The season is just two weeks old and we’re already in the midst of a pennant race. That’s what happens when the pandemic forced Major League Baseball into a shortened 60-game sprint, giving each game nearly the same importance of a three-game series in a regular 162-game season. With the
The season is just two weeks old and we’re already in the midst of a pennant race. That’s what happens when the pandemic forced Major League Baseball into a shortened 60-game sprint, giving each game nearly the same importance of a three-game series in a regular 162-game season. With the expanded postseason format, every team has a chance, too.
So, sure, the loaded Yankees and Dodgers have jumped out to hot starts and appear to be all but mathematical certainties to play October baseball, but there are more teams out there who, with a mix of exciting young talent, unexpected veteran contributions and timely hits have forced themselves into the playoff picture.
Let's look at five surprise teams and their must-watch players who are doing their best to grab you by the collar and scream, "Get on the bandwagon now, buddy!" We'll go from least surprising to most, building suspense along the way.
OK, for some of you, Chicago’s early season performance isn’t surprising in the slightest. It’s what you expected, with many media members pegging them to upset the Twins for the AL Central title. But as any Minor League maven knows, there is a difference between thinking that all the hot young prospects will find success and actually seeing it happen.
Well, it's happening.
Yoán Moncada -- who looks every bit the dashing superhero from a 1990s comic -- has doubled down on his breakout season last year, while Eloy Jiménez and his literal light-tower power is demolishing Major League pitching.
And what is there to say about Luis Robert? Only 22 years old, Robert is displaying the kind of power/speed combo that shows up about once in a generation. Forget Rookie of the Year, Robert is looking like AL MVP material.
No one is actually saying that Robert is as good as Mike Trout, but if a White Sox fan told you, "I see a little of Trout in this stud," they would no longer be laughed out of the room.
No, it’s not just the brown uniforms. Sure, the new unis look super sharp, but it's the guys modeling them that really makes them pop. Yeah, we're talking about Fernando Tatis Jr.
Tatis was the superstar as advertised last year before an injury halted his campaign only 83 games in. He's picked up where he left off. The shortstop is a pure ball of kinetic energy on the field as he tries to make impossible plays appear almost routine. And when he puts a charge in the ball, few can match his swagger:
Trent Grisham is showing more signs of the Top 100 prospect he once was -- and not the outfielder whose error helped give the Nationals the spark necessary to advance past the NL Wild Card Game -- Jake Cronenworth is no longer an anonymous trade throw-in, and Manny Machado hasn't even warmed up yet.
The offense is backed up by a deep rotation. While Dinelson Lamet and the mustachioed Garrett Richards are excellent in support, the pitching staff is led by cowboy hat-obsessed Chris Paddack, whose starts should be appointment viewing every five days.
Watching his changeup is a reminder that there is plenty of natural beauty in the world.
There is no constant to baseball in Colorado. There is only chaos.
After watching a group of homegrown starting pitchers deliver the Rockies to the postseason in 2018, those same arms regressed last year and ranked last in the Majors in starters ERA. They're back this year, boasting the sixth-best mark in the league and have pushed past the seemingly unstoppable Dodgers to the top of the NL West. (Yes, in case you're wondering, they have already played at home, too.)
Germán Márquez and Kyle Freeland are looking like early Cy Young Award contenders, while Jon Gray and Antonio Senzatela could actually give the Rockies one of the deepest rotations in the sport.
Though Coors Field may eventually lay waste to those numbers as the season progresses, shortstop Trevor Story is playing at an MVP-caliber level to help balance it all out. Meanwhile, Nolan Arenado’s bat has yet to fully wake up, but his glove is still regularly pulling off this kind of magic.
While the team has played few games this year and has a revamped roster due to COVID-19 protocols, Miami has been nearly unbeatable when it has taken the field. The Fish find themselves atop the NL East into the second week of August and their Fangraphs playoff odds leapt from 2 percent to 21.5 percent. The players may not be household names just yet, but the roster is stacked with oodles of potential for this year and beyond.
Monte Harrison has made his big league debut and has legitimate 20/20 potential in a full campaign -- which is teammate Jonathan Villar's specialty. Pablo López showed off his sweeping curve and biting sinker as he K'd seven batters and didn't allow a run in his season debut. There's even an Olympic speedskater on the roster!
And then there's Brian Anderson at third base. While his name means it might be hard to search for him in a crowd, he's quietly put up two solid seasons at third and has started this year with his best numbers yet.
OK, sure, this would have read better earlier in the week before the team dropped its first three games to the Marlins. But the Orioles lost 108 games last season and are currently in the thick of the 2020 postseason race thanks to an impressive sweep of the Rays last week.
We may be witnessing the great Rio Ruiz breakout, and Hanser Alberto has shown that his skills from another era are for real. Alberto can drive the ball from gap to gap, while skipping out on walks or strikeouts. Yeah, that will work.
It's taken a few years, but Alex Cobb is back to pitching like he did during his Rays days, and Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone are steadying forces that should keep the team in games.
It may not work out all year for the O's, but their hot start and the shortened season have opened up a window of hope. It’s why people tune in to March Madness every year, and it’s a good reason to tune in every night now.
Michael Clair writes for MLB.com. He spends a lot of time thinking about walk-up music and believes stirrup socks are an integral part of every formal outfit.