Surprise, Surprise: Early Observations

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Updated: May 5, 2015
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It’s only a month into the baseball season and we’ve already had a year’s worth of stories to report about.

Well, maybe not a full year’s worth. But, there definitely have been numerous noteworthy occurrences, surprises and hot starts from baseball teams that literally nobody expected. Let’s dig in.

Houston Astros

I keep repeating this phrase to myself, mostly in disbelief: The Houston Astros are currently leading their division. Now, that’s relatively shocking. Let’s try these two phrases on for size: “The Astros have the best record in the Eastern Conference.” You’ve got my attention. “Houston currently holds the second-best record in all of baseball.” I’ve fallen from my chair and can’t get up.

Just last season, the Astros were considered one of the five worst teams in baseball. The community continually counted them out, due to their hitters striking out a good portion of the time and the lack of consistency offensively. In less than a year’s time, they seem to have completely pulled a 180 on the field, improving their defense with the use of shifts, utilizing their speed on the base paths, and pitching phenomenally in April.

Three of their players currently have nine or more stolen bases, which makes them all top-five to begin the season out of all players in the majors, and have somehow managed to overcome the fact that George Springer, Chris Carter and Colby Rasmus have struck out a combined 105 times through the first 26 games. This number would definitely carry more weight if all three players weren’t phenomenal at drawing walks, which is how they manage to do most of their damage.

I mean, we all know that walks equal runs, but when your team also leads the league in home runs (40), opposing pitchers are just asking for trouble.

Aside from all their success at the plate, they’ve also had elite performances from their entire pitching staff, including their ace, Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel has already made six starts for the ball club and has somehow managed to hold a 0.80 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP. His ERA is the best in baseball. It’s even more exciting to hear that Keuchel and Collin McHugh have a combined 7-0 win/loss record to start the year in nine starts. Elite pitching leads to elite results; with the help of newly acquired pitchers, Luke Gregerson (2-0) and Pat Neshek (2-0), the Astros look like a team that’s ready to contend now. This coming without the promotion of their star shortstop Carlos Correa.

It’ll be exciting to see if the Astros can capitalize on their strong start; especially when they hold a seven-game lead in their division. Nevertheless, they will eventually have to fend off the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners, who are bound to start racking up wins any day now.

Chicago White Sox

Where do we begin? Like any decent novel, let’s start at the beginning.

Chicago remodeled their roster during the offseason and took on many high-priced contracts and high-level players in hopes that they would immediately compete in the AL Central. Well, so much for Plan A.

The White Sox have not only struggled offensively, but their pitching staff hasn’t really “wowed” anyone either. In fact, the White Sox have had trouble recording outs nearly every game, which has helped them accumulate a 4.56 ERA to start the season. If it weren’t for David Robertson closing out games, I’m not sure they’d have an ERA under 5.0.

Chris Sale got lit up in his last outing, sky-rocketing his ERA to 5.32. Now, we all know this won’t continue, but seeing Sale give up hit after hit to the Minnesota Twins really irked us, especially with the way their club started this season hitting. Jeff Samardzija has also failed to impress the owners, allowing more hits (38) than he has innings pitched (32) so far. It’s downright embarrassing to check your team’s statistics and see your best starter hold an ERA of 4.78.

In an attempt to save face early, the club called on future ace Carlos Rodon to, unfortunately, start him out in the bullpen. Rodon has the nastiest slider in baseball, and is currently being limited to one inning-pitched outings, that isn’t doing anything for anyone. Rodon was previously cleaning house in the minor leagues before being called up to pitch, one inning games? That doesn’t seem like a major improvement to anything. Somebody needs to inform their manager that the relief core is fine without the upgrade.

Can anyone tell me why Rodon hasn’t already replaced Hector Noesi in the rotation? What’s more appealing? The 0-3 record, or the nine walks in 14 innings? I’ll give you a hint, it’s neither. We’re more impressed with the 6.75 ERA.

In all seriousness, the White Sox need to put it together. They aren’t going to mash home run after home run with their current lineup and won’t score any runs unless players start reaching base safely. They currently rank last in hits, runs scored, RBI and home runs. They’re LAST in nearly every offensive category. Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia can’t do it all themselves.

Regardless of their horrendous performance to the start of the season, the team is still only seven games back of first place. Which, if we know anything about baseball, isn’t anything to panic about during the first month of the season. However, this trend can not continue, especially after they revamped the payroll with a couple of high-dollar attractions during the offseason.

New York Mets

The New York Mets are currently first in the NL East. Let me repeat that for dramatic effect. The Mets, being of sound, mind and body, are currently atop the NL East.

Who called it? Can I get a show of hands?

As impressed as I am with the Astros, I’m probably more impressed with how the Mets have started the year. They currently have a 3.5-game lead over the Washington Nationals and have done so without their star third-baseman, David Wright.

They lose Wright to a strained right hamstring, doesn’t phase them. They lose their hot-hitting catcher, Travis d’Arnaud, to a fractured right hand. They lose Jenrry Mejia to suspension and right elbow inflammation in the same season they lose Zack Wheeler to Tommy John surgery. This team, is truly unbreakable.

They quickly implement a new catcher, new third baseman, and allow Jeurys Familia to close and they’ve got themselves a team that can compete on any night.

Aside from Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares both hitting over .300, they have nobody close to hitting for average on their team that also happens to be healthy. In fact, the next best batting average comes from Curtis Granderson, and he’s hitting .233. So, how have they managed to win games without the bats working?

Oh yeah, they have one of the most efficient pitching staffs in the entire league. Familia has 10 saves and 16 strikeouts in 13.1 innings pitched. Matt Harvey and Bartolo Colon have a combined 9-1 record when starting, which is always a big help to a team’s success. But, the real factor lies with their “lesser” pitchers. Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee and Jacob deGrom all have an ERA under 4.0. When your entire starting rotation has an ERA so low, you tend to succeed.

On top of all of this, they have depth in the minors that can be utilized at any point. Noah Syndergaard is wasting away in the minors and has been ready to make an impact since June of 2014. With the rotation pitching like they are, I’m convinced that the Mets can definitely capitalize on this strong start. While they’re most likely apt to finish second in the division, they’ll definitely be making a run at the Wild Card this season.

 

Photo Credit (Getty Images)

Alex Cole

Alex Cole

Alex is a 23-year-old MLB writer from Phoenix, Arizona. He's a fan of the Phoenix Suns in the NBA and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL. You can contact Alex via email at ACole331133@yahoo.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @AlexColeMLBMiLB.

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