warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Surprising Teams Of The Early MLB Season

Ryan Bouziane |
April 25, 2014 | 11:35 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

The Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka has been lights out to begin the season. (Twitter/@Yankees)
The Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka has been lights out to begin the season. (Twitter/@Yankees)
New York Yankees (13-9, first in AL East)

Few expected the Bronx Bombers to contend with the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox this season, but so far, they are looking like the best team in the division. The most pleasant surprise to their early 2014 season has been the success of the pitching staff. While former-aces CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda appear to be clearly on the downslide, Michael Pineda and Japanese-export Masahiro Tanaka are looking even better than advertised. Pineda was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Yankees in 2012, and promptly suffered a multitude of injuries (including a torn labrum in his right shoulder) which delayed his debut in New York. It appears, though, that the wait was entirely worth it for Yankees fans, as Pineda has been dominating in his first few starts. And Tanaka has been even more impressive. He joins the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg as the only MLB pitcher in the last 100 years to induce 8+ strikeouts in each of his first three major-league starts. The offseason addition of Tanaka, along with those of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, are paying dividends for the Yankees, who are looking to win their 28th World Series championship.

Oakland Athletics (14-8, T-first in AL West)

After losing pitchers Jarrod Parker and AJ Griffin to season-ending injuries, it was thought that all hope of Oakland winning its third consecutive divisional title would be lost. Enter, Jesse Chavez. The 30-year-old journeyman pitcher has bounced around several teams in his career, with limited success. But the righty seems to have made the correct adjustments and found a home with the Athletics, and is showing what he’s capable of. In each of first four starts of the 2014 campaign, Chavez has gone at least 6 innings while giving up only a single run. Scott Kazmir has been equally effective to begin the season. Kazmir, the former ace of the Rays, missed the 2011 and 2012 seasons due to injury. He returned last season and pitched well for the Athletics, but did not look much like his former self. So far this season, however, Kazmir has been dominant, showing no ill-effects of the injuries from a few years ago. Oakland’s lineup remains a question mark, as their only All-Star caliber hitters are the inconsistent Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes. But if Chavez and Kazmir can maintain their effectiveness, and future-ace Sonny Gray continues to succeed, the Athletics should be able to contend with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels all season, in search of a third-consecutive AL West championship. This is made all-the-more impressive when considering that Oakland has the sixth-lowest payroll in the MLB, compared to those of the Rangers and Angels, which place inside the Top 10 of highest spenders. Moneyball lives!

Milwaukee Brewers (16-6, first in NL Central)

The Brewers are perennial bottom-feeders and have not made the playoffs since 2008. However, this season has been mighty kind to the Brew Crew so far. The return of Ryan Braun from his suspension for PEDs has firmed up the middle of their lineup, and Milwaukee’s former MVP-winner is regarded by most as their most important player, and the biggest reason for the team’s improvement. Though Braun has been on fire to start the year (6 HRs already), this belief is untrue. The Brewers’ most valuable commodity is actually Carlos Gomez, who has been most recently in the news for sparking a brawl with the Pittsburgh Pirates after posing on Gerrit Cole, garnering a three-game suspension. Gomez is an excellent defensive centerfielder and a talented baserunner, but his main improvement, thus far in 2014, relates to his ability to draw walks. Previously seen as a free-swinger, Gomez has improved his plate discipline and shown the ability to get on base in a variety of ways. Going along with Aramis Ramirez, seemingly fully-healthy for the first time in years, Jonathan Lucroy and Braun, the Brewers’ lineup has become a force to be reckoned with.

Reach staff writer Ryan Bouziane here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.