MLB Power Rankings: 15 Biggest Surprises from 2011
As the 2011 regular season comes to a close, some teams and players definitely surprised us this season with their efforts. Some players surprised us with their failure, and others surprised us with their success.
As we look back at this season, what will we remember? Will it be the September collapses, Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit, or will something else stick out?
Let's look into the 15 biggest surprises of the 2011 MLB season.
NOTE: No particular order for the surprises
Ichiro's Failure to Collect 200 Hits
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Ichiro has had 200 hits in a season every year since he has played for the Mariners. With 183 hits as of Wednesday night, he will not attain that goal this season. What a streak it was.
Ichiro set the MLB record for most consecutive 200-hit seasons with 10, and if he can put together one more 200-hit season, he will break a tie with Pete Rose, who also has 10 seasons of 200 hits.
Ian Kennedy Reaching 20 Wins
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Living in New York when Ian Kennedy was a Yankees prospect, many people thought he was overrated because he had trouble getting his stuff together. After being shipped to Arizona as part of the Curtis Granderson three-way trade, he has made Arizona look like winners.
Kennedy has 20 wins this season, and has led the resurgence of the Diamondbacks (more on that later). He has been as good of an ace as any in the National League, and has been a fantasy find for those fantasy baseball players (thanks for the championship, Ian).
Derek Jeter Doing an HBO Documentary
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Derek Jeter getting 3,000 hits was no surprise; he was going to get it this season if he was healthy. The bigger surprise was his resurgence to creep his average up near .300 after a dreadful start.
He proved the "Jeter's over the hill" crowd wrong (and there were a lot of Yankee fans saying that too, the biggest cry-baby fans in baseball).
The real shocker was that Jeter let HBO cameras follow him around while he was in pursuit of the 3,000th hit. This is so "un-Jeterian" that everyone tuned in just to see what he does when he's not at the ballpark.
We found out he has a personal cook, had friends of many ethnic backgrounds...and that's about it.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After pitching in Japan until 2009, and then pitching in the minors in 2010, Vogelsong was called up in April to replace Barry Zito. He never looked back, going 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA. His ERA was the lowest on the Giants, who have arguably the best rotation in baseball.
Five of Vogelsong's losses came consecutively when the Giants gave him three total runs in those five starts. Let me repeat that...they scored THREE runs in FIVE games for Vogelsong.
No wonder they didn't make the playoffs.
Anyway, Vogelsong's story is incredible and hopefully it continues for him.
The Pirates Were in First Place in July
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The Pirates were a great story this year.
They were like a good movie where you know what's going to happen, but you can't not watch it. America's team peaked in first place in the middle of July before free-falling to fourth place in the NL Central.
People actually were excited about baseball in Pittsburgh.
Everyone knew the Pirates could not keep winning with their lack of offense and overrated pitching staff. Joel Hanrahan had a poor second half, and the pitching staff came back down to Earth. They didn't want to sacrifice the future for Carlos Beltran (good thing), and picking up Lyle Overbay and Derrek Lee didn't work.
Pittsburgh will be good in the coming future, but it wasn't meant to be this year.
The Orioles Struggling Badly
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After a strong finish to the 2010 season, Orioles fans expected to be better this year. Nobody picked them to make the playoffs in the mighty AL East, but they were expected to be competitive.
They had a nice group of veterans like Jeremy Guthrie, Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy and Vlad Guerrero along with budding stars like Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Brian Matusz and Zach Britton.
The season didn't pan out as they thought it would.
Matusz and Britton struggled mightily before being sent down to the minors. Wieters didn't get going until the second half, and Vlad Guerrero didn't have as strong of a year as he did in 2010.
The Orioles were dreadful again, so hopefully 2012 is better.
David Ortiz Being David Ortiz
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Going into a contract year, David Ortiz had lost belief in Boston. Many thought this was his last go around with the Red Sox, but instead, he set himself up for a handsome payday.
He is batting .308 with 29 home runs and 96 RBI as of Wednesday night. He broke out of his 2010 slump to win back the hearts of the Boston faithful.
Now it will be interesting to see what the Red Sox do with the star of the 2004 and 2007 World Series teams.
Manny Ramirez's Situation
Everyone knew Manny was desperate when he signed with the Rays. Manny being Manny just wasn't going to work anymore after he was run out of Boston and Los Angeles. The Rays wanted to put butts in the seats and hope for the best in the AL East.
Ramirez was suspended for 100 games after he failed a second drug test in as many years. Then rather than waiting the 100 days before retiring, he simply retired and went home. So when he wanted to play for a Dominican team this winter, MLB blocked him because he hadn't served his suspension.
On top of all of this is the domestic abuse arrest recently, which topped off the year and officially put Manny on people's bad side (if he wasn't there already).
The Yankees Winning the AL East with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia
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The Yankees have gone through this entire season with a No. 1 pitcher in CC Sabathia and a bunch of other No. 4 pitchers. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia made the team out of spring training and have performed beyond expectation for the Bombers.
Colon has a 4.02 ERA (which may also be the digits of his weight) and Freddy Garcia has a 3.62 ERA, although Colon has pitched more. The Yankees have overcome Phil Hughes' injuries as well as A.J. Burnett's terrible stretch from July to August.
The emergence of Ivan Nova has helped the Yankees a lot.
They are the favorite in the American League.
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To say the Twins had a dreadful year may be an understatement.
Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau could not get going this season. The two cornerstones of the franchise could not put together the magic that usually leads the Twins through the regular season.
Joe Nathan struggled to get back from Tommy John surgery in 2010. Minnesota's lack of talent in the system proved to doom them, and their lack of depth showed.
This comes a year after winning the AL Central. Now, the Twins finished with 99 losses and sit in the cellar of the AL Central.
Besides from Jim Thome reaching 600 home runs this year in a Twins uniform, not a lot went right for the Twins.
Justin Verlander's MVP Candidacy
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24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 strikeouts.
Justin Verlander's season trumps everything in recent memory for a starting pitcher. He is the definition of dominant this year as he mowed through lineups. He turns a good Tigers team into a very dangerous one in the playoffs.
If Verlander continues pitching like this, the Tigers may be playing deep into October.
Verlander was a Top Five major league pitcher before this season. Now, there is no doubt that he is the best pitcher in baseball. Everybody knew he was good, but everyone was surprised that he was this good.
The Arizona Diamondbacks Winning the NL West
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This may be the biggest surprise of the year.
The Arizona Diamondbacks went from losing over 90 games in 2009 and 2010, to winning over 90 games in 2011 and clinching the NL West.
Kirk Gibson has gotten the most out of promising young players such as the aforementioned Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, Justin Upton and Ryan Roberts.
The Diamondbacks have a tough road ahead, but this turnaround has been amazing for baseball in Arizona this season.
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Well, Matt Kemp is having a good year. The Triple Crown candidate is only batting .324 with 38 home runs and 124 RBI (as of Wednesday night) on a Dodgers team filled with off-the-field issues.
Kemp has been the steady force on that team along with Clayton Kershaw, who have propelled the Dodgers to above .500.
Kemp's season has been among the best in the major leagues, and he should get some MVP votes to go around.
This season shows how much potential he has.
Dan Uggla's Hitting Streak
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Dan Uggla got off to a horrendous start to his career in Atlanta. He was hitting .173 on July 4, and he was making Atlanta look bad for trading for him.
Then he went on a hitting streak.
Uggla went on a 33-game hitting streak that ended on August 14 against the Cubs. His hitting streak was the longest in the MLB since 2006.
Of all the players in the MLB, who would think that Uggla, a strict power hitter who doesn't hit for average, would go on this long of a hitting streak?
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September 28, 2011 was one of the best days of baseball in recent memory. If you don't agree then you shouldn't be reading this.
The Boston Red Sox held a commanding nine-game lead on September 2 while the Atlanta Braves held an 8.5-game lead on September 5.
Both teams did not qualify for the playoffs after losses last night in dramatic fashion.
Boston capped off the biggest September collapse in baseball history with Atlanta not too far behind. Kudos to Tampa Bay and St. Louis for playing hard until the very end.
No matter how devastating these collapses were, nobody tops the "7 up with 17 to play" collapse of 2007.
As the 2011 playoffs begin, all baseball fans are hoping for some more surprises along the way.
The regular season has been filled with surprises, but as teams are eliminated, this is what baseball is all about. The 162-game season ends with much fan-fare and we look forward to the playoffs.
The players and teams that surprised us this season won't be flying under the radar in 2012. These players and teams will have to prove that they were not a fluke. Let's just make it through the playoffs first.
Thanks for the read and feel free to comment if I missed one.
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