Top Six MLB Teams That Have Surprised In 2014

by Brandon Jopko | Posted on Saturday, April 19th, 2014
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Kirk Gibson, Trevor Cahill

For every MLB season, despite our ever-thoughtful preseason predictions, there are bound to be surprises that occur which shock fans as to how teams perform. Granted, it’s only three weeks into the season, but here’s a look at some teams who are off to some pretty astounding starts, both good and bad.

Honourable mentions go to the New York Yankees, 10-6, 1st in AL East; Minnesota Twins, 8-7, 2nd in AL Central; and San Franciso Giants, 10-6, tied for 1st in NL West.

6. Atlanta Braves, 10-5, 1st place in NL East

braves

What is going right? Braves’ starters lead the league with a 1.58 ERA and that includes pitches such as the nearly washed-up Aaron Harang who sports a 0.96 ERA in 18.2 IP and 26 year old rookie David Hale who has a 2.89 ERA after two starts. Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Ervin Santana have all pitched admirably thus far this season. And the Braves have done all this despite expected starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy being lost for the year, and Mike Minor missing the first three weeks of the season. Despite the disappointments of injury to three of their starters thus far, it seems the Braves always manage to string together a good rotation, which must be frustrating for their opponents in the NL East.

Offensively, Freddie Freeman, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton are just killing the baseball every time it travels within the vicinity of their bats. 12 HR and 25 RBI in 15 games between the three of them are pretty darn good. Plus, Andrelton Simmons may have learned to hit; he has .333 BA and .909 OPS so far in his 13 games.

What is going wrong? The collective bullpen ERA is a bit higher than the Braves would like at 4.75, however, they still feature several power arms that can accumulate strikeouts like it’s no body’s business. No, the main problem isn’t with Atlanta’s bullpen; it’s with a few of their hitters, specifically B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward, and Dan Uggla who have gotten off to slow starts. If the Braves want to go deep into the playoffs this year, they’ll need these players to step up and show Braves’ fans why they were signed to big contracts.

5. Oakland Athletics, 10-5, 1st place in AL West

athletics

What is going right? Like the Braves, Oakland is enjoying having the best ERA in the AL at 2.57. The starters and relievers are performing admirably given the fact that Jarrod Parker is out for the year, and A.J. Griffin is still out until early May most likely. Jesse Chavez has been a revelation, both Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray have been lights out, and the bullpen has been good after a few early game struggles.

On the offensive side of the ball, Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp are getting on base at a torrid clip (.477 and .455 OBP, respectively) and Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, or Josh Donaldson are usually driving them in.

What is going wrong? If you take out Jim Johnson’s first two appearances and subsequent loses (the A’s could have been 12-3), he hasn’t been that bad. For five of those other six appearances, he’s allowed 6 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 9 K in 7.1 IP. The real problems stem from Josh Reddick’s poor start batting .098/.196/.098 in 41 AB, and a lack of production from first (Daric Barton) and second base (Eric Sogard and Nick Punto).

4. Chicago White Sox, 8-8, 3rd place in AL Central

white sox

What is going right? The hitters combined are batting .267 which is second in the AL and showcases a youthful group of players with newcomers like Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu performing well. The Sox are third in the AL for SLG (.423) and are second in homeruns (20). Catcher Tyler Flowers and shortstop Alexei Ramirez have also gotten off to sizzling starts.

On the pitching side, Chicago’s top three of Chris Sale, John Danks, and Jose Quintana are performing admirably with five wins among them thus far. With Sale as their ace, he’s putting up early numbers (0.84 WHIP and only 5.3 H/9) that will, provided he’s healthy, put him in the running for Cy Young consideration.

What is going wrong? At this point in the season, the Sox have received less than stellar performances from Scott Downs, Donnie Veal (recently designated for assignment) and Ronald Belisario in the bullpen. Even Matt Lindstrom has struggled as closer as indicated by the three bad outings so far out of his six appearances, so the White Sox could actually have a record of 10-6 if those saves weren’t blown. In the rotation, Felipe Paulino has struggled pretty badly as evidenced by his 22 hits surrendered in 14.2 IP.

They’ll also need better performances in the outfield corners from Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza if they’re to contend for a wild card later in the season. It really is unfortunate that Avisail Garcia went down for the rest of year because the White Sox lack impactful depth in the outfield.

3. Cincinnati Reds, 6-9, 4th place in NL Central

reds

What is going right? After two straight wins, the Reds are looking better than the 4-9 that they were sporting three days ago. Led by strong pitching performances lately, the Reds need consistent results from their rotation just like they’ve received the past two seasons. So far, they’ve been getting that from most members of their pitching staff. Joey Votto, Todd Frazier and the recently activated Devin Mesoraco have been supplying the pop on offense.

What is going wrong? J.J. Hoover’s been hammered in 3.1 IP thus far surrendering 3 HR and 7 ER; that likely won’t continue as Hoover’s been consistently brilliant over the past two years. Homer Bailey too, has been hit hard, giving up a whopping 24 H, 6 HR and 13 ER in 14.1 IP however his SO/9 ratio remains strong. There’s really no reason not to expect Bailey to bounce back; he did miss some time in spring training and perhaps is still showing signs of rust from the long winter.

The real problems for the Reds pertain to some key offensive positions, namely Zack Cozart at shortstop, Billy Hamilton in center field, and Jay Bruce in right. It’s interesting to note that in eight contests that have been decided by one run so far this year, the Reds are 2-6. That’s a telling sign that the team thus far hasn’t been able to play small ball to push across the tying, or go-ahead run. Hamilton has to get on base and be the agitator that so many fans are hoping for him to be, which will only help distract opposing pitchers and enable Votto and company to drive in more runs.

2. Milwaukee Brewers, 11-5, 1st place in NL Central

brewers

What is going right? On offense, Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Lucroy have all had tremendous starts to the season with none of them batting below .321. The real story for the Brew Crew though is their starting pitching having produced a 2.73 ERA, second in the NL, and a WHIP of 1.08, first in the league. Each starter has allowed less hits than innings pitched, and collectively, their starters have thrown the most innings thus far thereby saving the bullpen and reducing the amount of innings their questionable middle relief has to eat up.

What is going wrong? Shortstop Jean Segura hasn’t produced yet like he did last year in his tremendous rookie campaign, however he may be feeling the effects of a sore shoulder which impacts his play. Otherwise, the Brewers’ first base platoon of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay hasn’t produced much either, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Brewers decide to do at this position later in the season.

1. Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-14, 5th place in NL West

Aaron Hill

What is going right? First off, Paul Goldschmidt is being his usual awesome self and Chris Owings has had a strong start to his rookie campaign. Mark Trumbo is providing GM Kevin Towers’ with his much sought-after pop. After those three players, no other regular on the team has an OPS above .700, and no other player aside from Goldschmidt, Owings, and Martin Prado has an OBP above .300. Oh wait, this is supposed to be the going right part…I guess this just goes to show just how dim things are looking in the desert.

On the plus side, Wade Miley hasn’t been too bad providing the team with fewer hits per innings pitched. He leads the team in wins with two, and Addison Reed, J.J. Putz and Joe Thatcher have been pretty good out of the bullpen, but they aren’t getting many leads to hold.

What is going wrong? Collectively, the team isn’t getting on base as Arizona ranks twelfth with an .300 OBP in the NL. Getting Cody Ross back this weekend should be a boost though to the Diamondbacks lineup enabling Manager Kirk Gibson to platoon Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock in center field. The Diamondbacks have also been beaten up pretty badly by the Dodgers so far as they’re 0-5 versus them this year.

The biggest disappointment, however, without a doubt has obviously been the starting pitching; it has just been atrocious with a 5.70 ERA, a full run worse than the Phillies. Yes, losing Patrick Corbin was a major blow to the club, and Towers tried to acquire more front-line pitching in the offseason, but in the end, they had to settle for Bronson Arroyo. If the team doesn’t turn things around, perhaps Towers will be the one let go by the end of the season.

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Brandon Jopko
About the Author

Senior Writer for Baseball Hot Corner and die-hard Blue Jays fan longing for another chance to experience his team in playoff glory. You can visit his blog at pumpedupjays.com or follow him on Twitter @pumpedupjays







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