by Rob Joyce
The baseball season is past the quarter-pole, meaning what started as a possible outlier is now becoming a trend that can’t be ignored. From teams on the upswing to those who are disappointing, here are five of the biggest surprises around the majors in the 2017 season to date:
1) Aaron Judge:
The Yankees were expected to contend in 2019, maybe 2018 if all went well. Either way, certainly no one could have predicted that New York’s rebuild would take such little time (beginning the week they lead the AL East). No one has been the poster child of that more than Judge, the 6-foot-7 behemoth of an outfielder.
After hitting four home runs with 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats last year, the 25-year-old has been on a historic pace this season. He’s batting .321/.421/.707, leading the league with 15 home runs and 35 runs scored, while cutting his strikeout rate nearly in half. He’s come back down to earth a little bit, but he’s the biggest reason why the Yankees are division leader.
2) Eric Thames:
In a division with the defending World Series champions and the always-in-contention Cardinals, it’s the upstart Brewers that lead the NL Central to begin the week. Leading the charge is Thames, who had spent the last few seasons in South Korea. He’s slowed a bit after a torrid pace in April, but has 13 home runs as Milwaukee is second in the NL in runs scored and leads in homers. The Brewers have as potent a lineup as anyone in the majors right now, and though it goes beyond the 30-year-old, he’s the anchor.
3) Colorado Rockies:
The NL West holds some of the best teams in baseball – two of whom have been basement dwellers in the recent past. The Rockies and Diamondbacks are 1-2, despite the Dodgers’ strong start. Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez are showing their usual dominance, but it’s been the pitching that’s been the biggest surprise. They were near the top of the league in earned run average at the end of April, and although they’ve regressed to the middle of the pack, they have a high-end closer. Greg Holland is a perfect 19-for-19 in save opportunities. A juggernaut lineup with competent pitching and a shutdown closer is a good recipe for success.
4) 2016 postseason participants:
Here’s how the 14 teams to make the postseason last season are faring so far this year: the Blue Jays, Mets and Giants are all at least 7.5 games out of first place. The Cubs and Red Sox are hovering around .500. Only the Orioles, Indians and Nationals are within even a game of first place (only Washington actually leads their division). With teams like Colorado, Arizona, Milwaukee and Minnesota on the upswing, parity is the theme of 2017.
5) Jose Bautista:
The Toronto outfielder was looking for a big payday in the offseason, before ultimately setting on a one-year, $18 million deal to keep him with the Blue Jays. The best slugger in the majors since 2010, the 36-year-old appears to have come crashing down to earth awfully quickly. He’s hitting just .227 so far, and although his average has never been great (career .254) his power has been sapped, with just 15 extra base hits and a .405 slugging percentage (lowest since 2008), and he’s striking out a quarter of the time. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a 0.1, meaning he’s barely been above replacement level so far this year.