2011 Cleveland Indians, 2011 Red Sox and MLB's 10 Most Surprising Starts Ever
"It's not a sprint; it's a marathon."
With every new baseball season comes new beginnings, a clean slate and new opportunities for teams to make their mark on a young season.
Nothing can jump start a team in the right direction more than getting off to a good start. Whether it means going undefeated through the first week of the season or starting the year on a big winning streak, every victory can help a team and their journey to be the best during the season.
On the flip side, a dismal start could prove disastrous to any club. A winless start out of the gate or losing consecutive series throughout the first month can prove to become vital to any organization, whether expected to be in playoff contention or not.
Even though it is a long 162-game season, it certainly doesn't go unnoticed that April games count just as much as the games down the stretch in September.
Some of these teams have overcome the odds to surprise many fans with their hot starts to their seasons, while others are left searching and dwindling in the balance after a horrific beginning.
Here are Major League Baseball's 10 most surprising starts ever. Enjoy.
10. 1998 New York Yankees (31-9)
Coming off a 96-win 1997 season, the New York Yankees opened up to a fast start in 1998. This great start to the season would eventually lead them to not only set a franchise record winning 114 games, but (at the time) set the American League record for most regular season wins in a season.
After starting the year 0-3, the Yanks rallied and won their next 31 of 37 games to start the 1998 season at 31-9.
Many key players led the charge for New York all season, many of which became the core of the Yankees dynasty throughout the late 1990s. From outfielder Bernie Williams (.339 26 HRs 97 RBI), to shortstop Derek Jeter (.324 19 HRs 84 RBI), to first baseman Tino Martinez (.281 28 HRs 123 RBI), each one of them played a significant role in the early success the team had in 1998.
On the pitching side, the Yankees starting rotation featured all five starters with 12-plus wins: David Cone (20-7), David Wells (18-4), Andy Pettitte (16-11), Hideki Irabu (13-9) and Orlando Hernandez (12-4). For Cone, it was the second time the dominant right-hander won 20 games in his career, as he previously reached the milestone 10 years prior in 1988 as a member of the New York Mets.
It's no question that the 1998 New York Yankees were simply one of the best teams the city of New York ever seen in baseball's modern era, as they would eventually go onto win the 1998 World Series against the San Diego Padres, sweeping the series 4-0.
9. 2003 Detroit Tigers (3-25)
Regardless, he and the rest of the 25-man Tigers 2003 roster were part of baseball's laughingstock team of the 21st century, as Detroit would not only start the season with a dismal 3-25 record, but finish with the seventh worst record in MLB history at 43-119.
Even with a lack of success, the team found a way to highlight one player in Young, who led the Tigers in every offensive category when he hit .297 with 29 home runs and 85 RBI throughout the entire historic season.
Pitching in both the rotation and bullpen were absolutely horrendous, as lefty Mike Maroth led the American League with 21 losses and his teammate Jeremy Bonderman finished a close second with 19 losses to his name.
What's amazing to me is how Detroit dusted themselves off after the 2003 season and came back to win 95 games just three years later, losing the 2006 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
8. 2011 Cleveland Indians (13-5)
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Being a diehard Cleveland sports fan, this 2011 season has come as a big surprise to me like the rest of the Indians fans in and around the city.
Spending a total of a little over $5 million over the past two offseasons, the Cleveland Indians have jumped out to their best start in recent years, still clinging to first place in the American League Central Division as it stands today.
And you guys thought the Tribe was still in a rebuilding process this season, didn't you? I know it's still early and anything can happen, but come on, nobody saw a start like this coming from a team that won just 69 games last season, let alone winning 65 games the year before that.
What has been the key for the Indians' early success this season? Pitching. Check out some of these great numbers so far by these three Tribe starters. Stats as of April 20:
- Justin Masterson (4-0 1.71 ERA)
- Josh Tomlin (3-0 2.33 ERA)
- Mitch Talbot (1-0 1.46 ERA)
Offensively, Cleveland also has had success early on this year, becoming one of the first teams in baseball to score 100 runs as a team this season. Here are three key weapons in the Indians lineup that has helped that cause. Stats as of April 20:
- Asdrubal Cabrera (.284 AVG. 4 HRs 14 RBI)
- Michael Brantley (.328 AVG. 0 HRs 6 RBI)
- Travis Hafner (.351 AVG. 4 HRs 10 RBI)
Even outfielder Grady Sizemore has become a pleasant surprise through his first few games back with the Indians as he is currently hitting .357, with two home runs and five RBI in his first seven games played in 2011.
Maybe, just maybe, if Cleveland can keep up their winning ways, some of that old Jacobs Field magic could come back into play in 2011, where the Indians will look to shock the baseball and make it back to the postseason this October.
As for right now, I'm partying like it's 2007 all over again...even if the Tribe has lost their last four of five ballgames, no big deal.
7. 2001 Seattle Mariners (31-9)
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One of the best all-around teams of the 21st century, the 2001 Seattle Mariners won an American League–leading 116 games, an American League regular season record that still stands today.
Starting the season with a 4-2 record through their first six games, Seattle went on a tear, winning their next 27 of 34 ballgames to start the season with a 31-9 record. Much of their success all season came from both the field and up and down the lineup, as the Mariners scored the most runs (927) in the AL and also gave up the fewest amount of runs (576) as well.
Offensively the Mariners were led by both second baseman Bret Boone and 2001 rookie outfielder, Ichiro. Boone had a standout career in 2001, setting career highs in average (.331), home runs (37) and RBI (141). Ichiro led the American League with a .350 batting average, 56 stolen bases, and an astounding 242 hits throughout the season, making him the clear choice for both the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP Award.
On the mound, Seattle had four starters with 15-plus wins in Freddy Garcia (18-6), Aaron Sele (15-5), Paul Abbott (17-4) and Jamie Moyer (20-6). It was actually Moyer's first 20-win season in his long major league career.
Unfortunately this dream season didn't end up amounting to much in the end as the Mariners were eventually defeated by the New York Yankees 4-1 in the ALCS. Seattle has not been to the postseason since.
6. 1962 New York Mets (40-120)
Let's face it, expansion teams can sure put up some pretty ugly numbers no matter what sport or league the team may be playing. This was exactly the case when the New York Mets entered the National League as an expansion team in 1962.
Playing in their first ever season in the major leagues, the Mets started the 1962 season going just 1-12 through their first 13 games. It only got worse as the season went on, as New York did not win their 30th game until August 8 of that season. They ended up closing out the season with a terrible 40-120 record, finishing with the most second most losses by any team in the regular season in MLB history.
A 17-game losing streak in late May, followed by an 11-game losing streak in mid-July, capped off by a 13-game losing streak in early August certainly put the Mets in a place where no team has been since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders won just 20 games in their 154-game season.
The Mets, managed by Hall of Famer Casey Stengel that year, finished in 10th place in the National League, or 60.5 games back from what would be the 1962 NL Champion San Francisco Giants.
Outfielder Frank Thomas (.266 34 HRs 94 RBI) and Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn (.306 7 HRs 28 RBI) did all they could to help the team throughout the long season, but it simply was not enough to even put a dent in the win column.
For Ashburn, 1962 also happened to be his final season of his Hall of Fame career...after a long season like that, do you blame him?
5. 2011 Boston Red Sox (2-10)
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After trading for three-time NL All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, as well as signing four-time All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford for seven years and $142 million in the same offseason, one would think the Boston Red Sox would certainly not lose many games in the 2011 season.
This wasn't the case once the first two weeks of the season finally kicked off, as Boston began this season winless through their first six games—something that no team in the history of baseball has done that has made it to the World Series at season's end.
What caused the Red Sox to struggle? Here are some notable players offensive statistics through these first 12 games of the season:
- Adrian Gonzalez: (.244 AVG. 1 HR 7 RBI)
- Marco Scutaro: (.188 AVG. 0 HRs 6 RBI)
- Kevin Youkilis: (.200 AVG. 1 HR 4 RBI)
- Carl Crawford: (.137 AVG. 0 HRs 1 RBI)
These stats certainly make you want to cringe if your a Red Sox fan. But wait till you check out even more dismal numbers from the pitching mound through the same 12 games:
- Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-2 12.86 ERA)
- Clay Buchholz: (0-2 6.60 ERA)
- John Lackey: (1-1 15.58 ERA)
These statistics definitely do not look like a team that was poised for great success in 2011, let alone a team that has won 95-plus games three out of the last four seasons.
But just when it couldn't get any worse, the Red Sox have showed signs of life recently, finally looking like the team many thought they would be at the outset of the season. As of today, Boston has now won their last eight of nine ballgames to move to 10-11 on the year.
Sorry Yankee fans, looks like there will be competition in the American League East after all.
4. 1982 Atlanta Braves (13-0)
Talk about a grand opening.
The 1982 Atlanta Braves certainly surprised many fans around baseball when they jumped out to a 13-game winning streak to open up the young season. Winning just 50 games the year before in a shortened 1981 season, the Braves definitely opened some eyes through the first couple weeks both at the plate and on the mound as well.
Their early success ended up being short lived though, as the Braves would go just 76-73 the rest of the way to close the season with a record of 89-73. Don't get me wrong, the season was still good enough to win the National League West (by just one game), but just think what kind of season it could have been if Atlanta could have kept just some of early success going.
Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro (17-4 3.61 ERA) and five-time All-Star outfielder Dale Murphy (.281 36 HRs 109 RBI) led the charge for the Braves virtually all season.
What started out as such a great season, though, ended bitterly in October, when the Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS 2-1.
4a. 1987 Milwaukee Brewers (13-0)
Just like the Atlanta Braves did five years prior, the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers also began their season with a bang as they too started their season on a 13-game winning streak.
While they did fair better than the Braves after their big winning streak (going 78-71), the Brewers ultimately fell short in the end, finishing in third place and seven games behind American League Eastern Division winner Detroit Tigers.
The great start still was a big surprise in the baseball world, as the Brewers won just 77 games the year before in 1986. Hall of Famers Robin Yount (.312 AVG. 21 HRs 103 RBI) and Paul Molitor (.353 AVG. 16 HRs 75 RBI) led the way for the Brewers and their early success during the 1987 season.
As we all know, Milwaukee wouldn't make it to the postseason for another 21 years, clinching a wild card birth in 2008.
3. 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134)
It's all right if you don't quite remember this historic baseball team. Don't worry, the team was kind of forgettable in the minds of many fans back in the day anyway.
I'll just put it to you nice and simple, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders were simply the worst team in the history of Major League Baseball. Period.
While the Spiders did start the season 0-4, they did end up making a little ground with a 3-9 record through the first 12 games of the 1899 season. Little did they know what would transpire next.
Not only did Cleveland lose have losing streaks of 13, 14 and 11 (twice), they also played the worse stretch of baseball any baseball fan or human being could even dream of, losing their last 40 of 41 games to close out the 1899 season, finishing with a 20-134 record.
Honestly, I couldn't even imagine a big league team being this bad today; it's just impossible.
2. 1988 Baltimore Orioles (0-21)
The Baltimore Orioles got off to the worst start in baseball history back in 1988, when they lost a historic 21 games in a row to open up their season. I don't care what team it is, there's simply no coming back from a horrible start like that.
Actually, the Orioles ended up making the 1988 season somewhat respectable in the end, going 54-86 to close out the season with a 54-107 record, especially since it wasn't until April 29 that Baltimore won their first game.
It still amazes me even today the kind of season Baltimore had in the late 1980s, even with great ballplayers like Eddy Murry, Cal Ripken Jr., Curt Schilling and Fred Lynn on the roster.
It just goes to show even the most knowledgeable baseball fans that even though a team may seem to look seemingly above average on paper, or that the Orioles won 83 games just three years prior, all these statistics all but disappear with a horrific start to a season like the 1988 Orioles went through.
1. 1984 Detroit Tigers (35-5)
Honestly, I don't think you could ask for a much better start to a season than how the 1984 Detroit Tigers began their season. Especially since it ended up mounting to the most when it was all said and done.
While it may not have been a huge surprise that the Tigers would be successful in 1984 (winning 92 games the year before) it was surprising, however, as to the kind of start Detroit had some 27 years ago. Let's face it, any team who could be 30 games over .500 through their first 35 games definitely has my vote for the best start in Major League Baseball history.
Contributing to the Tigers attack on offense all season were a trio of three All-Stars:
- Alan Trammell: (.314 AVG. 14 HRs 69 RBI)
- Lou Whitaker: (.289 AVG. 13 HRs 56 RBI)
- Lance Parrish: (.237 AVG. 33 HRs 98 RBI)
On the pitching side, another trio of three standouts:
- Jack Morris: (19-11 3.60 ERA)
- Dan Petry: (18-8 3.24 ERA)
- Milt Wilcox: (17-8 4.00 ERA)
Detroit ended up going 69-53 the rest of the way to end the season at 104-58, 15 games ahead of the second place 1984 Toronto Blue Jays.
Under Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, the Tigers would go onto win the 1984 World Series against the San Diego Padres 4-1. It would not only be Anderson's last World Series Championship as a manager, but also the last title Motown has seen from the Tigers since.