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Monday, June 24, 2019

10 MLB teams off to surprising starts in 2019

Alex Cora

Preseason predictions were meant to be defied. That’s true in every sport, but baseball can particularly throw you off, given the length of the seasons and how teams can be prone to lengthy hot or cold streaks. A bad month may be masked over a full season, and a bad team may have a good month that goes unnoticed, but both are harder to miss — and potentially more impactful — when they happen early on in the regular season.

Here are ten teams that have surprised onlookers so far in 2019 — either in a good or bad way.

10. Atlanta Braves

The Braves were expected to take a step forward this season after breaking into the playoffs last year, but they’ve instead loitered around .500 through the first month or so of the season. A big part of this is down to an unreliable bullpen and a pitching staff that, in general, has really struggled to settle into a groove. They have plenty of time to turn it around, especially with no one seizing the initiative in the NL East.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks

When the Diamondbacks shipped Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals during the offseason, the expectation was that it would herald a retool, if not a total rebuild. Instead, the Diamondbacks have been very competitive, largely because of an offense that has only been outscored by the Los Angeles Dodgers among NL teams. The pitching must improve for them to keep this up, but it’s clear that the departure of Goldschmidt hasn’t been the killer that many anticipated it would be.

8. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies played in the NLDS last season but have taken a clear and surprising step back this season despite no significant offseason upheaval. They’re not hitting, as three regulars are posting batting averages below .200. They’re also not pitching, with German Marquez the only starting pitcher with a sub-4 ERA. It’s hard to imagine the offense in Colorado not picking up, but the pitching, as it often is, may be a lingering issue.

7. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners sold off seemingly everything that wasn’t tied down during the offseason, and the expectation was that it would be a very long season in the Pacific Northwest. It may not last, but the first month of 2019 has been full of excitement and entertainment for Mariner fans, starting with the team homering in their first 20 games of the season. Pitching remains a huge concern, but the Mariners are at least interesting, and it didn’t really look like it would be that way after their offseason moves.

6. San Diego Padres

Perhaps it’s not a huge shock that the Padres are playing good baseball given the offseason splash they made in acquiring Manny Machado. However, even he didn’t expect the Padres to compete for a division title this season. They may not still, but they’ve gotten off to a very encouraging start thanks largely to the emergence of a quality pitching staff and Chris Paddack’s growth into a top pitcher. As long as the Padres keep pitching like this, they have a chance to win games.

5. Minnesota Twins

In a division that has been dominated by the Cleveland Indians for the last several years, it’s the Twins who have burst out of the blocks in the AL Central. Minnesota took a step back last season, but it may have been an aberration, as this year’s team has surged to a blazing start. This is largely behind a resurgent pitching staff led by Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, and the surprising Martin Perez. That has to keep up for them to keep winning, but given Cleveland’s frailties, they have a real chance this year.

4. Oakland Athletics

It’s easy to forget that Oakland won 97 games last season and made an effort to keep as much of that team together as possible. The magic, at least so far, has not carried over to 2019. Oakland is surprisingly well below .500, last place in the AL West, with an offense and pitching staff that both sit firmly in the middle of the road in the American League. While it’s not too late for a turnaround, they’ve already been behind the first-place Houston Astros.

3. Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper’s departure was bound to hurt the Nationals, but they kept the rest of their core together while simultaneously making aggressive offseason moves to remain competitive. They’ve been rewarded with a below .500 start. A good part of this is down to injury, including Anthony Rendon’s absence, but they simply have not pitched well enough and their bullpen has been a mess — a consistent problem for the organization despite continued efforts to correct it.

2. Tampa Bay Rays

Perhaps the Rays’ continued success shouldn’t be surprising. Though they weren’t a playoff team in 2018, they did win 90 games in one of baseball’s toughest divisions. They’ve taken it up a level in 2019. Tampa Bay has had one of the best records in the league to start the season, largely down to the best pitching staff in baseball with a remarkable 2.90 ERA. It’s hard to imagine that keeping up, but it’s not tough to see them pitching at a high level all season and pushing their flashier division rivals as far as they can go.

1. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox won 108 games in 2018, went 11-3 in the playoffs, and didn’t really ever look like they were going to be tripped up on their road to the World Series. Things are a lot different in 2019. Though they have recovered recently, they started off 9-15, and they still haven’t been able to climb above the .500 mark. That’s a real surprise considering they’ve brought back most of the talent that won them a championship last year. There’s plenty of time for them to turn it around and they’ve shown signs of doing so, but nobody saw the Red Sox getting off to a start like this.



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