It is easy to fall back on the same explanation for every single baseball thing that has happened so far: It’s early. But seismic events happen in baseball all the time — even in the first week-and-a-half.
So, small sample size and all that, but it sure looks like some truly seismic things have already happened this season. Here are seven big ones, ones that have already shifted the dynamics of the 2021 season, ones that we’ll surely be talking about for the rest of the year. This season is already different than it was expected to be 10 days ago. Here’s how.
1) Shohei Ohtani had the game we’ve been dreaming about.
Ohtani, and his ability to hit a ball farther and throw a ball faster than almost any other human who has ever lived, represents both the possibilities of what baseball players can accomplish and how difficult it is for them to actually do so. After all, no one has doubted Ohtani’s ability to do both things: What is in question is for him to be able to do them at the same time while remaining healthy. He has a blister, currently, a relatively minor issue all told, and he survived José Abreu sliding into him at the end of what remains the season’s most thrilling game.
But in that same game (on Sunday, April 4), we saw, really for the first time, what Ohtani is truly capable of, with him hitting a massive home run against the White Sox (while batting No. 2 in the order) and also striking out seven batters over 4 2/3 innings. The Angels are no longer restraining him: He’s free to go 100 percent at both roles. How long he can pull it off may say as much for future players like him as it does for the Angels’ hopes of getting Mike Trout that playoff appearance he so desperately craves.
2) The Padres got their first no-hitter.
At last, every franchise has thrown a no-hitter, thanks to hometown kid Joe Musgrove’s no-no against the Texas Rangers on April 9. Musgrove may have been the perfect guy to do it: He’s from the area and he’s a terrific but generally unheralded pitcher. The Padres hoped this season would be full of historical highlights for their franchise. They just got their first one.
3) Fernando Tatis Jr. is hurt.
Speaking of the Padres … the good news is that Tatis’ shoulder injury is not as severe as had been initially feared, to the point that it’s even possible that he could return as soon as his current stint on the injured list is over. But shoulder injuries are no joke, not in the short- or long-term. This is an obvious concern for the Padres of 2021 and the Padres of 2028.
Tatis, in a shockingly short amount of time, has established himself as one of the most electrifying and charismatic players in the entire sport — in all of sports. He just signed a massive contract that not only set him up for life, but stood as a symbol of the Padres’ dedication to fielding a championship-caliber team for the next decade. And suddenly his shoulder may have lingering issues, and even a serious ongoing problem. It’s difficult to find a bigger story in baseball, both right now and moving forward.
4) Byron Buxton blasts moonshots now.
The one-time Twins phenom has long been known for two things: His otherworldly talents, mostly involving speed and defense, and his inability to stay healthy. Well, he’s healthy so far, but that’s not what’s most amazing about him now. What’s most amazing about him now is that he is hitting the ball as hard, and as far, as anyone in baseball. He is tied for the MLB lead with five homers and leads the Majors with a 1.734 slugging percentage. Is it possible that he’s now, like, a six-tool player? Seven?
5) J.D. Martinez looks like his old self again.
The player tied for the league lead in homers and second in slugging is none other than Martinez. The Red Sox have won six in a row in large part because of a substantial improvement with their pitching, which was a nightmare in 2020. But J.D. Martinez had a nightmare of a 2020 as well; he put up his worst numbers since before his swing transformation, since he was in Houston. Well, fresh off a three-homer game, he’s already just two homers short of his 2020 total. The Red Sox needed this guy. We all do. Heck, he might be the next Yermín Mercedes!
6) The All-Star Game was moved.
Whatever one’s thoughts about the reasons behind the Midsummer Classic’s move from Georgia to Denver, it is a big deal: The ASG has never been relocated just three months away from first pitch before. Coors Field hasn’t hosted the All-Star Game since 1998, a game that featured 11 future Hall of Famers in the starting lineup, as well as Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. There might be equal star power at the game this year, and the Home Run Derby has already become a must-see event. (Will Coors finally get Mike Trout to take part?) Adding to the All-Star Week festivities in Denver will be the 2021 Draft, which will be held in July for the first time since its inception in 1965.
7) Every team is playing, and they’re doing so in front of fans.
There have been fits and starts, including a Mets-Nationals series postponement because of COVID-19. And we’ve yet to have a day where all 30 teams play. But that’s been primarily because of rain, not COVID cancellations. It was a full month before all 30 teams played last season due to COVID cases, but so far, the Mets and Nationals have been the only postponements for that reason. We are not out of the woods with the pandemic yet, and mask-wearing and social distancing are both still vital. But with the widespread access to the vaccines and steadying case numbers, there’s reason to think we may be getting closer to full stands and no postponements sooner rather than later. That may be the most monumental development of all.