Each MLB Team's Most Surprising Storyline Entering May
Every year, there are MLB players who perform as expected and others who disappoint. Then there are those who come out of nowhere and surprise many people.
Whether it's an ace pitcher struggling for a contender or a rookie who is tearing the cover off the ball, there are surprises all over the place.
So, who and what are the biggest shockers after the first month of the season?
Here's a look at each team's most surprising storyline heading into May.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Great Bullpen Play
The Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen has looked really good this year.
Most surprising is Heath Bell, who is looking a bit like he did in San Diego. He's not the one getting the saves, but he's still contributing in a major way.
Then there's Matt Reynolds, who has not given up a run in 14 innings of relief.
The list could go on with Arizona, and look for the bullpen to remain solid through the rest of the season.
Atlanta Braves: Evan Gattis
Evan Gattis has been a major storyline for the Atlanta Braves over the first month of the season.
With Brian McCann on the disabled list, it was thought that Gattis and Gerald Laird would split duties behind the plate. However, Gattis came out of the gate quickly with five home runs in his first eight starts.
Although he's cooled off a bit, Gattis has given the Braves a lot to think about—not only about whether they should send him down to Triple-A once McCann returns (so he can get at-bats every day), but also regarding after the season, when McCann is a free agent.
Has Gattis done enough for the Braves to hand him the keys next year?
Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis
Chris Davis went on a tear for the Baltimore Orioles to open the season. While he has cooled off a bit in terms of power, the one thing he's still doing is getting on base.
With a .436 on-base percentage, Davis ranks sixth in all of baseball in that category. As far as his 28 RBI go, the Orioles are 10-3 when Davis has at least one, while they are 6-9 when he fails to tally any. His .337 batting average ranks fourth in the American League.
We knew Davis had the numbers capable for a powerful year, but we didn't think he would be carrying the team offensively.
Boston Red Sox: Domination at Top of Rotation
Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester have been crushing at the top of the Boston Red Sox rotation. The two are a combined 10-0, with Buchholz having an ungodly ERA of 1.01 in 44.2 innings.
We knew the Red Sox had ace pitchers who could put up great numbers. However, the whole beer and chicken fiasco (and Bobby Valentine) made us think twice about that.
Now, things have changed in Boston, and the pitchers look more comfortable in the early going.
It will be interesting to see how it all turns out by the end of the season.
Chicago Cubs: Threat from Owner
The threat came during contentious negotiations, as the Cubs are looking to renovate Wrigley Field but have been met with opposition from business owners.
"The fact is that if we don't have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield, we'll have to take a look at moving—no question," Ricketts told reporters after outlining renovation plans to Chicago business leaders.
While the issue has nothing to do with on-field play, it reiterates that Ricketts is the owner of the team and he can pretty much do what he pleases.
While some would call it an idle threat or said out of frustration, business owners shouldn't test the Cubs owner. If they do, they could be on the losing end.
Chicago White Sox: Jeff Keppinger Struggles
The Chicago White Sox only signed Jeff Keppinger to a three-year, $12 million deal, but they're still not getting their money's worth from him.
After batting .325 with an on-base percentage of .367 in 2012, Keppinger is now batting .193 with an OBP of .189 and six RBI. The only regular starter hitting worse than him is Adam Dunn, which is expected.
When the White Sox signed Keppinger, they thought they were getting a Martin Prado-type player. However, he's proven to be anything but that in 2013.
Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips Tearing the Cover off the Ball
Let me preface this slide by saying that Brandon Phillips is an All-Star-caliber player. However, the Cincinnati Reds second baseman is just tearing the cover off the ball in the early going.
Batting .289 with five home runs and 26 RBI, Phillips has made the most of all of his RBI opportunities. He's more than doubled the total of Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, and he leads the team in total bases as well.
We knew Phillips could be good, but he's seriously having one of the best seasons (so far) of his career.
Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson Pitching Like an Ace
There's not a lot to get excited about when you look at the Cleveland Indians rotation. However, one thing that's been surprising is the good pitching from Justin Masterson.
Masterson currently boasts a 4-2 record with a 3.12 ERA and 39 strikeouts. He has apparently found his groove in the early going and is one of the few bright spots.
With free agency coming in 2015, could the Indians trade their starter to get max value for him?
Colorado Rockies: Wilin Rosario's Hot Start
Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez aren't the only big names for the Colorado Rockies. Catcher Wilin Rosario is showing that he can be one of the top offensive catchers in all of baseball.
Currently batting .329 with seven home runs and 19 RBI, Rosario is showing the Rockies that they don't have to look any further than him to fill the catcher position.
It will be interesting to see if he can keep up the pace throughout the year, although he did rack up 28 home runs in 2012.
Detroit Tigers: Torii Hunter Is Not Slowing Down
When the Angels no longer wanted Torii Hunter, the Detroit Tigers were happy to take him. And he's thanked them for their kindness by batting .365 with one home run and 13 RBI.
Hunter is showing his ability to all fields and hasn't slowed down, despite being 37. Could he be the missing piece to get the Tigers over the top?
Houston Astros: Astros Have Spent as Much Time in First as Angels
When looking at the Houston Astros, there's not much to be positive about—mainly because they're a glorified Triple-A team.
However, at least they can say they've spent as much time in first place (two days) as the Angels have.
For a team that some thought would break the record for losses in a year, that's a positive the Astros can hang their hat on.
Kansas City Royals: Ervin Santana Has Found It Again
After a few years of struggling, Ervin Santana has seemingly rediscovered his magic with the Kansas City Royals. He is currently 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in five starts.
There's no real pressure on him since he's in Kansas City, and he looks a lot more comfortable.
Even more ironic is that the Angels are having a lot of pitching struggles, which makes you wonder why they let Santana go.
Los Angeles Angels: Have Only Spent Two Days in First Place
For all the talk about how Josh Hamilton was going to help put the Los Angeles Angels over the top, the fact remains that they've struggled mightily this year.
Before the season began, the Angels were projected to be one of the top hitting squads in baseball, with middle-of-the-lineup power from Albert Pujols, Rookie of Year Mike Trout and Hamilton. While the offense can't be blamed for most of the issues, there's still a lack of spark in this core of power hitters.
The real issue lies within the starting rotation, which is struggling after letting Ervin Santana, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren go. Jered Weaver is currently on the disabled list, and Tommy Hanson is shaky at best.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Injuries Galore
It all started with Hanley Ramirez for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, it's Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Carl Crawford and Ted Lilly.
The injuries continue to hit the team, and there's no end in sight...at least for the rotation.
The hope is that L.A. can get healthy in time to make a playoff run later in the year.
Miami Marlins: They Actually Have Some Fight
For those who thought the Miami Marlins were just going to roll over and die, you were sadly mistaken. They have kept 18 games close this year, going 6-12 in games decided by two runs or less.
In fact, if you watched Monday's 15-inning game with the Mets, you noticed the Marlins continually fought their way back to eventually win 4-3.
They may not do much this year, but at least they're still playing the game at a good level.
Milwaukee Brewers: Yuniesky Betancourt Providing Power
The Milwaukee Brewers have a lot of power in the middle of the lineup when everyone is healthy. However, nobody expected that power to be supplied by Yuniesky Betancourt.
Betancourt is tied for the team lead in home runs (seven) and RBI (22) with Ryan Braun. His seven home runs tie his total from last year and put him almost halfway to his career high of 16.
Minnesota Twins: Nobody's Hitting
We all knew the Minnesota Twins were going to struggle this year, but not this much.
As a team, the Twins are batting .241, with no regular starter batting above .300. Not even Joe Mauer.
The Twins are still in third place in the division, despite their poor hitting, but if they continue their lackluster performances, they'll find a home at the bottom of the division.
New York Mets: Matt Harvey's Domination
Other than New York Mets fans, who thought Matt Harvey would be this impressive to open the season?
If you raised your hand, you are either a closet Mets fan or lying.
Harvey is 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and 46 strikeouts. He's been spectacular in the first month, giving Mets fans actual hope as they enter May.
New York Yankees: Veterans Step It Up
With all the injuries the New York Yankees have had this year, you could fill out an entire MLB team with their players on the disabled list.
Among those players currently on the disabled list are Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis—and this list goes on.
The Yankees are doing surprisingly well in second place despite the injuries, with MLB veterans Lyle Overbay (four HR, 12 RBI) and Vernon Wells (six HR, 13 RBI) carrying the heavy load.
If they can continue to weather the storm until the injured players return, the Yankees could once again make another postseason run.
Oakland Athletics: Rotation Struggles
In what was one of the team's biggest strengths last year, the Oakland Athletics have seen struggles from their starting rotation in 2013.
Brett Anderson has a 6.21 ERA, and Jarrod Parker is sitting at 7.36. In fact, as a starting staff, the A's rank 26th with an ERA of 5.14.
However, Dan Straily has rejoined the rotation from Triple-A, and despite his struggles Monday night, he'll be a nice addition through the rest of the season.
Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay Is Human
Newsflash: Roy Halladay is human. He is not a pitching machine.
The Philadelphia Phillies starter has shown flashes of mortality this year, getting rocked in three of his six starts.
Halladay is giving up an average of over one home run per start this year, which, if continued, will be a career high for him.
At 35, he isn't a spring chicken anymore, but he's still one of the better pitchers of this decade.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 9-3 Against Reds, Cardinals and Braves
The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to find ways to win against good teams in the National League. Pittsburgh currently holds a 9-3 record against the Reds, Cardinals and Braves—three of the better teams in the league.
That said, they're not dominating in any one category, although relief pitcher Jason Grilli is tied for first place in the National League with 11 saves.
With a slow start for star outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates rank 16th in runs scored (116), 22nd in batting average (.243), 28th in quality starts (9) and 18th in WHIP (1.31).
Are they lucky?
It's only a month into the season. Just as last year showed, everything will eventually work itself out.
San Diego Padres: Chase Headley Is Still Not Locked Up
For all the talk about the San Diego Padres ownership wanting to build a winning brand, there is one question that remains: Why is Chase Headley not locked up?
While there is still time to work on a deal, since Headley doesn't hit free agency until 2015, one must wonder what is taking the Padres so long in signing him to an extension.
The earlier they do it, the cheaper he'll be. If he finishes this year like he did last year, he might price himself out of the team's range.
The Padres need to lock him up yesterday to a long-term contract. If they don't, then everything ownership stated about wanting to be a winning team will be a pile of baloney.
San Francisco Giants: Brandon Crawford's Hot Start
I'll admit I'm a little biased on this one, because Brandon Crawford is on my fantasy team. However, what he's done for the San Francisco Giants (and my team!) is remarkable.
Crawford has five home runs and 15 RBI already this year, besting his homer totals over the last two years. In fact, with two more home runs, he will have doubled his career total.
Buster Posey's struggles were evident at the beginning of the year, but nobody expected Crawford to be hitting like he is. He's a large reason why the Giants offense ranks 10th in runs (124) and batting average (.262).
Seattle Mariners: Hector Noesi
After going 2-12 as a starter for the Seattle Mariners last year, Hector Noesi seems to have found his groove in the bullpen.
While it's just a small sampling thus far (7.1 innings), Noesi has given up four hits and no runs.
He could be a solid contributor in the Seattle bullpen if he keeps this up, allowing the Mariners to go out and look at other options for the rotation.
St. Louis Cardinals: Horrible Bullpen
If I were a St. Louis Cardinals reliever, I would not feel confident about my job security.
With a 5.77 ERA total for all relief pitchers, the Cardinals have obviously been unable to put something together that works. Mitchell Boggs finished up 2012 with 18 earned runs in 73.1 innings pitched. In only 10.2 innings pitched so far this season, Boggs has already earned 15 runs for a 12.66 ERA.
The Cardinals have never had one of the best bullpens in baseball, but they've been able to do their job in the past. Something about this year is different.
Tampa Bay Rays: Roster Full of DL Stints
Just about everyone you can think of in the Tampa Bay Rays starting lineup has made a trip to the disabled list.
Yunel Escobar, Jose Molina and Luke Scott are either on the disabled list or day-to-day, and it continues to be a revolving door.
If the Rays can get everyone healthy at the same time, they could actually make noise in the AL East.
Texas Rangers: One of Best Pitching Staffs in Baseball
For all of the talk about how much offense the Texas Rangers lost from last year, the pitching staff has gone ahead to be one of the best in baseball.
The Rangers rank third in ERA (3.21) and on-base percentage (.297), and fifth in opponents' batting average (.236).
However, the biggest stat the Rangers have is that they are the only MLB team without a blown save.
Doing those things right is what helps teams win division titles.
Toronto Blue Jays: Not as Good as They Are on Paper
Coming into the season, the Toronto Blue Jays looked great on paper and were the favorites to win the AL East. However, looking great on paper and being good on the field are too totally different things.
The Blue Jays got a lot of solid players this offseason, but outside of Jose Reyes (currently on the DL), all have struggled mightily this year. Let's take a look at just a few of their stats:
Melky Cabrera (.243 BA, 6 RBI)
Maicer Izturis (.195 BA, 2 HR, 4 RBI)
Emilio Bonifacio (.179 BA, 4 RBI, 0 SB)
R.A. Dickey (2-4, 4.50 ERA)
Mark Buehrle (1-2, 6.43 ERA)
Josh Johnson (0-1, 6.86 ERA)
So the most surprising storyline is that the Blue Jays are playing like a Triple-A team (or maybe Double-A) compared to what they look like on paper.
I never thought it would be this bad.
Washington Nationals: Starting Pitching Struggles
Once thought to be the best rotation in baseball, Washington Nationals starters have struggled out of the gate in 2013.
The lone exception is Jordan Zimmermann, who has a 1.64 ERA and is currently tied for first in the NL with five wins.
Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Dan Haren have been anything but spectacular for the team, as they have combined to go 6-9. Strasburg does have a good ERA at 3.13, but Gonzalez and Haren are both north of 5.30.
For a team that most expected to win the NL East, the struggles of these pitchers are a surprise.