It’s common knowledge around baseball that the first wave of big transactions begin around Memorial Day. Almost two months into the season, there’s still enough time to make changes without feeling panicked. However, with the way the standings are so far in 2012, we could see some teams hit that panic button fairly soon if things don’t turn around quickly.
So which surprising teams are for real? Who’s going to be able to hold their spot in first? Who’s going to stay at the bottom of the barrel? Who needs to make those quick moves to survive?
Let’s investigate by kicking things off with the first place Baltimore Orioles. Yes. You heard that correctly.
Currently: 1st place, AL East
It’s been years the last time the O’s were in first place this late in the season, and if they weren’t in the toughest division in possibly all of sports, I might say it’s for real. But hey, they’re in the same division as the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox; and the Jays are no stepchild.
The AL East is literally upside down, with Boston in last (we’ll get to that in a minute) and the Yanks in next-to-last, 4th place. So how in the heck did Baltimore get here?
The Orioles are currently ranked first in all of baseball in knocking guys home in scoring position. They only strand an average of 2.82 runners per game, which is outstanding.
Chris Davis has been a nice surprise, hitting .294/6/17. He’s still young enough that he could be for real. Adam Jones is off to a career-year start, posting .311/14/29/6 so far. J.J Hardy and Matt Wieters also have 17 homers between them.
They’re going to knock in runs, but can they keep up the clutch hitting? Even though Brian Roberts’ healthy return (for now) should help, I’m not sure I see it with that lineup.
On the mound, Jason Hammel’s numbers could be semi-legit now that he’s out of Colorado, but I don’t see him finishing with a 3.12 ERA. It’s also hard telling how long over-seas import Wei-Yin Chin can keep up his 3.35 ERA.
Verdict: Bogus. No way this team finishes up near the top.
Boston Red Sox
Currently: 5th place, AL East
Talk about a club that has under-performed…and that’s being kind. I think a lot of fans would rather attend a Miley Cyrus concert than attend a Sox game. I guarantee you more people know Cyrus than Daniel Nava. But hey, things might be looking up!…if they can get off the disabled list.
And that’s been their main problem: Injuries.
You can’t have Jacoby Ellsbury (finished 2nd in MVP vote last year), Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis all on the DL and expect to win a majority of your games — not to mention the dreadful pitching that’s accompanied their underwhelming lineup.
The Sox are 28th in baseball in team ERA (4.64) and WHIP (1.42), and are 25th in batting average against at .265. Clay Buchholz has been historically bad. Opponents have hit an astounding .330 against him while he sports a 7.84 ERA. And how did you like that Daniel Bard experiment? That didn’t last long.
The good news is that Felix Doubront already has 53 Ks, and has an ERA of 3.96. Great surprise there. And Josh Beckett most likely won’t have a 4.38 ERA all season.
Even with the disabled lineup, the Sox are ranked 3rd in team average (.273), 2nd in runs (236) and 3rd in OPS (.792). Just imagine how those numbers will improve with a healthy Crawford, Ellsbury and Youk — and Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t even heated up yet.
Health is the key. Once that happens, look for familiarity atop the AL East.
Verdict: Bogus. This team will compete for the division crown. If they don’t, I’ll attend a Miley Cyrus concert.
Los Angeles Angels
Currently: 4th place, AL West
We can’t blame all of this on ‘Boojuls’…excuse me Pujols, can we?
Sure, ‘Prince,’ aka, ‘the machine,’ Albert Pujols has been one of the worst first baseman in all of baseball so far – and that’s not hyperbole – but he is starting to heat up…some.
Pujols finally has four home runs, and the career .300 hitter won’t stay at .213. But at the same time, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout can’t keep producing the way they have been. The youngsters have literally been carrying the team on their backs with not much help from veterans Torii Hunter or Vernon Wells.
Trout and Trumbo have been the stat line leaders of the Angels . Trumbo: .325/6/19. Trout: .315/4/12. They’ve been phenomenal.
On the mound, the pitching has been spectacular as well. C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver have combined for 103 Ks – heck, even Jerome Williams has a 3.74 ERA. The only guy struggling has been Dan Haren, who currently has a 4.37 ERA – that won’t last.
So what gives?
The Angels are ranked 9th with runners in scoring position (good), 16th in team average at .248 (not bad), but 25th in runs and 26th in OPS (awful).
It’s obvious the Angels have had some bad luck, but they also need to get on base more. Peter Bourjos – once labeled the fastest white guy in all of sports – has to hit better than .191.
This is a team with arguably the most talent in the sport, but they’re going to need to –*English accent – turn it up to eleven, if they want to hang in the same atmosphere as Texas.
Here’s hoping you got that Spinal Tap reference.
Verdict: Slightly Bogus, but somewhat legit. This is a good team, but will have to perform exponentially better to beat out the Rangers.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Currently: 1st place, NL West
Best record in baseball anyone? Yup, it’s the Doyers.
Clayton Kershaw has pitched like Clayton Kershaw, but someone dump a water cooler over Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly. All three are incredibly hot, all sporting an ERA under 2.26. But this is incredibly shocking from Lilly, and even more so Capuano – who hasn’t been relevant in years.
In the batters box, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have been – predictably – leading the charge in overwhelming fashion – although catcher A.J. Ellis has been a nice surprise as well.
But for this team to stay in contention, it will have to rely on it’s pitching – especially since the Giants’ staff is ridiculously good as well.
The Dodgers are 2nd in all of baseball in team ERA (3.04), 3rd in batting average against (.227) and 4th in WHIP (1.19).
It’s a big risk, because this is a club with absolutely no depth, but if Capuano and Lilly stay off the DL (you have a better chance meeting Fernando Valenzuela for a Big Mac) this team could be for real. Kemp and Ethier have battled injuries as well. If they’re both out of the lineup L.A. is in serious trouble.
Verdict: Legit, as long as they stay healthy – which will be tough.
Currently: 1st place, NL East
Two words: Dominant. Pitching.
They’ve been unreal. Gio Gonzalez: 69 Ks, 1.98 ERA. Stephen Strasburg: 2.21 ERA. Jordan Zimmerman: 2.47 ERA. Edwin Jackson: 3.31 ERA. Even the rookie, Ross Detwiler: 3.65 ERA.
They’ve been the best staff in baseball, ranked 1st in team ERA (2.87), 1st in batting average against (.217) and 1st in WHIP (1.11).
Their starters have been so good that they’ve been winning games without much run production. They’re 25th in runs and 19th in team batting average (.245). But they’ll get a boost when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is 100 percent.
And although it hurt when they lost catcher Wilson Ramos for the season, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond have all been solid producers in the lineup. And heck, who doesn’t love watching 19-year-old Bryce Harper in action? The kid is hitting .267 and already has 3 triples – and he has face paint. Which is cute.
Currently: 5th place, NL East
Just like Boston, the injury bug has bitten this club.
It’s hard to produce when Ryan Howard is out – especially when his replacements, John Mayberry and Ty Wigginton, have only combined for 3 home runs.
Chase Utley looks as if he will never return to his elite form. Having him out of the lineup changes the team drastically.
Jimmy Rollins is also well past his prime. He’s only hitting .227 with one homer this year.
The pitching has been solid, even with some lost velocity from Roy Halladay and the blown saves from Chad Qualls, but the offense simply needs to score more runs. They’re near the bottom of the barrel in producing runs with runners in scoring position (ranked 27th), stranding 3.91 runners per game. They’re also 24th in strikeouts.
Call me crazy, but putting the ball in play might score more runs.
Verdict: Legit. This team can’t ride the backs of Halladay and Hamels forever. They need to hit the ball. Without Howard or Utley that’s not likely.
Photo Credit (All): AP