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The Most Surprising Team in Each MLB Division Thus Far

Joe GiglioContributor IApril 11, 2013

The Most Surprising Team in Each MLB Division Thus Far

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    Baseball writers, fans and analysts love to use the term "small sample size" to discount the first few weeks of a long, grinding 162-game regular season.

    In theory, the concept is sound: Too much is made over 10 games in April; not enough is made over that same type of stretch in June or July.

    Of course, that doesn't mean surprises and trends won't develop while we're waiting for the season to provide us with a solid sample size to properly analyze.

    The old adage, "You can't win pennants in April and May, but you certainly can lose them," has been repeated for years.

    Last April, the struggles of the Los Angeles Angels (8-15) and Boston Red Sox (11-11) were dismissed as nothing more than good teams going through rough stretches. Months later, that turned out to be true about the Angels, but the slow start cost them a trip to October. Boston, however, turned out to be a bad team.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum lied the upstart Baltimore Orioles. At 14-9 through April, they stood just one game out of first place in the AL East and in a wild card position in the American League standings. Five months later, they were in the exact same position.

    Here are the surprising teams, both good and bad, in each Major League Baseball division thus far. Keep an eye on them as the season progresses.

    All records and run differentials as of the completion of games on April 10.

American League East: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Record: 3-5
    Run differential: -14

    For the first time in two decades, Toronto entered a season with considerable buzz around their baseball team (via thestar.com).

    It wasn't without good reason.

    Adding Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey to a roster that already included Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Brandon Morrow and Edwin Encarnacion was more than enough to cause a stir in Canada.

    Early on, the team hasn't performed up to expectations in the loaded American League East. If not for a five-run rally on Wednesday in Detroit, the Jays would have been staring at a 2-6 record and the prospect of facing Doug Fister in a getaway game on Thursday.

    Injuries and absences from Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie have held a potentially imposing offense back, but the main issue has been starting pitching. The newly built rotation is dependent on R.A. Dickey's knuckleball dazzling the American League like it has the National League over the past few years.

    Through two starts, Dickey has allowed 10 runs and 15 hits.

    The American League East feels like a division that won't feature a 95-win team, thus it's hard to imagine Toronto falling too far behind to recover.

    Of course, the same type of things were said about last year's offseason buzz-worthy team, the Los Angeles Angels.



National League East: New York Mets

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    Record: 5-4
    Run differential: +11

    For the New York Mets, the optimism about the future outweighs the enjoyment of the present. If the team continues to display their power-patience offensive approach, as well as win games started by the Matt Harvey-Jon Niese duo, that could change quickly.

    In terms of a rebuilding comparison, longtime New York baseball scribe Ken Davidoff has compared the 2013 Mets to the 1983 group that was the true building block to the huge success in Shea Stadium in the mid-to-late 80's.

    Through nine games, New York has profiled better than the mid-70s-win team they were projected to be despite not having talented prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Zack Wheeler on the big league squad or receiving any production from first baseman Ike Davis.

    Of course, hot starts aren't new for the Terry Collins led Mets. During Collins' first two years in the New York dugout, his squads have combined to play .519 baseball in the first half. That's led to excitement and unsustainable summer expectations for a roster devoid of great talent.

    However, Collins' second-half winning percentage of .401 has left the Citi Field faithful with a sour taste heading into the offseason.

    New York isn't a playoff team, but they might be able to sustain a more consistent level of play in 2013.

    If Wheeler and d'Arnaud can contribute by mid-summer, the second half might even be a positive in Queens.

American League Central: Kansas City Royals

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    Record: 6-3
    Run differential: +15

    There was little doubt around baseball that the Kansas City Royals improved by leaps and bounds from last season. While the price to pay for James Shields and Wade Davis was very, very steep, it, along with re-signing Jeremy Guthrie and inking Ervin Santana, gave the Royals a legitimate starting rotation to add to a power bullpen and a young ascending lineup.

    Through a couple weeks, Dayton Moore's vision is unfolding for the long-suffering Kansas City fanbase.

    Of course, improvement from 72 wins to the 88-92 it will likely take to make the American League playoffs will take more than just a few weeks of good baseball.

    A mid-80s-win range is still the best bet for Kansas City, leaving them short of Detroit in the AL Central and the teams in the wild-card scrum.

    They don't play the games on paper, though.

    That was evident last Sunday in Philadelphia.

    New ace James Shields wasn't great early on against the Phillies, but he battled back to give the team length. From there, the offense exploded, giving the Royals an early-season road series victory over a team that hasn't posted a losing season in over a decade.

    If the Royals continue to surprise by performing at a playoff level, Kansas City will look back to that comeback in Philadelphia as a jumping off point.

National League Central: Milwaukee Brewers

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    Record: 2-6
    Run differential: -17

    Heading into this season, Milwaukee was one of the more difficult teams to predict.

    Were they a probable under .500 team, with major holes in the bullpen, infield and reliable starting pitching behind Yovani Gallardo?

    Or were they a sleeper, coming off a 2012 season where they led the NL in runs and nearly capped a stirring September run at a postseason berth?

    Early on, due to injuries, a disastrous bullpen and strange managerial tactics, they look like the former.

    Ryan Braun missing games will hurt any lineup, especially one also missing Aramis Ramirez. When the corner infield tandem is Yuniesky Betancourt and Alex Gonzalez, there are major organization problems to be addressed.

    Using Ryan Braun as decoy in the on-deck circle is strange. Using Kyle Loshe as a pinch-hitter is mind-boggling.

    The bullpen, though, remains the biggest issue early on.

    Through Tuesday, here are the following NL ranks for Milwaukee's bullpen:

    Losses: 15th
    ERA: 14th
    IP: 3rd
    ER: t-15th
    BB: t-11th
    BAA: 15th

    The idea of Milwaukee challenging St. Louis or Cincinnati at the top of the NL Central seems far-fetched early on in 2013.



AL West: Los Angeles Angels

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    Record: 2-6
    Run differential: -11

    It feels like 2012 all over again in Orange County, California.

    Despite the additions of Josh Hamilton, year two of the great Mike Trout and a more comfortable Albert Pujols, the Angels are off to another poor start.

    Earlier this week, before blowing leads and games at home to AL West rival Oakland A's, Jered Weaver was diagnosed with a fractured left (non-throwing) elbow.

    While the offense was going to drive the Angels this season, the pitching staff needs Weaver to survive.

    After losing Zach Greinke to the crosstown Dodgers, the current staff, minus Weaver, is very suspect right now. Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, C.J. Wilson and Jason Vargas are all capable of providing inning and length, but outside of Wilson, no one can come close to dominating games on a consistent basis.

    Thus, the pressure on Trout, Hamilton and Albert is ratcheted up.

    As is the spotlight on manager Mike Scioscia. His tenure and 2002 World Series ring garner respect around the league, but he wasn't hired by general manager Jerry Dipoto.

    Things could get very, very interesting in Los Angeles as the next few months progress.

National League West: Colorado Rockies

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    Record: 5-4
    Run differential: +6

    The surprise in Colorado isn't a 5-4 record through nine games; it's how much better the team looks than last year's disaster and the gap in current talent between their 25-man roster and the team currently in last place in the division, the San Diego Padres.

    With Carlos Gonzalez and a healthy Troy Tulowitzki, along with the emerging Dexter Fowler, Colorado is a threat to score runs anywhere, not just in hitter-friendly Coors Field.

    As the summer progresses, the team will need to make big decisions on their future. A bleak farm system, especially when it comes to high-end arms, could force upper management to rebuild once again.

    This time, Gonzalez and Tulo would represent two, young stars under contract. The return for trading one or both could be enough to change the franchise forever.

    On the other hand, pulling the trigger on deals like that would empty the seats for 2013 and send Colorado back below San Diego in the NL West talent basement.

    So far, so good in Colorado.

    The next surprise could be a GM tearing it down.

    Which team has surprised you the most this season?

    Comment below, follow me on Twitter, or "Like" my Facebook page to talk all things baseball!

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