As we enter the final day of regular season play, it’s worth examining the Top 5 surprises for the 2012 MLB season. These are things you wouldn’t have imagined in your wildest dreams as you awoke from your winter slumber on Opening Day
1) Mike Trout
First of all, his season started for the Salt Lake Bees. Really, he couldn’t make the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim out of the Cactus League? Well, now he would make any All Rookie team for all time history and may be the American League MVP. Leading the American League in Runs and Stolen Bases while missing nearly the first month of the season. End with an average in the .320’s plus 30 long balls (on a team where he doesn’t need to hit for power) and he just turned 21. Baseball fans, regardless of loyalty, can’t wait to see Act 2.
2) Beltway Pennant Busters
Okay, raise your hands if you had Washington and Baltimore both in the playoffs. You lie. The Orioles hadn’t finished with more than 78 wins since 1997 (kids born this year have drivers licenses). The Nationals had finished within a game of .500 last year, but really didn’t expect to compete in the tough NL East with the likes of the Phillies, Braves, and loaded up Marlins. Au Contraire. Everyone kept waiting for the Orioles to fade, they didn’t. Nobody expected the Nationals to tote the best record in the baseball (not the Yankees, not the Rangers…the Nationals). I’m still bitter about them sitting Strasburg, but that’s another blog for another day.
So your team seems to have talent, all you’re missing is that strong managerial leader who can whip these guys into shape, squeeze out more wins, and build some camaraderie on the way. Enter Ozzie Guillen (Marlins) and Bobby Valentine (Red Sox). Then exit stage left. The Marlins even had the lack of situational awareness to trade for Carlos Lee before the trade deadline (before unloading Hanley). The Red Sox are going to finish 15-20 games worse than last year (and traded away tons of their salary and talent), the Marlins will be only slightly worse than 2010, considering they added Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, not exactly what they bargained for.
4) Managerial debut surprises
So you’ve got a World Series winning manager that left you, talent is widely accepted as lower than last year, you hire one of your more popular players in his first major league duty. And you contend for the playoffs. The White Sox and Cardinals made some curious moves, hiring franchise favorites Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny respectively. Both lost sentimental and clubhouse cog (and key to championship) favorites in Mark Buehrle and Albert Pujols. Throw in some disappointing injuries to John Danks and Lance Berkman and surely you’re looking at a rebuilding season. Not quite!
5) The Philadelphia Phillies
The team seemed stacked. A starting rotation envied by every major league franchise (Hamels, Lee, Halladay), a bullpen that added Jonathan Papelbon, hitting that was going to (eventually) feature Howard, Utley, Rollins, Victorino, and Pence in the middle of the lineup, the East was a slam dunk. But oh, those injuries, and inconsistent pitching (Halladay 4.40 ERA, Lee with 6 wins, that ties Vance Worley and is only one more than Jonathan Papelbon). Suddenly the team is aging, they’ve traded many of their prospects, and Howard/Utley may never be their old selves.