10 Biggest Surprises After MLB Opening Week

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2014

10 Biggest Surprises After MLB Opening Week

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    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    Every MLB season is full of surprises, from breakout performances by relative unknowns to resurgent seasons from players whose best days were thought to be behind them. We see entire teams exceed expectations—or fall flat on their collective faces as they fall to reach even the most modest of goals.

    One week into the 2014 MLB regular season, it's fair to say that we are headed down the same path once again.

    With no shortage of eye-opening moments and results, let's take a look at the biggest surprises around baseball at the conclusion of Opening Week.

    *All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted/linked.

The Ongoing Power Outage in the Bronx

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Few teams are as synonymous with power—home run power—as the New York Yankees.

    From Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson and yes, even the disgraced Alex Rodriguez, the Bronx Bombers have earned their nickname over the course of time by delivering majestic shots into stands all across the country.

    While this year's edition of the Yankees doesn't feature a legendary slugger, they certainly aren't hurting for players that can go deep:

    PlayerCareer HR20+ HR Seasons
    Carlos Beltran35811
    Derek Jeter2563
    Alfonso Soriano40612
    Brian McCann1767
    Mark Teixeira34110

    Which makes the fact that it took 184 at-bats for the Yankees to hit their first home run of the 2014 season—the third-longest drought to start a season in franchise history, as noted by Toronto Blue Jays statistician Scott Carson—incredibly surprising.

    But the bigger surprise is who put an end to the drought—Brett Gardner, owner of 23 career home runs heading into the season, who finally went yard for the Bombers against the Blue Jays this past Sunday.

    Now sure, the Yankees have yet to step foot in the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium, but this isn't a team that only hits home runs at home. In 2013, with a patchwork lineup, the team hit 75 home runs at home and 69 on the road. In 2012, when they were relatively healthy, they hit 138 at home, 107 on the road.

    Whether the power outage in the Bronx is a sign of things to come or an opening-week aberration remains to be seen.

Casey McGehee and the Miami Hit Machine

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    Lynne Sladky

    On Opening Day, I ranked Miami's lineup as the worst in baseball, writing this about Casey McGehee and the other veteran bats that the team had added over the winter:

    Adding Jarrod Saltalamacchia will help, but none of the other veteran additions that the team made over the winter—Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee—can be counted on to be legitimate difference-makers. If that trio puts up league-average numbers this year, it will be a surprise.

    Well, consider me thoroughly surprised.

    Not only have the Marlins scored more runs than any other team through the season's opening week, but two of the four MLB players with double-digit RBI totals so far—Giancarlo Stanton (12) and McGehee (10)—are Marlins.

    McGehee put up solid numbers in 2013 as a member of the Rakuten Golden Eagles, hitting .292 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI.

    But playing in Japan and playing in the major leagues are two very different things, and the 31-year-old hadn't been a difference-maker since 2010, when he hit .285 with 23 home runs and 104 RBI with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    Can McGehee and his new teammates, sitting atop the NL East at 5-2, keep it up for the entire season?

    It's doubtful, but it's going to be a lot of fun watching to see if they can.

Emilio Bonifacio's Record-Setting Start

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Signed by the Chicago Cubs after being released by the Kansas City Royals in February, nobody expected much of anything from 28-year-old Emilio Bonifacio in 2014.

    A career journeyman, having worn six different uniforms over his eight-year career, the super-utility player owned a lifetime slash line of .262/.322/.340. Providing the Cubs with some versatility and speed, along with a timely hit or two, was about as high as those expectations went.

    So to say that Bonifacio's start to the 2014 season was a surprise—which saw him set the modern record with nine hits in his first two games—would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Milwaukee's Pitching Staff

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    When it comes to name recognition, Milwaukee's top three starters, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse, have plenty of it.

    But after the trio had varying degrees of success during the spring—Gallardo was solid, Lohse was shaky and Garza just awful—questions lingered about whether the Brewers could count on the trio to keep the team in games once the regular season began.

    After MLB's opening week, the answer to that question has been a resounding yes.

    Gallardo has thrown 12.2 innings of scoreless baseball, while Garza allowed only one run and two hits over eight innings of work in his first start of the season. Lohse, unfortunately, has pitched to the highest ERA on the team—a more than respectable 3.86, surrendering three runs over seven innings of work.

    But it's not just that trio that finds the Brewers—yes, the Brewers—sitting with baseball's lowest ERA (1.45), second-lowest WHIP (0.93) and third-lowest opponent's batting average (.191).

    The team's bullpen has been stellar, with four of the six relievers that the Brewers have used yet to allow a run, while the rest of the team's starting rotation—Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta—have pitched to a combined 2.53 ERA and 1.31 WHIP.

    If Milwaukee's pitching staff can continue to perform at such a high level, the race for the NL Central—already crowded with Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis expected to be in the mix—could become that much more crowded. 

A Lack of Offense in St. Louis

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Even after losing Carlos Beltran as a free agent, those that believed the St. Louis Cardinals offense would take a major step backwards were few and far between.

    After watching the Cardinals score only 17 runs and hit a woeful .186 over their first six games of the season, it appears as if the few may have been on to something. Keep in mind, this is the team that led the National League with 783 runs scored in 2013—nearly 80 more than second-place Colorado (706).

    Only two of the Cardinals' regular starters—Matt Adams (.318 BA/.830 OPS) and Matt Carpenter (.286/.852)—have been productive, while Yadier Molina (.217/.728) is the only other starter with an OPS above .611.

    St. Louis is simply too talented for this slump to last much longer, but that doesn't make it any less surprising.

Stellar Pitching in Seattle

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    Jae C. Hong

    With Hisashi Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker on the disabled list to begin the regular season, there were major questions surrounding Seattle's starting rotation, which featured perennial Cy Young Award contender Felix Hernandez and little else.

    What we've found out is that the Mariners have plenty of pitching—both in the rotation and the bullpen—to weather the storm while their injured arms recuperate.

    James Paxton, another highly regarded prospect, Hernandez and Roenis Elias, a largely unknown commodity, have all pitched to sub-2.00 ERAs, the main reason why the Mariners rotation ranks eighth in baseball (fourth in the American League) with a 2.65 ERA.

    Veteran closer Fernando Rodney has led a resurgent Mariners bullpen to an equally-impressive 2.55 ERA, though that number is misleading—they've been much better than that, with the three earned runs that Hector Noesi allowed skewing the numbers.

    Noesi is no longer with the club, while Rodney is one of six Mariners relievers that held the opposition without a run over the season's first week.

    While the Mariners offense has been impressive, it's the team's pitching that has been the driving force behind their 4-2 start.

Never Nervous Yangervis

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    A non-roster invitee to spring training, 26-year-old Yangervis Solarte's ability to play multiple positions in the field, along with an excellent spring at the plate (.429, 2 HR, 9 RBI) landed him on the New York Yankees' Opening Day roster.

    Heading into the second week of the season, it's Solarte, and not one of the team's big-name players, who has been New York's best position player. That wasn't lost on manager Joe Girardi after the team's game against Toronto last Friday, as he explained to ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews:

    He's stepped in and done a really good job. We saw it in spring training, but you never know what’s going to happen when the second and third deck get out there and the bright lights turn on and you’re in a big league game. But he has picked up right where he ended in spring training.

    Solarte leads the team in nearly every offensive category, including hits (eight), doubles (four) and RBI (five) to go along with a team-best .471/.526/.706 slash line.

    More importantly, he's given Girardi the ability to move Kelly Johnson, expected to get the bulk of the playing time at the hot corner, across the field to replace the injured Mark Teixeira at first base.

Chris Colabello: RBI Machine

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    It wasn't until last year that a 29-year-old American by the name of Chris Colabello popped up on our radars in the World Baseball Classic as Team Italy's first baseman, where he hit .368 with two home runs and seven RBI.

    He'd spend 55 less-than-memorable games with Minnesota in 2013, hitting a woeful .194 with seven home runs and 17 RBI, and it looked as if his MLB dream may be over. But Colabello put together a solid spring (.349, 1 HR, 8 RBI), showed the ability to play some right field as well as back up Joe Mauer at first base and broke camp with the Twins.

    Heading into the season's second week, Colabello leads the American League with 11 RBI, two behind Arizona's Mark Trumbo for the MLB lead. 

    Not bad for a guy who spent the first nine years of his professional career playing independent ball in the Canadian-American Association.

Adrian Beltre's Issues in the Field

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    A four-time Gold Glove winner and widely considered one of the premier defensive third basemen in baseball, it's rare to see Adrian Beltre make a mistake in the field when a ball comes his way.

    Among third basemen who have logged at least 4,500 innings in the field since 2010, only one—San Diego's Chase Headley, with 45 errors, has committed fewer gaffes at the position than Beltre's 55. For those into advanced defensive metrics, Beltre leads all third basemen in both UZR/150 (9.5) and DRS (40) under those same parameters.

    So it's surprising to look at the defensive leaderboards after the first week of the regular season and see Beltre, with three errors (two fielding, one throwing), sitting with the second-worst fielding percentage (.813) of any qualified third baseman this season, ahead of only Kansas City's Mike Moustakas.

Minnesota's Not-so-Improved Starting Rotation

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    After watching his starting rotation rank at or near the bottom of baseball in nearly every major pitching category a year ago, Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan aggressively pursued free-agent upgrades over the winter, signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to bolster a rotation that was simply one of baseball's worst.

    Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    One week into the regular season, Minnesota's starting rotation once again ranks at or near the bottom of the game in nearly every major pitching category:

    CategoryTwins 2014 StatsMLB Rank

    Nolasco, miscast as the team's ace, has been awful, allowing 10 earned runs and 17 hits over 10 innings of work, walking more batters (six) than he's struck out (five). Hughes hasn't been quite as ineffective, allowing four earned runs and seven hits over five innings in his first start, but the Twins expected more.

    Yet the Twins remain confident in the newcomers and their rotation as a whole, as assistant GM Rob Antony explained to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press before the team's 10-7 victory over Cleveland this past Sunday:

    I don't think it matters if you're a veteran or a rookie. I think everybody their first start is a little bit nervous. They all had their moments, but I'm still very confident in our rotation. I think it's much improved and I think it will play out that way.

    If Minnesota hopes to end a three-year streak of finishing the season at least 30 games below .500, members of the starting rotation are going to have to elevate their games sooner rather than later.