We are not looking for surprise teams, because such a thing is rare in baseball these days. On Sept. 1 last season, 17 of 30 teams were within 3 1/2 games of a postseason berth, and when it was over, only five clubs made it to October in both 2016
We are not looking for surprise teams, because such a thing is rare in baseball these days. On Sept. 1 last season, 17 of 30 teams were within 3 1/2 games of a postseason berth, and when it was over, only five clubs made it to October in both 2016 and '17.
Rather than look for surprises, let's go for teams that might be better than we expected them to be. Some, like the Mets and Angels, were widely seen as postseason contenders, if not favorites.
Others -- like the Braves, White Sox and Pirates -- were hard to predict because of the large number of young players either on the roster or on the fast track to the Major Leagues.
Yes, this is all based on a small sample size. At this point, that's the only sample size we have. We're going for it anyway.
What's not to like? The Mets have the look of a complete team. The pitching staff has been one of baseball's three best so far, and general manager Sandy Alderson hit a home run with the hiring of Mickey Callaway as manager and did a nice job in adding Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Adrian Gonzalez to an offensive mix that has three young players on the rise in shortstop Amed Rosario and outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. If the rotation stays healthy -- and isn't that always the question with the Mets? -- this is going to be a great summer for baseball in Queens.
With two starting pitchers on the disabled list, the margin for error has been reduced to nearly zero in the rotation. But if Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs stay healthy and if Shohei Ohtani keeps working his magic all over the field, the Angels will make a postseason run. Offensively, Los Angeles is leading the American League in runs with the deepest lineup that manager Mike Scioscia has had in years. Ohtani brings an energy to the ballpark -- for the fans and for his teammates -- that will be interesting to watch.
Few teams needed a good start more than Pittsburgh after an offseason dominated by the trades of center fielder Andrew McCutchen and right-hander Gerrit Cole. Manager Clint Hurdle's power-of-positive-thinking message is now backed up by some results. Jameson Taillon, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams are off to good starts in the rotation, and outfielder Gregory Polanco, first baseman Josh Bell and third baseman Colin Moran (acquired in the Cole deal with the Astros) have the look of breakout candidates. The bullpen is a work in progress.
Weren't the Braves supposed to get good in the second half of the season after outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. -- and maybe a starting pitcher or two -- joined the mix? GM Alex Anthopoulos is proving again why he's one of the best in the business with the shrewd additions of second baseman Ryan Flaherty and outfielder Preston Tucker. Shortstop Dansby Swanson is starting to fulfill those glowing projections. Right-handers Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy are doing a nice job anchoring the rotation behind Julio Teheran. Meanwhile, Atlanta's bullpen has been effective despite some control issues. And, yes, Acuna will be putting on a Braves uniform soon enough.
Like Atlanta, the White Sox were expected to take a step forward in the second half of the season as their top young prospects arrived. But they've slugged their way out of the gates, leading MLB in both home runs and slugging percentage. Designated hitter Matt Davidson and shortstop Tim Anderson are off to great starts. Chicago is in for tough times unless the pitching comes around, but after losing 95 games in 2017, these first 10 days have been a breath of fresh air. And like the Braves, there's more talent on the way.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.