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5 Biggest April MLB Surprises

by Rob Joyce

May 01, 2018 - 1:56 pm
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More than a month into the Major League season, we’re past the point where results are more than a fluke sample size. With every team having played between 26 and 30 games, what the final three-quarters of the regular season looks like is starting to take form. There are some spring training predictions that have looked good: the Indians, Astros, Yankees and Red Sox hold the top four spots in the American League, while the Cubs are in first in the NL Central. However, there have been plenty of head-turning starts as well.

With May beginning, here are the five biggest surprises in baseball thus far:

1) The entire NL East:

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A World Series participant in 2015, everything that could go wrong for the Mets seemingly has since that loss to the Royals, including a 70-92 finish last year. Now under first-year manager Mickey Callaway, it’s been a rip-roaring start in Queens. At 17-9 heading into Tuesday, New York is fourth in the National League in runs per game, have two bonafide studs in Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard and a top-end closer in Jeurys Familia.

Meanwhile, the young, plucky Braves and Phillies are both over .500 and within two games of the Mets, with hopes that both of their rebuild phases are finally starting to see results. Atlanta just called up the number two prospect in baseball, Ronald Acuna, who is hitting .421 with five extra base hits in a week. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has a combination of veteran free agents (Carlos Santana, Jake Arrieta) and young talent (Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery) that is turning the corner after a rocky start under Gabe Kapler.

Not mentioned? A popular World Series favorite in the Nationals, who sit 13-16, 5.5 games out of first in Bryce Harper’s walk year.

2) Los Angeles Dodgers:

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The Diamondbacks look like the best team in the NL, if not all of baseball, after bursting onto the scene last year. That could spell doom for the Dodgers’ run of five straight NL West titles. Heading into Tuesday, Los Angeles sits at 12-16, already eight games out of first and ailing. Two-time All-Star shortstop Corey Seager is done for the year as he needs Tommy John surgery, third baseman Justin Turner hasn’t played this year with a wrist injury, and Yasiel Puig, Rich Hill and Logan Forsythe are all on the disabled list.

Of the healthy players, they’ve only won two out of Clayton Kershaw’s six starts (though his earned run average is 2.84) and closer Kenley Jansen – lights out last year – has allowed six runs in less than 10 innings of work.

3) Didi Gregorius:

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Last year was a breakthrough for the Yankees’ shortstop, hitting .287 with 25 home runs. Even that All-Star caliber season could have predicted the force the 28-year-old has become. It’s not Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez or Giancarlo Stanton carrying the Yankees in April – it’s been Didi. A career .269 hitter, Gregorius is hitting .327 and leads the American League in homers (10), runs batted in (30) and slugging (.735). Fresh off a nine-game win streak, just imagine how scary the New York offense will be once Sanchez (.202) and Stanton (.230, five home runs) hit their stride.

4) Shohei Ohtani:

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The historic start has cooled some, but Ohtani is still doing things we haven’t seen in a century. The 23-year-old is hitting in about half of the Angels games with major production: a .341 average with a 1.065 OPS and four home runs. While he’s started four games on the mound, dazzling in two starts against Oakland before coming back down to earth against Boston and Houston. Many thought Ohtani would flame out or have to settle into being a hitter or pitcher. He’s proving doing both can work.

5) Sean Manaea:

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He may not get the headlines of other pitchers, mostly because he plays in Oakland, but Manaea was baseball’s best pitcher in April. Going 12-10 with a 4.37 ERA last year, Manaea has found his groove so far in 2018. Through six starts he leads the league with a 1.03 ERA, allowed two runs in a start just once, and hasn’t allowed any in his last 18.2 innings. The headline-grabber came on April 21, when he snapped Boston’s eight-game win streak by no-hitting what was the best offense in baseball at the time.