MLB Recap: Five Big Mid-Season Surprises

Joe GSenior Writer IJune 29, 2008

This MLB season has been more surprise-filled than most in recent memory. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve been left scratching our heads. Here are five of the biggest surprises at the halfway point this season.

#5. Tampa Bay Rays/Florida Marlins/Pittsburgh Pirates:
Before anybody jumps all over me for including the Pirates in this list, let me give you a couple of reasons.

They’re only four games below the .500 mark, which is very good for this team. Xavier Nady is batting .316, Jason Bay has 16 home runs, and their season is just a little less futile in general than it has been in past years. They’ve still got a couple of seasons before they can think about making some noise, but this is a promising sight.

Can we really call Tampa a surprise? After so many years of picking high in the draft, some of those picks are paying huge dividends. But yeah, we can call Tampa a surprise. They are 16 games above .500, and have only allowed 324 runs so far. The Rays have been hovering around the top of the AL East all season and are finally putting butts in seats at Tropicana Field.

Florida’s good seasons always seem to come out of nowhere. Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla are no surprise, but their pitching staff has produced despite low expectations at the beginning of the season. They are only two games out of first place in the AL East.

#4. Cleveland Indians/San Diego Padres:
If you were to look at San Diego’s pitching staff on paper, would you guess that their team ERA would be over 4.10? They’ve got the all-time saves leader, a 350+ game winner, and two young studs in Jake Peavy and Chris Young.

The pitching has been less than stellar, to put it kindly. It doesn’t help that the offense is batting an anemic .245 either, good enough for 13th in the National League. Padres hitters have also struck out 653 times while only drawing 276 walks. That’s the kind of K/BB ratio you want from your pitching staff, not your offense.

Cleveland has been abysmal as well. Their team batting average is .246, better than San Diego’s but worst in the American League. Aside from Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta, nobody on their roster has more than seven home runs. Victor Martinez, supposedly the next great catcher in the bigs, has zero homers.

And then there’s the pitching. It hasn’t been terrible, but Cliff Lee has been their only ace this season. CC Sabathia struggled early, and Fausto Carmona has been hurt.

They’ve allowed about 80 more hits than their offense has produced. And, oh yeah, Paul Byrd has given up 21 home runs in only 16 starts. With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that they are jockeying with Kansas City in the AL Central basement.

#3. Justin Verlander:
Verlander has been a Cy Young contender each of his two full seasons at the major league level. This year, he’s already accumulated nine losses, and isn’t striking as many people out as he usually does. We can attribute some of his bad numbers to low run support, but that doesn’t explain the ERA above six that he was sporting earlier in the year. At least lately, he’s shown some serious signs of righting the ship.

#2. Jay Bruce: He has cooled down significantly from his 8 for 14 start in the big leagues, but it’s very rare that we see a guy contribute like he did in his first taste of MLB action. He’s been touted as the Reds’ centerfielder for the next ten seasons (at least), but so far he hasn’t seemed to go through too many of the growing pains that other high-profile rookies have. It’s good to see that the future of the game has players like Bruce, Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, et al to look forward to.

#1. MLB to use instant replay:
Remember Questec? It’s still being used in 11 parks across baseball, and I’d be willing to bet that Curt Schilling still hates it. Instant replay could turn out to be an even worse idea.

Unless baseball adapts a system of review that more resembles hockey instead of football, this will slow the game down. Yes, some of the disputed home runs have been important, but they’ve also been infrequent. Aside from a one-week stretch that had three or four disputed calls, there have only been isolated incidents.

It’s a big surprise to see baseball willing to take out a major human element of the game, and so quickly. We could have replay by August, according to some sources. If they are going to institute a replay system, it would be better to work out the kinks in winter and spring ball before having it in place for a season.