MLB: The 5 Biggest Surprises of the 2015 Season

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Never bet on Major League Baseball. Pete Rose learned one reason why it shouldn’t be done, but even the most knowledgeable fans and writers are wrong about the sport on a daily basis. That leaves professionals looking bad when their on-air and published predictions flame out before the season is half over. For those who decide to wager on Vegas futures, it’s almost like a charitable donation.

Then there are those who hold their tongues and have no shame in watching a beautiful MLB season unfold in all its unpredictable glory. There is always a contender that ends up in last place and, as if the universe required it, a dark horse charging from the depths of obscurity into the limelight.

Here are five of the biggest surprises that unfolded on the field over the first month of the 2015 season.

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1. The fate of the Washington Nationals

Unforced errors in the field and on the bases. A young ace who struggled before hitting the disabled list. Impossibly poor situational hitting. A bullpen unable to stop the bleeding. You name something ugly and the Nationals have done it in the first month of the 2015 season. Even after winning seven of 10 games, Washington remained under .500 (14-15) on May 7.

Club officials do not appear concerned about the Stephen Strasburg injury in the early going, but they should be concerned about the general sloppy play in the field (especially by Ian Desmond) and five blown saves in the young season. When you have Jayson Werth (.176 BA, .450 OPS) and Dan Uggla (.192 BA, .629 OPS) as key veterans in the lineup, you may have a problem. Bryce Harper, for his part, appears headed in the right direction after mashing three home runs on May 6.

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2. The emergence of Houston

Who had the Astros blowing out the AL West while the Mariners and Angels stumbled out of the gate? We can’t locate anyone who was willing to say such a thing as the 2015 season launched. We knew they had the batting champ in Jose Altuve and one nasty starter in Dallas Keuchel, but the contributions from Collin McHugh (4-0, 3.41 ERA), Luis Valbuena (7 HR), and Evan Gattis (6 HR, 18 RBI) have exceeded expectations through 28 games.

Even after a three-game losing streak, the young ‘Stros held a five-game advantage on the Angels and a seven-game cushion over last-place Seattle. We are not predicting anything for Houston, but instead plan to enjoy the ride of a great Cinderella team for as long as it lasts.

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3. How bad Boston’s pitching actually is

Despite the way Red Sox management and the Boston media sold the revamped pitching staff, we had our suspicions about how this group would perform in 2015. Yet things are worse than anyone thought possible. Through 28 games, the staff ranked 29th in Major League Baseball with a 4.86 ERA, while starters checked in with an even more frightening 5.54 ERA (also 29th) for the last-place Red Sox.

The suspicions that Wade Miley (7.15 ERA), Justin Masterson (5.18 ERA), and Joe Kelly (5.72 ERA) were not ready for prime time in the AL East are being validated in nearly every start. Meanwhile, Clay Buchholz is 1-4 with a 6.03 ERA and 40 hits allowed in 31.1 IP. Yes, it is that bad, and heads are already rolling in Boston. Pitching coach Juan Nieves was fired on May 7. We didn’t see that coming before June.

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4. Swagger returns to Citi

For three or four days, the New York Mets were the darlings of the baseball world. They steamed into Yankee Stadium with the game’s best record and had scribes everywhere proclaiming them kings of New York. Well, that series in the Bronx didn’t go the Mets’ way, and there have been struggles since (e.g., losing three of four to the Nats), but the sultans of Citi continue to reign in first place with a four-game advantage on May 7.

Everyone liked the pitching staff’s chances, but Jeurys Familia has surprised in the closer’s role while the offense overachieved through the first three weeks of the season, if against underwhelming competition. The Mets came down to earth after a few 1-0 losses to Washington, but a sweep of Baltimore reminded us how fun it is seeing the other half of New York baseball in the spotlight.

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5. The Yankees revival

You probably saw a few “Top 10 Baseball Corpses” lists ahead of the 2015 season, ones that had Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, and C.C. Sabathia rounding out the picks. Not so fast, say the Yankees and their aging veterans. Despite seeing their ace go down after a few starts, the Yankees put up an impressive string of series wins, including takedowns of Detroit and the Mets, along with sweeps on the road in Tampa and Boston.

Sabathia has struggled, but Michael Pineda has been every bit the ace for New York while Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Warren have stabilized the back end of the rotation. Ellsbury and Gardner are setting the table. Teixeira and the much-maligned A-Rod are mashing like it’s 2009. In the back end of the bullpen, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances have been the most dominant one-two punch late in the game.

Add it up and you have the Yankees — picked to come in last place by nearly every writer and talking head — looking strong in first place after one month of play. Is this the reason people are so passionate about hating them?

All stats are courtesy of Baseball Reference.