I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day weekends.
As the month of May winds down, I thought it would be a good time to look at some of the surprises in Major League Baseball so far. Can you believe we’re almost a third of the way into the season?
Anyway, here are my thoughts on a few of baseball’s “surprise” teams:
BALTIMORE ORIOLES (29-19, 1st-place tie in AL East)
- What I like? Very strong up the middle with Adam Jones in center, J.J. Hardy at shortstop and Matt Wieters behind the dish. Jones is a seven-year veteran who has never posted an OPS above .800. But this year, he already has 15 homers to go with a .308 average, a .944 OPS and his usual solid defense. Hardy has 10 homers already to go with Gold Glove defense. And Wieters, once dubbed “Mauer with power”, has been that and more. His average is lagging, but he has eight homers and controls the opponents running game very well.
- What I don’t like? The AL East. That division has never had room for one-year wonders, and I’m not totally convinced that Baltimore is like Tampa Bay and here to stay.
- What do I think? The Angels are surging in the AL West, so I still think that division gets a wild card, leaving one for the AL East. My gut tells me Tampa Bay and the Yankees will be playoff-bound once again.
CLEVELAND INDIANS (26-21, 1st place in AL Central)
- What I like? Everyone thought the AL Central this year had the Detroit Tigers and a cast of also-rans. But not so fast, my friend. The Tribe are up a half-game on the Chicago White Sox heading into Monday. Cleveland ranks in the top five in on-base percentage. But what I like about this team is its defense, especially in the infield with Jack Hannahan, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Casey Kotchman. The corner-infield defense kind of reminds me of Twins teams from 10 years ago.
- What I don’t like? Not a lot of punch on this team. Where does the offense come from? There’s certainly some good professional hitters that no what they’re doing at the plate like Kotchman, Cabrera, Johnny Damon and Travis Hafner. But other than Hafner when he’s healthy, not much scares you offensively. Young catcher Carlos Santana just landed on the DL.
- What do I think? I think I like many overrated the Tigers coming into the season, although there’s still plenty of time for that Motor City machine to get going offensively. But I’ve reached the point where I can see the Indians or White Sox challenging for the division title.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (29-18, 1st place in NL East)
- What I like? Some people saw the Nats coming this year (i.e. WDAY’s Dom Izzo). I thought it was a year early. But here they are, in first place on Memorial Day in a very tough NL East. The Nats lead the majors with a 2.93 ERA, out Philly-ing the Phillies in that regard. And they have some really nice offensive weapons with the emerging Bryce Harper to go with corner infielder sluggers Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. And once Drew Storen gets healthy, they figure to have plenty of potent back-of-the-bullpen options.
- What I don’t like? This is new territory for the players and the organization. You have to remember that the last time the Nationals franchise made the postseason was 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos. I’m not worried about this team now, but what about the September grind.
- What do I think? The Phillies are over .500, but still in last place in this division. I think even when Ryan Howard and Chase Utley return, the Phillies will have their hands full. There could be a changing of the guard in the NL East, and I am finally starting to think the Nationals at the very least will get a wild-card spot.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS (32-15, 1st place in NL West)
- What I like? This was the only team among the four listed that I thought would be in the position they’re in. But I realize it’s a surprise to many, especially considering the franchise’s fragile state before new ownership took over. But any time you have an NL Cy Young winner (Clayton Kershaw) and a guy that could have won the MVP (Matt Kemp) as building blocks, you’re off to a good start. Behind Kershaw and resurgent Chris Capuano, the Dodgers have the second-best ERA in baseball at 3.15. And they are third in baseball with a .272 batting average, buoyed by a bounce-back year from Andre Ethier and the outstanding play of catcher A.J. Ellis.
- What I don’t like? Kenley Jansen has been superb since taking over as the Dodgers closer after Javy Guerra flopped. But I think LA wouldn’t mind adding another bullpen arm to help build a bridge to Jansen, although Josh Lindblom has been fantastic as a set-up man. I’m nitpicking though. There’s really not much that I don’t like, especially once Kemp returns from the DL on Tuesday.
- What do I think? The Dodgers are here to say. They will win the division.