MLB: Slow Start by the Boston Red Sox and Each Team's Top Surprise so Far
We are close to three weeks into the season, and few things are going as expected. Some teams have players that are surprising, and other teams are simply outperforming their expectations.
Its a long season, and things change, but some of these surprises are legitimate, and have some staying power. Cleveland may not necessarily be in for a major losing streak, and the Red Sox may not be the 100-win team people were expecting.
If nothing else, these starts have exposed to hot-air-balloon expectations placed on some teams and some players before the season started. Time to get real. (organized from worst winning percentage).
Seattle Mariners, 5-12, Justin Smoak
Smoak had a morose rookie season. He hit .218 with 13 HR and struck out twice as much as he walked. He has been hyped for a long time, but he won't bat .291 on the season.
Essentially, the Mariners are as advertised. Smoak leads the team in batting average. It's no surprise they have the worst record in baseball. And it wouldn't be a shock if they ended there as well.
Houston Astros, 5-11, Angel Sanchez
Angel Sanchez leads all the Astros full-time guys in batting average, at .302. He's second on the team with nine RBI and he is tied for the team lead in home runs with one.
Houston is bad. On the entire team, J.A. Happ leads them in batting average (two hits in five at bats), and no one has more than one home run. Not many surprises here.
New York Mets, 5-11, Jose Reyes
This shouldn't be a surprise to people. I, for one, was a believer coming in.
Reyes has six stolen bases, leads the Mets with a .315 average, with six doubles, two triples and 11 runs scored.
As expected, the pitching has been pretty bad. But, if nothing else, Reyes is jacking up his trade value for the teams calling New York about the shortstop in his contract season.
Boston Red Sox, 5-10, Pick One
One good surprise for Boston fans, Jed Lowrie is batting .516 with a 1.320 OPS in 31 at bats.
- Carl Crawford is batting .133, 2 SB, 3 R, 0 HR, .341 OPS
- Jacoby Ellsbury is at .200, 11 K, 3 SB
- Kevin Youkilis is batting .213
- Adrian Gonzalez is batting .262 with one home run.
- John Lackey, through 8.2 innings has a 15.58 ERA, 2.42 WHIP.
- Daniel Bard has a 6.75 ERA and two losses.
- Clay Buchholz has a 6.60 ERA with two losses in three starts.
Shall I go on?
Minnesota Twins, 6-10, Francisco Liriano
He has made four starts. He is 1-3 with a 7.40 ERA, 1.690 WHIP and one quality start.
The other major surprise for the Twins is Joe Nathan being benched in favor of Matt Capps in the closer role. Nathan has recorded three saves, and Capps has two holds.
This is likely a short-term move, but if Capps performs well, he has had success as a closer before. There is some potential for 20 saves from him.
Baltimore Orioles, 6-9, Brian Roberts
On a team that reloaded its offense with the additions of Mark Reynolds, Vlad Guerrero, Derek Lee and JJ Hardy, its the incumbent second baseman that leads them in batting average (.266), home runs (3), RBI (11), hits (17) and runs scored (8).
Now, the fact that .266 is the leading average can tell you this team hasn't hit very well. But they've gotten some surprising starts from Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, and Jeremy Guthrie.
When Brian Matusz rejoins the rotation, they could make a push for .500, which might be good enough for third in the east.
Atlanta Braves, 7-10, Craig Kimbrel
This one should not be a surprise to anyone, but Kimbrel might be the most talented closer in baseball.
He has four saves in six innings, with an astonishing 15 K/9 and 0.67 WHIP. He has yet to allow an earned run, and has only walked one, against ten strikeouts.
For his part, Johnny Venters has been solid, getting holds on all four of Kimbrel's saves. He carries a 1.13 ERA, and 0.50 WHIP.
Arizona Diamondbacks, 6-8, Daniel Hudson
Daniel Hudson is the hard luck starter of baseball so far.
He is 0-3 with two quality starts and a 10.89 K/9. He leads the team's starters with a 4.26 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 23 strikeouts against only eight walks.
After much pre-season discussion about their pitching, it might the D-Backs run-scoring ineptitude that keeps Hudson from being a top pitcher in the major leagues.
Chicago White Sox, 7-9, Bullpen
Chris Sale has the only save of the entire group. White Sox relievers have a combined 5.21 ERA.
Sergio Santos has 8.2 innings without allowing a run, but has not received a save chance yet, with Matt Thornton and Chris Sale both posting ERA over seven.
Chicago relievers have a 1.56 WHIP. They better figure this out, because that offense is going to give them plenty of chances to win, if they can close them out.
Toronto Blue Jays, 7-9, Kyle Drabek
This is the guy the Jays specifically demanded in the Roy Halladay deal, so obviously they aren't surprised. But fans and fantasy owners have to be surprised to see Drabek holding a 1.93 ERA after his first three starts.
Drabek's K/9 is over eight and his WHIP is under one point three. He might go through some bumps in the road, especially pitching in the AL East, but the kid is capable of special numbers.
He is eligible for Rookie of the Year and should be among the contenders late into the season.
Tampa Bay Rays, 7-9, Manny Ramirez
Anything less than a media frenzy just wouldn't do for the exit of one of baseball's great hitters.
After all the talk of Manny being happy in Tampa, it turned out he was happy because he was using again, and simply made up his mind to do so as long as he could get away with it.
Meanwhile, the Rays have struggled to score runs, and are 25th in batting average and 28th in on base percentage.
San Diego Padres, 7-9, Nick Hundley
As expected, the offense is bad. Adrian Gonzalez led them in just about every meaningful category last season, and he is now in Boston.
Meanwhile, Hundley has been the one bright spot for the Padres so far. He is batting .340 with a 1.004 OPS. He has three home runs, nine RBI, 17 hits and ten runs scored. All of those numbers lead the team.
This team has some young talent, but don't expect them to challenge .500 this season. Hundley won't bat .340 on the year, and there isn't much established "umph" behind him.
Detroit Tigers, 8-9, Brennan Boesch
Brennan Boesch was expected to be the Tigers fourth outfielder, and fill in when the starters needed a day off.
Now, Magglio Ordonez is hurt, and Austin Jackson is batting .164. Meanwhile, Boesch is second on the team in batting average, second in RBI and he leads the team in doubles and stolen bases.
Ordonez will be back, and Jackson will recover, but look for Boesch to find his way into the lineup as long as he stays hot.
Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-9, Matt Kemp
Matt Kemp can hit. And he can run. That being said, he batted .249 last season and was caught stealing 15 times, while only swiping 19.
Matt Kemp is currently batting .459 and has stolen eight bases. He also has three home runs, 13 RBI, a 1.217 OPS and has scored 13 runs. He is a legitimate 30/30 threat, and if he batted .300 in the process, he would force himself into the elite tier of outfielders.
With Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley leading a very good rotation, a breakout year from Kemp could put the Dodgers over the top of the NL West.
Oakland A's, 8-8, Trevor Cahill
Ok, so we knew the rotation was good. That being said...
Trevor Cahill has always been a pitch-to-contact guy, which worked great in the Oakland Coliseum. He had a 2.97 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.
Statistics seemed to indicate, though, that he had gotten lucky and those numbers would likely rise. Surprise, Cahill leads the rotation with a 9.59 K/9 rate.
The curve he added in the offseason is baffling hitters, and he could legitimately be the ace of, perhaps, the best 1-5 rotation in baseball.
Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-8, Jose Tabata
Heads up, sports fans, the Pirates are pushovers no more.
Andrew McCutchen might be the resident superstar, but Tabata leads the team in batting average, home runs, OPS, stolen bases, and runs scored.
This a dangerous team. If their rotation can resemble consistent, the offense is good enough to push .500 on the season and perhaps be a Wild Card contender in the very near future.
Milwaukee Brewers, 8-8, John Axford
John Axford took the closer job by storm last season, saving 24 games with a 2.48 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Where is that guy?
After blowing three saves in 50 games last year, he has now blown two in his first seven games of 2011. He is also bearing the weight of an 8.53 ERA, 2.21 WHIP and a talented young reliever in Kameron Loe who already has five holds and a win.
The Brewers can hit, led by Braun and Fielder. They have a good rotation with Marcum, Greinke soon to return, and Gallardo. But they need to trust the back end of the bullpen to hang with the Reds and Cardinals.
Chicago Cubs, 8-8, Starlin Castro and Big-Z
Watching Starlin Castro play, you just say to yourself "the kid is a baller." He can be scrappy, but he plays hard and gets the job done.
Castro is batting .408, obviously tops on the team. He has also scored 14 runs and has a .996 OPS. The sky is truly the limit for this young shortstop.
On the mound, meanwhile, Carlos Zambrano is 2-0 with a K/9 over eight. He has a 1.25 WHIP and last night he was dominant, going eight shutout innings and striking out 10.
St. Louis Cardinals, 8-8, Run Producers
The Cardinals are second in runs scored, first in batting average, first in on base percentage, fourth in slugging percentage and Albert Pujols is batting .239.
With Matt Holliday missing some time to have his appendix out, Colby Rasmus leads the team with a .364 average, 24 hits, 15 runs scored, and a .440 on base percentage.
If this team can be at the top offensively essentially without Pujols and Holliday, the league should be scared of them at full strength.
Washington Nationals, 8-7, Danny Espinosa
Danny Espinosa leads the Nationals is home runs, RBI and runs scored.
With the loss of Adam Dunn, and the injury to Stephen Strasburg, expectations are low in Washington this year, but Espinosa is one of many young players getting a chance to establish themselves for a 2012 that will see the return of Strasburg, and perhaps the debut of Bryce Harper.
This team has a huge future, with Ryan Zimmerman solidifying his place among the game's elite third sackers, and Drew Storen being groomed for the closer role.
Cincinnati Reds, 9-7, Edinson Volquez
Edinson Volquez has the stuff to strike out 200 batters in a season. But he now has four starts and has been ugly in the process.
Volquez "boasts" a 6.75 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 16 walks.
There are arms in the rotation that can keep the Reds in the hunt for another divisional title. Travis Wood, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake and they will soon get Johnny Cueto back.
But Volquez needs to figure things out because they will need him in what figured to be a tight race.
San Francisco Giants, 9-7, Madison Bumgarner
This is not the same guy that raged into the rotation last year and displaced Barry Zito on the playoff roster.
After three starts, the 21-year-old is 0-2 with a 7.36 ERA and 1.98 WHIP. He also has only struck out seven in 14.2 innings.
The Giants rotation is stacked ahead of him with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, but if Bumgarner can't figure things out, there isn't a ton of depth behind him, and this is another division that looks like it will be closely contested.
Florida Marlins, 8-6, Logan Morrison
Logan Morrison was expected to hit for a high average, score runs, and play good defense. He wasn't a power source. Mike Stanton had that covered.
Three weeks in, Morrison leads the team in home runs, RBI and OPS. He is also batting .327 and has scored eight runs.
This team is young at almost every spot on the field, but if the youngsters keep producing, and ace Josh Johnson stays healthy, they could contend.
Kansas City Royals, 10-6, Alex Gordon
The Royals are fifth in runs scored, sixth in batting average, and ninth in on base percentage.
Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are both batting over .350. Butler leads the team in average, OPS and home runs. Gordon is tops in RBI, hits and runs scored.
This looks like a team that heard all the talk about their minor league system, and wants to remind people there are major leagues in Kansas City too.
Los Angeles Angels, 10-6, Howie Kendrick
It was always known that Kendrick could hit for a high average. What wasn't expected was any kind of power.
Three weeks into the season, he is batting .318 with five home runs and a 1.013 OPS. With veterans Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells struggling to hit the ball, the Angels are finding runs with the little guys.
Maicer Izturis is batting .391, Ablerto Callaspo is hitting .321 and catcher Hank Conger is at .286. Their pitching is good enough to support them, if the offense can keep finding ways to score runs.
New York Yankees, 9-5, Phil Hughes
Where has the fastball gone?
In three starts, Hughes is 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA and 2.23 WHIP. He also has three strikeouts in 10.2 innings of work. This guy had 146 strikeouts in 176.1 innings last season, with a WHIP of 1.25.
With all the questions in their rotation, the Yankees counted Hughes among their known commodities. Now it seems CC Sabathia is the only reliable starter they have.
Look for Bartolo Colon to get some starts while Hughes takes his "save some self-respect" DL trip.
Philadelphia Phillies, 10-5, Jose Contreras
When it became obvious that Brad Lidge's injury would keep him out longer than expected, manager Charlie Manuel wasted no time in naming Contreras his closer.
Critics were expecting Ryan Madson to get the job, but Contreras has notched three saves and has not allowed a run in six innings of work, with a 0.83 WHIP
If he keeps pitching like this, and Madson keeps taking care of the eighth, Lidge might return after the All-Star break and find himself pitching in the seventh inning. And with that rotation full of guys who like to go the distance, he might not be pitching at all.
Texas Rangers, 11-5, Josh Hamilton
Considering his history, it shouldn't come as a surprise, but Josh Hamilton will be out of commission for 6-8 weeks with a broken arm.
The injury occurred when he attempted a head first slide into home. The lineup is powerful enough to handle his loss, but it will still be felt.
Colorado Rockies, 12-4, Troy Tulowitzki
Troy Tulowitzki is a slow starter. Troy Tulowitzki needs a while to get going. Troy Tulowitzki can't put a complete season together...
Well, Troy Tulowitzki has seven home runs, 14 RBI and a .345 average through three weeks. The Long Beach State grad is boasting a 1.259 OPS and sits in the middle of a red hot lineup.
With Ubaldo Jimenez back from the DL, this team might be the class of an extremely competitive NL West.
Cleveland Indians, 12-4, They're 12-4!!
Where to start?
Travis Hafner is batting .353 with four home runs and a 1.061 OPS.
Justin Masterson is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA and 0.93 WHIP.
The Indians have the best record in baseball. And they just got Grady Sizemore back. Don't be too quick to dismiss this team as fluky. No, these paces won't continue, but there is talent here.