It happens every year.
Teams that seemingly have no business competing come out of the gate hard and make us question everything we know about the sport.
It’s a long baseball season and we are just beginning to scratch the surface, but here are five MLB teams who have surprised us so far in the early going. Check out our recommended MLB betting sites to get in on the action.
Mariners’ GM Jerry Dipito announced he was re-tooling the Mariners in the offseason, which usually is a nice way of saying “we are going to make win-later moves”.
He wasn’t lying as he dealt away several key pieces to a team that won 89 games in 2018 as James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Mike Zunino, Jean Segura, and Alex Colome were all shipped elsewhere via trade while Nelson Cruz departed the team in free agency.
They did add reinforcements in the form of Edwin Encarnacion, Domingo Santana, Mallex Smith, Jay Bruce, Tim Beckham and Omar Narvaez, but many expected the Mariners to take a step back after competing with the best of the AL West for much of last season.
That hasn’t been the case. The Mariners are 12-2 and are mashing the baseball. Check out the offensive numbers the Mariners have put together through 14 games this season.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Mariners have bar-none been the best offense in baseball and many of the names above are why.
And Dan Vogelbach has five homers, .731 ISO and a 1.683 OPS.
Unsustainable? Yes. Could the Mariners be for real? Of course.
The Mariners’ pitching staff isn’t striking many out (7.24 K/9) and they are issuing free passes at a high rate (3.16 BB/9), something that doesn’t bode well over the course of a long season, especially when the offense inevitably begins to come back to earth.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with starting a season 12-2 and for now their GM looks as brilliant as his offense has performed.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games last season in a division that included two 100-win clubs, so we knew they were a quality baseball team. However, did we expect them to be this good this early into the 2019 season?
The Rays’ offense has been no slouch as they’re above league average in most offensive areas, however, they’ve won on pitching to this point. Let’s take a look at how they have fared in various pitching categories across the league.
That should do.
Keep in mind the Rays are once again using an opener this season, albeit a little less as they have three full-time starters in Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow.
How have those guys fared, you ask?
In other words, no one can score on the Rays’ three starting pitchers right now.
Their bullpen ranks third with a 2.47 ERA and second with a 2.73 FIP on the season to boot.
Oh, and they have a guy who does this with his two-seam fastball at 99 mph.
99 mph shouldn't move like that. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/MHx38w33TS
— MLB (@MLB) April 3, 2019
They’re always exciting and they’re always pesky. There isn’t an easy out in the lineup and their pitching staff appears to be among the best in baseball. With the Red Sox struggling out of the gate and the Yankees putting half their roster on the IL early in the season, it is going to be fun to see if the Rays can hang with the big boys for the duration of the season.
I think they do.
San Diego Padres
While the Mariners own a +41 run differential to lead the league and the Rays sitting second with a mark of +32, perhaps the Padres have been lucky to sport an 8-4 record despite sitting with a -2 run differential through 12 games.
Still, sports are a results-oriented business and the Padres have delivered in the early going. It becomes even more exciting when we realize that the best days for this franchise lie ahead and are coming imminently.
San Diego has been solid on both sides of the ball. While their offense sits around the middle of the pack in many areas, their pitching staff has surprised to the upside.
When you get pitching like this, it makes it easier to win ball games.
Just like we knew it would be before the season, the Padres’ starting pitching has been led by the likes of Chris Paddack and Nick Margevicius. Paddack owns a 1.04 ERA through two starts while Margevicius comes in with a 1.69 mark after three starts.
The other three starters who were supposed to lead the way all own an ERA north of four. I’m talking about Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer and Matt Strahm. Yes, San Diego is light on starting pitching, something that may need to be addressed before competing, but none of the five have been disastrous and two of the five have been lights-out.
While not yet hitting for much average, Fernando Tatis Jr. is showing why he is one of baseball’s very best prospects with three long balls and a .262 ISO mark through the first 48 plate appearances of his big league career.
Hunter Renfroe is off to a nice start with four homers and a .500 ISO to this point while Wil Myers has also found his stroke early with a .326/.354/.565 slash line with three homers himself on the young season.
They are still a work in progress and their chances of hanging around the first place with the Dodgers seem much lower than a team like the Rays outplaying the Red Sox and Yankees or even the Mariners battling with the Astros and A’s in the AL West.
Still, a fun start to the season is preceding what appears to be many fun years of baseball in San Diego in the very near future.
Their start is cut from the same cloth as the Padres as their -6 run differential doesn’t scream surprise contender like the +41 mark the Mariners have put up to this point, but Detroit has at least one of their aspects surprising us in a big way early on.
Perhaps I should have added the word pitching after the would Tigers above because these guys have been dealing early on. Again, let’s bust out the same table we have used a couple of times above to show how dominant the Tigers’ staff has been to this point.
Also, I dare you to name three members of the Tigers’ starting staff and two members of their bullpen.
In case you can’t, here is how the Tigers’ nameless (for now) rotation has fared piece-by-piece in the early going.
*Moore is injured and will be replaced in the rotation by Daniel Norris.
There are some uneven ERA/FIP numbers there, but for a staff that was expected to struggle this season, the Tigers’ starters gave given their team a chance to win just about every game this season. That’s all you ask of your rotation, especially one that isn’t exactly loaded with All-Stars like Detroit’s.
An Achilles’ heel for the Tigers over the last decade has been their bullpen, but even those guys have showed up to play so far. Their 2.72 bullpen ERA has them sitting fifth in the league while they have received a historic opening 12 games from their closer Shane Green.
— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) April 11, 2019
Of course, it’s going to be hard to sustain a quality record when you can’t hit, regardless of how your pitchers perform. The Tigers rank in the bottom five in just about every offensive category save for walks while their five home runs are easily the fewest in baseball with four clubs tied for second-last with eight.
Their pitching has been elite, but given the recent track records of a few of those arms, it’s hard to envision Detroit pitching this good for a whole lot longer. On the bright side, the Tigers’ rebuild is going to take another step forward later this year when some of their top prospects get the call, likely sometime after the July 31st trade deadline after they hopefully take advantage of some productive veterans and use them as trade chips.
They also have some elite pitching prospects that aren’t too far away from making their big league debuts, so the future is bright regardless of how long this fast start lasts.
The Brewers are the defending champs. The Cubs are due for a bounce back. The Cardinals loaded up in the offseason. Heck, even the Reds made several win-now moves in the hopes of winning during the Joey Votto era.
In other words, no one was talking about the Pirates, but here they sit just a half game back of the Brewers for the division lead while the Reds and Cubs have combined to win just seven games to this point.
Perhaps we should have known this Pirates team would be more difficult to beat given the upside of their starting rotation.
I mean, Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and breakout candidate Joe Musgrove are one of the better four-man groups you may find despite the lack of media attention compared to a group like the Cubs or Dodgers sport in the NL.
Let’s break out our trusty table to see how the Pirates’ starting rotation has fared in the early going.
|Pirates Starters by the Numbers|
All five members of the Pirates’ staff has an ERA of no higher than the 3.00 mark Taillon owns through three starts. The fifth starter, Jordan Lyles, owns a 0.82 ERA across his two starts and 11 innings of work.
Their ‘pen owns a 4.25 ERA and has had issues with walks and home runs in the early going and they will need Keone Kela to get his stuff in order ahead of closer Felipe Velasquez who owns a 0.00 ERA and a negative 0.25 FIP with a 17.47 K/9 rate. If Pittsburgh has a lead into the ninth, good luck.
As expected, the Pirates will need to get creative to score runs. Steal bases, hit and run, move the runner over etc. They don’t boast much power as they are one of those four teams with the second-fewest homers in baseball with just eight through 10 games.
It’s going to be difficult to compete in this division. Odds are the Cubs will find their game as they’ve actually hit better than just about anyone, but their pitching has struggled big time. The Cardinals are right there and the Brewers appear to be for real again this time around.
Still, it’s going to be tough to count the Pirates out if their rotation pitches at or close to the best of their ability, because they are talented. Perhaps they can make the Central even more interesting than we thought.
If the following is any indication, they will.