There were a few surprises in the first month of the baseball season.
There’s the Boston Red Sox in first place in the toughest-to-date American League East. The Washington Nationals, who were picked by many experts to go to the World Series, are lousy.
The Atlanta Braves came out of the gate charging with crazy pitching. Plus, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays have been more hype than true contenders, despite stocking their rosters with stars in the offseason.
Still, the biggest surprise of all happened in Da Bronx. The Yankees haven’t just survived, they’ve thrived.
Let’s take a look at some of these teams that might have caught more than a few sleeping.
YANKEES: Before the season, many experts looked at the Yankees and saw four players from their starting lineup – Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson – on the disabled list to start the season.
Most thought the Yankees were too old and wouldn’t be able to keep up in a tough division. Hence, it spelled doom. Many picked the Yankees to finish in last place.
But here we are, in early May, and the Yankees are in second place in the division and not far from the top spot.
It really shouldn’t come as a total surprise (go re-read my column about the Yankees before the season).
They might be down a lot of heavy-hitters, but they have pitching. If you have good pitching, you don’t need a lot of runs to win. Basically, you need timely hitting, which is what they’ve gotten from a cast of characters that most didn’t expect to wear the pinstripes this season, including Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay.
But when you have CC Sabathia (4-2, 3.35 ERA), Hiroki Kuroda (4-1, 2.25 ERA) and Andy Pettitte (3-2, 3.86 ERA) at the top of rotation, and a healthy Mariano Rivera (converted all of his first 11 save opportunities) at the end of your bullpen, you’re not going to finish last.
NATIONALS: It was easy to pick Washington coming into the season.
First, they went to the playoffs, last year. Secondly, their pitching – an outstanding group led by Stephen Strasburg – improved in the offseason when they added stud closer Rafael Soriano to their bullpen. Plus, there wasn’t going to be a silly decision to hold Strasburg out of the postseason, in fear that he would get hurt like the team did in 2012.
The Nationals, though, are just an inconsistent .500 team, so far. Worse, their ace, Strasburg, is off to a terrible season. No one in their right mind would have expected that the hard-throwing right-hander would have lost four of his first five decisions this season. Last year, he was 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA. He also had a forearm issue in his last start, which is a concern. The staff, overall, is in the middle of the pack with the eighth-best ERA.
DODGERS: This season was supposed to be Magic for the Dodgers.
After all, Magic Johnson’s ownership group went out and spent $210 million to upgrade their pitching with the addition of Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the offseason. And this was after adding big-money players Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, last season.
But the Dodgers have not lived up to the Hollywood hype, at all. If they were a movie, they would be a box-office bomb. They are just .500 and having trouble scoring runs (29th in baseball).
Worse, Matt Kemp, one of their key big bats, is off to a slow start with only one homer and 11 RBI in the first 26 games.
BLUE JAYS: The only team more disappointing than the Dodgers, so far, has been the Blue Jays.
Can you say, “Stinky!”
You want to talk about hype? The machine was on full blast north of the border after the Blue Jays went wild in the offseason, picking up star players that included Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson.
It was all that new pitching that made experts pick Toronto to win the AL East. In truth, the pitching has been a disaster with the 13th-best ERA in the 15-team league.
Still, there’s plenty of baseball left; five more months, in fact. And remember it isn’t always how you start, but how you finish.
Bring on May.