by Jake Brown
With the Major League Baseball All-Star break upon us, it’s time to look at statistics, records, and the playoff race. There have been a couple surprising teams and plenty of surprising players. Some have been good ones and some have been disappointing. Let’s break down MLB’s biggest surprises just past the half way point of the regular season.
1. Milwaukee Brewers (53-43, 1st place in NL Central)
Starting off with the most surprising winning team in the first half, it has to be the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew went just 74-88 last season At this time last they were just 38-56 and sitting in last place in the NL Central. Today, they have climbed to first in the division with 53 wins. Talk about a dramatic improvement. They have been tearing the cover off the ball. Ryan Braun is back and playing like the star he was before being suspended for PED use. Jonathan Lucroy made the All-Star team and has been one of baseball’s best hitting catchers. Carlos Gomez and Aramis Ramirez will join him in the National League starting lineup. The starting pitching has been solid, and Francisco Rodriguez has been lights out at the back end of the bullpen. This division is tough, but there’s no reason the Brewers can’t keep it going in the second half.
2. Lonnie Chisenhall (.328, 9 HR, 41 RBI)
Talk about coming out of nowhere. Lonnie Chisenhall had a tremendous first half of the season in Cleveland. A guy who had just 289 at bats as a career high is already at 262, and he’s taking advantage. Chisenhall is hitting .328 at the break with nine homers and 41 RBI, which includes a three-homer, nine-RBI game. The third baseman put himself on the map this season when most people had not even heard of him.
3. Alfredo Simon (12-3, 2.70 ERA)
Alfredo Simon is 33 years old and is finally getting a chance to be a Major League starting pitcher. He’s taking full advantage in Cincinnati. Simon has been prolific in 18 starts, going 12-3 with just a 2.70 ERA. Simon has been a major reason for the Reds’ success this season; they are 51-44 and just 1.5 games back in the NL Central. Simon and Johnny Cueto have been a dynamic one-two punch at the top of the Reds’ rotation.
4. Jose Abreu (.292 29 HR 73 RBI)
While it may not be necessarily a surprise, Jose Abreu has stepped onto the scene and absolutely dominated. He leads all of baseball with 29 homers and is third in RBI with 73. Abreu got big bucks to come to the big leagues, and he has been a superstar. He could potentially hit 50 homers in his rookie season and drive in well over 100 runs. The 27-year-old has had no trouble adjusting from Cuba to America.
5. Jake Arrieta (5-1, 1.95 ERA)
It’s too bad Jake Arrieta is on an awful Cubs team that can’t score runs. He barely gets recognized playing in Chicago. He’s been spectacular, though, in the first half. In 13 starts, he’s 5-1 with a microscopic 1.95 ERA, and 85 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings. He’s got just a 1.01 WHIP and a .204 BAA. The 28-year-old has burst onto the scene after four years of being a below-average pitcher.
6. Boston Red Sox (43-52, last place in AL East)
The defending World Series champions are sitting in the cellar of the AL East at the All-Star break. It’s hard to fathom how big of a drop off they have had. It’s been a brutal first half for a team that was 58-39 and in first place at this time last season. Their offense has been nothing short of a disaster. After David Ortiz and his 64 RBI, the next closest player is Mike Napoli with 36. The Grady Sizemore experiment failed. The A.J. Pierzynski signing failed. After Jon Lester and John Lackey, the starting rotation has not been good at all. The Red Sox have put their luck in the hands of their youth as they hope for them to grow. It seems like it could be a rebuilding season in Boston, which they didn’t expect coming in.
7. Chris Davis (.199 15 HR 48 RBI)
Chris Davis looked like an all-world player in 2013 blasting 53 home runs and driving in 138 runs while hitting .286. Davis has looked like just an average player in 2014 compared to last year. It’s been an awful half for Davis, who is hitting just .199 with 15 homers and 48 RBI. He was one of the most feared hitters in the league last season. He’s looked nothing close to that so far this season. Luckily, the Orioles are still in first place in the AL East, thanks to the heroics of Nelson Cruz.
8. Joe Nathan (5.61 ERA, 5 blown saves)
What in the world happened to Joe Nathan? The Tigers closer is lucky to still have his job at this point. In his first season with the Tigers, Nathan has blown five saves and holds a 5.61 ERA so far in 33 2/3 innings. Luckily, two of his blown saves have turned into wins. Their powerful lineup has saved the closer this season. This is the same closer who had 43 saves and a microscopic 1.39 ERA last year with the Rangers… right? The 39-year-old will need to find himself come October.
9. Joey Votto (.255 6 HR 23 RBI)
The Reds might regret the fact that they will be paying Joey Votto $218 million until 2023. That’s quite the commitment for a player who doesn’t look worth even a quarter of that this season. Injuries have played a major part in Votto’s struggles this season, but he’s been tremendously ineffective when on the field. The 30-year-old first baseman is hitting just .255 with six home runs and 23 RBI. The 2010 MVP has been unable to hit with the same power or have the same RBI production the last couple of seasons as he did in 2010-2011. It has to be alarming if you’re a Reds fan, considering they are stuck with that deal for the next decade.
10. Shelby Miller (7-8, 4.29 ERA)
Shelby Miller looked like one of the best young pitchers in baseball in 2013 in his first full season. The Cardinals have plenty of terrific, young pitching. Miller went 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA last season with 169 strikeouts. He’s fallen off dramatically this season, going 7-8 with a 4.29 ERA and just 73 strikeouts in 19 starts. The Cardinals need Miller to turn it around in a tight NL Central race. A couple of more wins from Miller would push them over the top. They are heavily relying on their pitching with their mediocre offense this season.