A week into the baseball season, and we’ve seen some interesting things; Cody Bellinger has six home runs, the Yankees are on pace for 54 wins, and Bryce Harper is on pace for 227 walks. But while some of those are unlikely to keep pace, we’ve put together a list of things that may make some noise this year. Here’s our list of “5 Biggest Surprises for the 2019 Baseball Season”.
Only six teams in the American League had a worse record than the Twins in 2018. Finishing at 78-84, the Twins were a distant 13 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. While things may look bleak in Minnesota at first glance, the team earned a wild card berth with an 85-win season in 2017. While last season was a disappointment, the additions of Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez and potential rebound of Michael Pineda from Tommy John surgery could be enough to push the Indians for the top spot in the division.
Cleveland hasn’t done anything noteworthy in the offseason to improve their team, and no other team in the division has improved much, if at all. Another benefit for the Twins is they are playing in the worst division in the Major Leagues, looking at last season’s results.
The biggest keys to a possible overtaking of the Indians will be the play of Eddie Rosario, who will need to match or pass last year’s total of 24 home runs and 77 RBI. Watch for the blossoming of Byron Buxton, who currently leads the Twins in the early going with three doubles. The starting rotation lead by Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and a return of Pineda could make up for an offense generally lacking in power, with the exception of Cruz and Rosario. Very early on, the Twins are getting stellar pitching and timely hitting. If this trend continues, the Twins will not only earn a wild-card berth but could surprise the entire AL by taking the Central Division.
New York Mets
Most people around baseball see the NL East as a three-team race between the Phillies, Braves, and Nationals. However, the Mets have made enough improvements to have a possible four-team race for the divisional title. Veteran Robinson Cano was added to the mix that already includes Michael Conforto, who is on the verge of a 30 home season after belting 28 last season. Cano hit only ten home runs last season but was limited to 80 games. He still has 25 home run potential at the age of 36. Also watch for 23-year old shortstop Amed Rosario, whose .256 season average might not jump out, but he hit over .300 with a .779 OPS over the last two months of the season. He can add a consistent bat with much-needed speed to the lineup.
The offensive additions are great, but the Mets will go as far as their excellent starting rotation will take them. Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom is off to a 2-0 start, hasn’t allowed a run in 13 innings, while striking out 24. Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard combined to go 25-11 with an ERA in the low 3’s. If the back end of the starting rotation can produce, the Mets have enough to push for a wild-card berth in a season when most people have them as a divisional afterthought.
The Orioles had the worst record in Major League Baseball last season with just 47 wins. It was so bad that they finished 26 games behind fourth-place Toronto and a staggering 61 games behind the Red Sox. Few pick the Orioles to finish out of the basement in the division. The Orioles lost five-time All-Star Adam Jones to the Diamondbacks. Although at age 33, Jones is four seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance, he was still one of the top offensive players last season. Trey Mancini is off to a hot start with the bat, hitting .357 with three home runs and eight RBI over the first seven games. Jonathan Villar is hitting .333 with two home runs, while Alex Cobb and Nate Karns are off to solid starts on the mound.
Looking down the roster and there isn’t a household name in the bunch. That may be a good thing for the underdog Orioles. They will be expected to lose most games, will play more freely and try to prove they are a legitimate Major League team.
Off to a 4-3 start this season, the Orioles are playing decent ball. Will they surprise to the point of fighting for a playoff berth? That would be something out of “The Twilight Zone.” However, an improvement to the point of avoiding a 100-loss season is attainable. That would be a 16 or more game improvement over last season. That alone would shock the baseball world and qualify as one of the biggest surprises for the 2019 season. If you’re into sports betting, the Orioles odds to win the World Series last week was at +200000. Anyone?
Nick Pivetta, Phillies starting pitcher
For the past few seasons, those around Philadelphia talk about the potential of Nick Pivetta, raving about his stuff. However, this hasn’t translated consistently on the mound. In 2017, a 24-year old Pivetta demonstrated the ability to blow the ball past hitters, striking out 140 in 133 innings. However, his ERA was a lofty 6.02 due to the propensity for giving up the long ball, 25 in total. Last season, Pivetta was still hurt by the home run ball. However, he allowed one less in 31 more innings. His strikeout rate increase to 188 in 164 innings, his ERA dropped to 4.77 and allowed just under a hit per inning. In fact, Pivetta’s strikeouts per nine innings were 13th in the league among starters, ahead of notable pitchers such as Aaron Nola, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Cole Hamels, David Price, and Zack Godley.
Pivetta was hit around in his first outing of 2019. However, the Phillies offense has improved tremendously with the additions of Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen. They are averaging nearly eight runs per game. While that torrid pace won’t continue, the Phillies will have one of the top offenses in the league, keeping Pivetta in games longer and likely earning him more wins this season. Don’t be surprised to see a breakthrough season of 14 wins and 200 or more strikeouts for Pivetta this season.
Franmil Reyes, San Diego Padres outfielder
While Nick Pivetta could be the breakthrough starting pitcher this season, Franmil Reyes could be the bust out offensive player. Last season, Reyes struggled at times early in the season and was sent to the minor leagues. Returning on a mission, Reyes hit nearly .320 with an OPS over .900 over the last couple months, hammering ten home runs. He finished with 16 home runs and a .280 batting average in only 261 at-bats.
While strikeouts will happen with power hitters, particularly young power hitters, Reyes improved significantly in that category as last season progressed. He cut his strikeout percentage in half during the latter part of the season. Putting the bat on the ball more frequently and playing a full season could propel Reyes into the 30 plus home run territory and an All-Star berth in second Major League season.