But here we are, one-third of the way through the season, and Major League Baseball has a different look and feel to it.
For the last three to five seasons, the standings in the American League East have been predictable. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays have been fighting for playoff spots, and only two would make it. In 2010 and 2011, the Red Sox were the ones hitting the golf courses early.
This season has been different. We often forget that the Orioles and Blue Jays are in the division because, well, they haven't been a postseason threat while Boston, New York and Tampa Bay have been dominating the standings. But this year, the first two months have seen the Red Sox and the Bronx Bombers at the bottom and the O's leading the pack at the top, tied for the best record in the American League with — who else? — Josh "Triple Crown-bound" Hamilton and the Texas Rangers.
This isn't so much a disappointment, but a surprise. Who would have expected the Orioles to be first in the AL East? Center fielder Adam Jones probably did, seeing as he leads the team in batting average, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and hits. Those numbers got him a six-year, $85.5 million contract extension on Sunday.
The Angels made what was probably the biggest splash in the free agent pool this past offseason when they signed future hall of famer Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract. Although he is beginning to heat up for the Halos, Pujols was off to a horrific start — so bad that Angels fans were booing him. Pujols went 139 at-bats without a home run to start the season. He now has seven but is still hitting well below .300.
This isn't a disappointment, but it has to make one ponder whether the Angels will be playing October baseball or not. One thing is for certain: They will have to catch up to the Rangers and their lineup of sluggers and rotation of aces.
How about the Detroit Tigers? They took the second-best slugger off the free agent market in Prince Fielder. The home run king in 2007 with Milwaukee hit 50 home runs that year. It's not that he has been bad this far, but he has hit seven home runs to this point, and you'd think that number would be higher.
Miguel Cabrera's power numbers are down as well. While he has 37 RBIs, Cabrera has only managed to hit a disappointing eight homers.The Tigers were thought to be the most exciting team in the American League and definitely a favorite to represent the American League in the World Series, but they sit two games below .500 and third in the AL Central. It's too bad for Tigers fans, because they were expecting Cabrera and Fielder to smack 450-foot homers out of Comerica Park, but instead, they see their team four games behind the Cleveland Indians.
Giants' ace Tim Lincecum is losing his title of "freak." The commander of this pitching staff is 2-5 and has an ERA of 6.41. The two-time Cy Young award winner can't seem to get a win and can't seem to get hitters out. San Francisco is one game above .500, and if the Giants want to have any chance of catching up to the NL West-leading Dodgers, Lincecum will have to turn things around and lead that staff back to what took them to a World Series title in 2010.
Yes, it is early. Yes, the All-Star break is still six weeks away, and there will be two and a half more months of baseball, but these disappointments and surprises could continue. They could turn around, but they could get worse for teams that were expecting another great year to just come to them, too. Right?