With the clean slate of the 2017 season just 10 days behind us, certain teams have caught the eyes of MLB fans, bringing a different look to the standings that most fans would not have guessed. Yes, the Major League Baseball season still has a long way to go, but you never know what team could surprise the league and make an unforeseen like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.
Starting with the unexpected squads staying afloat at the top of their divisions, the Minnesota Twins are currently tied for first in the AL Central. Yes, they have dealt with an easier schedule to start the year with the rebuilding Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals, but that does not take away from the progress the Twins made breaking camp out of Fort Myers this spring. The Twins have relied on their veteran-heavy starting pitching rotation, limiting opposing teams to three runs or less in five of their first six games. This is a big year for their core prospects getting at bats at the big league level with Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, who if they play at or above their projected abilities, can be a solid addition to Brian Dozier in the Twins lineup. The offense can truly dictate how the season will go, but unless these prospects can live up to the early expectations, it’s hard to see them taking down the reigning American League champion Cleveland Indians.
Arizona, coming off a disappointing 2016 season in which the team did not see much of a return on their investment of the trades and free agent deals they made, the Diamondbacks and their new front office currently stand alone at the top of the National League West. Led by a revenge-seeking Zack Greinke, the D’Backs are making people think twice about their divisional predictions by opening the season with a series win against the San Francisco Giants. Arizona followed suit with a sweep of the Indians, which is no small feat. Greinke, 33, is looking like the guy the front office thought they were going to get last year and is succeeded with a rotation full of potential. The trade for Taijuan Walker from the Seattle Mariners in exchange Jean Segura made it clear that the team was in need of another arm with the uncertainties of Shelby Miller hanging over the rotation’s head. The rotation is going to be what this team will rely on to stay atop the division this season, simply because behind Paul Goldschmidt there isn't much help behind him. The Diamondbacks going to need a healthy, bounce back season from Patrick Corbin, and if this early success continues, reaching out for another bat to add to their lacking offense will keep this team stay atop of the NL West.
Now, to the teams whose fans might be hitting the panic button a little earlier than expected in the 2017 season. The St Louis Cardinals are living their worst nightmare currently, looking up from the bottom of the NL Central, as well as seeing their rival Chicago Cubs raising their World Series banner this past Monday night. Cardinal fans are left scratching their heads looking at the stat sheets, seeing three guys who they thought would be the heart of the lineup struggling mightily thus far. With Matt Carpenter batting .208, Randal Grichuk batting .194 and their big free agent addition Dexter Fowler batting .161 you have to expect there’s more in the tank for the Cardinals. Yes, Fowler isn't known for a high batting average but his on-base percentage is what made the Cardinals go after him and his current .257 OB7 is well below his 2016 mark of .393. A hot start is what the Cardinals needed to help sway the NL Central momentum back in their favor after the Cubs have slowly become the divisions power and if they don't get things on track soon, they could be looking at the start of a role reversal of the mid-2000s for years to come with the team from the North Side.
Another team that is surprisingly starting off on the wrong foot is the Toronto Blue Jays. Coming off their second straight trip to the ALCS, the Jays 1-6 start is not the way many people saw them beginning the season. The Jays’ offense is missing one of its main components from the past couple of seasons with Edwin Encarnacion signing with Cleveland in the offseason, and so far their power numbers are showing that void. Josh Donaldson is producing MVP-caliber numbers as expected, the rest of the lineup has a different feel to it compared to years past. Jose Bautist, after signing a one-year, $18M contract this past offseason, has just one extra base hit in 22 at bats thus far. Joining Bautista on a tough start to the season is shortstop Troy Tulowitzki who one of the guys who Toronto needs to perform in the absence of Encarnacion. The one thing that can keep Blue Jays fans positive is the big three starting pitchers led by Marcus Stroman, who is coming off his MVP performance in the World Baseball Classic, as well as one of the most underrated pitchers in Marco Estrada as their 4th guy in the rotation. Their pitching is what will get them out of this bad start and will be the reason why they will possibly have success this season. But behind the Boston Red Sox and having to deal with the heavily competitive AL East. it will be a tough task for the Jays to handle throughout this season.
There’s still over 150 games left in the young season as we are not even to the mid-point to April, but it will be interesting to see how these surprise teams play out the rest of the way.