BALTIMORE, MD: Wilson Betemit #24 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates with manager Buck Showalter after hitting the game-winning home run in the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore won the game 5-2. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Contrary to popular opinion, everything doesn't "even out" over the course of a whole baseball season (what they used to call the "championship season"). Some players are luckier than others. Some teams are luckier than others. And like it or not, luck does play a significant role in who wins and who doesn't.
Still, almost every spring I'm surprised by how quickly the standings fall in line, generally speaking, with our pre-season expectations. Even though wildly improbable things are happening to dozens and dozens of individual players, those players' teams, most of them anyway, aren't doing many improbable things at all.
Just looking at the standings with one month in the books, how many surprises do you see? I mean, big surprises and including the wins and losses.
Sure, the Red Sox are in last place. But what does that mean, really? They're 11-11 and they've got a (slightly) positive run differential. In fact, every team in the American League East has a positive run differential. Leaving aside the East, only two more teams in the entire league -- the Indians and the Rangers -- have scored more runs than they've allowed.
I digress. The Orioles are in second place and they've outscored their opponents by 12 runs. Which qualifies as a real surprise, considering they were outscored by 152 runs last season and didn't make any big moves over the winter. But they have four guys hitting like MVP candidates and their bullpen's been fantastic and that's been enough. It's not going to last, but they're probably not going to lose 90 games again this year.
The Angles, you know about. Four of their hitters and two of their starting pitchers have been terrible, and three of their key relievers have gotten blasted. There are good reasons to think the Angels will find themselves, and Baseball Prospectus's Playoff Odds Report still gives the Halos a 63-percent chance of qualifying for the championship tournament (what they used to call "the playoffs"). I suppose that's possible. Especially if Albert Pujols someday gets a four-base hit (what they used call "a home run").
And that's it for big surprises. Are the first-place Washington Nationals a big surprise? Not really. They were everybody's favorite dark-horse team in the National League. Their 14-8 record is surprising, but their +15 run differential isn't anything special. It's mildly surprising to see the Phillies in fourth place, but they've been outscored by only two runs, which really doesn't seem so bad when you notice they've been without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard all season. The Phillies seemed vulnerable entering the season, and they have been.
The only thing remotely surprising in the National League Central is that the Astros aren't in last place ... but they're just one game ahead of the last-place Cubs. The Astros do have the fifth-best run differential (+4) in the whole league, which is mildly surprising and presumably won't last.
In the West ... Well, the Dodgers are the exact mirror of the Angels. The Angels are in last place, because their biggest star has been unbelievably lousy; the Dodgers are in first place, because their biggest star has been unbelievably unbelievable. But the Dodgers were another dark horse entering the season; it's not surprising that they're in first place, though it's surprising that they're 16-7. Ah, but run differential: the Dodgers' is +12, which suggests they really aren't far from the .500 team the numbers suggested a month ago.
So, there you have it. Almost every team is doing what we figured they would do.
And again, it's not just this season. Look at the tables exactly one year ago ... There was literally one real surprise: the 19-8 Cleveland Indians. Or perhaps two, if you want to count the 12-15 (and outscored) Boston Red Sox, then (as now) sitting in last place after entering the campaign with high hopes.
The good news is that while we don't have many surprises yet, there will be surprises. Well, probably. Looking at those year-ago standings, the only team that eventually came out of nowhere was the Diamondbacks. But try as I might, I just can't see this year's version. Maybe if some struggling club trades for Willie Bloomquist ...
Which of these surprising teams is most likely to be "real"?
Angels (62 votes)
Dodgers (196 votes)
Nationals (414 votes)
Orioles (86 votes)
758 total votes