Good or bad, every fan comes into the season with expectation for their teams. Some are on the money and some are over exaggerated by the clouds of loyalty and desire, but it all creates an early season basis of comparison for each and every team in the league.
It goes without saying that most of these teams won’t live up to the burdens placed on them by the fans and pundits alike. Some will rise to the occasion and grasp fate by the horns, while others will either exceed or fail to meet their full potential. And that is all that expectations are; an estimate of potential. Some realize it and others turn their backs on it.
Now that we’re close to completing our second month of the 2010 Major League Baseball season, it’s safe to say that we have an accurate window in which to view the separation discussed above. You take the good and you take the bad, and somewhere along the line you replace expectation with realization. For now, we’re going to examine which teams are realizing their potential beyond the expectations of the so-called “experts”.
Top 5 Surprise Teams
2010 Record: 20-20, 3rd Place National League East
It would be difficult to not place the Nationals at the top of this list. They epitomize the term “surprise.”
This is a team that has never finished out of the basement of the NL East since they moved to Washington, has a run differential of -18, and ranks in the bottom half of all of baseball in hitting, pitching, and defense, yet they are currently in second place in the East. What they do well though is win close games, as only Cincinnati has a better record than Washington’s 8-5 mark in 1-run games.
Long term, the flaws listed above will probably catch up to them, but the expected arrivals of Drew Storen and Stephen Strasburg to the pitching staff may further their pitching efforts.
2010 Record: 23-16, 1st Place National League West
The Padres are another team that most pundits, myself included, didn’t credit with much of a chance in 2010. This is a team that is in cost cutting mode, had not managed its farm system properly, and entered 2010 with a lot of youth. Yet, they enter play on Wednesday tied for first place in what is arguable the best division in baseball. The Padres have done this by allowing the fewest runs in the National League, but despite scoring the third fewest runs in the NL as well.
It would be easy to write this off as an aberration, but this is also a team that was 36-52 at the All-Star break in 2009 and improved to 39-35 after it, when they jettisoned Jake Peavy, and started giving more opportunities to their young prospects. This may very well be a team that is coming into its own and Bud Black could be looking at a Manager Of The Year award rather than a spot on the hot seat.
2010 Record: 23-16, 1st Place National League Central
Quick, tell me who leads the NL Central. Is it the Cardinals, Cubs, Or Milwaukee? The answer is none of the above, as the Red stormed to the early season division lead. The Reds are 9-1 over their last ten games, so a lot of this success is based on a recent run, but its still unexpected from a team many pegged for fourth place.
Cincinnati currently has just a +3 run differential and owns a 10-5 record in one run games, showing just how close to the vest they are playing it right now. Neither the offense or the pitching staff has been stellar, but both have been efficient enough to maintain a run. If they have any hope of continuing along this path, the Reds will need Jay Bruce to continue to produce, the infield tandem of Orlando Cabrera and Brandon Phillips to step up and help, and pitchers Homer Bailey (5.21 ERA) and Aaron Harang (6.02 ERA) to lend some help to the pitching staff.
2010 Record: 24-17, 3rd Place American League East
Most experts felt that the American League East would be a three team race in 2010, but very few out there thought that the Blue Jays would be involved in the squabble while the Red Sox looked in from the outside. Even fewer gave the Jays much of a chance to be better than a fifth place team after they traded Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia.
So what has gotten into the Jays? The return of Shawn Marcum to the pitching staff has helped, but a number of near missed on no-hitters hasn’t hurt either. The biggest cog in this wheel has been the re-emergence of center-fielder Vernon Wells, who somehow opted to earn his big dollar contract in 2010.
While the Jays likely don’t stand much chance of winning the division or the wild-card with the Yankees and Rays looking as strong as they do, the Toronto fans can at least look forward to a year of exciting baseball.
2010 Record: 20-20, 2nd place American League West
Only in baseball’s worst division would we be talking about a team at .500 that is just two games removed from the division lead. Only in baseball’s worst division would that team have a -14 run differential. As a matter of fact, only the division leading Rangers, who have a differential of +9, can say that they’ve outscored their opponents for the season. Alas, here we are and the Oakland A’s are living the dream.
Many predicted the young pitching staff we saw a year ago would continue to step up and be a force in 2010, but most also agreed that this team would struggle to score runs due to a lack of any serious power. Well, in that regard, they haven’t disappointed, but the pitching staff, which has held its own, despite the loss of Brett Anderson. They also have the claim of the most exciting event of the season when Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game against Tampa.
The A’s aren’t likely to stick around, unless Billy Beane can pull some magic at the deadline. That is unlikely because the team has a vision in mind and a timeframe and its doubtful that Beane would move away from that to try and compete this season.