Biggest Surprises and Disappointments of the 2015 MLB Season
Surprise: You won't find anything about the Boston Red Sox on the pages that follow. Disappointed? Sorry, but the Sox are who we thought they were heading into the season—a team that, despite a talented offense, lacked the pitching necessary to actually contend for a playoff spot in 2015.
But you never really know just what to expect over the course of baseball's six-month regular season, which routinely makes preseason predictions look foolish and even the most well-informed fans and pundits appear to have limited knowledge of America's pastime.
What—and who—stood out above the crowd as the season's biggest surprises and disappointments? Let's take a look.
Surprise: Francisco Lindor's Power
Francisco Lindor has been a highly touted prospect since Cleveland made him the eighth overall selection in the 2011 draft, so that he's found success in his first taste of the big leagues isn't really surprising to anyone.
That he's hit 12 home runs in 97 games—and that his .487 slugging percentage is on par with two of this year's rookie class' biggest bashers, Chicago's Kris Bryant (.492) and Kyle Schwarber (.491)—is.
After all, this is a guy who went deep only 21 times in 416 minor league games, someone who doesn't fancy himself a slugger.
"I'm not used to hitting home runs, I don't hit home runs," he told the Plain Dealer's Zack Meisel after going deep for the first time against Detroit on June 24.
Yet here he sits with more home runs than the likes of Jorge Soler (10) and Yasmany Tomas (nine), fellow rookies whose power was their calling card to The Show. Whether it's sustainable moving forward, Lindor's pop has been a pleasant surprise in a disappointing season for the Indians.
Disappointment: Washington's Self-Destruction
The Washington Nationals sat tied for or with sole possession of first place in the NL East for a total of 50 days during the 2015 season, never getting out to more than a 4.5-game lead over the competition. That in itself is a disappointment for a team full of big names and even bigger expectations.
But that pales in comparison to the dysfunction in the dugout and clubhouse, as the Washington Post's Barry Svrluga detailed late last month. And little of it had to do with the team's head-scratching decision to add volatile closer Jonathan Papelbon, a move many in the clubhouse were against.
There were equally head-scratching decisions made by manager Matt Williams, who sat idly by as the room turned against him. “It’s a terrible environment," one Nationals veteran told Svrluga. "And the amazing part is everybody feels that way.”
Were there unfortunate injuries to key players? Absolutely. Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Stephen Strasburg and Jayson Werth, among others, all missed significant time with a variety of issues, some more serious than others.
But every team deals with injuries during the season and ultimately find a way to overcome them. That wasn't the case in Washington, which essentially wasted a historic season by Bryce Harper and a stellar showing by ace Max Scherzer in the process.
While much of the talent remains, Washington is going to have to do far more than replace Williams as manager if it hopes to avoid another embarrassing year in 2016.
Surprise: Dallas Keuchel's Meteoric Rise
Dallas Keuchel opened some eyes with a strong season in 2014 (12-9, 2.93 ERA), but nobody was talking about the 27-year-old as one of the American League's best starting pitchers heading into the season, much less a legitimate contender for the AL Cy Young Award.
Keuchel not only finds himself mentioned along the likes of Sonny Gray, Felix Hernandez, David Price and Chris Sale, but the overwhelming favorite to become Houston's third Cy Young Award winner, joining Mike Scott (1986) and Roger Clemens (2004).
He leads the AL in wins (20), starts (33), shutouts (two), innings pitched (232.0) and WHIP (1.02) while sitting second in ERA (2.48) and fifth in strikeouts (216).
Whether the Astros wind up in the playoffs, it would be an upset if someone else walked away with baseball's highest individual honor for a pitcher.
Disappointment: San Diego's Fantasy Team Flops
General manager A.J. Preller went out and added as much big-name talent as he could find last winter, bringing in the likes of Matt Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, James Shields and Justin Upton, giving manager Bud Black his most talented squad to date and raising expectations in San Diego.
Neither the players nor Black were up to the challenge of meeting those lofty goals, though.
Black was fired in mid-June with the team one game under .500 (32-33) and six games back in the NL West. Things didn't get any better, as the Padres have gone 42-53 after Black's ouster, falling 16 games back in the division en route to securing their fifth consecutive losing season.
Perhaps more disappointing (and suprising) was the team's bizarre decision to not trade away some of its high-priced talent at the trade deadline, especially slugger Justin Upton, who is all but guaranteed to leave as a free agent after the season.
Surprise: High-Impact Rookies
While this year's rookie class may not be the best we've seen over the past 25 years, as Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter detailed in late August, it's a group that has produced more impact players—and potential future stars—than anyone could have predicted.
You've got Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber leading Chicago's charge into the playoffs, while Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Preston Tucker are major cogs for a Houston club that is still fighting for a playoff spot in the American League.
Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty have played major parts in keeping St. Louis atop the NL Central, while Miguel Sano and, to a lesser extent, Byron Buxton, have helped power Minnesota's surprising playoff push.
Roberto Osuna, 20 who never pitched above High-A, has become a shutdown closer for Toronto, while Luis Severino has been the New York Yankees' ace since making his MLB debut in early August. Then there's the New York Mets, a team that has relied heavily on first-year studs Michael Conforto, Stephen Matz and Noah Syndergaard in its rise to the top of the NL East.
The list goes on, but you get the point. Rookies have played a far larger role, and had a far greater impact, on playoff races in both leagues than we've seen in recent memory.
Surprise: Alex Rodriguez's Resurgence
"When his suspension was issued and then upheld most figured he’d never play baseball again, let alone play for the Yankees. Let alone play well for the Yankees, let alone lead them to the postseason at the age of 40. But all of that happened. And, frankly, it’s been astounding."
Even the most optimistic A-Rod supporter couldn't have foreseen his return to the land of 30 home runs (he's got 33), not after he hit a total of 41 home runs combined from 2011 to 2014. Sure, his batting average fell off a cliff after the All-Star break (.278 before, .219 since), and that lack of production played a part in the Yankees fall from atop the AL East.
But the Bronx Bombers aren't in the playoffs without A-Rod's contributions. That alone might be the biggest surprise of the season, seeing as how fans and media alike were convinced he'd be nothing more than an expensive bench piece and major distraction in his return.
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