Bryce Harper, José Altuve top Ben Verlander’s Team of the Week

The first full week of the MLB season had plenty of notable firsts, from Juan Soto’s Yankee Stadium debut as a member of the home team to Shohei Ohtani’s first Los Angeles Dodgers home run.

It also had our first no-hitter of the young season, a phenomenal performance from the Houston AstrosRonel Blanco. We’ll get to him and his special outing against the Toronto Blue Jays in a moment.

With a full week of games to evaluate for the first time in 2024, each player really had to earn their selection in this second iteration. I also want to remind everyone that the window of games I consider is between Sunday through Saturday.

Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Catcher: Salvador Pérez, Kansas City Royals
.464 batting average, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 1.197 OPS

The 33-year-old Royals captain and friend of “Flippin’ Bats” showed he’s still got it with a monster week at the plate.

First Baseman: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
.381 batting average, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 1.314 OPS

Harper did not have a hit on the season entering last Tuesday. He then hit three home runs that evening, which is one way to break out of a slump. The talented Phillies often struggle to click at the same time early in the season before figuring things out down the stretch and in October. But a healthy Harper locking in earlier this season could go a long way toward helping Philadelphia challenge the Braves for the NL East title.

Astros’ Ronel Blanco highlights Verlander’s Team of the Week

Second Baseman: José Altuve, Houston Astros
.435 batting average, 3 HR, .500 OBP, 1.457 OPS

Freddie Freeman and Altuve are baseball’s two great staples of consistency. Altuve is already the best second baseman in Astros history and will go down as one of the best second basemen in MLB history. He’s an incredible person, too, and still playing like a star at 33 years old.

Third Baseman: Isaac Paredes, Tampa Bay Rays
.350 batting average, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 1.209 OPS

Paredes is one of the most underrated players in baseball. It seems like every year we look up and wonder how the Rays got to the playoffs with a roster devoid of household names. Well, Paredes is a big reason why. He flew under the radar in 2023 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs and seems well on his way to hitting at least 30 homers again this season. He’s crucial to the Rays’ hopes this year.

Shortstop: Jeremy Peña, Houston Astros
.381 batting average, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1.076 OPS

After winning LCS and World Series MVPs in his 2022 rookie season, Peña took a step back last year. I still believe he can be a superb everyday shortstop in the big leagues, and I think he is on his way to validating my faith in him this year. I’m excited to watch.

Outfielder: Spencer Steer, Cincinnati Reds
.500 batting average, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 1.046 OPS

This should be no surprise, as Steer has been doing it all for the injury-plagued Reds early in the season. After batting seventh in the Opening Day lineup, he’s earned a promotion thanks to his scorching-hot clutch hitting. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a 2024 breakout star.

Outfielder: Jarren Duran, Boston Red Sox
.462 batting average, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1.077 OPS

The Red Sox have surprised early this season, with Duran also looking like a potential breakout candidate. If the Red Sox remain competitive — their roster makes this a big if — the exposure Duran receives could make him a household name.

Outfielder: Seiya Suzuki, Chicago Cubs
.391 batting average, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 1.160 OPS

Suzuki quietly had a good second half last season and his raw talent is evident whenever you watch him. He flies under the radar despite his high profile in Japan and being a key player on a big-mark team. But he’s a major X-factor for these Cubs. 

Designated Hitter: Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves
.400 batting average, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 1.263 OPS

Atlanta’s offense is so explosive, and Ozuna is a big reason why. While the stars at the top of the order understandably draw the headlines, players like Ozuna and Michael Harris II lengthen the lineup and help wear down opposing pitchers. It makes the Braves such a pain to pitch to.

Marcell Ozuna launches 3-run HR to extend Braves’ lead vs. Phillies

Starting pitcher: Ronel Blanco, Houston Astros
1-0, 0 hits allowed, 0 earned runs, 7 strikeouts, 2 walks

What Blanco did last week is an early contender for one of the best MLB stories of this entire season. After barely making his first Opening Day roster — he found out as he exited the mound in his final preseason appearance — he began the week away from the Astros to celebrate the birth of his second child. Then, in his eighth career start, he threw a no-hitter. 

Relief Pitcher: Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians
3 IP, 3 saves, 4 strikeouts, 2 hits allowed, 0 walks, 0.00 ERA

The Guardians have gotten off to a surprisingly strong start, but Clase’s excellence as a finisher is expected. One of MLB’s best closers had a nearly flawless week over three appearances. He’s starting to get that reputation to where the game feels over as soon as he takes the mound with a lead. 

Player of the Week: Ronel Blanco

This has no bearing on Blanco being my player of the week — you throw a no-hitter, your spot’s pretty much secured — but what Blanco did in his second start of the year this past Sunday is also worth noting as he went another 5.2 innings before allowing his first hit of the season. That is 44 consecutive outs before allowing a hit. It’s the second-longest streak in Astros history. 

While he fell short of matching Johnny Vander Meer’s consecutive no-hitters, Blanco became just the third pitcher since 1901 to allow only one hit over a two-start span involving at least 15 innings (Max Scherzer in 2015 and Dennis Eckersly in 1977). What a historic stretch to add to Blanco’s incredible story.

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Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @BenVerlander.

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