Yesterday was officially the first day of summer, which is a perfect time to check up on the biggest surprises thus far in the MLB. I picked the two biggest surprises in the American and National Leagues to highlight.
The Tribe started the season 30-15, and are currently at 39-33 after going through a rough patch during the end of May and beginning of June. The team is full of many surprising stories that explain their success.
The most popular is that of the bullpen, known as the “Bullpen Mafia”. The “Mafia” is made up of Frank Hermann, Chad Durbin, Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and closer Chris Perez. They recently had a scoreless inning streak of over 22 innings snapped on an error. Their success is key to that of the Indians.
The other pitchers who have impressed are Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco. Both are very young, but are pitching like veterans. Tomlin is 8-4 and Carrasco is 7-3. Rookie pitcher Alex White was 1-0 before he went to the DL, and will surely be back in the rotation once he returns.
The hitting of the Tribe is part of what helps make the pitching so effective, and when the offense stops producing runs, it shows. During the recent June slump, the offense was shut out four times, and the pitchers were under pressure to try and be perfect. Their best hitter, Travis Hafner, has only played in 36 games this season, but in those he is hitting .341. When he is in the lineup, the entire team plays better. This includes Asdrubal Cabrera, who is a sure All Star at the shortstop position. He is hitting .296 with 12 home runs, and is frequently seen on SportsCenter’s Top Ten plays nearly every night.
The Indians are currently in first place in the AL Central, with a slim lead over the Detroit Tigers. They will need everyone, the pitching and the offense, to continue at their current pace if they want any chance of reaching the postseason.
For the past few seasons, the Mariners were mainly known for two players: Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki. However, this season there is a new star and one who should be one in the near future. The star is rookie pitcher Michael Pineda and the future star is second baseman Dustin Ackley. Ackley made his debut this past week, but Mariners fans are already excited about what he can bring to the team.
Michael Pineda is currently the team’s best pitcher, even better than reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. Pineda has an ERA of 2.64, while Hernandez’s is at 3.34. He has a record of 7-4 with 85 strikeouts. He and Hernandez create a 1-2 punch that is tough for any team to face. Once they come out of the game, Mariners closer Brandon League is there to save the game. He currently has 20 saves on the season.
The Mariners are currently two games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West. The contribution of players such as Ichiro, Ackley, and Justin Smoak will be key if the Mariners want to reach the playoffs.
The Brewers are a team filled with talent, but have underachieved over the past few seasons. They finished last season at 77-85 but are on pace to finish much better this season. They are led on offense by Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks. Their home run totals are 15, 20, and 14 respectively, and the lowest average out of the three is .291, which is held by Weeks.
The Brewers pitching staff features the three headed monster of Yovani Gallardo, 8-4 with an ERA of 4.11, Shaun Marcum, 7-2 with an ERA of 2.85, and Zach Greinke, 6-2 with an ERA of 5.23. They are all backed up by closer John Axford, who has 19 saves on the year.
The Brewers currently have the best home record in baseball at 26-10 and have a .5 game lead in the NL Central over the Cardinals. The six team NL Central is always a tough division to win, and the Brew Crew will need to take advantage of the recent injury of Albert Pujols, and gain some ground on the Cardinals.
The D’Backs currently have a .5 game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. They are definitely the NL’s biggest surprise as they finished last year at 65-97. They are a very young team, and their best player, Justin Upton, is only 23 years old.
Upton is hitting .305 on the year with 12 home runs and 39 RBI. The D’Backs lineup also features a 15 home run hitter in Chris Young, and another 12 home run hitter in Kelly Johnson. Other hitters in the lineup include Miguel Montero, who has 37 RBI, and Stephen Drew, who has 39 RBI.
The starting rotation features two dominant pitchers in Ian Kennedy, 7-2 with an ERA of 2.98, and Daniel Hudson, 8-5 with an ERA of 3.56. They also have a great closer, a common theme in this article, in J.J. Putz, who has 18 saves.
The NL West is always an unpredictable division, so the D’Backs will need to stay close to the Giants all year. They must also be aware of a late season surge by the Rockies or Dodgers, given that they are still in contention once September rolls around.
* – Carlos Carrasco image source: Sully Baseball