Stepping Up to the Plate
Every year, you get a few surprise teams in baseball. While not a predictable sport by any stretch of the imagination, it’s hard to believe that there have been this many “surprise” teams this year.
Not just the positive stories, like the Phillies and the White Sox, but the confusing ones, like the Twins and the Blue Jays.
Here are the top three teams that are breaking predictions left and right this early season.
First Base: The Philadelphia Phillies
Arguably the biggest surprise of the 2016 season thus far is the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies offense is pretty awful. Actually, they’re very awful: They ranked 14th in the National League in Runs, Home Runs and Total Bases, and they rank dead last in Hits and Doubles. It’s really, really painful to watch – especially for a guy like Ryan Howard, who can’t seem to put it together. Yes, he’s still mashing dingers, with eight so far this season, but at .161 BA, he’s something of an offensive liability.
The Phillies have one every day player who actually has a positive WAR, and that’s outfielder Odubel Hererra. The 24-year-old has a .325 BA in 44 games played this year, with a massive .439 OBP. Even third baseman Maikel Franco, who had a fantastic 2015 (even in limited games played, at 80) with a .280 average and 14 home runs. 14 home runs in 80 games is impressive, but Franco hasn’t been able to duplicate the performance thus far this season.
And as anemic as the Phillies offense is, their pitching is what’s kept them afloat. The recently acquired Vincent Velasquez (24) is part of a staff that feature lots of young arms. The Phillies pitching staff is 4th in the NL in ERA, 4th in hits and 3rd in strikeouts. It’s impressive for a young staff that doesn’t feature an arm over 32 years of age.
Is it sustainable? Probably not. With the offense as terrible as it is, watch the Phillies continue to lose close games. They’re currently sitting at a -31 run differential, so for them to be where they are (25-19) isn’t just an anomaly, it’s defying the baseball gods.
Second Base: The Minnesota Twins
I mean, what really happened to the Minnesota Twins?
What the Twins did last season was nothing short of a Festivus miracle. Under first year manager Paul Molitor, the Twins finished four games over .500. It was surprising coming from a motley crew of no true superstars, and an offense that was pretty, well, bad.
Just imagine this: their lineup didn’t feature one .300 hitter, didn’t feature any 30 HR guys (second baseman Brian Dozier came close at 28, however), and not a single 100 RBI guy. So for them to have finished where they did was a surprise in itself. Their 2015 was bolstered largely by a May that saw them go 20-7. Some people had the Twins even trending upward this year.
While maybe they weren’t going to continue what they did last season, did anyone really see 11-32 coming?
While the Twinkies have scored 152 runs on the season, they have given up 226. Once again, they rank 14th in OBP, average, hits and runs, and 15th in OPS. It almost mirrors what they did last season – but they’re on pace to lose 100 games this year.
I don’t think anyone is really sure what happened to the Twins. But while last year they were finding ways to win, this year they’re finding ways to do just the opposite.
Third Base: The Toronto Blue Jays
I touched on this last week on Load ‘Em Up, but what’s up with the Toronto Blue Jays?
They currently sit in last place, behind those damn pesky Tampa Bay Rays and the Jekyll and Hyde New York Yankees. Last place? Must be their pitching, then.
Their pitching is actually alright, which is hard to believe. The departure of David Price left a seemingly large void, in leadership and credibility to the rotation. However, aside from R.A. Dickey, who currently sits with a 4.50 ERA, the entire rotation is under 4 – which is entirely respectable. Their bullpen is suspect, as well – but the problem is the Blue Jay lineup.
Jose Bautista -.230. Your REIGNING, DEFENDING AL MVP Josh Donaldson? .250. Edwin Encarnacion, .240. Troy Tulowitzki, .205. These are the threats in a loaded lineup, and they just aren’t hitting to their full potential.
A team that ranked first in runs and home runs last season is currently sitting in the middle of the pack in 2016. Not to mention they have a sub .500 record at home – somewhere they finished 30 games over .500 last season. Will they turn it around? Time will tell, but tensions are running high North of the Border – indicative of John Gibbons getting ejected for the 4th time already this season.
Rounding Third, Heading Home
These are just some of the teams that are surprising baseball this year. The Seattle Mariners are another team that fits the mold – leading the American League West with a completely rebuilt roster and an abysmal home record. The defending World Champ Kansas City Royals are in an offensive hangover that won’t seem to end. The New York Yankees are a team that can’t decide what it wants to be – a team that can make some noise, or a team that’s beats up on the bad and can’t hang with the good.
There’s plenty of season left for all of these teams.
Well, except the Twins.
Follow @ACAllAmericans for quality, up-to-date sports reporting.