Yes, you read that right.
The Baltimore Orioles are trending upwards. Somehow, someway, the projected last-place O’s are now sitting in second for the best record in the AL East. Wow.
Heading into the 2020 campaign, many projected to O’s to win 10, maybe 15 games. 19 games in, the Baltimore ball club is 11-8 and in playoff contention. A lineup led by Hanser Alberto and Renato Nunez are wreak havoc against opponents. Alberto, currently batting .337 with 28 hits, ranks top-five in the American League in both categories. And for Nunez, the first baseman leads the team in OPS with .395 and is slugging 1.022. Don’t count this dynamic duo out.
For Baltimore’s pitching staff, a rotation led by Alex Cobb and bullpen united by Cole Sulser has an ERA of just under five. Cobb is currently 1-1 with a 2.75 ERA and has 17 K’s in his 2020 season. Sulser, on the other hand, is tallying saves left and right with a total of four, early in the year.
Other role players on the Baltimore Orioles staff include the bats of Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Pedro Severino and Jose Iglesias. Don’t look over the O’s pitching staff with key arms featuring the likes of Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone.
Many could say this hot early-season run by the O’s is a fluke, but if the club can keep up the high quality production, there is no question you could see them in the playoffs.
DJ LeMahieu: New York Yankees, 2B
The under-the-radar 2018 offseason signing of DJ LeMahieu to the New York Yankees has worked out larger than anyone would project. Many questioned the utility infielder’s ability to produce numbers similar to his above .300 batting average year last season.
In a small sample size of the 2020 season, LeMahieu is batting north of .400, which is first in the American League and is currently tied for the most amount of hits on the American League with 30. The leadoff hitter can produce a quality at-bat every time he steps up to the plate. The Yankees would certainly not be this good, currently 15-6, without the presence of DJ LeMahieu.
LeMahieu’s name should and will be brought up in the American League MVP and Batting Title conversations.
Nelson Cruz: Minnesota Twins, 1B
Nelson Cruz, a power source in the Twins lineup, is off to a fantastic start to his 2020 season. The primary Designated Hitter has the constant ability to take pitches deep on a daily basis. Cruz ranks in the top-10 in all of Major League Baseball in home runs with six, so far.
The high-IQ veteran can also produce base hits and is equipped with the strong ability of getting on base. The primary cleanup hitter in Minnesota ranks fourth in the American League in hits with 26. Cruz’ Batting Average ranks among the best in the American League and is north of .340. Ranking first in all of baseball, the right-handed hitter’s RBI total is far better than anyone else’s with 21.
There’s no questions regarding Nelson Cruz’ production at the plate. Although many may ask: How far could Cruz and the slugging Twins lineup go in the 2020 playoffs?
Shane Bieber: Cleveland Indians, SP
The current favorite to win the American League Cy Young award, Shane Bieber, is off to a historic start. The right-hander has the ability to carve and dissect opposing hitters with his off-the-charts repertoire.
The Cleveland Indians ace leads all of baseball with a strong 4-0 record. An average of 10.8 strikeouts per start is a stat that is rarely touched by starters. Bieber also hold a firm grip in the Major League Baseball strikeout race with 54. A sub-two ERA is what Bieber is holding through five starts and is only in position for it to be lowered.
The dominant right-hander will give Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole a strong run for his money at the AL Cy Young title. Cleveland, has a superstar in the making.
Newly hired manager David Ross and the Cubs are off to a scorching hot start in the 2020 season. One of the most well-rounded teams sits currently first in the NL Central division with a powering record of 14-5.
Chicago’s National League team has been producing at the plate and on the rubber. The hot bats of Ian Happ, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez catapult the Cubs into a strong position to produce runs on a daily basis. Although not playing his strongest breed of baseball, Kris Bryant, is slowly but surely returning to his high-quality production. Catcher Willson Contreras gives the Cubs a strong and consistent backstop. Second baseman Jason Kipnis adds a veteran mind into the daily lineup.
The Chicago Cubs pitching staff is currently among the best in baseball. The strong one-two punch of Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish is never is pretty sight for opposing teams. At the end of the season, many expect Hendricks and Darvish to be brought up in the Cy Young award race. Other reliable arms include the well-respected Jon Lester and opener Tyler Chatwood.
The lock-down Chicago bullpen arms are no strangers against pressure. The trustworthy Rowan Wick is Ross’ go-to in crunch time and already holds three saves. Besides Wick, the Cubs hold very strong arms in Jeremy Jefferies and Casey Sadler. The two share the lead in holds on the Cubs roster. The strikeout producing Ryan Tepera is also a key piece in Chicago’s bullpen.
If David Ross can hold this well-rounded team together and keep the energy high for 60 games, there is a very strong chance you could see the Cubs in the World Series.
Charlie Blackman: Colorado Rockies, OF
One of the most under-the-rader hitters in all of baseball, Charlie Blackman, is currently playing the best baseball of his career. The left-hander along with star Nolan Arenado are both key pieces to a strong Rockies lineup.
The daily three-hole hitter sits atop of Major League Baseball in multiple hitting categories. A league leading .438 Batting Average is what Blackman brings to the table. The left-handed hitter is also tied for third in RBI’s with 20. The early-season accomplishments don’t stop there as the thunderous bat of Blackman holds a firm lead on hits total with 35.
If Blackman is able to keep producing these outer-worldly numbers, he could be on pace to break a handful of batting records.
Fernando Tatis Jr. : San Diego Padres, SS
The young and electric sensation of Fernando Tatis Jr. is currently on a tear to begin his second year in the big leagues. A dynamic and exciting left side of the infield along with Manny Machado, brings highlights reels upon highlights reels every game.
The 21 year-old Tatis Jr. is tied for first in all of baseball in home runs, with nine. The San Diego leadoff hitter can produce a quality at bat every time he steps foot into the batters box. Currently playing an MVP-caliber level of baseball, Tatis Jr. shares a stake in the lead for most RBI’s in baseball with 21.
When Tatis gets on base, he is a threat to all pitches with his uncommon and cheetah-like speed on the base path. Currently holding five stolen bases, there is no question the shortstop will reach the 20-25 range by the end of the season.
The flashy sensation of Fernando Tatis Jr. is here and he’s showing the baseball universe he can produce at a high-level. There is no question that the second year star is having a fantastic season.
Sonny Gray: Cincinatti Reds, SP
Currently the favorite for National League Cy Young, the Cinicnatti Reds right-hander Sonny Gray is already having an off-the-charts year. The three-headed monster of Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray are no strangers to causing chaos on any lineup.
Gray, 30, is looking to win his first Cy Young award of his career. The right-hander has dazzled and opened many eyes regarding his talent this season. Leading the National League in wins with 4, don’t be surprised if Gray ends up with double digit wins.
Strike out after strike out is how Sonny Gray operates on the mound. Averaging nine strikeouts per start, its almost impossible to knock Gray off his rhythm. Holding a commanding eight strikeout lead to the second best in baseball, Sonny Gray is among the most-lethal in baseball.
The right-hander is producing numbers the baseball universe has rarely seen before. If Gray continues his hot streak, he could very well end up with his first Cy Young award in his hands.
Photo: Jason Miller / Getty Images