The MLB season is now nearly seven weeks old, the dog days of Summer are starting to settle in. Teams, players, and fans are all on the 162 game rollercoaster. Therefore, it is the optimum time to assess some of the surprise packages through the early phase of the season.
Boston Red Sox
Alex Cora is back, and so it seems that the Red Sox are back too. After a tumultuous 2020, the Red Sox required a comeback year to placate the Boston faithful. Currently, the Red Sox sits atop the AL East, with a 27-18 record. Powering Boston to the top is a thunderous batting lineup. JD Martinez leads the charge with an absurd OPS of 1.013.
Backing Martinez up is the homegrown duo of Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts. Both of those players own an OPS number above .900. Boston’s big three are leading the team on offense. Role players Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Renfroe, and Enrique Hernandez are all supporting the offensive output.
The Red Sox resurgence with the bat may not have surprised anyone; the pitching is surprising many people. Boston’s rotation lacks depth, plus they are short of an absolute ace. Nonetheless, the pitchers are battling hard and successfully. Nick Pivetta is 5-0, with a 3.59 ERA. Pivetta is expanding the zone on the outside and inside corners; he gets batters to chase balls in the dirt and punch them out.
The returning Eduardo Rodriguez is 5-2, although his ERA of 4.70 is concerning. The Red Sox’s pitching worried fans before the season; currently, they are fighting and getting plenty of run support. Can it hold out? Only the white heat of Summer will reveal the answers. For now, the Red Sox is the surprise package in the East.
San Francisco Giants
The San Diego Padres nor the LA Dodgers are top of the NL West. That honor belongs to the San Francisco Giants. The ragtag group of veterans, journeymen, and youngsters are setting the pace out west. Like the Red Sox, the Giants are bludgeoning opponents. Yesterday, they crushed the Reds by 19-4.
Giants World Series heroes of yesteryear, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford, are all rolling back the years with the bat. Add Evan Longoria, who is third on the average exit velocity list; the Giants are dangerous right now at the batter’s box.
In a year where so many teams are struggling at the plate, the Giants experience helping them grind out gritty at-bats, then launching the ball with enormous power. Only three players on the Giants 25-man roster own a strikeout percentage above .300. That is underpinning their success.
The Giants are also cooking with gas on the mound. Ace Alex Wood is pitching fabulously this year. His 5-0 record with 35 strikeouts is putting him in the early Cy Young contention. Wood is making hay by attacking the lower part of the zone. His off-speed and breaking stuff is fooling batters. Backing Wood up is Anthony DeSclafani.
The 31-year-old is 4-1 with an ERA of just over two. The Giants one-two punch in the rotation is shutting teams down. Nobody expected the Giants to compete in 2021; they still might sink the stretch. However, the pieces are there. The Giants’ experience, street-smarts, and power may be enough to lead a push to the divisional title come September.
The Braves were one win away from playing in the 2020 World Series. Therefore, everyone expected the Braves to be the runaway leaders in the NL East. Instead, they are fourth, four games below .500. The big issue plaguing Atlanta is the all-or-nothing batting lineup. Ronald Acuna Jr and reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman are carrying the lineup with their power hitting. The Braves can’t put the ball in play; only one of their hitters is batting above .300. Marcell Ozuna is batting .201.
Some of the batting averages for the Braves players are alarming. Dansby Swanson’s strikeout percentage is a high .307. In an era of launch angles, exit velocity, and home runs, the lack of adaptability is hurting Atlanta.
The Braves lineup is a microcosm for what is happening around the league; many teams are enduring miserable times with the bat. Atlanta’s lineup is not good enough to play small-ball or make changes. These sluggers are stuck in a tough spot. Adapt or perish is a famous old saying; the Braves could perish in a competitive division if they can’t solve the power outage in Atlanta.
In a division containing the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, the Twins are somehow at rock bottom of this paltry division. The Twins are arguably the worst team in the AL right now. They are 3-7 in their last ten games. Outside of Jose Berrios, the rotation is a mess, and the batters can’t contact the ball. Nobody expected the Twins to be a World Series contender, yet, no-one expected them to be this bad. It is an enormous surprise.