Early MLB Surprises – Team Edition

With 480 games in the books, the 2010 MLB season is almost 20% complete.  Although sample sizes are still relatively small, they’re not too small to start talking about early season surprises.  Below are six teams that have surprised through the first month and change of the season, either in positive or negative fashion.  Stay tuned later for seven surprising players.

Toronto Blue Jays (19-15, 3rd AL East)

Not much was expected of the Jays this year.  Losing Roy Halladay in the offseason left them with a gigantic, irreplaceable hole in the starting rotation.  They entered the season with what appeared to be glaring weaknesses at 3B, SS, 1B, C, and closer, had five inexperienced starters, and employed a CF who is widely regarded to have the worst contract in baseball.  Fifth place was a lock.  But through 34 games the Jays have won more than they’ve lost, currently sit ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the division, and are playing with a swagger and confidence that was non-existent last season.  Alex Gonzalez, John Buck, and Kevin Gregg have performed much better than expected, and the rotation has been rock solid.  As for that overpaid outfielder? Vernon Wells is playing like it’s 2006, and that’s a good thing!

Los Angeles Angels (15-19, 3rd AL West)

Winners of five of the past six AL West titles, including three straight, the Angels were expected to have a much tougher fight this year after losing Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, and Chone Figgins.  Still – this start is much worse than expected.  Baseball’s 4th lowest OBP and 6th highest ERA can be held responsible.

Seattle Mariners (12-19, 4th AL West)

Trading for Cliff Lee to pair with Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation, signing Figgins to pair with Ichiro at the top of the order, and bringing in Milton Bradley to enjoy the calming influence of Ken Griffey Jr. was supposed to vault this team to the top.  But Lee was injured to start the year, Hernandez has struggled, and neither the Figgins/Ichiro combo nor the rest of the team can score.  Bradley has left the team due to “issues”, and Griffey fell asleep during a game last week.  The result?  A disaster of a team.

Washington Nationals (18-14, 3rd NL East)

This was supposed to be a season all about Stephen Strasburg., nurturing him to be a top-of-the-rotation starter.  But solid starts from Ryan Zimmerman, Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, and Livan Hernandez have this team in a position to possibly – gulp – contend.  Even if they fall back to expectations the fact that they already have 18 wins (they didn’t hit that mark until June 17th last year), this season can already be called a reasonable success.

Atlanta Braves (14-18, 5th NL East)

Bobby Cox’s last season + rookie sensation Jason Heyward + new closer Billy Wagner + the deepest rotation in the NL + solid veteran hitters Troy Glaus, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann = last place?  It hasn’t gone according to plan so far in Atlanta.  The Braves have endured terrible starts from many players, a nine-game losing streak, and the embarrassment of having to look up the rear end of the Nationals.  Ouch.

San Diego Padres (19-12, 1st NL West)

The NL West was supposed to be a three team dogfight between the Dodgers, Rockies, and Giants, with a possibility of the Diamondbacks getting in the mix.  San Diego was going to be newsworthy only when trading Adrian Gonzalez and/or Heath Bell.  But the second best team ERA in the big leagues, and a leading seven shutouts has put this crew into the driver’s seat of the division.  And Gonzalez hasn’t even started hitting yet…

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