Over the first two and a half months of baseball season, we’ve heard about the Cubs’ mysterious struggles. We’ve heard about the Yankees’ revitalization and the Mets’ series of unfortunate (and sometimes hilarious) events. And we’ve heard a whole lot about Aaron Judge.
But what haven’t we heard a lot about? We asked our staff that question. These are their answers:
What baseball storyline has gone under-covered this season?
Matt Clapp: How about the Minnesota Twins? Yes, the roster doesn’t jump out at you on paper and the projections still think they will finish as a sub-.500 team. But at the moment, they’re five games over .500. At the moment, they’re two games ahead of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central.
And there are some signs that what they’re doing perhaps isn’t as fluky as we assume.
There is plenty of exciting young talent and upside on this team, with Miguel Sano (one of the game’s best sluggers already), Byron Buxton (one of the game’s best defensive center fielders already) and electrifying starting pitcher Jose Berrios.
Jose Berrios just fanned Caleb Joseph with this absurd breaking ball pic.twitter.com/L1XGrmjygf
— Pitcher List (@ThePitcherList) May 24, 2017
There are couple of trends that are usually indicative of sustainable success, in the team’s ability to draw walks and play defense. The Twins are currently second in the majors in walk percentage at 10.1. Last year, eight of the top-11 teams in walk percentage went to the postseason. Defensively, they’re second in the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating and fourth in defensive runs saved, and three of the top-four teams in those departments went to the postseason last year.
It would take quite a bit more of this to conclude that the Twins are “for real,” but they at least deserve our attention.
Alex Putterman: After getting some attention in early May, Ryan Zimmerman has slipped from the headlines despite maintaining or improving his downright Ruthian numbers. The Nationals first baseman, who was all but left for dead after a pitiful 2016 season, is leading the National League in home runs (19), average (.367), slugging percentage (.716), OPS (1.125) and OPS+ (187). If the season ended today, he’d be a front-runner for NL MVP. And all this from a guy who was worth -1.1 WAR last year, per Baseball-Reference.
Zimmerman is one of the best comeback stories we’ve ever seen, yet he’s been largely overshadowed, even among Nationals fans, by Bryce Harper and the team’s lousy bullpen.
Joe Lucia: I don’t think there’s been nearly enough talk about the Rockies and how incredible their season has been so far. This is a team that has never won the NL West in its history, hasn’t finished above .500 since 2010, and has historically struggled on the road.
In 2017, they have the most wins in the National League, they are playing better on the road than at home, and they have manhandled the World Champion Cubs, outscoring them 37-24 while winning the season series 5-2. Maybe this will be the year that the Rockies are the bulldozer in the NL West instead of the doormat—and I think I’m all right with that.
Deesha Thosar: The Astros are consistently raking, yet more baseball aficionados, nationwide, are tuning in for Aaron Judge’s antics than Houston’s breakout season. Possibly, no one is taking this team boasting a .672 winning percentage seriously. But the 2017 Astros are a multi-faceted machine. They may not have guys crushing 500-foot homers, but they have Dallas Keuchel (1.67 ERA), George Springer (18 HR, 43 RBI), Jose Altuve (.320 BA, .899 OPS) and many more. Fans: direct your attention now… rather than waiting for October.
Ian Casselberry: Have we heard enough about the Tampa Bay Rays? Two games over .500 as of this writing, which has the Rays in front of the Orioles and Blue Jays in the AL East. (The Orioles had been an under-covered story as well this season, near the top of the division for most of the season.) This team is probably closer to selling than buying at the trade deadline, yet I’d argue most didn’t realize how well Tampa Bay was playing until news reports framed Matt Andriese’s injury as a potentially big deal.
Tampa Bay has a +19 run differential so far this year, after finishing -41 last season with the second-fewest runs scored (672) in the American League. This season, the Rays have scored the third-most runs in the league, just behind the powerhouse Astros and Yankees offenses. This, despite a .253 team average and .769 OPS that ranks them in the middle of the pack. As you might expect, the pitching staff has been a big factor, posting a 4.02 team ERA that ranks fourth in the league and holding opponents to a .250 average and .723 OPS.