Entering Monday, the Cleveland Indians had played the fewest number of regular season games of any team in Major League Baseball in 2016 at 16. The Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks, and San Francisco Giants stood at 20 contests apiece. Suffice to say, the marathon run that is a MLB regular season is still just getting started.
However, given the previously mentioned figures, every single squad is now either about to, or has already participated in 10% of their 162 scheduled games, meaning that we are beginning to get a sense of what the league’s contestants may offer us this summer. With that being said, let’s take a look at four early surprise teams in the 2016 baseball season.
1. Houston Astros (6-13)
Of the 32 teams in MLB, the one that is easily off to the most disappointing start is the Houston Astros. The ‘Stros entered this spring with lofty expectations as one of the favorites in the junior circuit. We even offered the prediction that this group would wind up taking home the 2016 World Series, which would be their first in franchise history. While we still think that it’s far too early to write off this club, the early returns are a tad worrisome.
At 6-13 with a .316 winning percentage entering Monday night, Houston boasted the second-worst mark in the AL and the third-worst in the entire majors. The only teams worse? The lowly Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves, both of whom started their campaigns 0-9.
While the offense has been pretty legit thus far, the pitching has been a different story. When looking for reasons for the extremely slow start, manager A.J. Hinch and company should look no further than the horrendous 4.95 team earned run average, a mark that ranks the team 27th in all of baseball and last in the American League.
2. Chicago White Sox (13-6)
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Astros are their 2005 World Series opponents, the Chicago White Sox. The ChiSox stand at 13-6 with a .684 winning percentage, which places them at the top of the AL and only behind the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs (both teams were expected to be great) for the best record in baseball.
While Houston has succeeded at the dish and struggled on the mound, Chicago has done the opposite, proving that good pitching can beat good hitting in plenty of situations. Despite the favorable win-loss mark, the White Sox rank near the bottom in many offensive categories and place dead last in runs batted in with 54.
Led by the terrific duo of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana — plus the masterful early-season performances by veteran Mat Latos — Chicago ranks second in the majors with their 2.28 team ERA. We knew that Sale and Quintana would be good, but if Latos is somehow able to continue pitching anywhere near the level he is displaying early on, the White Sox could have a shot at dethroning the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central.
3. Oakland Athletics (10-9)
A 10-9 record in any sport, admittedly, is nothing special. However, when considering the notion that few expected the Oakland Athletics to compete in 2016, the above-.500 mark looks pretty good. The A’s are currently tied with the Texas Rangers atop of the somewhat upside-down AL West division and they sport one of the best road records at 7-2.
Like the White Sox, the Athletics may not have the most lethal lineup, but their pitching has been terrific in April. They also rank in the top 10 in team ERA (sixth place with a 3.30 figure) and showcase a stellar bullpen, spearheaded by Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. While some teams have surrendered late leads left and right, Oakland’s crew has been rock solid at the end. They have converted nine of 10 save opportunities so far, which gives them one of the best save percentages in the bigs.
4. Philadelphia Philles (9-10)
The Philadelphia Phillies, currently sitting at 9-10, are off to a solid start in 2016. No, we are not kidding. Although the standings may show them at a game-under the .500 threshold, did anybody expect Philadelphia to be only one game under at this point — or at any point for that matter? There is still tons of time for the Phillies to completely fall apart and move back down the the NL cellar, but for now, April has been surprisingly decent for the City of Brotherly Love.
If you are still not sold on the “pitching matters” argument yet, we present the Phillies as the final piece of evidence for today. Like Chicago and Oakland, Philadelphia has displayed one of the more anemic offenses during the season’s first month. At .287, they are currently tied for the worst team on-base percentage in the league.
On the mound though, they have thrown a trio of shutouts in the month and pace the majors with their 195 strikeouts. Unfortunately for the Phils, the season does not end after spring, and there are still loads of chances left for an everlasting summer swoon.
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