Quickly, before the playoffs start something like 10 hours, I thought I’d open up the floor for the regular season’s biggest surprises. To get the ball rolling, here are mine, in no particular order:
The (comparative) total suckage of the Cleveland Indians. Last year, they were one ALCS win away from heading to the World Series. Their manager was thought, in some quarters, to be a guru of the beard-wearing, mountaintop-cave-dwelling variety. This year, they finished 81-81, the very definition of mediocre. No one saw this coming. No one.
The sure hands of Ryan Braun. No, left field isn’t exactly shortstop, but even so: in 149 games, he made not a single error (hat tip to Brew Crew Ball). That’s after making 26 at third base last year in 112 games. His range factor and zone rating were both in the top five of qualified MLB left fielders, well ahead of, for instance, Jason Bay, who is touted for his defensive ability. After snubbing Braun with my ROY pick last year largely for his crappy defense, I was surprised but pleased to see the apparent turnaround. Dreamy Eyes, I salute you.
The worst-to-first season of the Tampa Bay Rays. I know, this one’s a gimme. It’s pretty obvious. But unlike most of the commentariat, I think we here at UmpBump actually weren’t that surprised by the Rays’ solid performance this year. (Unlike, say, this breathless cover at SI.) Even so, I don’t think any of us actually expected them to win the notoriously tough AL East this year.
The total badassery of Cliff Lee. Another obvious pick. Show me one writer who picked him to be the best pitcher in the AL this year. Show. Me. One.
The signing of Kenji Johjima. Even at the time, I had absolutely no idea why the Mariners made this deal. A 3-year extension for the subpar Johjima when their best prospect was also a catcher? No wonder the baseball world was blindsided. Now that he ended up OPSing just over .600 this year, the deal looks like the worst of 2008–and the hot-stove season hasn’t yet begun.
That’s all I got for now. (More coffee is clearly required.) What surprised y’all about this season? No surprise too big or too small!