1. Baltimore Orioles
Back in my season-opening column I said that “Orioles fans probably still believe Cal Ripken Jr. could help their terrible team.” I also said, “Orioles fans probably think that even Tim Tebow could help their terrible team.” Oops. They’ve been great. The Orioles are in first, and we’ve played a third of the season. I still think they could fade, but they are defintely not the same team that only won 69 games last season.
2. Washington Nationals
The Orioles’ neighbors are also doing quite well. I think many people thought that the Nats were a season away from competing in the NL East, but here they are. Rookie phenom Bryce Harper made his debut, and he is worth the hype. He gives the Nationals a centerpiece to the lineup that they sorely needed. Washington’s pitching has been great, and closer Brad Lidge is now back from injury.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
Going on 19 straight losing seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates are on pace to finsh above .500.
4. Chicago White Sox
The guys from the south side might be the comeback team of the year. Adam Dunn has rebounded from his putrid 2011 season, where he got six hits off of lefties, and Jake Peavy has found his San Diego Padre form, where he won a Cy Young award and seemingly struck out everyone. The “Good Guys,” as Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson calls them, are currently in first place in the AL Central. (Say hello to da bad guy).
5. The New York Mets get a no-hitter
Seriously, who saw that coming? I was pretty sure the Mets were cursed by some billy goat or pig, or lizard, or something and would never get one. The Mets have been in existence since 1962! It took 50 years!
1. Albert Pujols
It took Albert five weeks to hit his first homer. He’s batting just .244 with eight home runs and 31 runs batted in. Though it seems like he’s heating up, I doubt anyone will label him a disappointment by the end of the year.
Jurrjens had the NL’s leading ERA at the All-Star break last year. This year, he’s been demoted to AAA. They always say that baseball is a humbling game. No kidding.
3. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers signed Prince Fielder in the offseason, and everyone pegged them, myself included, to easily win the AL Central. Unfortunately, the offense hasn’t gelled as a whole yet, and the starting pitching is atrocious after Justin Verlander. The Tigers are just 26-31 and third in the AL Central.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
The Fightin’ Phils can blame their slow start on injuries. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have not yet played an inning this season and their ace, Roy Halladay, will likely be out until after the All-Star break. After signing Cliff Lee last season to join Hamels and Holliday, and signing Papelbon this season, it has to be frustrating for Phillies management as they are likely staring at another season that will end in disappointment.
5. Matt Kemp’s injury
Kemp was setting the baseball world on fire until he injured his hamstring. He has 12 homers and 28 runs batted in in just 36 games played. He’s currently serving his second stint on the DL with that injured hamstring.
Expected Expecteds (Or something or other)
1. The Chicago Cubs are terrible (19-38)
1. Melky Cabrera SF (.364)
You might have guessed David Wright could have a season at the top of the National League, but Melky Cabrera? The Melkman arrived in the big leagues pretty young at age 20 for the Yankees, but he’s finally coming into his own at age 27. He hit .305 last season for Kansas City after never hitting above .274, and this year, if he keeps it up, he’s on pace for 243 hits, which would put him 10th on the all-time single season hits list.
2. David Wright NYM (.362)
David Wright has done well with the shortened fences at Citi Field. He’s already hit four home runs at home just a third of the way through the season. He hit just five at home in all of last season.
3.Carlos Ruiz PHI (.356)
Chooch has carried the Phillies offense this season while the team has dealt with injuries to Ryan Howard, Jim Thome and Chase Utley. The Fightin’ Phils are hanging around in the standings, and Ruiz is a big reason why. Once they get their roster healthy, the rest of the NL East may have wished they kicked the Phils a little harder while they were down.
1. Paul Konerko CHW (.371)
Konerko has never won the batting title. The closest he’s come was in 2010, batting .312, finishing 8th overall.
2. Josh Hamilton TEX (.341)
Hamilton has cooled off a little since his home run outburst a few weeks ago in Baltimore, but he’s still second in the league.
3. Mark Trumbo LAA (.337)
Trumbo didn’t even have a position when the season started, yet he’s been the best Angels hitter all season, better than the man with the $240 million contract. Trumbo has made multiple starts at 1st, 3rd, LF and RF this season.
1. Carlos Beltran (STL) 16 HRs, 44 RBIs
Who needs Albert Pujols?
2. Carlos Gonzalez (COL) 14 HRs, 45 RBIs
CarGo seems to be back in his 2010 form, when he placed third in MVP voting and came close to winning the Triple Crown.
3. Giancarlo Stanton (MIA) 13 HRs, 41 RBIs
The artist formerly known as Mike has been hitting some long bombs. One even broke some of the panels on the Marlins scoreboard.
1. Josh Hamilton (TEX) 21 HRs, 58 RBIs
Hamilton is on pace to hit 59 home runs, which Babe Ruth once did in 1921.
2. Adam Dunn (CHW) 18 HR, 39 RBIs
Dunn is the AL Comeback Player of the Year, no question. He’s already hit seven more homers than all of last season.
3. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR) 17 HRs, 43 RBIs
Encarnacion is putting up career numbers this season. It has to help hitting in the same lineup as Jose Bautista.
1. Brandon Beachy (ATL) 5-4, 1.87 ERA
Beachy has had some tough luck in the wins and losses category, but there’s been no doubt he’s been the NL’s best with a 1.87 ERA, .4 points below the next closest guy.
2. James McDonald (PIT) 5-2, 2.14 ERA
A Pirate is in this list, can you believe it?
3. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) 7-2, 2.31 ERA
Gonzalez leads the league in strikeouts with 84. Trading for Gonzo in the offseason looks like a brilliant move. He also does motorcycle jumps.
4. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) 6-1, 2.35 ERA
Strasburg is fourth in the league in strikeouts (79), but he’s also only got 100 innings left in his team imposed 160 inning limit this season. You have to wonder what the Nationals will do if they are in a playoff race in September and Strasburg has met his limit.
5. R.A. Dickey (NYM) 9-1, 2.44 ERA
The knuckleballer is having an outstanding season, one that started with a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro and a book release.
6. Johan Santana (NYM) 3-2, 2.38 ERA
Can’t leave him out, Santana brought the Mets their first no-hitter in their history.
1. David Price (TB) 8-3, 2.40 ERA
Price has been outstanding, and he’s doing it in the league’s toughest division to pitch in.
2. Chris Sale (CHW) 7-2, 2.30 ERA
Sale has had no problem being the young ace of the White Sox. Just 23, Sale has been virtually unhittable. Opposing teams are batting just .193 against him this season.
3. Brandon Morrow (TOR) 7-3, 2.90 ERA
Morrow has anchored a Blue Jays squad that has a potent offense, but might win more often if they could stop people from scoring.
4. Jared Weaver (LAA) 6-1, 2.61 ERA
Weaver is currently on the DL, but threw a no-hitter early in the season and helped the Angels win some games while they were really struggling and in last place (in 2nd place now).
5. Justin Verlander (DET) 5-4, 2.67 ERA
Verlander came oh-so-close to his third no-hitter against Pittsburgh on May 18, surrendering a hit with one out in the ninth, but he’s still having another great season.
1. Craig Kimbrel (ATL) 17 Saves, 1.71 ERA
Kimbrel has been unhittable, literally. He has not given up a hit in his last eight appearances. Kimbrel last gave up a hit on May 11 against St. Louis.
2. Aroldis Chapman (CIN) 6 Saves, 0.30 ERA
Yes, that is Chapman’s correct ERA. He had not given up an earned run this season until last night against the Pirates. He only has six saves, but he’s just been given the closer’s role. Given the fact that no one can score on him, and he throws 101 MPH, expect Chapman to start racking those up.
By the way, I’m glad we don’t have to clock pitch speed with these things anymore:
3. Brett Myers (HOU) 14 Saves, 2.25 ERA
Myers, who seems to go back and forth from the staring rotation to the closer’s role every other year, is doing well as Houston’s closer. Maybe the Astros will finally keep him in the role he does best in.
1. Fernando Rodney (TB) 17 Saves, 1.01 ERA
Rodney is a big reason why the Rays will be in contention to win the AL East this season. He’s only given up three earned runs all season, and has only blown one save. He’s as close as you can get to automatic.
2. Jim Johnson (BAL) 18 Saves, 1.38 ERA
Johnson is the other closer in the AL East that’s been almost automatic. Teams only seem to score on him when they go yard. He’s given up three home runs but just four earned runs this season.
3. Chris Perez (CLE) 19 Saves, 2.70 ERA
Perez called out Cleveland fans for not coming out to Jacobs Field. The Indians are in first, and if Perez gets the ball late in the game, you can assume he won’t be the one to blame if they ever fall out of first.