The 6 Biggest MLB Surprises of 2011

Ally WilliamsCorrespondent ISeptember 28, 2011

The 6 Biggest MLB Surprises of 2011

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks ended the 2010 season at the bottom of the National League West. This year they finish first, looking toward their first playoff appearance since 2007.

    The Diamondbacks are one of several surprises that have taken place throughout the 2011 season. Both individual players and teams as a whole made the past year memorable one way or another.

    This is a list of the top six surprises of 2011.

Arizona Diamondbacks: NL West Champions

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    Very few predicted the Arizona Diamondbacks to win the National League West Division. The Colorado Rockies made their big contracts with stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The San Francisco Giants were out to defend their title.

    Yet the Diamondbacks were able to rebound from a 2010 last-place finish to the top of the division this season. New manager Kirk Gibson turned the team around and big years from Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy helped Arizona reach its first postseason in four years.

Manny Ramirez Retires (?)

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    Manny Ramirez seemed to be ready for another year in the big leagues. At 38 years old, he just signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays.

    A career .312 hitter, Ramirez shocked Major League Baseball when he announced that he would retire after “an issue with Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.” Ramirez would have had to serve a 100-game suspension for his second offense but chose to end his career in April instead.

    He planned to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic. After learning he can’t do so because of his inactive status in the MLB, Ramirez announced he would serve his suspension.

Pirates: Buyers at the All-Star Break

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    A feel-good story of the year: the Pittsburgh Pirates. While they dropped out of playoff contention a while back, they made a great run for the postseason up until around the All-Star break.

    Pittsburgh has not had a winning record since 1992 when they won the National League East. While they will not end the streak this season, the Pirates have done much better than expected behind All-Star Andrew McCutchen. Pittsburgh has reason to have hope for a positive 2012.

Ryan Vogelsong: All-Star

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    If anyone says they predicted Ryan Vogelsong to be an All-Star this year, they’re either A) lying or B) delusional.

    Vogelsong has one of the best comeback stories this year. His trip from San Francisco, to Philly, to Japan and back makes it hard not to like the guy. And in a year where the San Francisco Giants struggled offensively, an unexpected boost to the starting rotation was much welcomed.

    Vogelsong ended his year with a 2.71 ERA and a 13-7 record.

Young Pitchers Aiding Their Contending Teams

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    This season is certainly a continuation of 2010’s “Year of the Pitcher.” Big-name guys have done their share of helping their teams get to the postseason, but several young players have made a mark on their first-place teams.

    Josh Collmenter has contributed to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ success this year with a 3.38 ERA and has 100 strikeouts to 28 walks on the season.

    The Phillies’ rotation is already stacked, but Vance Worley is making a name for himself as he ends the regular season 11-3 with a 3.03 ERA.

    The Texas Rangers’ Alexi Ogando’s 13-8 record is currently No. 10 in the American League in winning percentage, posting a 3.54 ERA through 168 innings.

    It’s no coincidence these talented rookies are on their respective first-place teams heading into the postseason.

Justin Verlander: MVP Candidate

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    We already knew that Justin Verlander was a good pitcher. What was unexpected was the incredible season the right-handed pitcher had.

    He’ll finish the season 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA. When he’s on the hill, the Detroit Tigers have a .735 winning percentage (25-9) compared to .532 (66-58) with the rest of the staff. He’s done enough to be among the front-runners in the American League MVP race.

    While he has the AL Cy Young all but locked up, his numbers have many talking about the first MVP pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.

     

    Ally Williams is a B/R MLB Featured Columnist. To contact, leave a note below or follow Ally on Twitter for updates and her consistent sarcastic interpretation of the sports world.