As the playoffs near for Major League Baseball and more or less all of the division leaders are set in stone, with about 10 games left in the season, I give you a run through the surprising and not-so-surprising happenings of the 2011 baseball season.
What met our expectations:
Yankees-Red Sox rivalry kept us on edge and scratching our heads: After starting the season 0-6, the Red Sox met with the red-hot Yankees as they fittingly took two of three games from the Bronx Bombers. The Red sox went on to sweep the next two series from the Yanks as they were 8-1 against them in their first nine meetings. With just three games left between the two, the Red Sox have won 11 of 15 games and four of five series. With that being said, the Yanks lead the division and are moments away from clinching the division.
Milwaukee’s offseason pitching acquisitions would have them lined up for the playoffs: With the offseason injuries to nearly the entire Cardinals pitching rotation and the pitching additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, the Brewers were the frontrunners for the NL Central. With that being said, the bats eventually came to life after a shaky start and the pitching has held their own as the Brewers find themselves leading the Central by 6.5 games.
The Phillies would have the best record in the league: After once again picking up Cliff Lee in an offseason stunner, there was no doubt as to who the best team in the league would be. With nearly a guaranteed spot deep in the playoffs due to their “Big Four”, the Phillies have shown up and played the way they were expected. They are on their way to another 100-plus win season (98-52).
Marlin’s outfield prodigy Mike Stanton would crank 30-plus homers: At just the age of 21, Stanton has proven that sooner or later he is going to be in the running for the MVP in years to come. With 22 homers in just 100 games in 2010, Stanton has hammered over 30 this season, while bumping his average close to .270. In an offense desperately needing a power hitter and not having many guys to get on base, Stanton still manages to have nearly 90 RBIs on the season as well. In just a few years, Stanton’s strikeouts will go down, his average will go up (near .280 or.290) and he will surpass 40 home runs and 100 RBIs. The MVP for the California native will be his at the age of just 23 or 24.
Adrian Gonzalez would have monster numbers with Red Sox (.336 avg, 26 HR, 111 RBIs): Although his home run total slowed down near the end of the season, Adrian Gonzalez was a monstrous impact for the Red Sox offense and got on base at will. His RBI total was over 110 and he is finally getting the national recognition that he never received when he was with the San Diego Padres.
What we didn’t expect:
Orioles, Nationals and Pirates showed fight: Although none one of them are going to see the playoffs this season, these three clubs are used to being laughed at and humiliated as the division dwellers of the past. “Of the past” is the main phrase. They are now improving under new management and seem to have found the solution to more victories. The Orioles and Pirates will escape with fewer than 100 losses as the Nationals hovered near .500 for most of the season. In fact, for early parts of the season, the Pirates and Orioles found themselves in first place of their divisions.
No hitter, no hitter, no hitter: Every team of the early season was getting no hit or close to it. Francisco Liriano and Ervin Santana, who are normally extremely wild and having high pitch counts, threw no-hitters. Not-to-mention, Justin Verlander had no hitters into the eighth or ninth inning of nearly every outing. When are hitters going to learn to bunt the ball down the line and run out a few here and there like the Angels instinctively did versus Verlander?
Rangers showing last year wasn’t a fluke: The Rangers came out and proved to the world that them making it to the World Series a year ago is something everyone should keep an eye on. They are looking to repeat this season. With a rotation that stayed strong even after the departure of Cliff Lee and a lineup that kept hitting after the controversy of Michael Young’s offseason, they don’t care what’s going on. They are going to win no matter what.
Arizona would outduel the defending champs in the West to make the playoffs: In what might be the biggest surprise of the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks under new manager Kirk Gibson have shocked the defending champion Giants and the rest of the world to make the playoffs. After seasons of being the dwellers of the West, the D-backs have put all the pieces together to be successful. With lots of young talent, it is doubtful they will go far, but they have been overlooked in the past before.
Dan Uggla having a hitting streak over 30 games: After coming over to the Braves in a trade from the Marlins, Dan Uggla kept his batting average low and his home runs high. What no one expected was for Dan Uggla (hitting under .200 at the time) to break off a 30-plus-game hitting streak in mid-season. With infield hits here and bang bang plays there, Uggla’s streak wasn’t the most impressive in recent years, but all the same unlikely.
Jose Bautista to follow up his 2010 year of 50-plus homers with another 40-plus: After such an out-of-nowhere season in 2010, Jose Bautista proved he could deliver an encore performance as he led the MLB in on-base percentage and slugging. He hit over .300 and had more than 40 home runs for the second consecutive year. With all the swirls that this is so shocking and “out of left field” as some would say, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear rumors of steroids in years to come if Bautista’s performance continues.
Ryan Vogelsong to lead nearly every pitching category for the Giants: with such a powerful pitching staff in San Francisco, it is truly a shock to see a no-namer like Ryan Vogelsong leading the pack on their staff. The 6-foot-4 righty started the season off with a bang and slowly cooled off. With that said, he stands at 11-7 with a miniscule 2.68 ERA at the end of the season. That includes 26 games started.
My World Series prediction:
Detroit Tigers beating the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.
Although the Phillies have the best pitching on the planet and one of the best lineups one through nine, the Tigers have ace Justin Verlander that cannot be stopped. Also, they have a lineup that can eat up some of the Phillies pitchers if given the opportunity. If they can survive some tough matches in the AL playoffs, the Tigers are my choice to upset the powerhouse Phillies.