Early MLB takeaways: Best and worst teams, umpires, trends

William Contreras and the Brewers are off to a strong start. What else have we seen so far -- and what will hold up from here? Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire

This time last year, the pitch clock had fundamentally changed baseball, and its effects were wide-ranging. This year, the game has fallen into relatively familiar patterns. The teams that were supposed to be better than everyone -- the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers -- are on 111- and 98-win paces, respectively. The teams that were supposed to be unwatchable -- the Chicago White Sox and Colorado Rockies -- are positively god-awful. Shohei Ohtani is doing Shohei Ohtani things (at the plate, at least).

Still, every April brings surprises: teams better or worse than expected, breakout stars or faltering veterans. What's real? What isn't? Trying to figure out answers after a month can be a fool's errand, but players, coaches, executives, evaluators and analysts with whom ESPN spoke attempted to put it all into context.

Where to start? With the one group of people that unites baseball fans regardless of team affiliation.