Just when we thought we could predict what's next in Major League Baseball, things got wonderfully weird once again, and it didn't take long.
Peruse the standings and you might think we've got some mid-May clarity. All six first-place teams have leads of at least 1 1/2 games, with the Baltimore Orioles the possessors of the slimmest margin (over the Yankees) in the American League East. Elsewhere in the AL, the Central-leading Tigers have a comfy five-game cushion on the White Sox and the A's have surged to a three-game advantage over the Angels.
In the National League, the Braves are ahead of the surprising Marlins by two games in the East, the Brewers hold a five-game buffer over the Cardinals in the Central, and out West, the Giants have two games on the hot-hitting Rockies.
But, oh, how quickly things can change from week to week.
In Baltimore, the earned excitement over a team that's won seven of its past 10 to soar into first place and the much-awaited Sunday return of slugging first baseman Chris Davis has been tempered by a big loss. Catcher Matt Wieters went on the 15-day disabled list because of right elbow discomfort, and the prognosis seems a bit uncertain and scary for the club's season moving forward.
"We'll take a two- or three-week period to see if we can get it managed and then if he can catch the rest of the year. Or if he's still having problems with it at the six-week mark, we will have to think about something else," manager Buck Showalter said of Wieters, who had his elbow examined by Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday. "That's as frank as I can be about it. That's where we are with it."
In Detroit, the Tigers are about to get healthier, which could be a bad thing for the rest of the division. Already the starting rotation has been lights out, and it's possible that right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who had the lowest starter's ERA in the AL last year, could return Sunday from the DL, where he's been because of a laceration on his right middle finger.
"I've been saying it for two weeks," manager Brad Ausmus said. "The starting pitching is the key to the success we've had."
The same goes for Oakland, for the most part, although the bullpen and key offensive contributors haven't hurt. What has is the fact that reliever Ryan Cook had to go on the DL because of a forearm strain, although the recent scare that saw outfielder Coco Crisp miss a few games because of a sore neck that he sustained while crashing into the wall seems to be nothing of a lingering concern. Crisp could return later this week once he gets back into baseball activities.
A similar bullet has seemingly been dodged in Atlanta, where the high-flying Braves have outfielder Justin Upton out on a day-to-day basis with a sore back from getting hit by a Jeff Samardzija pitch, but don't expect it to be a DL situation.
The Braves wish that was the case with reliever Jordan Walden, who is now on the DL with a strained left hamstring. The Braves might have some bullpen help on the way in the form of lefty Jonny Venters, who is attempting to return from Tommy John surgery, but he is still at least a few weeks away from rehab games.
The Brewers, meanwhile, are experiencing a similar tradeoff to what Baltimore is going through. Milwaukee will lose a valuable piece to its offensive puzzle for a while when third baseman Aramis Ramirez (strained left hamstring) is placed on the DL before Tuesday's game against the Pirates, but the corresponding roster move could be the activation of All-Star outfielder Ryan Braun from the DL (right rib-cage strain).
"It's huge, health is huge," manager Ron Roenicke said. "We'll get through this period, hopefully get everybody at the same time, but we got to get through this period playing good baseball. Our pitching, I think, is good enough to do that. We've just got to figure it out with scrapping some runs [together]. Hopefully, we get through it."
Roenicke's comments could have been repeated, almost verbatim, by Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, who has watched his club steam into first place in the NL West and now must watch it try to stay there despite the loss of first baseman Brandon Belt, who leads the team with nine homers.
Belt was hit by a Paul Maholm fastball on Friday night and broke his left thumb. Now he's having pins inserted and it'll take four weeks for those to be removed, and, well, it's safe to say it's going to be a while before Giants fans again see Belt belt one by the Bay.
"It stinks for all of us, especially him," Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner said. "Just a tough thing to go through. He's going to be facing some adversity right now, but he'll come out of it fine and hopefully we can fight through it until he gets back."