We are approximately one month into the 2012 MLB season and like every other year, there are many surprises that we did not expect before the season started. Who expected the Los Angeles Dodgers to be this good in the first year without Frank McCourt? Who thought the Angels would start off this slow, and be without a single home run from Albert Pujols in the month of April? Will either of these teams stay on this pace? Lots of storylines already, so without further ado, let’s proceed with our biggest surprises and disappointments

Who’s Hot

Los Angeles Dodgers

Matt Kemp is already a clear favorite for the National League MVP after hitting an astounding .411 with 12 HRs and 25 RBIs. Kemp will be in the run for the triple crown throughout the season and can easily carry the Dodgers on his back all the way to the postseason. Kemp’s emergence is also helping out the rest of the lineup. Andre Ethier is leading the NL in RBIs with 27 and has already slugged 6 HRs. Kemp and Ethier are a scary duo and in a division that doesn’t have much hitting, they could help the Dodgers win the NL West pennant.

But the question is, are the Dodgers actually this good? The answer isn’t completely black or white. The rotation is solid, but who knows if Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano can continue to pitch like Cy Young? Dodger Stadium is a pitcher’s ballpark, and usually the best rotation in the division makes it to the playoffs. This year could be the Dodgers year, but they will need some help from the rest of the lineup not named Ethier or Kemp. Oh, and even better than the Dodgers fast start is that the team is now in the hands of Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and company, not Frank McCourt. Let’s all give a standing ovation for that one.

Prediction: The Dodgers will fall off a bit, but will compete with Arizona until the final day of the season because of its impressive rotation (led by Clayton Kershaw) and because of Matt Kemp (should be given he MVP award today).

Baltimore Orioles

Going into 2011, I thought that Buck Showalter’s Orioles could make some noise in the division. However, after starting 6-1, the Orioles lost eight straight and never sniffed .500 again. The O’s finished 69-93 thanks to their horrendous rotation (their ace, Jeremy Guthrie, finished with a 4.33 ERA). The lineup didn’t help either with every single hitter hitting below .290. Now turn the page to 2012 and the
O’s ace is gone, but Jason Hammel is off to a scorching start, putting together a 1.97 ERA in the month of April. Hammel has never had an ERA below 4.30, so it would be a miracle if this lasted for much longer. One component of the Orioles pitching that should stay strong is the bullpen. Jim Johnson has been waiting for his shot to close ever since Kevin Gregg was blowing save after save, and he has responded by converting all seven save chances without giving up a single run.

As for the hitting, the O’s have five guys hitting over .300. The surprise so far has to be Adam Jones. Jones has always had the potential to be a 30-30 guy, and is finally putting everything together this season. He hit .316 with 6 HRs in April, but he only had 12 RBIs. That means that no one is getting on base ahead of him. That number shows you that these Orioles are on a pace that has absolutely no chance of continuing.

Prediction: The Orioles offense will cause some fits for opponents, but the rotation will give up way too
many runs to be an actual contender.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers have been to consecutive World Series, and it looks like they are on their way to October baseball once again. The lineup is still incredible, and is actually even more impressive with Josh Hamilton putting up MVP-like numbers. Hamilton has always had an issue staying healthy (he has missed three straight games with a back injury), but in April he finished in first place in all three Triple
Crown categories (.395 BA, 9 HRs, 25 RBIs). If Hamilton can avoid a long stay on the disabled list, then a lineup of Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, etc. will cause havocs on opposing pitching staffs.

Speaking of pitching, the Rangers fly under the radar every season with its rotation. It looks like the Rangers have a few weak links in Matt Harrison (5.40 ERA) and Derek Holland (5.13 ERA). Both Holland and Harrison turned in career years in 2011, but it would be unfair to expect them to put up ERAs under 4.00 again. However, that low ERA shouldn’t even be necessary due to the explosive lineup and the emergence of Yu Darvish. Colby Lewis still is pitching like an ace with an astounding 1.93 ERA, but Darvish is the story so far in Texas. The Japanese right-hander is 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA. If the rest of the league can’t figure out Darvish then the Rangers will be a very tough team to beat in October.

Prediction: This hot start is no joke, and with the Angels finishing April seven games back of the Rangers,
it looks like the Rangers might be able to coast to a division title.

Honorable Mention: Washington Nationals– Bryce Harper is already in the big leagues and the pitching
staff refuses to give up a home run (oh ya, and Stephen Strasburg is incredible). The staff and the
emergence of a young lineup could propel the Nationals quicker to the top then they imagined a few
years ago.

Who’s Not

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels were major players during the offseason, spending a ridiculous $318 million on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Wilson is more than living up to his end of the contract, compiling a 3-2 record with a 2.70 ERA. But, then there is Albert Pujols. Pujols finished April without a home run and put together a paltry .208 average and 5 RBIs. To put those numbers into comparison: Bobby Abreu,
who was recently cut by the Halos, had the same average and the same amount of RBIs in 77 less at- bats. Former Angels, Chone Figgins and Jeff Mathis, both have more HRs than Pujols. Those guys weren’t exactly power hitters either. Pujols is already putting blame on Angels hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, for speaking positively about Pujols. If Pujols can’t figure things out, the Angels will be playing golf in October. The one positive in the lineup has to be Torii Hunter. Hunter finished April with a .319 average and has hit homers in four of his last six games. To show you how well things are going for him, Hunter even caught the final out in Jered Weaver’s no-hitter.

If you thought Pujols was having a rough start to the season, take a look at the Angels bullpen. The Angels lead the league in blown saves (6) and outside of Scott Downs, LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen, there isn’t a single reliever that can get an out. The Angels aren’t scoring enough runs to have a bullpen that is performing this poorly, and until Pujols can get back on track, there will continue to be a ton of pressure on this bullpen to perform. As for the rotation, it finished April with the best ERA at 3.30. Jered Weaver is already a favorite for the AL Cy Young award, hurling a no-hitter and putting together a 4-0 record and a 1.61 ERA in April. Weaver, Wilson and Dan Haren have all been solid, and as long as the big three pitch well, the Angels will have a chance to be in every game, with or without Pujols.

Prediction: This record is a complete façade. Pujols will break out of his slump in a big way in the next
couple months and the Angels will use the momentum from the no-hitter to become a major player in
the AL West and the Wild Card race.

Boston Red Sox

Oh, Boston. Please stop being you. It is just way too entertaining and comical. After last year’s meltdown that cost Terry Francona his job and made Theo Epstein jump ship to a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series in over 100 years, you figured it couldn’t get any worse. Enter Bobby Valentine. Valentine has already spent time criticizing one of Boston’s beloved players in Kevin Youkilis and has
made more bad decisions than Francona made in his entire tenure (slightly exaggerated). In my AL preview, I mentioned that the Rays and Yankees would make the playoffs because I didn’t believe in Valentine. I still don’t and I definitely am not impressed by this rotation or lineup.

Losing Jacoby Ellsbury was an absolute killer. Any time you lose a potential MVP, it is going to go downhill, but with Youkilis now shelved, this lineup isn’t scaring anyone. Then you have a rotation that combined for a miserable 5.51 ERA in April and that doesn’t look like it will improve enough in the upcoming months. Clay Buchholz is the worst of the worst with a 8.69 ERA and looks nothing like the potential stud the Red Sox thought they had a few years ago. The fact that a former reliever leads the staff in ERA is a major cause for concern. Speaking of relief pitching, that is another extreme weakness. Andrew Bailey’s injury didn’t help the matter, but Alfredo Aceves has been shaky in a couple outings and his set up man, Mark Melancon, has already been shipped to the minors.

Prediction: This could get even uglier in the next month or so, but this offense, combined with guys like Jon Lester, Daniel Bard and Josh Beckett, should be able to get the Red Sox near .500 and third place in the division.

Miami Marlins

Things haven’t been going right for the Marlins ever since Ozzie Guillen decided to bring up Fidel Castro’s name in a community that treats Castro like Hitler. Guillen hasn’t gotten any help from his prized closer, Heath Bell, who has blown three saves and has an ERA of 11.74. Surprisingly, Giancarlo “Don’t call me Mike” Stanton has not given the Marlins the pop that they expected. After April, Stanton is sitting at a .268 average with only 3 HRs. Stanton has the potential to hit 40-50 home runs, but that may need to wait another year. Speaking of power, Omar Infante, who hasn’t hit more than nine home runs since 2004, leads the team with 5 HRs. Yikes.

There are some positives for Miami, which should give it some optimism, as the season is only one month old. Josh Johnson is still healthy but his 5.34 ERA is a tad worrisome. He has the worst ERA of all the starters, which is a great sign for the rotation. Ricky Nolasco, Carlos Zambrano and Anibal Sanchez all have ERAs under 2.80, so if Johnson can figure out what is causing him to struggle, this rotation could be absolutely filthy. Another positive is that Hanley Ramirez is healthy. The shortstop turned third basemen struggled in 2011 and is off to a slow start at the plate in 2012, but he already has 4 HRs and I don’t expect him to continue to hit close to .200. Ramirez, Emilio Bonifacio and Jose Reyes have all been horrible to start the season, and once they start getting on base, they are going to be causing nightmares for opponents. Expect that to happen sooner rather than later.

Prediction: Miami will continue to get solid pitching and the lineup will get its act together and start
competing for a playoff spot in the next couple months.

Honorable Mention: Milwaukee Brewers– My pre-season pick to be the National League World Series
representative is off to a very slow and concerning start. Every regular, including Ryan Braun, is off to a
slow start and the rotation isn’t performing up to its normal numbers. I expect the Brewers to rebound
and give the Cardinals a run for their money in the NL Central.

How’s your team doing? Do you think the Angels will bust out of their slump? What about the Red Sox? Let us know in the comments!