Prior to the season, Oakland was viewed as a team with burgeoning young pitching and a deplorable offense. While the offense hasn't exactly been a juggernaut, it hasn't been deplorable either. And the young pitching has matured faster than many expected, and the squad ranks 12th in all of baseball with a 3.90 cumulative ERA.
Oakland has certainly been a surprise to start the year. Another team in their division has also surprised, but not in a good way. The Seattle Mariners are a shocking 19-31 prior to play Tuesday night after a promising 85-win season in 2009. Then, in the offseason, they acquired Cliff Lee to anchor the rotation while making additional astute pickups.
It's all been for naught, as Milwaukee (21-31) and Arizona (20-32) can also attest to. Both teams were expected to be playoff contenders, but the time is quickly approaching where the general managers of each team will have to evaluate whether it's time to pack it in and prepare for 2011 instead.
For every disappointing story, however, there's grins from ear to ear in other cities. Joining Oakland atop the list of improbably starts are the San Diego Padres. How, exactly, does a team go from winning 75 games in 2009 to atop the NL East in June with a 31-21 record? Unlike Seattle, there was no marquee addition. Indeed, the overturn for the Pads were minimal.
Baseball has also been rejuvenated in Cincinnati, currently in a cat-and-dog fight with the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the Central. While many saw Cincy as a potential dark horse, the assumption was that they would eventually fall short, even in the wild card standings. No, many people were looking ahead to 2011, especially as Edinson Volquez underwent Tommy John surgery in mid-2009 and may not return in 2010.
That hasn't stopped the Dusty Baker-led Reds from showing the Cards that there may be a new Big Red Machine.
And no list of surprises would be complete without pointing out the 31-23 Toronto Blue Jays, who boast one of the best pitching staffs in the league. Perhaps they do things differently up in Canada, but here in America, when you trade away the best pitcher in the universe for minor league prospects, your team is supposed to get worse, not better. Tell that to the Jays and new ace Ricky Romero.
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June 1: Which Red Sox player will break out next?