MLB teams that have stood out so far (one way or another)
Through today, over a third of the MLB season has already passed us by, and it has certainly had its moments. While I am a little unhappy that this baseball year seems to be progressing rather quickly, all the early action has left me hungry for more. Staying with my recent motif of disappointments and such, I would like to look at the most disappointing AND surprising teams of 2018 and highlight their successes (or failures), as well as look at what is ahead. These aren’t necessarily teams that have shocked us with their records so far (one way or another), but rather those that have improved from last year or regressed. Let’s go by league for a sense of continuity.
Of course, the new chic pick for one of the National League’s six playoff teams. These Braves have combined a fervent offense with a surprisingly poised young pitching staff and they currently sit in first place in the always underwhelming NL East. Youngins like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr., combined with experienced players like Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and Ender Inciarte have all contributed to baseball’s most exciting team. And that bullpen?...Arodys Vizcaino looks like a top-end closer. As far as their future goes, though, I wouldn’t get too excited, as many players have terrifically outperformed. Ryan Flaherty is not going to be an above-average everyday third baseman for a whole season, Acuna Jr. will not get an XBH every game, Mike Foltynewicz is not a No.1, and Charlie Culberson won’t walk-off every game. As is to be expected with a group so young, I would predict a rather severe digression following the All Star break, though these Braves should remain in the realm of respectability all year long (just not in the realm of playoff contenders).
Really the same story here as their division foes, just with a few splashy signings mixed in. Guys like Carlos Santana (I know his batting average is low)and Jake Arrieta have made huge impacts, and some of their young core has started to develop at the Major League level (especially that pitching staff). With Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta performing like they are, this might actually be one of the better rotations in the NL. It’s tricky to predict the Phillies due to their great spread of a roster and the fact that many young guys such as J.P Crawford, Scott Kingery, and Maikel Franco have yet to get going because they could all very easily catch fire in the second half. I worry about their pitching though, as young arms start to fade in August. I would give them the edge over the Braves in terms of a chance to play in October simply due to more veteran leadership and guys who have been there before.
New York Mets
They’ve always been sort of a mystery team and have never really delivered on their potential other than 2015. Their rotation has never stayed healthy, and the offense continues to be underwhelming. They were one of the more hyped-up teams this offseason with fans anticipating a finally full year for all their young starters and an offense that includes free agent signees Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier to go along with Yoenis Cespedes and the slick fielding Amed Rosario (as well as their amazing outfield), but injuries and poor hitting have gotten this team off to a slow start (don’t even get me started on their bullpen…). They sit two gamers under .500, but still they have a legitimate shot at one of the Wild Cards due to their experience and overall talent. I would expect the team as a whole to pick it up going into and coming out of the All Star break, but despite this I have a feeling we won’t be seeing them in the playoffs because of how stacked the NL is this year (so far).
They haven’t done anything amazing, but their eery consistency is what earns them the title of overperformers. They clearly signalled a rebuild this offseason when they traded away Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Cole, and many wondered if a clean Starling Marte could ever perform. The Bucco’s outfield (with some help with the most recent ROM Austin Meadows) has done a great job, and the pitching staff has seen some unlikely contributors step up, like Trevor Williams and the pitcher formerly known as Felipe Rivero (trust me that’s funny, just look it up). It’s funny to say that the same type of Pirates team that roamed PNC Park in the 21st century (until 2013-16) is getting fans excited, but going .500 when you thought you were looking at a lost season is pretty nice, and that’s right about where I’d expect them to finish (if not a little under).
Los Angeles Dodgers
They’re three games ahead of the Padres. Luckily they play in 2018’s worst division (as far as disappointments go at least), as they sit only 2.5 games out. They have to pick it up at some point, right? RIGHT??
The Arizona Diamondbacks were not included as a disappointment due to their tremendous amount of injuries (something the Dodgers can much more easily overcome due to their amazing depth). The Rockies were left out as well because I simply don’t see them as that good, so just over .500 is right about where I’d expect them to be.
New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox
They are on pace to win 111 and 110 games respectively. That is absurd. There aren’t really any red flags for either team; they just have exorbitant amounts of talent. I would love to see them in the ALCS….
Another solid year for them, though I might actually lean a little towards disappointment (as we all already expected them to be good). They were seen as sure-fire AL West champs, but they currently sit in second place behind the….
I think the best thing that has happened to Seattle since 2001 was Robinson Cano getting suspended. Since then, they are 13-5, boosting their winning percentage by five points and taking over sole possession of first place in the AL West. They might actually make the playoffs! (not).
Gotta throw some love to my favorite team. As usual, Sports Illustrated totally lowballed them in their preseason predictions, and the A’s have done well to dismiss the notion that they aren’t contenders. They sit two games over, and we all know that offense can explode at any point. The pitching staff has been surprisingly reliable, posting a 3.87 ERA as a whole this year (good for 14th best in the Majors), and their hitters rule the road; they have hit .258 and scored 5.52 runs per game when away from the Bay. Looking forward, I would expect the A’s to stay in contention throughout the season, but a Wild Card may still be slightly out of reach.
Ron Gardenhire sure is special. This went from the worst team in the Majors last year to a team just two games under .500, and they didn’t really turnover the roster all that much. His managing skills have long be applauded, and this is a classic case of Gardy being Gardy. The Tigers are somehow only 2.5 games out of their division lead, and they’ve started to play better lately. They’ve found good pitching from Matt Boyd and the always fantastic Michael Fulmer, and a slew of unknowns like Jacoby Jones, Leonys Martin, Niko Goodrum and Jeimer Candelario have produced big-time on both sides. They have no shot at playing over .500 this year, but I tip my cap to their effort and will to not throw away a season.
Oof. The cold weather isn’t the only shock in Minnesota. The Twins might just be the biggest disappointment this year...oh wait….LA...After surprising everyone by making it to the AL Wild Card Game last year, the Twins went out and picked up some real nice free agents like Logan Morrison, Lance Lynn, and Jake Odorizzi. Surely a playoff team who signs better players all while keeping together their roster from last year would improve, right? Nope. They’re six games under, wildly inconsistent, and the best part of their team in Fernando Rodney. The Twins need to figure it out quick, because I see a Trade Deadline sell-off if they don’t improve (which I don’t think is out of the question).
Remember when they set the MLB record for the longest winning streak ever at 22? (I don’t count records with ties in them). This year, they already had 22 losses by the time they picked up 22 wins. The AL Central was supposed to be another one of those runaway divisions, yet the Indians have floundered early on; they have no offense, their bullpen has suffered without Andrew Miller, heck even the defense is a little shady. This is certainly one of the best teams in the AL and even one capable of making it to the World Series (as they should have last year), but they aren’t playing like it right now. But don’t worry Cleveland fans; you’ll still have a team in the mix long after LeBron loses the Finals.
Toronto Blue Jays
It’s quickly going South north of the border. A very similar mix to the Indians has haunted the Blue Jays, only they’re much less talented. Donaldson is going to another AL club. Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette are going to be called up, and the Jays are going to let the young kids at it as this has all the makings of a lost season. Sure, they put together a good squad (especially with savvy pickups like Randal Grichuk and Aledmys Diaz), but another slow start has all but doomed the Maple Leafs (I mean Blue Jays).
Tampa Bay Rays
Let’s end on a high note. Many people have questioned Kevin Cash through his young managerial career, and many thought he had officially lost his mind when Sergio Romo appeared to start a game in late May, but the man must be doing something right. They are very similar to the Tigers, only they sit 11 games out of their division lead. Nonetheless, they are only a game under .500, so one could consider them to be “still in it.” Moving forward they’re most likely to regress due to underwhelming talent and the trading away of Alex Colome and Denard Span, but they are building up a solid core that has surprised some people. If only they could hit home runs….