We already discussed the three biggest disappointments in baseball last week. Now it’s time to discuss the biggest surprises.
Three teams, in particular, have stood out among all that have exceeded expectations so far during the 2023 MLB season.
Here are those three teams…
This isn’t to say the Diamondbacks were expected to be awful. Still, as a team playing in a division with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres (heck, even the San Francisco Giants), no one saw the D-Backs LEADING the National League West on July 4th.
Arizona has been led by NL Rookie of the Year favorite and NL MVP candidate Corbin Carroll who was recently named an NL All-Star Starter in the outfield. Carroll is hitting .289, with 17 homers, 44 RBI, 24 stolen bases, and a 150 OPS+. OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and SP Zac Gallen join Carroll as NL All-Stars who have propelled the D-Backs to a fascinating first half so far. Offensively in the NL, they rank fourth in team wRC+, second in average, second in on-base percentage, third in slugging, and fourth in WAR.
On the mound, their starters have the fifth-best WAR in the NL, while their bullpen ranks seventh in WAR and fifth in ERA. They currently lead the NL West over Los Angeles by two games and should be a lock for October.
The Orioles are no longer the punching bag of the American League East. Honestly, they haven’t been for quite a while now, as they hadn’t been an easy opponent in recent years when comparing them to the likes of some late 2010s Orioles teams. With that being said, Baltimore having the third-best winning percentage in baseball on May 4th is very surprising.
What has stood out thus far is the two big AL All-Star arms coming out of the bullpen in, Felix Bautista and Yennier Cano. Those two have led Baltimore’s bullpen to the highest WAR in baseball at 4.4. They have the second-highest K/9 in the AL, only trailing Houston, and the second-lowest HR/9 in the AL (only the Yankees are better). Their offense is paced by AL All-Stars Adley Rutschman (C) and Austin Hays (OF), who are both first-timers. They have helped Baltimore earn the sixth-highest wRC+ in the AL and rank sixth in offensive WAR, average, on-base percentage, and slugging.
What’s most impressive for Baltimore is how long they’ve been able to stay ahead of New York and Toronto in the standings, currently ranking second in the AL East only behind Tampa Bay.
The first-place Cincinnati Reds. Who knew? Albeit only by a game at the time this article is published, the Reds are shockingly leading the National League Central over the Milwaukee Brewers (and last-place St. Louis Cardinals).
Recently, all the attention has gone to rookie phenom Elly De La Cruz and the electrifying start to his career in the bigs (and rightfully so). Besides that, though, it’s been very impressive how the Reds have managed to stay atop the NL Central for so long. Their only NL All-Star is relief pitcher Alexis Diaz, who has already recorded 24 saves for Cincinnati. He has a 226 ERA+, 2.40 FIP, 1.026 WHIP, 2.13 ERA, and 2.3 WAR. He has led Cincinnati’s bullpen to the fifth-highest WAR among NL teams and the sixth-lowest ERA. Their offense hasn’t been the greatest, but they rank seventh in the NL in average, second in on-base percentage, and sixth in slugging.
While this might be a product of the division they play in, Cincinnati being first in the NL Central a little over halfway through the season is noteworthy, as they were expected to be a bottom-two team in the division.
Photo: Jeff Dean/AP