The most surprising developments for each team

May 9th, 2024

There has been no shortage of surprising developments in the 2024 season. Whether they are good or bad developments, or on the player or team-wide level, there are plenty of trends that have already shifted the arc of this season.

With the help of each club's beat writer, here are the most surprising developments for each team.

The following numbers are entering Wednesday's games.

American League East

Blue Jays: An underperforming bullpen
Save for the departure of Jordan Hicks, Toronto’s relief corps looks very similar to the one that ended 2023 with MLB’s eight-best bullpen ERA (3.68). The group entered Wednesday with an MLB-worst 5.27 ERA. Erik Swanson has struggled since being activated on April 16, allowing 11 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, and the Blue Jays have yet to see real dominance from guys like Tim Mayza and Jordan Romano. One bright spot has been Yimi García (0.68 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings), but he hasn’t pitched since April 28 with a lower-back issue. -- Julia Kreuz

Orioles: The rotation has thrived despite numerous key injuries
Kyle Bradish (right UCL sprain) and John Means (left forearm strain) both started the season on the injured list before making their 2024 debuts last week. Grayson Rodriguez (right shoulder inflammation) and Tyler Wells (right elbow inflammation) are now on the IL. Despite the injuries, the rotation has been a strength, recording a 3.21 ERA through 35 games that ranked fifth in MLB and third in the AL. Baltimore knew it would get consistent strong outings from new ace Corbin Burnes and other top starters, but Cole Irvin (a 2.86 ERA through six starts and currently on a career-long 20 2/3-inning scoreless streak) has been better than expected. -- Jake Rill

Rays: Who’s kept them afloat
The Rays battled through the first month of the season without a bunch of key contributors, including left-handed hitters Brandon Lowe, Josh Lowe and Jonathan Aranda, while All-Stars Yandy Díaz and Randy Arozarena scuffled through dramatic season-opening slumps and their bullpen was a surprising weakness. But they're hovering right around .500 thanks mostly to quality starting pitching, Isaac Paredes’ steady production and some unexpected offensive contributions from newcomers Ben Rortvedt (.813 OPS), Richie Palacios (.846), José Caballero (.694, 14 steals), Amed Rosario (.758) and Jonny DeLuca (1.172). -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: The rotation is their overwhelming strength
The rotation that pretty much everyone outside the walls of the Red Sox questioned all winter and into Spring Training continues to dominate. Through their first 36 games, the rotation posted a 2.13 ERA, the best in MLB by nearly a half-run. Pitching coach Andrew Bailey has changed the mindset of a young group to pound the strike zone early in the count. Kutter Crawford (1.75 ERA) and Tanner Houck (1.99 ERA) have been the biggest success stories so far. Even with Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello and Garrett Whitlock all on the injured list at the same time, the group continued to thrive. Pivetta returned this week, and Bello and Whitlock should be back soon. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: Aaron Judge's early-season slump
The Yankees superstar spending most of the first month of the season under the Mendoza Line is the last thing you would expect. But that's exactly where Judge was (actually, he was batting .197 as recently as May 2). This has been Judge's slowest start to a season ever, by far. Entering 2024, he had a career .296 batting average, .586 slugging percentage and .978 OPS in the month of April. This season? A .207 average, .414 slugging and .754 OPS. Of course, the Yankees have picked up their captain -- they have the most wins in the American League. -- David Adler

American League Central

Guardians: The rotation is their weakest link
For years, the Guardians have been known for their starting pitching. But now, the script has flipped. Shane Bieber is out for the year. Gavin Williams won’t return until at least June. Tanner Bibee and Logan Allen haven’t found their strides just yet. Triston McKenzie is still building back up after missing nearly all of last season. The Guardians began the year by receiving just five starts of at least six innings in their first 29 games. Entering Wednesday, Cleveland’s rotation threw the eighth fewest innings of all 30 clubs. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: The pitching staff has been excellent
Perhaps this isn’t that surprising given how different the rotation and bullpen look this year after the Royals’ offseason revamping. They put a better team together for ‘24, so it makes sense that it has actually been better. Still, it’s eye-popping to see how different the results are this year. Entering Wednesday, the Royals rotation ranked fourth in the Majors with a 3.32 ERA. They’ve logged 18 quality starts already this year after making just 32 last season and four through the first 38 games. The bullpen this year ranks 15th with a 3.76 ERA, and overall, the staff ranks eighth in baseball with a 3.39 ERA. In comparison, last year’s staff ranked third-worst in baseball with a 5.17 ERA. There’s still a long way to go, but the pitching is vastly improved from last year – and that’s led to many more wins. -- Anne Rogers

Tigers: Wenceel Pérez takes over in center field
The Tigers went into the season expecting to have a rookie handling center field, but it was Parker Meadows. Pérez began the year at Triple-A Toledo and wasn’t even a full-time outfielder until Spring Training. After earning a call to Detroit in early April as an injury replacement, his hot hitting and infectious energy made him the right man in the right place for a team struggling for offense. The Tigers sent Meadows to Toledo this week, making Pérez their primary center fielder for the near future. -- Jason Beck

Twins: Ryan Jeffers is one of the best hitters in baseball?
When Jeffers broke out with a 138 wRC+ as part of the Twins’ catching timeshare last season, it might have been one of the quieter breakouts around the league, partly because he plays in Minnesota and partly because he wasn’t a big-name prospect in his short journey up the Minors. He needed to show he could replicate that in ‘24. Not only has he done that, but he’s improved on it. Jeffers has been the Twins’ most consistent and productive hitter all year and entered Wednesday with a 176 wRC+, also having used his two-strike approach to nearly halve his strikeout rate -- and he’s forced his way into DH at-bats when he’s not behind the plate. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Erick Fedde, top-of-the-rotation starter
There’s no real surprise Fedde has found some level of pitching success through the early part of May when looking at how the right-hander reinvented himself during the 2023 season with a 20-6 record, 2.00 ERA and 209 strikeouts over 180 1/3 innings for NC Dinos as the KBO’s top pitcher. But even Fedde was interested in how his new repertoire would play in a Major League return, and entering his series-opening start against the Guardians Thursday, he’s been the most consistent pitcher on the White Sox staff. Fedde has 41 strikeouts over 36 innings and a 3.46 ERA, not to mention working into the ninth inning for the first time in his career on April 28 vs. Tampa Bay. He looks to be a White Sox building block in the latest rebuild or a solid trade option. -- Scott Merkin

American League West

Angels: Struggles in the bullpen
It’s been a tough year for the Angels, as not much has gone right this season. But the bullpen was expected to be a strength, as it was the one area where they added several veterans this offseason. But their biggest addition Robert Stephenson underwent Tommy John surgery before even throwing a single pitch with the club. And Angels relievers have combined to post the second-worst ERA in the Majors. Combine that with a struggling offense and inconsistent rotation and the Angels are off to a rough start this season. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: A shaky pitching staff
Seeing the Astros at the bottom of the AL West standings is not something we’ve seen in quite some time. One of the club’s biggest issues is a pitching staff that ranks near the bottom of the league in most key categories. While injuries to the rotation are partially to blame, the Astros have seen several starters take a step back, while their projected top-shelf bullpen has been more vulnerable than expected. With an offense that's been more middle-of-the-pack instead of great, the pitching problems have been even more pronounced. -- Brent Maguire

Athletics: Mason Miller’s seamless transition to closer
Even though the A’s knew of Miller’s ability to dominate hitters with his electric arm from last season, there was a bit of hesitation when it came to making him their closer given the high-pressure nature of the role. So far, Miller has thrived in the bullpen. He was named American League Reliever of the Month for March/April, and he entered Wednesday leading Major League rookies in saves (8) with his 29 strikeouts the second-most of any Major League reliever. -- Martín Gallegos

Mariners: Third-base platoon
No position had more uncertainty entering the year than the one that Seattle had stalwarts at for over a decade, via Kyle Seager and Eugenio Suárez. Yet the tandem of Josh Rojas and Luis Urías has been remarkably steady — so much so that Scott Servais has begun working Rojas in left field to get them both in the lineup in ideal matchups against right-handed starters. Their 1.6 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs, were tied for the fourth-best in MLB at the position entering Wednesday. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: Low-key offseason bullpen signings paying off tenfold
The Rangers’ biggest flaw last season was the bullpen’s inability to close out games. In the 2023 regular season, Texas finished 30-for-63 (47.6 percent) in save opportunities. The front office then added two high-leverage bullpen arms this offseason in veterans David Robertson (0.96 ERA) and Kirby Yates (0.00 ERA), who have become a formidable one-two punch at the back of the bullpen. -- Kennedi Landry

National League East

Braves: The reigning MVP's lack of power
Ronald Acuña Jr. established himself as the game’s most dynamic player while recording MLB’s first 40-70 season last year. The reigning NL MVP has hit just two homers with a .359 slugging percentage through this year’s first 33 games. His ground ball and strikeout rates are up and his expected slugging percentage is just .399. He simply hasn’t performed like he did last year when his quality of contact produced a .660 xSLG. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: Miami has one of the lowest winning percentages
Seven months after Miami reached the postseason, president of baseball operations Peter Bendix dealt two-time reigning batting champion Luis Arraez for three prospects and a reliever. He won't say the word rebuild, but the club is likely to remain active on the seller's market. Position players have underperformed and injuries have taken a toll on the pitching staff, which has been without starters Sandy Alcantara, Eury Pérez, Jesús Luzardo, Braxton Garrett, Edward Cabrera and A.J. Puk. -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: Reed Garrett is an ace reliever
Among those to vouch for Garrett over the winter were pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and vice president of pitching Eric Jagers, who implored Mets decision makers to keep the 31-year-old journeyman on the roster. But even those two would have had a hard time predicting Garrett’s start to the season. Serving as everything from a multi-inning fireman to a replacement closer, Garrett has been one of the hardest relievers in baseball to hit, with one of the league’s top swinging-strike rates. The right-hander has blended some tweaks to his repertoire with improved command to transform into a stud reliever. Team officials think it’s very much for real. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Leading the Majors in stolen bases
The Nationals rank first among all teams in stolen bases, with 61 through their first 35 games. They have only been caught 11 times. The Nats are nearing their 2022 season total of 75 and are already halfway to their '23 season total of 127. Rookie Jacob Young began his Major League career going 25-for-25 on stolen base attempts, including 12 this season. Lane Thomas stole 11 bases in 22 games before going on the IL, and CJ Abrams ranks third on the team with eight stolen bags. Manager Dave Martinez and the staff, including first-year first-base coach Gerardo Parra, are encouraging the team to be aggressive on the base paths. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Alec Bohm’s breakout season
The Phillies selected Bohm third overall in the 2018 Draft. He finished second for NL Rookie of the Year in 2020. But he never really hit his stride, offensively or defensively. Bohm, however, finished April as one of baseball’s hottest hitters, hitting for a high average and becoming such a consistent run producer that Phillies manager Rob Thomson moved him into the cleanup spot. Expect Bohm to be there for a while. He is playing like an All-Star. -- Todd Zolecki

National League Central

Brewers: Bryan Hudson, ace reliever
The Brewers have had a knack in recent years for uncovering bullpen gems, and on more nights than not the 6-foot-8 Hudson has been one. Not surprisingly, his length plays to his advantage; Hudson is in the 98th percentile in extension, according to Statcast, and the 93rd percentile in fastball run value despite being in the 18th percentile in fastball velocity. He’s a multi-inning option to boot, giving the Brewers a reliable, versatile option for a bullpen missing All-Star closer Devin Williams. -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: Offense, not pitching, has slowed the Redbirds
St. Louis spent its entire offseason addressing the pitching staff needs by signing starters a trio of starters headlined by Sonny Gray and bolstering the bullpen. While those moves have worked wonderfully, the offense has been a letdown. The Cardinals came into Wednesday ranked 29th in home runs, 28th in runs scored and 27th in batting average and OPS. Paul Goldschmidt, the NL MVP in 2022, is hitting .195 with just two home runs and 47 strikeouts, while others such as Nolan Gorman, Jordan Walker, Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan have struggled. To make matters worse, Willson Contreras, the team’s most consistent hitter all season, was just lost for six to eight weeks with a broken forearm. -- John Denton

Cubs: Shota Imanaga looks like an ace
The Cubs were not sure what the transition to MLB would look like for Imanaga, but there was confidence that the 30-year-old had a strong foundation and enough experience to adjust quickly. No one could have predicted the kind of stellar start the lefty has enjoyed. Through his first seven turns, Imanaga has gone 5-0 with a 1.08 ERA and 43 strikeouts against just five walks in 41 2/3 innings. His fastball has been deceiving, his signature splitter has baffled batters and Imanaga looks like one of the steals in last winter’s free-agent class. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Jared Jones takes the next step
The Pirates’ rotation has greatly exceeded expectations so far and has been the unquestioned strength of the team, and Jones is a big reason why. The team’s No. 3 prospect was overshadowed a bit by Paul Skenes in Spring Training, but Jones is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors, recording a 2.63 ERA with 52 strikeouts over his first seven starts. He’s shown he belongs in the Majors. The question is how many innings will he end up pitching. -- Alex Stumpf

Reds: Candelario not hitting
While it certainly wasn’t expected that the Reds would be last in MLB in team batting, it’s most surprising that third baseman Jeimer Candelario is among those not performing at the plate after a career year in 2023 with the Nationals and Cubs. Signed in December to a three-year, $45 million contract to be a stable veteran presence in a young Cincinnati infield, Candelario has spent most of the first month-plus of 2024 with a sub .200 average and 74 OPS+. He is now batting near the bottom of the order. -- Mark Sheldon

National League West

D-backs: They aren’t doing the little things well
Manager Torey Lovullo prides himself on having a team that does the little things well. Last year in their surprising run to the World Series, the D-backs were aggressive but smart on the bases and fundamentally sound in the field. This year, there have been more mistakes than usual with the D-backs giving teams extra outs and uncharacteristic mistakes on the bases. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: Gavin Stone continues to impress
Stone came into the 2023 season as the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect so the organization always believed he could have success in the Majors. But after a rough start to his career and a couple shaky outings to start this season, Stone has figured out a way to take the next step in his development. With Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler missing all or most of the first month of the season, Stone has been an integral part of the Dodgers’ rotation, posting a 3.55 ERA over seven starts. -- Juan Toribio

Giants: The sluggish offense
The Giants expected their lineup to have far more firepower following the free-agent additions of Jung Hoo Lee, Matt Chapman and Jorge Soler, but the trio has underwhelmed thus far. Lee (.642 OPS), Chapman (.595 OPS) and Soler (.655 OPS) entered Wednesday below league-average at the plate, a major reason why San Francisco has struggled to string together big rallies and find ways to consistently score through the first six weeks of the regular season. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: Jurickson Profar with plenty of pop
A May blockbuster trade for Luis Arraez? Nah, we can’t call anything GM A.J. Preller does a surprise. Let’s look instead to Profar, who entered Wednesday fifth in the NL with a .950 OPS. This comes after he was released by Colorado last season and re-signed with the Padres for only $1 million this year. He was supposed to be a depth piece but instead has been the team’s most productive hitter. -- Shaun O'Neill

Rockies: A complete lack of offense
Last year ended with the worst record, but on a couple of encouraging notes – a strong finish from veteran Charlie Blackmon and an even better ending from rookie Nolan Jones. With Blackmon signed for another year and Jones continuing to develop, they would be keys to an improved offense. Instead, Blackmon is struggling to the point that he’s playing part-time, Jones had an awful start, and is on the injured list with a back injury. And beyond Ryan McMahon and catcher Elias Díaz and Jacob Stallings (on a part-time basis), there is little production or consistency throughout the lineup. Brendan Rodgers entered as the cleanup hitter, and although he has improved of late, the impact isn’t there. -- Thomas Harding