July 6, 2022

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Each team's most surprising development so far

15 min read
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There are preseason projections, both for individual players and for teams across the Major Leagues, but projections are never able to foresee certain unexpected developments each year. One month into the 2022 campaign, this year is no exception. With the help of each MLB.com beat writer, here’s a look at the most surprising development for each club so far in ’22:

Blue Jays: Manoah’s sophomore surge

Alek Manoah’s breakthrough as a rookie in 2021 was one of the stories of the season for the Blue Jays, but who would he be in ’22? It’s unwise to ever bet against Manoah, whose mental approach to the game is just as impressive as his towering physical presence, but challenges are expected when MLB hitters start to focus in on a young starter who’s enjoyed early success. Instead, he’s just gotten stronger, breezing through the month of April. At one point, the Blue Jays had won 11 games in a row started by Manoah. There will still be learning experiences along the way, but Manoah is suddenly giving the Blue Jays a “big three” alongside José Berríos and Kevin Gausman, and doing it well ahead of schedule. — Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Camden Yards is a pitchers’ park
The Orioles pushed back the left-field wall in order to try to normalize the stark favorability the park gave to hitters. Through the first two homestands, it’s not just moved back towards even — it’s playing far more towards the pitchers. The O’s and their opponents blasted off for 45 homers through the first 16 games at Camden Yards in 2021, en route to pacing the Majors with 277. That number through 16 games in ’22 is just 17. Part of that has to be attributed to how well the O’s are pitching and how touch-and-go their offense has looked, but it’s no doubt that it might take a little more oomph to homer in Baltimore from here on out. — Zachary Silver

Rays: Their pitching injuries haven’t slowed them down
This might not be that surprising for anyone who’s followed Tampa Bay and its seemingly inexhaustible supply of pitching over the past few years, but it’s still stunning. Consider the injured arms the Rays have been without — the list includes 2021 ace Tyler Glasnow, top prospect Shane Baz, young starter Luis Patiño, lefty Ryan Yarbrough (who returned last week after missing 23 games), depth starters Yonny Chirinos and Brendan McKay and high-leverage relievers Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and JT Chargois. That’s basically a full rotation and the back end of a strong bullpen missing from Tampa Bay’s roster, yet the Rays ended the weekend with a 3.25 ERA that ranked seventh in the Majors and fourth in the AL. — Adam Berry

Red Sox: Last place in the AL East
Coming into the season, it was clear the Red Sox would have their work cut out for them competing against stacked New York, Tampa Bay and Toronto teams. It didn’t, however, seem they would have this much trouble. One week into May, the Red Sox are sitting 10 games back of the Yankees at 10-19. The heart of Boston’s order (Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez) has carried the offense, batting .309 with an .833 OPS. The rest of the lineup is hitting just .188 with a .523 OPS. The bats figure to heat up at some point, but suffice it to say this is not where the Red Sox expected to be at this point of the season. — Ian Browne

Yankees: King has been an elite reliever
Michael King owned a 4.70 ERA across 92 big league innings heading into this season — serviceable, but certainly not a track record that invited the right-hander into conversation among the top relief arms in the game. That has all changed this season, as King developed into an elite weapon out of the Bombers’ bullpen, pitching to a 1.42 ERA (3 ER in 19 IP) while scattering 12 hits and striking out 28 against four walks. Boasting a four-pitch mix (fastball, sinker, slider and changeup), King would love to get another crack at the rotation, but he seems too valuable in his current multi-inning role to mess with a good thing. — Bryan Hoch

Guardians: Kwan is a crucial part of the lineup
We knew there were going to be some younger players who stepped up for the Guardians this year as they enter a transition period, but no one could’ve predicted just how impressive Steven Kwan was going to be. Heading into Spring Training, he was certainly one to watch to help an underwhelming outfield, but it was unclear if he’d be able to start the year at the big league level. After tearing his way through Cactus League play without a strikeout, he quickly was thrown into the national spotlight, going 116 pitches before swinging and missing and logging a five-hit performance within his first three career games. It’s one thing to get off to a hot start, but it’s been even more impressive to see him maintain his consistency at the plate, hitting .316 with an .868 OPS, 13 RBIs, six doubles, one triple and one homer through Sunday. — Mandy Bell

Royals: Clarke has been one of the Royals’ best relievers
When the Royals signed Taylor Clarke as a free agent the day before the MLB lockout began in December, it was seen as a depth signing. Clarke had been non-tendered by the D-backs, could give the Royals multiple innings in the bullpen and still had options. A little over a month into the season, the right-hander has been way more than just depth. Clarke, 28, has a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings, with 11 strikeouts and no walks. His mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider are his two best pitches, and his changeup is a weapon to keep hitters off balance. He’s been a great asset for manager Mike Matheny in a variety of roles, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him getting more and more opportunities in the later innings of close games. — Anne Rogers

Tigers: Bullpen has been a strength
Detroit’s relief corps looked shaky heading into the season for many reasons, including Kyle Funkhouser’s shoulder injury and Andrew Chafin’s delayed start. Instead, others have stepped up, from setup man Michael Fulmer with a scoreless April, to young Alex Lange with a nasty slider, to Will Vest with solid middle relief. The group has had a heavy workload due to rotation issues, but if it can get more leads to protect, it can help the Tigers dig out of their early hole. — Jason Beck

Twins: The pitching — all of it
Where on earth did this come from? A year after posting the second-worst staff ERA in the AL, the Twins’ success in 2022 has been fueled almost entirely by the success of the pitching staff, which entered Monday seventh in the Majors in starters’ ERA (3.17) and sixth in bullpen ERA (3.03). The rotation has gotten a huge lift from the success of rookies Joe Ryan and Josh Winder, while the bullpen has seen even less heralded arms thrive in all manner of roles. The Twins have now won seven straight one-run games on the strength of that pitching — and have you seen rookie Jhoan Duran pump 102 mph on the radar gun? — Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Foster is a high-leverage reliever
Those individuals who watched Matt Foster pitch in 2020 might disagree with his bullpen rise being considered a surprise after he posted a 2.20 ERA over 23 games as a rookie, with 31 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings. But after a rough sophomore campaign, featuring a 6.00 ERA in 37 games, the right-hander is back with a 0.66 ERA in 13 games. He has incorporated an effective slider and curve into his previous fastball/changeup repertoire, and manager Tony La Russa loves his competitive fire late in games. Foster adds to a late-inning mix already featuring Liam Hendriks, Kendall Graveman, Aaron Bummer and the soon-to-be-arriving Joe Kelly. — Scott Merkin

Angels: The emergence of Ward
Heading into Spring Training, it wasn’t even a guarantee that Taylor Ward would get consistent playing time in a crowded outfield that included superstar Mike Trout, veteran Justin Upton and youngsters Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell. But the Angels released Upton late in Spring Training to unlock more consistent at-bats for Ward this year. Ward, however, started the year on the injured list, missing the first eight games with a strained left groin. But ever since then, he’s been baseball’s hottest hitter. He’s batted .364/.490/.675 with six homers, four doubles, 19 walks and 15 RBIs in 22 games. His .364 batting average trails only San Diego’s Manny Machado, but he leads the Majors with his .490 on-base percentage and .675 slugging percentage. He’s been a huge reason why the Angels are in first place early this season, as he’s more than set the tone atop the lineup as the club’s leadoff hitter. — Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Starting pitching has been excellent
Lance McCullers Jr. was the Astros’ best starting pitcher last year, so when it was learned in the spring that he would miss the start of the regular season, Houston’s starting-pitching depth was in question. Through 29 games, though, the Astros’ starting pitching has been terrific, leading the AL in innings at 156 1/3 and ranking second with a 3.17 ERA. Justin Verlander returned to dominance in his return from Tommy John surgery, and Jake Odorizzi turned his season around after a slow start. Framber Valdez, José Urquidy and Luis Garcia have provided bulk and quality, as well. — Brian McTaggart

Athletics: Neuse is by far their best hitter
Reacquired by the A’s this spring after he was designated for assignment by the Dodgers, Sheldon Neuse wasn’t even a lock to make the Opening Day roster. One month into the season, he’s without a doubt Oakland’s best hitter, shining in an otherwise slumping offense. Batting .304 through 26 games, Neuse’s 28 hits are tied for 14th most among AL hitters. His four three-hit games are also tied for third most in the Majors. With Ramón Laureano back from suspension, the A’s will count on him and Neuse to help get this lineup back on track. — Martín Gallegos

Mariners: They’ve already matched their longest losing streak from 2021
The lineup is longer, the pitching staff is deeper and yet the Mariners just weathered their longest skid since a six-game stretch in 2021. In that run, Seattle was swept by the Tigers and Padres, including being no-hit for the second time in two weeks. It looked like the Mariners were on the cusp of a midsummer spiral before they bounced back and took their postseason dreams down to the final day of the year. This most recent stretch had eerily similar attributes, with the bats going mostly quiet. And they nearly extended the streak to seven games before Abraham Toro broke through with a solo homer in the ninth inning on Sunday that tied the game at 1, before Ty France walked it off with a single in the 10th. Seattle’s three-game sweep by Houston last week was its first in nearly one full year, and though this stretch is probably an outlier, it’s somewhat a cause for concern. — Daniel Kramer

Rangers: Pérez is their best starter
When the Rangers signed Martin Pérez during Spring Training, the intent was to have a veteran pitcher to hold down the middle of the rotation and eat innings while the club waits for the high-level pitching prospects to reach the big leagues. He’s done all that and more. Pérez has been the Rangers’ best starter this season and it hasn’t been particularly close. The lefty has posted a 2.25 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP through five starts (28 innings). Pérez even took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Astros on April 28, and he has consistently gone deep into games to preserve Texas’ bullpen. Manager Chris Woodward emphasized that the rotation could really be a strength of the team if Jon Gray can return to full health and Pérez continues to pitch at this level. — Kennedi Landri

Braves: Ozuna’s struggles
As Marcell Ozuna has produced a .615 OPS thus far, he has extended the struggles he had before he missed last season’s first four months after a domestic violence arrest. He played this winter in the Dominican Republic, looked good during Spring Training and was productive during the regular season’s first week. But he has an anemic .477 OPS over his past 21 games and has continued to be a liability when needed in left field. This is certainly not what the Braves expected from their primary designated hitter, who just happens to fill the cleanup spot. — Mark Bowman

Marlins: Avisaíl’s slow start
When the Marlins inked Avisaíl García to a four-year, $53 million contract over the winter as their marquee free-agent signing, he was coming off a career year with 29 homers and 86 RBIs. Miami fully expected him to become a key run producer in the heart of its lineup. But the 30-year-old has just one homer and four RBIs through 24 games this season, with a 31.6 strikeout percentage. — Christina De Nicola

Mets: The rotation’s success without deGrom
While Jacob deGrom’s right shoulder injury was hardly a death knell for the Mets at the end of Spring Training, the assumption was that the team would need to figure out a way to stay afloat until deGrom was ready to return. They’ve instead accomplished far more, thanks to larger-than-expected contributions from Tylor Megill, Carlos Carrasco and David Peterson. This bunch has leveled up as a rotation, giving the Mets far more confidence that they can maintain first place even if deGrom remains out for a while. — Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Hernandez’s offense
This time two years ago, Yadiel Hernandez had not made his Major League debut yet. This season, the 34-year-old outfielder has become one of the Nationals’ hottest hitters. He has been earning consistent playing time with solid production at the plate, batting .365 in 20 games as he moves up in the order. — Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Bohm’s turnaround
Alec Bohm rotated at third base the first week of the season with Bryson Stott and Johan Camargo. Then after a three-error game on April 11, Bohm found himself on the bench for nearly a week. He finally returned to third and he has played well since. In fact, Bohm has played so well that Joe Girardi elevated him from the bottom to the top of the lineup, saying he has had the team’s most consistent at-bats this season. On a team that features Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins and more, it is a high compliment. — Todd Zolecki

Brewers: 2-4 in Burnes’ starts
Corbin Burnes is off to a start befitting the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, with a 1.86 ERA through six starts and a trio of double-digit strikeout performances. But the team has won just two of those six games because it hasn’t been scoring for him. Through a 3-2 loss to the Braves on Saturday, Burnes had the fourth-lowest run support of the NL’s qualifying starters, which is especially puzzling because the Brewers have been scoring in bunches over the past two weeks. In Burnes’ last three starts, he has a 1.37 ERA and 28 strikeouts vs. four walks in 19 2/3 innings — and the Brewers have lost all three games. — Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: Knizner’s emergence
The Cardinals said before the season that backup catcher Andrew Knizner would play more this season, and this time, they have actually stuck to the plan in an attempt to keep veteran catcher Yadier Molina healthy. Molina, who recorded his 1,000th career RBI on Sunday, hates missing games, and in years past, the club has often caved to his desires to be in the lineup. However, through 32 games, Molina has played in 17 games and Knizner has caught 15. In addition to becoming more of an offensive threat, Knizner has made great strides in handling pitchers and has already gained the trust of the staff. — John Denton

Cubs: Chicago’s most valuable pitcher has been Thompson
Wins Above Replacement is not the end-all, be-all when it comes to statistics, but it can give a quick assessment of overall performance. For the Cubs, it’s a number that makes clear what has been apparent by watching the team this year. Keegan Thompson has been the club’s best pitcher. Not only does he lead the North Siders in WAR (1.6 per Baseball Reference), but he has the third-best mark in the Majors. And he is doing it as a multi-inning reliever. Thompson has posted a 1.17 ERA with 21 strikeouts, 14 hits allowed and eight walks in 23 innings (seven games) as a bridge arm for manager David Ross. Ross has been creative in utilizing Thompson, who could keep making his case to be handed a spot in the rotation. — Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Suwinski emerging as a starting outfielder
Prior to this season, Jack Suwinski had never played above Double-A. Suwinski, who began the season with Double-A Altoona, earned his first callup when Bryan Reynolds and Cole Tucker hit the COVID-19 injured list, and while the move was initially an emergency maneuver to fill out the roster, Suwinski has not only stuck around, but he’s been an everyday starter in right field. Suwinski’s numbers at the plate don’t jump off the page, but he has seldom looked overwhelmed despite the leap in competition. Furthermore, Suwinski has already been a fantastic defender. Entering Monday, Suwinski accumulated three defensive runs saved in 77 innings, an impressive beginning even with the small sample. It’s unclear how long Suwinski’s time with Pittsburgh will be, but so far, the rookie has left a positive first impression. — Justice delos Santos

Reds: The start of the season has been so rough
Cincinnati wasn’t expected to contend in 2022 once the club made a series of ownership-directed cost-cutting moves before and after the lockout that saw the likes of Sonny Gray, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez depart in trades. But few could have seen a franchise-worst 5-23 start to the season coming. The club has already endured separate losing streaks of 11 and nine games. With their depth already thinned by the deals and a Triple-A affiliate lacking prospects who can step up, injuries have exasperated the struggles. The Reds have 14 players currently on the injured list. Their rotation has been a big letdown with an MLB-worst 8.54 ERA that trails the 29th-ranked Nationals by nearly four runs. A Reds starting pitcher has yet to complete six innings (through Sunday). — Mark Sheldon

D-backs: The starting rotation
The D-backs’ rotation figured to be good this year, but no one predicted a start quite this good for them. Through six starts, Madison Bumgarner has a 1.50 ERA, while Merrill Kelly is even better at 1.22. Then there’s Zac Gallen, who has made five starts and has an ERA of 0.95. Heading into Sunday’s game in which Gallen threw seven shutout innings, the D-backs’ starters had the second-best ERA in baseball behind only the Dodgers. — Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: Turner’s struggles
Justin Turner has been a key piece of the Dodgers’ lineup for nearly a decade, but the third baseman has had a forgettable start to his season at the plate. Turner, who was an All-Star last season, is 7-for-55 (.127) with 11 strikeouts over his past 15 games. He has gone hitless in nine of those games. The Dodgers will remain patient with Turner as he figures things out at the plate. But it’s been quite the grind for the 37-year-old. — Juan Toribio

Giants: González’s contributions
The Giants played the long game with Luis González, who was acquired from the White Sox and stashed on the 60-day injured list after undergoing season-ending right shoulder surgery last summer. That patience now appears to be paying off. Injuries to several other left-handed hitters created an opening on the roster for González, who seized the opportunity by batting .304 with a .765 OPS over 15 games. The Giants have an impending roster crunch with Evan Longoria and Tommy La Stella on their way back from the IL, but González is certainly making a case to stay. — Maria Guardado

Padres: Hosmer has been the NL’s best first baseman
Eric Hosmer has spent practically the entire month atop the batting-average leaderboard, and he’s helped carry a Padres offense that has struggled, outside of himself and Manny Machado. Hosmer, of course, was a candidate to be dealt for pennies on the dollar just a month ago. Since then, he’s been red-hot at the plate and he’s been incredibly sound defensively as well. No, he’s not going to flirt with .400 all summer. But there are reasons to believe his turnaround might be for real, most notably his lower chase rate and whiff rate. “He’s been an All-Star this year,” Machado said, and who could argue right now? — AJ Cassavell

Rockies: Kuhl is among the NL ERA leaders
The Pirates thought Chad Kuhl’s future was in their bullpen, and non-tendered him when he showed little interest in their vision. Kuhl, 25-30 with a 4.44 ERA in five seasons with Pittsburgh, was confident that someone would see that he could be a part of a rotation. But did anyone expect a 3-0 record with a 1.82 ERA through the righty’s first five starts? Kuhl skated through his first four outings, but the last outing — one run in six innings at Arizona — was an eye-opener for one reason: He wasn’t sharp and fell behind in counts, but he found a way to hold the D-backs to three hits and strike out five. — Thomas Harding

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