MLB's Biggest Early-Season Surprises

Pete SchauerCorrespondent IMay 10, 2013

MLB's Biggest Early-Season Surprises

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    We're not even two months into a bewildering 2013 MLB season, and we've already seen some unforeseen events happen in baseball.

    From freak injuries to teams keeping afloat without their stars, baseball has already seen its fair share of surprises six weeks into the season.

    Did you foresee the New York Yankees in a tie for the division lead or Justin Upton absolutely tearing the cover off the ball at this point in the season?

    If you did, kudos to you.

    Here are my surprises from the season thus far.

New York Yankees

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    Without core players like Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees are seven games above .500 at 20-13 and atop the AL East.

    Even with injuries to Eduardo Nunez, Joba Chamberlain, Francisco Cervelli, Kevin Youkilis and Ivan Nova during the season, the Yankees have managed to keep afloat with the help of Robinson Cano (.311, 9 HR, 20 RBI) and veterans Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner, who have combined for 13 homers and 34 RBI. 

    With so many injuries heading into the season, not many thought the Yankees would be in this position at this point in the season.

Justin Upton

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    If you saw this type of start to the season for Justin Upton, then you're a sorcerer, and I can't trust you.

    While he's only hitting .273, Upton has blasted 12 homers and driven in 21 runs while posting a .379 OBP and inflated 1.007 OPS—all numbers that earned him Player of the Month honors (via MLB).

    Upton's Atlanta Braves own one of the best records in baseball, going 21-13 and leading the NL East by two games over the Washington Nationals.

Stephen Strasburg

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    Without the inning restrictions from 2012 that held him back from pitching in the playoffs for Washington, it seemed likely Stephen Strasburg would come out of the gates blowing away opposing hitters this season, but that hasn't been the case thus far.

    Strasburg has started off the season 1-4, and while his ERA is a respectable 3.45 and he's struck out 44 hitters, his first-inning issues have been most surprising. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Strasburg has allowed nine first-inning runs this season after allowing just eight all of last year.

    Whether he's having arm issues or needs to alter his mechanics so that he can last in the big leagues, the fact remains that Strasburg has never pitched a complete nine-inning game in MLB. 

Los Angeles Angels

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    With a lineup boasting Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, the Los Angeles Angels have much more potential than their 12-22 record indicates.

    Hamilton has gotten off to a slow start, hitting just .213 with 41 strikeouts—which ranks in the top 10 in baseball—but it's the pitching staff that has plagued Los Angeles.

    The Angels lost ace Jered Weaver in only his second start of the season to a broken bone in his non-pitching elbow (h/t ESPN) and have seen their starting rotation pitch to a 4.90 ERA, which ranks 26th in baseball.

    At this point in the season, L.A. is only further proving that big-name free agents don't always translate into wins.

Matt Cain and the San Francisco Giants' Starters

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    Call me crazy, but I didn't see the San Francisco Giants' starting pitching staff ranking 23rd in the MLB with a collective 4.56 ERA.

    More importantly, I don't think anyone expected Matt Cain to begin the season 1-2 with an inflated 5.57 ERA, allowing nine home runs in 42 innings of work.

    Despite the suspect pitching, San Francisco is tied for the NL West division lead with a 20-15 record, mainly due to an offense that ranks 12th in baseball, having scored 151 runs through 35 games.

    If you had told me Barry Zito would have better numbers than Cain five weeks into the season, I would have laughed in your face—and rightly so.

Bryce Harper

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    Heading into the 2013 season, much of the hype surrounded Angels rookie phenom Mike Trout, but so far this year, Bryce Harper has been the better sophomore.

    The 20-year-old outfielder had a scorching spring and has carried that effort into the start of this season, where he's hitting .302 with 10 home runs and 21 RBI to go with a .383 OBP and 1.013 OPS. Via ESPN's SportsCenter, Harper reached the 10-HR plateau in Washington's 33rd game this season, compared to 85 games in 2012.

    I picked Harper's Nationals to make to the World Series this year, and as long as he continues to put up these numbers, I have no problem sticking by my original prediction.

Roy Halladay's Health Issues

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    Roy Halladay struggled last season—he sported a 4.49 ERA and an 11-8 record—but the 2013 season has been even worse for the two-time Cy Young winner.

    Halladay is 2-4 this season with an enormous 8.65 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, but we recently learned that the 35-year-old is dealing with shoulder issues. Per MLB, Halladay will have surgery on his right shoulder to deal with bone spurs, a partially torn rotator cuff and a frayed labrum, with no timetable for his return.

    At the age of 35, Halladay can come back and be effective, but he'll have to change the way he pitches to get professional hitters out.

    We could be witnessing the decline of one of the best pitchers in the game, which could lead to his retirement.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    I'm sure none of you predicted Carlos Quentin would charge the mound and break Zack Greinke's collarbone or foresaw the Los Angeles Dodgers coming out of the gates at 13-20 and sitting in the basement of the NL West.

    The World Baseball Classic injury to Hanley Ramirez didn't help, but one of the game's best sluggers in Matt Kemp has just one home run this season, and the Dodgers rank 28th in runs scored.

    Even without Greinke, L.A.'s starting pitching has been solid with a collective 3.94 ERA, led by Clayton Kershaw's 1.62 ERA and 56 strikeouts.

    Still, for a big-money team that's supposed to contend in the NL West and make the postseason, the Dodgers have been one of the biggest surprises this season—for the wrong reasons.

     

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