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Heyman | MLB’s 21 biggest surprises thus far

Jon Heyman




This season was supposed to be one where there were seven superteams, and some obvious slackers. And well, it hasn’t exactly turned out that way.

Not all the superteams have been quite so super. And many of the slackers have actually picked up the slack.

It’s obviously not too late for things to turn around. But so far it’s been a season of surprises, with these 20 happenings among the most surprising of the surprises.

1. The Braves. The Braves were supposed to be a year away. But of all the upstart teams, they may be the most thrilling – and more importantly, they may prove to have the most staying power.

2. Ozzie Albies. The little guy has some real power. The obvious comp would be Jose Altuve and/or Jose Ramirez, since this is an era for small guys with big pop. But scouts see more of a young Jimmy Rollins. Either way, that’s terrific.

3-5. Pirates/A’s/Rays. They are three of the four teams (the Marlins are the other) the union filed a grievance against for failing to spend their revenue-sharing monies to try to win. The union may still have a point, as these teams didn’t exactly spend big (though the loophole may be that they can claim to have spent on improving their long-term prospects via scouting and player development).

In any cases, all three are straddling the .500 mark, which doesn’t exactly suggest they are mailing it in. Pirates fans were actually more upset than the union after trades of their two biggest stars, Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, and if Cole could have pitched like this in Pittsburgh, you have to wonder whether they might be a real threat in the tough NL Central.

The Rays, despite injuries, are playing closer to their own expectations, which were surprisingly much higher than those of others.

The A’s may be the least surprising of the trio, as they have young sluggers and some pitchers with potential.

6. The Dodgers start. They nearly were buried in a run of bad luck and poor play. Justin Turner suffered a broken wrist on the eve of the season, Corey Seager needed Tommy John surgery and all-time ace Clayton Kershaw went on the DL with two different ailments. Heck, even the great Kenley Jansen wasn’t quite himself.

But alas, the deep Dodgers somehow were back to .500 by this week, and looking every bit the threat folks expected them to be.

7. Matt Kemp lives. He was acquired as a neat accounting trick that allowed the Dodgers to get below the $197 million luxury tax threshold, which was the only reason. But he has been their best player and should make the All-Star team. Wouldn’t that be something?

8. Juan Soto made a gigantic jump. It’s not only that the teenager made it to the big leagues after starting the year in low-A ball, but he beat Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. there. Beyond that, he did it for a contender. Incredible talent.

9. Mike Trout is even better than before. It didn’t seem possible that Trout could get better. But he has. His defense is better, he gets on base more and he whiffs less. His WAR of 5.5 means he could become the first player ever to have a 15 WAR for the year (Babe Ruth at 14 is the record). That 5.5 mark incidentally is 30 percent better than the next-best (4.2 by Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez).

10. Christian Villanueva. The Padres late-blooming rookie already has 15 home runs. With all their great prospects, it’s somewhat shocking that Villanueva, seemingly an afterthought (remember, the Padres acquired Chase Headley this winter), is the one to break out first.

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11. The Indians bullpen. Arguably the best pen over the previous couple years, they are indisputably the worst this year, with an ERA of about 6. Folks, that ain’t easy. They lost Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and some other. While none of those pitchers is doing especially well in their new locales, the key, Indians people say, was Shaw, who in the words of one Tribe person was “like two pitchers.”

12. Javier Baez’s walk-less streak. Baez is developing into a superstar, one of the game’s two best defensive players by our estimation (along with Andrelton Simmons) and a more consistent power hitter than he was previously. But what’s most consistent is that he never walks, having failed to earn a free pass from April 11 into June. Cubs manager Joe Maddon joked that they should celebrate the occasion.

13. Orioles. Most aren’t shocked they aren’t competing with the AL East-leading Yankees and Red Sox. But did anyone think the Orioles – who signed three free-agent pitchers, and have actually surprised with success a lot in the Dan Duquette/Buck Shoalter era – would be buried with baseball’s worst record to start the week?

14. Austin Romine is raking. The Yankees backup catcher, who was DFA’ed a couple years back, has a 1.117 OPS, on par with Trout.

13. What happened to Goldy? Paul Goldschmidt, one of the most productive and consistent hitters over the past few years, is struggling just above the Mendoza line. He used to be the gold standard.

15. Shifting priorities. Ned Yost has used the most shifts of anyone, and Joe Maddon has used the fewest. Maddon was the originator of the extreme shifts (with help from their progressive front office) and Yost is the ultimate old-school guy. And now everything is turning on its head.

16. Relief pitcher Sergio Romo started a game, and then another one the next day. The Rays continue to be different.

17. Josh Hader’s numbers are sick. He isn’t striking out everyone. It just seems that way.

18. Phillies rotation is fourth in ERA in baseball. Sure, Jake Arrieta for $75 million improved the group. But the keys are Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, who were the wild cards.

19. Jacob deGrom’s lack of luck. deGrom had a 0.99 ERA over nine starts – and the Mets managed to go 2-7 in those games. That’s ain’t easy, either.

20. Eduardo Escobar. He got his starting job thanks to Jorge Polanco’s 80-game drug ban, and he leads the majors with 23 doubles.

21. What happened to Chris Davis? The .153 average and 76 strikeouts aren’t good. But the real shock is only four home runs. The WAR is -1.7, worst in the game, for someone with a $161 million contract.

Jon Heyman is an MLB Insider for FanRag Sports, featuring breaking news, information and his Inside Baseball column, which appears on every Thursday. Heyman also has been an insider at MLB Network since the channel launched in 2009 and is a regular contributor to WFAN in New York, where he appears weekly on the Joe and Evan Show and previously appeared on the Mike and the Mad Dog Show. He also appears on WSCR in Chicago, WBZ-FM in Boston and the Petros and Money Show on Fox in Los Angeles. Heyman comes to FanRag Sports from, where he worked for five years and wrote the popular Inside Baseball notes column. Before going to CBS, Heyman worked for five years at Sports Illustrated and, where he was a senior writer and started an Inside Baseball Column. Heyman worked for 16 years at Newsday in New York, where he was the Yankees beat writer, a baseball columnist and finally a general sports columnist. Heyman started his career at the Moline (Ill.) Daily Dispatch, then moved to the Los Angeles Copley Newspapers (Torrance Daily Breeze and Santa Monica Outlook) before going to Newsday. Heyman at one time also served as a national baseball writer for The Sporting News. Heyman is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The Santa Fe, N.M. native grew up in Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Long Island.

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  1. Shawnuel

    June 7, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    The Mariners in first place on June 7th isn’t one of the biggest surprises? Heck, 3 weeks ago, even you wrote that the Mariners should sell off Paxton to the Yankees! But at least, unlike some stupid fans, you did NOT suggest the package be built around Brandon Drury.

  2. Steven

    June 9, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    Pablo Sandoval pitched an inning and looked amazing. That’s the #1 story of this genre and you missed it, Ace!

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