Most years, there is at least one surprise playoff team. Maybe it’s just anecdotal, but now that we get 10 playoff teams, there always seems to be one that slips in that could be considered surprising from two different perspectives. The two types of surprise playoff teams are:
- The “no one believed in us” team. That is, going back to preseason predictions and noticing how few people predicted this team to contend. Last year’s Braves or the 2018 Twins are some good recent examples.
- The “they counted us out” team. This one is a team that was bad enough for the first six weeks to two months that people just believed they’d never rebound. The A’s have been this team several times, including last year.
Who are some candidates this year? Let’s take a look.
No one believed in us
Rangers — I think the most popular place in most people’s predictions to put the Rangers was fourth in the AL West, ahead of only the large-scale-teardown Mariners. And yet, the Rangers are in playoff position right now and All-Star starter Mike Minor looks like an excellent option to start a potential Wild Card Game. Joey Gallo is the type of big bat who could swing a game like that, too. If I had to pick one team on the board, it’s this one.
Diamondbacks — Heading into the season, the Dodgers were the obvious NL West champion while the Rockies were likely to contend again. Many liked the Padres as a possible upstart, leaving the D-Backs and Giants as the dregs of the division. Instead, A.J. Pollock is hurt (again) for the Dodgers while Paul Goldschmidt is having a poor year, relatively-speaking, for the Cardinals while the D-Backs hover in the wild-card race (two back).
The Padres? As noted, many liked the Padres as an upstart possibility, but I feel like if they do make the playoffs, many will consider it a “one year early” situation. It would be asking an awful lot for a team this young to make such a leap.
The Twins seem like a bit of a stretch because they’ve been dominating the AL Central for a while, but the overwhelming majority of the baseball world before the season picked the Indians to win that division.
They counted us out
Nationals — The Nationals are the main reason I decided to go with this theme in the Official Power Rankings intro this week. After getting swept in four games by the Mets on May 23, the Nats were 19-31 and widely considered the biggest disappointment in baseball. They were tied with the Marlins for the most losses in the NL and only the Royals, Orioles and Marlins had worse records. Fifty games isn’t exactly a tiny sample, either. Since then, the Nats have gone 23-10, good for the best winning percentage in the majors in that span. The division is a tall order, but they are only 1 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot. Getting to use Max Scherzer in that game would make a team feel pretty confident, too, no? The Nats have a shot to get themselves into a real good position for the All-Star break, too, as they have six games — all at home — this coming week against the Marlins and Royals.
Athletics — Anyone who was actually counting the A’s out earlier this season hasn’t been paying enough attention to this franchise. There’s something in the water there or something (I’m resisting an Oakland Coliseum joke here with every fiber of my being). It doesn’t matter who is wearing the A’s uniform, a run that starts at some point in May or June happens so often we should expect it. Sure enough, the A’s were 19-25 and one point and even hung around .500 until recently. They were 36-36 a few weeks ago, but have now won 10 of their last 13 games.
Reds and Pirates? Thanks in part to the inability of the Cubs or Brewers (or even the Cardinals) to distance themselves with the bottom two teams in the division, both the Pirates (five games back) and Reds (5 1/2) are within striking distance in the division, given how many head-to-head games remain. The Reds started 1-8 and have been as far back as 8 1/2 games. The Pirates started June by losing 10 of 12 and have trailed by as many as nine games.
All of the above
White Sox — Nearly no one thought the White Sox had a shot at the playoffs heading into the season and them sitting six games under .500 heading to Memorial Day did little to change any minds. They still don’t feel like a contender, but they’ve gone 16-13 since then and are 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot. Sure, they have nearly the whole AL to leapfrog, but just keep the eye on winning series and you never know. We’re barely past halfway and the White Sox are not buried.
|The Bronx Bombers have won 13 of their last 14 games. Ridiculous.||—||54-28|
|Several Dodgers fans called me on it last week and I’ll admit that I probably should have had them No. 1. Their 3-4 road trip made me look like a soothsayer, though, so I’ll take it. (Seriously, though, I’d still be OK with the Dodgers at No. 1).||—||57-29|
|Only two All-Stars? Madness. At least name Eddie Rosario and replace him (he’s injured). Max Kepler and Jose Berrios, among others, would like a word, too.||—||53-30|
|Who had the Astros with six All-Stars not named Jose Altuve this year? No, you didn’t. Stop lying.||—||53-32|
|Winning 20 games in a month is pretty damn hard to do. The Braves just did it. They are a force.||—||50-35|
|Prior to Sunday, Blake Snell had an 11.94 ERA in the month of June. Seeing him put together a quality start with 12 strikeouts against a good team is a nice sign moving forward.||—||48-36|
|Hunter Pence starting the All-Star Game will be such an amazing story. Hopefully he’s back in time.||1||46-38|
|Matt Chapman is criminally underrated.||4||46-39|
|The Brewers are back (tied) atop the NL Central, but they have seven road games before the All-Star break and they have gone 18-21 on the road to this point.||1||45-39|
|They have gone three weeks without winning a series. They are tied for first because the Brewers (and Cardinals) have been too inept to take advantage, but this team needs to get things on track or it’ll miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014.||3||45-39|
|Just when they had sustained winning ways for a few weeks, they go to Baltimore and get crushed twice by the worst team in baseball.||2||45-38|
|A split at home isn’t really great, but they had lost 12 straight — going back to last year — against the Dodgers before winning Friday and Saturday. This has to be considered a moral victory, right?||1||44-40|
|Six road games before the break, but the Red Sox actually have a better road record than home and they’re playing two bad teams (Blue Jays and Tigers). They have a real chance to hit the break feeling good and ready to kind of reset the season for the second half.||2||44-40|
|Who would’ve thought that Dave Martinez would have a chance to win NL Manager of the Year? It’s on the table if they keep playing like this.||3||42-41|
|It looked like they halted that potentially devastating losing streak by sweeping the Mets in four games, but then they lost a series to the Marlins. There’s an opportunity with this upcoming three-game road trip to Atlanta, but it could be rough, too.||—||44-40|
|Manny Machado is the hottest hitter in the world right now while Fernando Tatis Jr. is slashing .337/.405/.613. My guy Franmil Reyes has 24 bombs (and so does Hunter Renfroe!). This is such a fun team to watch.||6||42-41|
|Ketel Marte starting the All-Star Game is both well-deserved and a lot of fun.||1||43-43|
|They needed extra innings Sunday to break their five-game losing streak. Something is broken here.||4||41-41|
|Shohei Ohtani now has 12 homers in 174 at-bats. He didn’t even go on a minor-league rehab assignment before returning from Tommy John surgery. He’s a freak.||—||42-43|
|Through May 12, Joey Votto was hitting .206/.325/.338 and when someone is age 35, it’s worth wondering if this was the beginning of the end. All he’s done since then is look like Prime Votto and he’s up to .267/.361/.415. It’ll keep going up, too.||2||38-43|
|Seven of their next 10 games are against the Cubs and the other three come against the Brewers. Opportunity is a knockin’.||—||39-43|
|Dylan Cease is coming!||1||39-42|
|What an unbelievable joke of a mess.||3||38-47|
|OK, so Dan Vogelbach is headed to the All-Star Game. How has he not been named to the Home Run Derby yet? Don’t screw this up, MLB.||—||37-51|
|Alex Dickerson suffered season-ending injuries before both 2017 and 2018. He was designated for assignment in June by the Padres and eventually traded to the Giants. In 10 games for the Giants, he’s hitting .375 with four doubles, a triple, two homers and 12 RBI. Man, what a fun resurrection story this would be if it continues. And I’m definitely not only saying this because he’s a fellow Hoosier.||—||36-47|
|Sandy Alcantara made the All-Star team and Marcell Ozuna didn’t. Marlins win the trade! That’s how it works, right?||—||32-50|
|Eric Sogard appears to be having a career year, so the question is: Where’s he headed before August 1?||—||31-53|
|There’s only one year left on that Ian Kennedy deal and if he keeps pitching like this in relief (40 K, 6 BB in 33 IP), he’ll be a nice trade candidate either in the offseason or next year.||1||29-55|
|Remember when the Tigers started the season 12-10? Good times. The Tigers are 15-42 since then and that is a 162-game pace of 43 wins and 119 losses. Good thing that got off to that “hot” start!||1||27-52|
|They won two straight 13-0 games against a contender this past week. That’s good and fun!||—||24-59|