MLB NL West: Five Pleasant Surprises to Start Season

Darren Feeney@DFEEN15_SDCorrespondent IApril 19, 2011

MLB NL West: Five Pleasant Surprises to Start Season

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    While three weeks into the season is a small sample size, once cannot dismiss the effort certain players are putting forth to kick start their teams.

    Managers and fans alike aren’t necessarily shocked by the hot starts of certain players.  Instead, they are pleasantly surprised.

    It’s early, but a win in April is just as important as a win in August.

    That said, it’s important to keep in mind the old axiom: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

    Let’s take a look at a player from each National League West team who isn’t wasting anytime to produce.

Miguel Montero, C, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks offense isn’t the reason they are currently placed fifth in the NL West and off to a 6-8 start.   

    Opponents are batting an MLB-best .291 against Arizona pitching and the staff has the league’s second-worst ERA (5.55).

    Catcher Miguel Montero and his fellow D-Backs have produced top 10 offensive numbers across all categories to start the season, including fifth in batting average (.277) and sixth in on-base percentage (.343).

    Not only has Montero has been an iron man behind the dish having played in all but one game this season, but he is leading all catchers with a .391 batting average.

    Montero, a five-year veteran, played in just 85 games last season after suffering an knee injury early last season.  He has played more than 85 games just once in his career (2009) and this may be the season he does it again.

Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Colorado Rockies

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    In the absence of Ubaldo Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin has shown the Colorado Rockies they may have another staff ace.

    After throwing a complete game shutout against the Chicago Cubs, the 23-year-old Venezuelan is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA. 

    Dating back to the 2010 campaign, Chacin is 7-2 with a 1.50 ERA in 11 starts. 

    The Rockies (12-4) are firing on all cylinders and Chacin has been a big part of the early success. 

    Behind one of the top offenses in the league, Chacin appears poised to provide a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the Rockies rotation with Jimenez, who is slated to return Tuesday against the Giants.

Aaron Harang, SP, San Diego Padres

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    There’s no place like home—just ask Aaron Harang.

    The San Diego native appears to be at ease back in his hometown.

    Harang looked awful for most of the Spring after being hyped up most of the winter but has put together three highly effective starts (3-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.94 WHIP).

    It’s important to put into context that Harang has faced three of the weaker lineups in the National League (Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco), with two of those starts coming in the spacious Petco Park. 

     Nonetheless, the three quality outings by Harang are encouraging for the Padres sixth best staff in terms of ERA (3.20).

    Harang’s colleague and fellow off-season acquisition Dustin Moseley (1.83 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) has been nearly just as good as Harang but has three losses to show.

    That is because the Padres have scored 13 runs for Harang and zero for Moseley.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco Giants

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    It hasn’t taken long for Pablo Sandoval’s physical benefits to become evident after he shredded 38 pounds in the offseason.

    After playing in only six of the Giants’ 15 playoff games last season—just one in the World Series, Sandoval is returning to his 2009 form.

    The Kung Fu Panda batted .330 with 25 homers and 90 RBI in 2009 – plus, he handled himself well defensively.

    He endured a sophomore slump in 2010 with just 13 homers and 63 RBI to go along with a .268 avg.

    Flash-forward to 2011 and Sandoval (.333 avg, 4 HR) is arguably the Giants’ best hitter through the first three weeks. 

    Even more impressive, Sandoval is four for eight with six RBIs when batting with two outs and runners in scoring position.  In those clutch situations a year ago, he hit .182 in 55 at-bats and drove in 11 runs.

Matt Kemp, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Speaking of sophomore slumps, Matt Kemp was in more of a sophomore slumber in 2010.

    Well, he did have 28 homers and 89 RBI’s.  But a .249 average and getting caught 15 times in 34 attempted stolen bases is nothing nice; especially after a .297 batting average to go along with 26 homers, 101 RBI, 34 SB in your rookie campaign.

    Kemp has bounced back in a big way and looks every bit of the athletic and explosive five-tool dominant major leaguer he’s been labeled.

    He boats an MLB-best .459 batting average and has eight stolen bases and put an end to the Dodgers five-game losing streak with a walk-off two run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.

    Playing in a contract year and arbitration-eligible in 2012, Kemp appears ready to show how much it is going to cost Los Angeles to keep him in a Dodger uniform.