There are plenty of reasons that baseball is considered to be America’s pastime. For starters, you have players like Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees who captivate audiences with every at-bat. There is the enjoyment of sitting in a ballpark, enjoying the smell of the grass and hearing the sound of the glove while enjoying a hot dog. But there is another reason that is on full display this MLB season.
Every season, there is always at least one team that surprises everyone. A team that is expected to finish near the bottom of their respective division finds their way into the playoff race, becoming contenders by the trade deadline. And this season, it is not just one team. It is at least five.
The Minnesota Twins, the Houston Astros, the New York Yankees, the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies are all playing well above their preseason expectations. Of those five teams, four of them entered Wednesday as division leaders, with the fifth team (Colorado) in a virtual three-way tie for the division lead.
As a result, this 2017 MLB season simply has an excitement about it. At this given time, it feels like it is anyone’s ballgame. A team like the Chicago Cubs or the Washington Nationals are not dominating the league. There simply is no clear-cut favorite to win this World Series at the moment in this baseball junkies’ eyes.
That simply is not the case in other major sports. The NBA was a virtual lock to see Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the powerhouse Golden State Warriors in the Finals. The New England Patriots seem to be in the thick of things every season in the NFL. The same is true most years for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL as well.
But not in baseball. Last season, the Cleveland Indians emerged as a powerhouse, as they went all the way to the World Series. In 2015, teams like the Yankees and Twins outplayed expectations, as both fought for playoff spots for a good portion of the season. This season, there are plenty of those teams, as mentioned above.
Before the season started, who would have predicted the playoffs would feature any of the following teams: Yankees, Twins, Astros, Rays, Brewers, Diamondbacks or Rockies? Maybe some would have said Houston. But not too many. Now, how many would have guessed those seven teams would ALL be in the ten team playoff field. Absolutely no one.
The Yanks were expected to use this season as a year to build some of their younger players, followed by a playoff push in the years to come. People doubter their pitching staff, as Masahiro Tanaka was seen as the only big name, and he had his fair share of injury questions. But instead, their bats have exploded. Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro and Gary Sanchez are just a few names mashing the ball. Meanwhile, Luis Severino is pitching like people expected a season ago when he flopped. Entering Wednesday, they sat atop the AL East with a 38-24 record, giving them a three game edge over Boston.
The Twins entered last season with some potential playoff hopes, following an 83-win season in 2015. Instead, they finished 2016 with a 59-103 record, which was hands down the worst record in MLB. So needless to say, the expectations were pretty low entering 2017. But if you checked the standings to start the day Wednesday, there they are at 33-28, leading the AL Central by two games.
Out in the AL West, the Astros are just killing it. They have the best offense in baseball right now. Hands down. They also hold the best record in baseball. Yeah, that’s right. The Houston Astros are 44-22, hold an 11 game lead in the division, and are simply making everyone else look bad.
You may not realize it, but the Tampa Bay Rays currently hold one of the two AL Wild Card slots. They find themselves above the Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, and Toronto Blue Jays. Their 35-33 record may not be flashy, but they have homered their way into playoff contention, as they are second in the league in homers (behind only the Yankees).
Many conceded the NL Central to the Chicago Cubs before the season started, myself included. The Cubs were stacked with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and many more. Meanwhile, the Brewers were rolling out a pitching rotation that featured names such as Junior Guerra, Matt Garza, and Jimmy Nelson. Yet here we are in Mid-June and the Brewers hold a 34-32 record (before Wednesday’s games), putting them a game and a half over the Cubbies.
Out in the NL West, there are three teams that are in the top four in the league. Before the season, many would have had the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants as locks to be two of those two teams. However, the Giants are not in the mix. That means two of those spots belong to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
After a 2-1 win over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, the DBacks improved to 41-26. But with such a competitive division at the moment, the hold the second NL Wild Card moment as of right now. This means the likes of the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets are on the outside looking in. Things have been clicking in the desert, and if they continue to play the way they have been, things should remain tight in the West.
But the real winners in the NL are the Rockies. A team that has long been criticized for not having any pitching, has shown they can throw out some guys who are pretty good. Kyle Freeland and Jeff Hoffman have shown some solid stuff to this point in the season. Pair that with the likes of Nolan Arenado, who is simply one of the best in baseball, and the team sits with a 42-26 record, which is good for tops in the NL.
So buckle up baseball fans, this is going to be a fun rest of the season. With so many teams playing above expectations, it feels like anything is possible. This year’s trade deadline will certainly be one of the most exciting in a long time, with so many surprising teams in line to make additions.
Time to sit back and enjoy the wonderful game of baseball. MLB is America’s pastime, and in this writer’s opinion, the best sport on Earth. Teams like the Twins and Astros simply help to show why.