Manny Ramirez Controversy and the 8 Biggest Surprises in MLB This Season

Nick StewartContributor IApril 13, 2011

Manny Ramirez Controversy and the 8 Biggest Surprises in MLB This Season

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    ST. LOUIS - JULY 18: Manny Ramirez #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers sits in the dugout against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on July 18, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The 2011 MLB season has not gone how I predicted. Of course, I don't feel so bad because no one predicted this type of season.

    The season has been full of surprises, from random injuries to early retirements—from the Boston Red Sox being at the bottom of the AL East to the Cleveland Indians being atop the AL Central.

    It's almost surreal at this point. This season has been nuts from day one.

    Here are the eight biggest surprises (thus far) in the 2011 MLB season.

Manny Ramirez Retires Amid Controversy

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    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 03:  Designated hitter Manny Ramirez #24 of the Tampa Bay Rays bats against the Baltimore Orioles during the game at Tropicana Field on April 3, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Manny Ramirez announced his early retirement after being informed he had violated MLB's drug policy. Exactly how Manny violated the policy is still under speculation, but the superstar has said his goodbyes to the Tampa Bay Rays and MLB.

    Perhaps Manny could have appealed. Perhaps this was all a mistake. That said, if you don't think this early retirement had something to do with Tampa fans booing Ramirez and manager Joe Maddon benching him, you should go hide in the Green Monster between innings.

    Manny Ramirez could have announced that he did not "knowingly" violate any policy (this seems to be the standard answer these days to drug policy infractions). He could have had a team of lawyers petition MLB. Instead he chose to quit.

    He quit because he was unproductive, unappreciated and unused as a Ray. He came out of the gate in spring training on fire but immediately fizzled out.

    This is good and bad news for the Rays.

    The bad news is that they lost one of the more explosive bats in the history of baseball.

    The good news is that the player was Manny Ramirez (and the Rays got him for $2M).

The Boston Red Sox Start the Season at 2-9

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    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 12:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox walks off the field after he hit a pop fly out to end the game against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 12, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Boston Red S
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The pitching for Boston has been exceptionally bad this season. The Boston starting rotation has an average ERA of 8.28. They have given up a total of 14 home runs. They have given up 67 hits in 11 games...and this is just the starting rotation. Boston's pitching is going to have to start performing soon.

    As bad as the pitching from the Red Sox has been this year, their offensive production has been even worse. Only one player on the entire team is hitting over .300 (Dustin Pedroia). 

    History lesson: The "Mendoza Line" is named either for Mario Mendoza or Minnie Mendoza (no one can quite agree). These batters had career batting averages of .215 and .188, respectively. Thus, the Mendoza Line has been set arbitrarily between .180 and .215 over the years. This is the batting average line that no player wants his batting average to drop to, or management will usually start dropping players.

    Having said that, of 13 batters that have been to the plate for Boston, eight are below the Mendoza Line. Eight players on a $164M roster are hitting at a level far below that of MLB expectations. Eight of the most highly paid players in the game are not producing.

    Luckily for Boston, the season is 162 games. The  Sox can still make some adjustments and come back before the end of the season. Manager Terry Francona is one of the best and brightest managers to ever coach at Fenway and should be able to fix whatever issues the BoSox are having.

The Cleveland Indians Are Atop the AL Central

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    SEATTLE - APRIL 10:  Manager Manny Acta #11 of the Cleveland Indians looks on against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on April 10, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Indians defeated the Mariners 6-4. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Cleveland Indians are 8-3. They are one of the best teams in baseball right now and are just getting it done on every level. Finally, that famous farm system they have in Cleveland is making some noise for the home team.

    The Tribe has six pitchers boasting a sub-2.00 ERA. The Indians' bullpen is absolutely sublime at this point.

    Add to that a team that has six players hitting over .260, and you have yourself a first-place team. 

    Understandably, it is still early in the season, but if the Indians can keep up their current pace, they might really have something to talk about...and to keep fans coming to the park.

Los Angeles Dodgers / San Francisco Giants Rivalry Goes Too Far

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 11:  Jamey Carroll #14 of the Los Angeles Dodgers  speaks about about Brian Stow, the Giants fan who was attacked last week at a Dodgers game in Los Angeles, before an MLB game at AT&T Park on April 11, 2011 in San Francisco, Cal
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    After the season opener at Dodger Stadium, Giants fan Bryan Stow was assaulted by two men in Dodgers gear and left in a medically induced coma.

    Watching the Dodgers and the Giants play has always been one of the highlights of the year for baseball fans everywhere, but sometimes a fan can take a rivalry too far.

    After a plea to fans from both teams stressing the importance of a rivalry staying on the field, things seem to have calmed down a bit in California, but the echoes of that moment should stay forever on the minds of true baseball fans everywhere.

Injuries, Injuries, Injuries

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    DETROIT, MI - APRIL 12:  Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers slides into home plate during the third inning while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on April 12, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. Hamilton was out from a tag by Victor Martinez  (Photo
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    You could make an All-Star team from the players with injuries that have occurred early in 2011. These injuries could be a fluke or could be from players not training well enough in the offseason, but the fact remains that they are a baseball constant.

    Every team has an injury thus far this season. This is expected. Many of the best players in baseball are injured right now. This is not expected and is a huge letdown for the clubs and the fans.

    Notable injuries, by team, this season include:

    Arizona 3B Geoff Blum

    Atlanta SP Jair Jurrjens

    Baltimore SP Brian Matusz

    Boston RP Matt Albers

    Cubs SPs Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells

    White Sox SP Jake Peavy

    Cincinnati SPs Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez

    Cleveland LF Trevor Crowe

    Colorado SP Jorge De La Rosa

    Detroit RF Magglio Ordonez and 2B Carlos Guillen

    Florida C John Baker

    Houston C Jason Castro

    Kansas City C Jason Kendall

    Angels SP Scott Kazmir and 3B Freddy Sandoval

    Dodgers SP Jon Garland and SS Rafael Furcal

    Milwaukee SP Zack Greinke

    Minnesota SP Kevin Slowey and 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka

    Mets SP Johan Santana

    Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez (illness) and RP Luis Ayala

    Oakland CF Coco Crisp and SP Rich Harden

    Philadelphia 2B Chase Utley

    Pittsburgh SP Scott Olsen

    San Diego SS Jason Bartlett

    San Francisco RF Andres Torres

    Seattle CF Franklin Gutierrez

    St. Louis SPs Bryan Augenstein, Adam Wainwright and Brian Tallet

    Tampa Bay 3B Evan Longoria

    Texas LF Josh Hamilton

    Toronto SP Dustin McGowan

    Washington SPs Stephen Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang and 1B Adam LaRoche

Baltimore Leads the AL East

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    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 10: Derrek Lee #25 of the Baltimore Orioles runs to first base against the Texas Rangers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 10, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The AL East is perhaps the toughest division in baseball. It boasts the powerhouse New York Yankees, the loaded Boston Red Sox, the returning champion Tampa Bay Rays and the up-and-coming Toronto Blue Jays.

    No one in their right mind would have picked the Baltimore Orioles to be in first place at any point during the season, but then again, everything has been crazy this season.

    The 6-3 Orioles have been dynamite on the road and are ahead of the Yankees by one game.

    Reality may be crashing down soon, though, as the Orioles are on a two-game losing streak.

The Texas Rangers Are Undefeated at Home (And Nearly That Way on the Road)

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    DETROIT, MI - APRIL 11:  Neftali Feliz #30 of the Texas Rangers celebrates a 2-0 win over the Detroit Tigers with Yorvit Torrealba #8 at Comerica Park on April 11, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The Texas Rangers have had one of the best starts in franchise history despite the loss of ace Cliff Lee in the offseason. They have leaned heavily on SP Matt Harrison, who has been outstanding in the early part of the season this year. Harrison is boasting a 1.29 ERA over 14 innings and an 11K to 3BB differential.

    Harrison has not been carrying this team, though. The high-powered Texas offense, led by Michael Young, has been on fire. They have amassed 64 total runs this year.

    The loss of Josh Hamilton will surely affect the Rangers, but if they can hold it together with their young bevy of pitchers, the Rangers may be this year's World Series dark horse.

Barry Bonds Overpaid His Lawyers (Maybe)

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 12:  Former Major League Baseball player Barry Bonds arrives at federal court on April 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  The jury is deliberating for the third day in the Barry Bonds perjury trial where the former baseball
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    After an onslaught of witnesses being called in by the prosecution in the Barry Bonds perjury case, the elite lawyers Bonds hired to protect him and his reputation countered by calling exactly zero. The defense simply rested as soon as the prosecution was finished calling witnesses.

    Either Barry Bonds has hired the smartest team of lawyers since O.J. Simpson or is planning on an appeal, based on incompetent attorneys.

    Is it surprising that Bonds is on trial? A little. Is it surprising that he has a team of lawyers that didn't have a defense ready? Completely! Unless he wins. If he does, then forget I said anything!