Warning: this season, expect the unexpected

Hot Corner
Paul Reynolds

Giants vs. Rangers probably made for a few Xbox championships last year, but few saw it coming as a World Series matchup. Those teams weren’t the only Cinderella acts: Cincinnati has been a downtrodden franchise since winning the World Series in 1990, but they won the NL Central, only to get swept out of the postseason by the Phillies. San Diego rampaged through most of the season thanks to their starting rotation, only to come unglued over the last two months when the pitching leveled off and exposed their lack of hitting.

Here are three teams that may surprise us this season:

Los Angeles Dodgers
Any team with a pitching staff led by Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley should be looking at 90 wins, but instead the Dodgers finished below .500 last season. Matt Kemp fell victim to can’t-be-bothered-itis, which hampered him both in the field and at the plate; Andre Ethier, who looked like an MVP candidate for the first month, missed over 30 games due to injury and wasn’t the same afterwards. Manny Ramirez was a dead weight and James Loney still hasn’t managed that breakout season everyone’s been waiting for.

This year, with their young nucleus becoming merely young…ish…salaries are going up and the Dodgers may not be able to afford it because the McCourt’s are still arguing over who owns the organisation (blame MLB – the McCourts never had the money to run the franchise in the first place and shouldn’t have been allowed to buy the club).

This year, however, the Dodgers have a legitimate shot. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley can both be unhittable when they’re on, and both are developing the consistency born of maturity at the top of the rotation. Not having Manny around should help, as should a bunch of hitters who hopefully realise they’re in a small window of opportunity to succeed.

New York Yankees
I’m picking the Yankees as a surprise this year because I think there’s a chance they miss the playoffs. Not because they’ve overpaid Derek Jeter by about 300%, or because they got frightened into throwing a fat contract at a declining and now permanently DH-ing Jorge Posada two years ago, but because their rotation. Or what passes for a rotation – really it’s CC Sabathia and a roulette wheel. AJ Burnett frequently looks like he should win a Cy Young, but tends to forget where the strike zone is just often enough to be league-average over the course of a season. And of course neutrals everywhere sniggered when free agent Cliff Lee shunned the Yankees and took less money – though still enough to buy his own franchise – from the Phillies.

Milwaukee Brewers
When was the last time a Scott Boras client underperformed in a contract year? Prince Fielder will be hoping for a contract in excess of $150m this offseason and it won’t be offered by the Brewers, so he’s as motivated a man as you’ll find.

His impending departure will either prove a crippling distraction or drive his teammates to make the most of their chance while he’s on the team. Newly-acquired Mark Kotsay and Nyjer Morgan add experience and speed to an already well-balanced and deep lineup, while new ace Zach Greinke, once he returns from his basketball injury and if he’s got his head straight, will form a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation with Yovani Gallardo.

Not everything will be a surprise though, because some timeless and some recent truths will continue to keep the universe in balance, such as:

  • The Pirates will be horrible, mathematically eliminated by the end of August and desperately trying to trade away any players who make more than the league minimum and can still hold a bat.
  • The Rays and Marlins will continue to demonstrate what well-run franchises they are, and how much Floridians prefer football, as attendances continue to bounce along many fathoms below what their teams deserve. The Marlins of course are hoping next year’s new stadium will make all the difference.
  • Baltimore will return to propping up the AL East as haplessly as they have since the 90’s. They don’t have the talent to do anything else, and manager Buck Showalter has a history of getting players to buck up their ideas for a short time before they get sick of the shouting.
  • Surprises, however, are surprising, so I eagerly await the stories of the season that nobody can yet see coming—just don’t expect the Pirates to be one of them. Death. Taxes. The Pirates losing

    That’s just how it is.