Things were so much easier in March. The Washington Nationals looked like sure World Series contenders, Matt Kemp was definitely going to be released by the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins were ready to go even deeper into the postseason after shocking the world in 2017.
Then the regular season began.
The unexpected is one of the best things about baseball. No matter how much we study rosters and critically analyze teams and players, there will always be developments that shock and surprise us.
Below, our Yahoo Sports MLB writers listed some of the best surprises and disappointments from the first half of the 2018 MLB season. Tim Brown and Jeff Passan explain their picks in the video above. Enjoy.
Surprise: Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics were supposed to be the doormat of the American League West. They were only supposed to exist so the Houston Astros and revamped Los Angeles Angels could beat up on them. That hasn’t been the case. Despite the lowest opening day payroll in the majors, the Athletics have been shockingly good thus far. The club got off to a decent start, but has exploded in the summer. Since June 1, the A’s have gone 26-14. Jed Lowrie has been fantastic, Matt Chapman has provided Gold Glove defense and the bullpen — led by closer Blake Treinen — has dominated opposing hitters.
The A’s aren’t perfect. The rotation could use work and the offense still isn’t elite. But the club may have turned itself from afterthought to legitimate deadline buyer. (Chris Cwik)
Disappointment: Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals
You can’t talk about Bryce Harper’s disappointing season without mentioning the Nationals’ expectations. Both came into the year expecting big things. Harper has hit .214/.365/.468, with 23 home runs, over 414 plate appearances in his walk year. While his on-base percentage and slugging numbers would be acceptable for other players, they represent a major downgrade for Harper. A massive second half could be on the horizon, but teams will use Harper’s poor first half against him once he hits the free-agent market.
Harper is one reason the Nationals have struggled in the first half, but he’s far from the only reason. Ryan Zimmerman hid an injury and has missed time. Michael A. Taylor’s numbers have lagged after a breakout season. Tanner Roark has an ERA near 5.00. The Nationals fired Dusty Baker because merely making the postseason wasn’t good enough for them. They might not even make it that far in 2018. (Chris Cwik)
Surprise: Matt Kemp
Remember when the Dodgers traded for Matt Kemp and literally everyone thought it was a short-term move because they’d just trade him — or even release him. As it turns out, the Dodgers may owe their season to Matt Kemp. As the Dodgers got off to a terrible (and very injured) start, Kemp was their savior. At 33, he’s hitting .310/.352/.522 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs. He was an All-Star starter. If the Dodgers can complete their midseason turnaround and make the postseason again, they’ll owe a lot of that to Kemp. (Mike Oz)
Disappointment: Minnesota Twins
What is it with the Minnesota Twins? They’re surprisingly good one year and surprisingly bad the next? That’s been their roller-coaster last four years — and right now, it’s not the fun part of the roller coaster. The Twins are eight games under .500 at the All-Star break after making the playoffs last year. They were supposed to be better this year. They made a few bold offseason moves and were expecting Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton to keep improving. Instead? They have the eighth-worst ERA in baseball and their offense is nothing special. Maybe they’re only good in odd years? (Mike Oz)
Surprise: Philadelphia Phillies
It wasn’t really supposed to be a contending year for the Phillies in 2018. With so many newly-graduated prospects in the majors, as well as a starting rotation that had some big question marks in the back end, improvement is what they were hoping for. Halfway through they season, they got that and so much more. A year ago, they were 31-61 and dead last. Now? The Phillies are 53-42 and are in first place in the National League East. That’s a 22 game improvement, which not even the most optimistic Phillies fan would have predicted.
The team is full of young players who are establishing themselves and coming into their own. Aaron Nola has emerged as a true ace, while Zach Eflin has enjoyed a breakout season as a starter. Flame-throwing reliever Seranthony Dominguez has been lights out. Rhys Hoskins hasn’t continued his torrid home run pace from 2017, but he’s established himself as a natural leader and a steadying presence. Everyone contributes, which is just how the Phillies front office imagined it would be — just not so soon. (Liz Roscher)
Disappointment: New York Mets
Things started out so hopeful for the 2018 Mets. They won 11 of their first 12 games, and seemed positioned to battle with the resurgent Atlanta Braves while the Phillies and Nationals stumbled. And then the dream died as quickly as it had been born. The culprit, as usual, was injuries. It almost doesn’t matter who the Mets put on their team, you can bet they’re going to be significantly injured at some point in the season. Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, who were signed last offseason, are both on the disabled list. So is Yoenis Cespedes, and (now) former GM Sandy Alderson took that opportunity to say that he regretted signing Cespedes due to his frequent injuries. Travis d’Arnaud and Juan Lagares are done for the season. Jason Vargas is hurt, and when he wasn’t, he was a disaster. Noah Syndergaard has been out of commission since the end of May, which might have been the death blow to the Mets season.
There are even more injuries to list, but it’s more than just injuries. New manager Mickey Callaway has seemed completely lost at times, like when he submitted a batting order that was different from the one he had in the dugout and had to be punished by the umpires. Players like Cespedes continue to be tossed under the bus by the front office, which is currently in flux as Alderson departed indefinitely to receive treatment for cancer. The most likely candidate to replace him? Mets executive Omar Minaya, who was already fired from that job once before. Three months after that hot start, the Mets are in last place and their season is in shambles. There is but one universal truth about New York’s second baseball team: The Mets are gonna Mets. (Liz Roscher)
Surprise: Jesùs Aguilar
Jesús Aguilar came out of nowhere to become a first-time All-Star this season. Aguilar was voted in by the fans during the Final Vote, which is quite an accomplishment for a player most fans couldn’t name four months ago.
The 28-year-old veteran entered the All-Star break with 24 home runs, which leads the National League. He’s been the main offensive source for a Milwaukee team that already had Ryan Braun and Eric Thames, and went out to sign Lorenzo Cain in free agency and acquire Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins in an offseason trade.
Not bad for a player who was plucked off waivers from the Cleveland Indians prior to the 2017 season and figured to be nothing more than a bench player. (Mark Townsend)
Disappointment: Cardinals outfielders
Now in the second year of a five-year, $82.5M contract, Dexter Fowler has taken a big step back in 2018. He was a slow starter in 2017 too, but rebounded to have his best all-around season offensively, finishing with a .264/.363/.488 batting line, to go along with 18 homers and 64 RBIs.
This year though, he’s been an utter disaster. After 74 games, Fowler is slashing .176/.270/.297 with seven homers and 26 RBIs.
You could argue that Marcell Ozuna has been every bit as disappointing given the expectations placed on him. He was acquired from the Miami Marlins in an offseason trade that saw Cardinals part with a more impressive batch of prospects than what Miami received from the New York Yankees for Giancarlo Stanton.
Ozuna is on pace for just 20 home runs this season after mashing 37 one year ago. He’s slashing .268/.309/.385, which is 44, 67 and 163 points lower respectively. Considering what the Cardinals gave up, they obviously wanted and needed more from Ozuna. (Mark Townsend)
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