It’s been an interesting season in Major League Baseball, to say the least. MLB teams we weren’t anticipating to have a solid season are suddenly sitting comfortably ahead in the win column while we patiently wait for some of the favorites to make a comeback.
From a team on the east coast with big-name players showing signs of regression to a team that doesn’t realize the competition of the division it is in, here are some teams that may sparkle now, but could show signs of rust very soon.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays don’t have the most wins in the league, but they do sit with a 21-22 record. This is still more wins than a reasonable fraction of the league at the moment.
One of the major surprises this season has been the bat of Logan Morrison. The 29-year-old came out of the gate hot this season and continues to make contact with the ball. His hard contact rate increased by six percent and his homerun/flyball ratio is sitting at 25-percent. LoMo is slashing a .244/.327/.511 line with 26 RBI. He also has ten home runs to his name.
The team has been stellar on the bump with pitchers, despite a shaky bullpen, showing promise.
Pitchers are limiting batters to a .240 batting average overall this season. However, in 20 save opportunities, they have blown nine of them.
Kevin Kiermaier is one guy who needs to step it up. He signed a contract extension this offseason following a solid 2016 campaign that earned him a Gold Glove Award. The six-year, $53.5-million contract was supposed to have the 27-year-old put his money where his mouth is. Instead, he’s slashing a .230/.324/.336 line with three home runs and 11 RBI. He’s also striking out a lot more.
Corey Dickerson, Colby Rasmus (just back from injury) and Chris Archer are having a phenomenal season, but will it last?
The team is in fourth place in the American League East which probably makes you scratch your head as to why they’re on this list, and perhaps they will show signs of progression as the season goes on. But don’t get your hopes up. We are talking about a division that possesses the Baltimore Orioles, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox. The American League is hosting a lot of surprising teams this year.
Who would have thought the Cincinnati Reds would be close to a winning record at this point in the proceedings? I sure didn’t, but kudos to those of you who had faith in the team. Hold on to that positive attitude, because it won’t last long.
The Reds are sitting in fourth place in the National League Central with a 19-20 record. The team was winning enough games in the beginning where folks were wondering if it might be the real deal.
Sorry, the Reds are not quite there just yet.
This isn’t a bad thing, but the signs of regression are too obvious to ignore.
They finished up their series against the Giants where they really struggled. The team scored just nine runs in the four-game series, and according to myDayton Daily News, prior to that, the team scored “at least four runs in each of the seven games prior to the series.”
That’s a major change.
The Reds do possess a strong bullpen, which has helped lead to the sixth-best ERA in the National League.
And there’s always Joey Votto.
The first baseman hasn’t been on an All-Star roster in over three years, but it seems like he’s one of the front-runners in regards to landing on the prestigious team in Miami as a representative. He’s showing more patience at the plate with a 15.5-percent walk rate and an 11.3-percent strikeout rate. But when looking at his launch angle, he’s not getting as under the ball as he might like.
Shortstop Zack Cozart is having a great season slashing a .339/.431/.583 line with an 17.5-percent strikeout rate and two stolen bags.
The team itself is showing signs of improvement across the board this season from the batter’s box to the defense to a strong bullpen. Still, when you’re at a certain position in your division, a rather tough one I might add, and there’s still a lot of baseball to be played, you may want to start becoming realistic.
The young arms that continue to make the journey back and forth between the minors is also a sign that the team is still in that (this term is thrown around so much) “rebuilding” stage.
The National League West has always been an interesting division. Some call it the most difficult while others practically separate the top teams from those on the bottom, leaving no middle ground.
The Arizona Diamondbacks cling to the second place spot currently, and it had a lot to do with a laid back feel heading into 2017.
I spoke to Tony La Russa as the offseason months drew to a close and he mentioned the D-Backs had a lot less pressure on them this season when competing against teams like the San Francisco Giants, the improved Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies, who always managed to tally up runs whether they had Coors Field-confidence behind them.
“Colorado also improved,” explained La Russa, “so I think that all adds up to people expecting less from us, but the same reason we were excited this time last year, we are still one of the youngest clubs around and there is a lot of upside to our guys.”
The team is filled with offensive weapons in Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb who bring the power to the box. But one thing in particular that has stood out most is the team’s ability to step up in its base game.
Playing at Chase Field the ball will tend to fly, but swiping bags can be easier in that atmosphere. Outfielder A.J. Pollock has 11 stolen bases on the season and Goldschmidt is right behind him with nine while Chris Owings rounds out the top three on the team with eight swiped bags.
Goldschmidt leads the team in multiple offensive categories including home runs, RBI, and a .444 OBP.
This isn’t a surprise, but having a healthy Pollock has been a pleasant addition this season. The 2015 All-Star just landed on the disabled list…again, with a Grade 1 groin strain. He has a team-leading 46 hits, so he’s making contact. His issue is with patience at the plate. He has an extremely low walk rate and is swinging erratically.
Another positive with the team, which has been a pleasant surprise, has been its pitching. All around. The starters, the bullpen, all of the pitching has been phenomenal.
Zack Greinke has the 21st best ERA (3.09) ERA in the league with 66 strikeouts in 58.1 innings.
Zack Godley has also impressed fans and fantasy owners in his few outings this season. A 9.16 K/9 rating with a 73.2-percent ground ball rate and a 1.93 ERA along with 19 strikeouts in 18.2 innings has been quite a treat. We have to mention Archie Bradley, who has put up a beautiful performance out of the bullpen as well.
The San Diego Padres aren’t exactly competition, and even with the Giants regressing this season, they will not go down without a fight. They’ve faced one another several times this season, but this is a team that always manages to pull out and make a case for themselves. The Rockies and Dodgers are two of the top teams in the league.
As time goes on, we will know for sure, but until then, it seems this team is just playing well for now. If they do make a playoff appearance, it will be brief.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this team, we need to discuss why it is here.
This team will regress. That’s the reason. It won’t be the worst team in the league. Not even close. But there are some situations that could make some major names show signs of backsliding.
Mark Trumbo is slashing a .251/.304/.471 line with just a .131 ISO and a hard contact rate that is not recognizable. He’s also holding on to strikeout percentage that’s lower than the league average.
Knowing Trumbo, these numbers will more than likely even themselves out. But you have to remember, this guy hit a league-leading 47 home runs last year.
J.J. Hardy was anticipated to have a promising season this time around, but he’s batting with just a .203 average while increasing his strikeout rate by five percent from last season. He is a mid-infielder, so overall we aren’t anticipating a huge power surge, but just a .092 ISO is rather discouraging. He is seeing the ball a bit better, but he’s struggling with plate discipline and swinging at pitches he has no business swinging at.
The loss of Zach Britton could stretch over a couple of months, and that just adds to the frustration. He needed a bit longer to get comfortable once the season began, but he was holding on to a 1.00 ERA in eight games with five saves this season. This happened in just nine innings, but we all know the promising season Britton was supposed to have.
Three-time All-Star Manny Machado has been making a name for himself more in the drama world than posting any impressive numbers this season. The hot-headed third baseman has been in the headlines more for being the target of some unwritten rules and hard thrown pitches this season.
He’s currently hitting a career-low .221 batting average with 33 strikeouts in 160 plate appearances. He is walking a lot more, but he’s striking out more as well.
Some of Baltimore’s pitching has looked sharp, too.
The Orioles are still a favorite in the American League, and will still be a team to be feared. And yes, there’s a but. With some big names showing signs of decline, that could result in a more arduous journey to make postseason play, if not a complete collapse down the stretch.
The Minnesota Twins are in first place in the American League Central and fourth in the entire American League. They’re half a game ahead of the Cleveland Indians, which is impressive in and of itself.
The team is one of the lucky ones blessed to be placed in the “rebuilding” category. And while fans are not too happy about that term, the overall feel for the Twins has been a roller coaster.
They do have an interesting set of numbers when it comes to playing on the road, however. They’re 11-5 when they travel, but they only average .240 at the plate in those matchups with Miguel Sano leading the entire team in just about every hitting category, including batting average (.287) with 10 home runs and 30 RBI.
Sano has been sensational at the plate. He’s almost doubled his walk rate from last season, and even though he’s striking out a lot, he’s knocked some digits off of those numbers as well. He’s currently slashing a .287/.427/.643 line with a .357 ISO. He’s also hitting with a 31.3-percent home run to fly ball ratio.
Byron Buxton is hitting just .178 on the season and the baseball world is still chomping at the bit waiting for him to excel into the player he’s supposed to be.
Jose Berrios’ stellar 2017 debut helps the pitching scenario. And we of course have to mention Ervin Santana. The 34-year-old is not a strikeout machine, but he is hosting a 1.5o ERA through 54 innings this season. He leaves a lot of guys on base, but he is keeping that hard contact rate down.
There are still some major signs of regression and Santana does show some signs of that when he finished his 2016 campaign with a 4.29 SIERA. He’s hosting a higher number this season with a 4.58 in that category. He’s not the only one who struggles with regression either. Joe Mauer seems to be the king.
Mauer’s power has dwindled and he’s slashing a .256/.310/.350 line with two home runs and 14 RBI. He’s 34 years old, which could be why FanGraphs Steamer has him projected to regress. But it even seems they are giving him the benefit of the doubt in regards to his numbers.
I will say this for Buxton's struggles. They are taking any and all focus (it seems) off Joe Mauer's .200 batting average and .200 slugging%
— Judd Zulgad (@jzulgad) April 15, 2017
This was back in April, but Zulgad makes a great point.
The Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers are not performing as well as most anticipated. The Royals have not shown up in the batter’s box and the Tigers are struggling in their bullpen, so the Twins aren’t exactly facing competition.
They begin their series against the Rockies on Tuesday, which will be a true test for them. Until then, don’t be glancing at postseason ticket prices yet anticipating a cameo by the team.