Most of the teams we expected to be at the top or bottom of their divisions are right where we thought they’d be. But every single year, teams — and even individual players — always find a way to surprise us. Sometimes, that involves a team getting off to a great start and taking a division lead, or even fighting for a wild-card berth. Other times, it’s because an annual contender falls flat on its face.
These are the biggest surprise teams of the 2017 MLB season (so far), ranked from least to most shocking.
7. San Francisco Giants
Nobody expected the San Francisco Giants to make it to the All-Star break with only 27 innings pitched from their ace, Madison Bumgarner. But in reality, the problems for the Giants go beyond just one injury. At 34-56, even having Bumgarner won’t turn around this disappointing season.
Closer Mark Melancon, signed as a free agent to solidify San Francisco’s leaky ninth-inning problem, has only made 22 appearances due to a strained pitching elbow. Brandon Crawford has had an uncharacteristically poor season, as has outfielder Hunter Pence. Really, everything that could go wrong for the Giants has happened. Considering that they were expected to contend in the NL West, sitting in last place is a pretty big surprise for this team.
6. Los Angeles Angels
On the surface, the 45-47 Los Angeles Angels look extremely mediocre. That really shouldn’t surprise anyone. But the fact is that the Angels were 74-88 last year, have one of the worst farm systems in the game, and have had few major improvements to their roster. That same roster features aging players like Albert Pujols, Yunel Escobar, and Ricky Nolasco. But they also have Mike Trout, who is legitimately the best player in the game today.
So when Trout hurt his thumb and was destined to miss a big chunk of the season, everyone assumed that the amazingly average Angels would tank. Not so. Los Angeles has gone 19-20 with Trout out of the lineup since May 28 — despite having a starting rotation made out of paper mâché and one of the worst offenses in the game. A pleasant surprise, indeed.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays have made the playoffs for the last two years, advancing to the ALCS both times. Each season they failed to get to the World Series, losing to the eventual champion Kansas City Royals in 2015 and then the Cleveland Indians in 2016. But with much of the same roster, including young starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, fans figured that Toronto would be in the thick of things in the AL East yet again this season.
So far, that hasn’t happened. Injuries have played a major role, as has regression from key players such as Jose Bautista and Russell Martin. The Jays find themselves at 41-47 at the All-Star break, in last place in the division, and 8.5 games behind the first place Boston Red Sox. The odds of Toronto getting back into the ALCS for a third straight season are dwindling.
4. Minnesota Twins
In 2016, the Minnesota Twins finished the regular season 59-103 — the worst team in baseball. With the same manager in Paul Molitor and much of the same team, you can excuse us for thinking that the Twins might have another rough season in 2017. But so far, that just hasn’t been the case. The surprising Twins are 45-43 at the All-Star break, sitting just 2.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central.
A big part of the resurgent Twins are the breakout seasons enjoyed by third baseman Miguel Sano and starting pitcher Jose Berrios. (Neither contributed in a meaningful way in 2016. Sano posted just 0.8 WAR in 116 games while Berrios had an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts.) Development from the younger players, along with an insane first half from pitcher Ervin Santana, pushes one of the best storylines in baseball.
3. Colorado Rockies
If you had said prior to the season that the Colorado Rockies would have just the seventh-highest team OPS in the National League at the All-Star break, we would’ve said they’d be battling for last place in the NL West. But the Rockies have experienced some surprisingly good pitching, led by 24-year-old Kyle Freeland and a host of other 20-somethings.
As of right now, the Rockies sit pretty with a 52-39 record and a 7.5-game lead for the second wild-card spot. But they’re just 5-12 in their last 17 games, leading some to wonder whether Colorado is in for some big-time regression in the second half of the season. Either way, they’ve been a fun surprise in the first half of the season. We’ll watch their second half with great interest.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
Another big surprise in the NL West: the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2015, the D-backs went 79-83 and looked like they were a few solid starting pitchers away from fielding a contending team. They acquired Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, but injuries and ineffectiveness doomed the 2016 team to a 69-93 season. Arizona made a flurry of moves in the offseason, but most looked at a stacked NL West and saw another .500 finish.
While that may still happen, it would take a pretty big collapse in the second half. The Diamondbacks are 53-36, sitting in second place behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in their division. They’re currently looking at a one-game playoff in the NL wild card against the Rockies. The three-headed pitching monster of Greinke, Robbie Ray, and Zack Godley all have ERAs under 3.00.
1. Milwaukee Brewers
Probably the biggest surprise division leader is the Milwaukee Brewers. Picked by most publications to finish third or fourth in the NL Central, the Brewers finished with a hot stretch heading into the All-Star break. They went 9-2 over their last 11 games, pushing their record to 50-41 and holding off the defending champion Chicago Cubs at a distance, 5.5 games back.
The Brewers do it with one of the better offenses in the National League this season, with the surprising Eric Thames at first base, third baseman Travis Shaw absolutely ripping the cover off the ball, and 24-year-old Domingo Santana really coming into his own. Milwaukee will have some competition in the second half from the Cubs. But just being in the playoff chase this season is a fun surprise for the Brewers.