As we draw closer to the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game (July 14 at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium), now’s as good a time as any to break down baseball’s biggest surprises. Who has surprised bettors? Which teams have been shocks in terms of wagering?
San Francisco Giants fans have to be thrilled with the progress of 3B Pablo Sandoval. The fact he’s hitting .338 (second-best in the National League) shouldn’t come as a huge surprise – he did hit .345 in 41 games last season. But in his first season as an everyday starter, the 22-year-old has shown no signs of a sophomore slump. Sandoval catches a lot of people off guard because of his, uh, unique physical makeup. At 5’11 and 245lbs, he’s been affectionately nicknamed the “Kung-Fu Panda” but has been instrumental in keeping the Giants in the chase in the NL West. Sandoval is getting a lot of buzz as a potential All-Star game starter.
Not much was expected from Seattle’s rookie manager Don Wakamatsu this season. He inherited a Mariners team that finished with 101 losses a year ago, only one fewer than the MLB-worst Washington Nationals. Yet, at the time of writing, Wakamatsu had the Mariners one game over .500 (35-34) and just 2.5 games out of first in the American League West. He’s finding ways to win, scratching and clawing runs through an aggressive strategy – that includes a lot of bunting – and keeping things positive in the clubhouse. His work this season earned him a spot on Joe Maddon’s coaching staff for the American League in July’s All-Star game.
The Cleveland Indians might be the biggest surprise in baseball this season, but for all the wrong reasons. A chic pick by many to win the American League Central this year, Cleveland finds itself with a woeful 29-42 record, dead last in the division. Nothing has gone right for the Tribe: last year’s AL Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee, is just 4-6 after going 22-3 a year ago. Three-time All-Star Grady Sizemore is hitting just .223. Even though it’s early, bettors might already be sticking a fork in Cleveland’s season with good reason. The Indians are already 10 games back of Detroit in the Central and have given up an American League-worst 389 runs.
When Manny Ramirez got hit with a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s performance enhancing drug policy in May, many figured the Los Angeles Dodgers would fall apart. Well, that hasn’t even come close to happening. The Dodgers have been lights-out without Man-Ram, compiling the best record in baseball (46-24) while compiling a league-best home record of 25-10. Credit must go to manager Joe Torre, who has kept things at an even keel while coaxing great offensive output from the likes of Juan Pierre (.337 batting average), Andre Ethier (team best 11HR) and James Loney (47 RBI, tied for 10th in the NL).