you can only hope to contain them. That's six straight wins for Cleveland, and counting.
From Elias: Jose Fernandez of the Marlins became the first starter under the age of 21 to throw at least seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts and one hit or fewer since Kerry Wood did it in May 1998.
• The Cardinals have had a major bullpen issue in the past week, and Derrick Goold writes about one guy right in the middle of it.
Meanwhile, a rookie reliever made it look easy.
Dings and dents
7. Yunel Escobar's hand is not busted.
Moves, deals and decisions
3. All the Dodgers' options look bad, writes Steve Dilbeck.
1. The Phillies were shut down by a phenom.
2. The Pirates kept giving away 90 feet, says Clint Hurdle.
A. His fastball averaged 92.6 mph (his highest since July 27 of last season).
B. He threw 72 percent fastballs (second straight start over 70 percent) and hitters went 4-for-21 against it.
C. He threw 58 percent of his fastballs up in the zone (his highest percentage this season).
D. The Athletics didn't make him pay, hitting 11 fly balls (six ground balls/line drives) against fastballs, the most since Aug. 22 of last season.
6. This time, Kevin Correia struggled.
What are the issues causing R.A. Dickey to struggle this season? One of them is that Dickey has lost one of the keys to what made him so valuable last season -- the hard knuckleball. Last year, Dickey threw nearly 500 knuckleballs at 80-plus mph (491 by our count). They netted him 179 outs and only 31 hits/walks allowed. Of those outs, 92 were via strikeout. It was a significantly better pitch at netting outs than his sub-80 knuckler. This season, Dickey has thrown a total of 12 knuckleballs with an average speed of 80-plus mph. In other words, he's thrown fewer in seven starts this season than he did in an average start in 2012.
The Phillies' plan is not working, writes Bob Ford.
The Reds got some charity.
The Brewers have a St. Louis problem.
The Arizona hitters like the new dimensions of Petco.
The Yankees are defying the odds with their success against lefties, writes Joel Sherman.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is not feeling sorry for himself, writes Scott Lauber.
The Jays deny they have clubhouse issues, writes John Lott.
The frustration builds for Joe Mauer, writes Mike Berardino.
Mike Scioscia gave up the DH, and it came back to hurt the Angels.
• We did this E:60 piece on Red Sox groundskeeper David Mellor, who has had an incredible journey.
• Sunday's Mets-Braves game was postponed, the 21st MLB postponement this season, matching the total from all of last season (including one in the ALCS). Seven of those last season came in September.
• Tyler Kepner writes about the 200 wins club, which is tougher than ever to make.
• Ron Washington says cost is an obstacle for African-American kids who want to play baseball.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney writes about eight interesting early-season MLB trends, including Miguel Cabrera's RBI pace.