The standings in Major League Baseball are all upside down so far this year and after the Bay Rays exciting emergence last year, it's hard to discount another team busting out from the projections and the odds. Let's look at this year's surprise starts and see who is going to be a factor in the long run.
The Orioles are in first place in the American League East after eight games which is really a surprise. They are getting timely hitting and have won six of their first eight games. But it seems unlikely they can continue at this pace. Guthrie has had a good start for the rotation and has thrown two brilliant games. It is very possible that Guthrie continues in this positive direction, but he doesn't have enough help with the rest of the rotation. Hendrickson can be decent, and newcomer, Koji Uehara is 2-0. But Uehara's first start was against a flat Yankee team and his second start was not very good. He has given up 17 base runners in ten innings of work. The rest of the rotation consists of Alfredo Simon, who has looked terrible and Adam Eaton, who has made terrible a career art form. And Sherrill as a closer is not impressive at all and a big weakness for this team. The overall bullpen has a couple of guys doing decent and the rest is real iffy.
Melvin Mora is getting up there in years and cannot be counted on for upscale production. He'll probably miss some time to injuries like he always has. The offense has five or six guys who can rake pretty well, but it might be the Orioles' insistence on using an ancient Gregg Zaun to eat up at bats (while they squander Matt Wieters in the minors until June so they can save money in the future) that might help in the team's undoing. How many rallies can Zaun kill before they get the right guy in there?
Prediction: The Orioles will sink due to lack of starting pitching depth, questionable closing and two clunkers in their batting order.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals currently sit on top of the American League Central and it's not all that surprising. They have three really strong starters in Greinke, Meche and Davies. If they can win consistently when those three pitch and get an occasional win from Ponson and Ramirez, there's no reason they can't win three of every five games they play. If the Royals can keep that kind of pace, they have a legitimate shot at this weak division.
Coco Crisp gives this team a whole new look in the batting order and though he isn't hitting much for average, his patience at the place thus far still gives him an OBP of .358. If he starts hitting--and he's shown some consistency there over the years--and maintains his patience, he is going to keep the bases clogged for some pretty good hitters behind him. Overall, to this point, the Royals haven't hit well and they are still 5-3. They should get more offense in the weeks ahead with Jacobs and Teahen. Gordon's injury is a concern though. It's hard to think that Buck, who has been their offensive hero to this point, will have that great a year with his history.
Prediction: With strong starting pitching, they should contend. If they lose any of their top three starters to injury, they will be in trouble. The hitting is a bit of a concern. But they look and feel legitimate to this point.
The Mariners sit on top of the American League West and that also is surprising. When a team does as poorly as the Mariners have done in recent years, it seems inevitable that they will return to form. But a lot of things look positive for the Mariners thus far. They are getting good starting pitching from Hernandez, Washburn and Bedard and Silva had a good outing last night after a poor first one.
This team has more excitement so far in their demeanor than at any time in the last two years. Is that a Griffey affect? It's hard to give the old slugger that much credit. Maybe it's the new manager and some of the younger guys that have added a spark. All the Fan knows is that guys like Chavez and Betancourt have been spark plugs. Griffey isn't hitting all that much, but he does have a .400 OBP and Ichiro Suzuki hasn't even played yet. He's back tonight though.
The two glaring weaknesses for the Mariners are not having a stud closer and horrid catching. Morrow has been the closer thus far and though he has two saves in two opportunities, he's walked six batters in 3+ innings. If he keeps that up, blown saves will come in bunches. Johjima and Johnson have been terrible at the plate thus far and both are far below the Mendoza Line. Neither of them walk much and they are rally killers to say the least.
Prediction: This is a weak division and if their starting pitching holds up (Bedard is always in injury waiting to happen), they have a chance to contend. Who would have thought it?
There is no team the Fan is more excited about than the Florida Marlins. Emilio Banifacio has given the team a spark on offense as he runs around the bases and he brings excitement when he plays. His ability to bunt for base hits really make him a threat. His one weakness is that he doesn't walk much. If he can develop some patience, look out! Hitting in front of Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu has been deadly to this point. Ramirez is really taking to his new spot in the lineup and has been an RBI machine thus far.
But what is really exciting about the Marlins is their pitching. Johnson, Volstad, Nolasco and Sanchez are all potential studs and three of those four have had great starts to their season. The bullpen has not been solid and they are questionable at closer with Lindstrom, but they have a couple of good arms like Penn, Colero and Nunez that could keep them in games.
Prediction: This is a tough division and the Braves look strong. But if the Marlins pitching holds up, they could be the Bay Rays of 2009.
The Reds have had a good start and are currently a game out of first place in the National League Central. They have two of the grittiest starting pitchers in baseball with Harang and Arroyo but it is really troubling that their two best arms in Volquez and Cueto cannot find a way to be consistently dominating. They have one dominating start and then they get clobbered. Until they can find a way to win when they don't have their best stuff, they will plague this team.
The Fan has watched two of the Red games this year and though Votto is off to a great start, this offense lacks patience and makes it too easy for the other team's starting pitching to get them out. They are very young and this Fan is not convinced that Bruce is the star everyone thinks he's going to be. He looks outmatched far too often.
The Reds have some good news in the bullpen. The veteran Rhodes has had a good start and Cordero is a very good closer. Burton, Weathers and Masset have also pitched well out of the pen thus far.
Prediction: Their inconsistent starting pitching and lack of patience at the plate will continue to sabotage this team and they will not be able to overcome the Cubs and Cardinals.
San Diego Padres
The Padres were expected to be abysmal this year and here they are at 6-2 and leading the National League West division. They have two very good starters in Peavy and Young and are getting a bit more offense than last year. But it seems likely that they will fall to earth in the not too distant future.
The offense is still troubling to the Fan. Giles doesn't seem to have much left. Adrian Gonzalez is a stud at first base, but will the timely hitting of Hundley, Haiston and Gerut continue? It seems unlikely. The rest of the starting rotation is a huge question mark as well. Walter Silva and Kevin Correia cannot find the strike zone often enough and never give the team more than five innings before they run out of pitch count. Shawn Hill gave the Padres a decent start, but his history is hard to overcome in thinking he will be much of a factor.
The bullpen, as always, is a strength for the Padres. Heath Bell looks fantastic as a closer and though the rest of the relievers don't blow people away, they seem very good at keeping the team in the game.
Prediction: The Padres don't seem to have enough offense and starting pitching to continue to contend. It seems inevitable that they shrink back to the pack. They still might be better than predictions though and might be better than the Giants and the Diamondbacks in the long run.