Who Knew: Five MLB Teams Playing Far Better Than Expected
Preseason predictions rarely mean very much in any sport—rarely do professional sports teams play exactly the way they "should" on paper.
This year, some of Major League Baseball's most unlikely suspects have emerged from the depths of their divisions to challenge standing powerhouses for spots in the playoffs.
Granted, the MLB season is long—162 games long. Things fluctuate throughout: The Yankees drop to third in the standings, rise back to first; the Cardinals yield first place for a few days, gain it back, lose it, win it again—overall, the entire season is a roller coaster.
Although there is no telling which teams will be at the top of their divisions at the end of the season, there is some validity in scratching your head when you see a few teams currently leading or strongly competing for their divisions.
Here is a brief analysis of those teams.
San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres have been leading the NL West for most of the season—and not a single position player will make an appearance at the 2010 All-Star Game.
A surprisingly successful pitching staff and a well-rounded lineup have given the Padres their commanding lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the division last year.
No one player is doing exceptionally well, but a team ERA of 3.10 (first in MLB) has kept the team afloat—the team batting average is a mere .247 (26th in MLB).
Key players for the Padres include Adrian Gonzalez, who's batting .298 with 16 home runs and 51 RBI, and Heath Bell, who's fourth in the NL in saves with 21.
Many analysts thought the returning NL champion Philadelphia Phillies would be leading the NL East at the midpoint of the 2010 season, but the Atlanta Braves have proven almost everyone wrong.
Young talent in Martin Prado (.333 BA, 7 HR, 34 RBI) and Jason Heyward (.251 BA, 11 HR, 45 RBI) has given the team an edge—but so has its veteran power.
Chipper Jones, 38, has 32 RBI, and 33-year-old Troy Glaus has 14 home runs and 56 RBI.
The Braves' team batting is currently ranked eighth in MLB in terms of runs scored.
Also, the Braves are 28-9 at home—they have the best home record of any team so far (probably because of all that doggone tomahawk chopping and chanting).
The Texas Rangers have not won the AL West since 1999, but the 2010 version of the ballclub just may be the one to break the nasty streak.
How will they do it? Hitting.
The Rangers are ranked No. 3 in MLB in runs scored and No. 2 in team batting average.
Led by three-year veteran (a term I will use lightly—the guy is young) Josh Hamilton (.340 BA, 18 HR, 58 RBI), the Rangers are currently three-and-a-half games in first.
The St. Louis Cardinals are seeing red, and not the red they associate with tradition and dominance—this red comes from Cincinnati.
An unlikely choice for first in the NL Central (with the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers looking far better on paper before the season began), the Cincinnati Reds have continually taken first place from the St. Louis favorites.
Like the Braves, the Reds have young and veteran talent.
Joey Votto, 26, is batting .314 with 18 home runs and 55 RBI. Scott Rolen, 35, is batting .302 with 17 home runs and 54 RBI.
If the Cardinals' starting rotation fixes its bugs, the Reds may have trouble keeping the lead of the NL Central—but for now, the Reds are a force with which to be reckoned.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays finished the 2009 season 19 games out of first in their division. Granted, they trailed the World Series champion New York Yankees, as well as the Boston Red Sox.
This year, however, the Rays are challenging the two fabled AL East teams.
Powered by strong hitting in Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, and Ben Zobrist, the Rays spent most of the early season in first place. Now, there is an exciting fight between the Yankees, Sox, and Rays for first.