It’s the middle of June and the baseball season is rushing by faster than the president’s lawyers can make up stories. It’s a weird biological thing the way a year seems like forever when you’re ten years old and a month seems like a minute when you’ve got a few decades in the books. Let us pause, then, before Labor Day is suddenly upon us, and take a look at some of the pleasant surprises going on around the major leagues, both with individual players and with teams.
The Milwaukee Brewers placed Scooter Gennett on waivers in the spring of 2017 even though he was a serviceable infielder who was 27 years old and had batted .279 for them with 35 home runs and 160 runs batted in over four seasons of play after they had drafted him in 2009. Now he is one of the few stars in the Cincinnati Reds dugout, having upped his offensive out put considerably. In a season and a half with the Reds, Gennett has hit .311 with 39 homers and 114 RBI. The Reds have a hitter friendly home field , but Milwaukee is pretty friendly as well. So I don’t know if the Reds are truly surprised or not, but it certainly has been pleasant so far for them.
Gorkys Hernandez is 30 years old and seemed to be nearing the end of the line with his baseball career in 2017 as part of the musical chairs outfield routine that the San Francisco Giants were staging during their dismal 98 loss season. This spring, the odds were against Hernandez even making the roster. Andrew McCutchen had come aboard, Hunter Pence had a big contract that meant that he would probably hang on despite his decline in production, Gregor Blanco was back, and some youngsters from the minors were going to be given every chance to bring the Giants what they needed, which was some power hitting. Hernandez is a pretty good if not great outfielder with good speed but , as in previous trials with Detroit, Miami, Kansas City , Pittsburgh and Miami, the bat was not an asset. He had a good enough second half last year to finish at .255, but with no home runs in 348 plate appearances. Somehow, due in part to injuries to other players, Hernandez has suddenly blossomed as a power threat and established himself as the regular center fielder for the Giants. He is currently batting .285 with seven home runs, which makes him a slugger by San Francisco standards.
The Los Angeles Dodgers did not appear to have room for one time all star Matt Kemp this season but they got him back in a trade with Atlanta that seemed to have more to do with salary dumping and other contract issues that only an MBA could understand. Kemp is now 33 years old, but he had seemed to be in decline in recent seasons due mostly to injuries. Kemp was simply brilliant in 2011 when, playing for the Dodgers, he batted .324 with 39 home runs, 115 runs, 40 stolen bases, and 126 RBI. Plus, he possessed a very strong throwing arm, could play any outfield position, and was a fierce competitor. Injuries took their toll after that and in 2014 he had what then appeared to be his last full season in Los Angeles, batting .265 with 25 homers and 89 RBI. They gave up on him ever returning to glory and shipped him to the San Diego Padres. Kemp did pretty well for the Padres but they changed their minds about what direction they were taking, as the general managers say. and in 2016 he was traded to Atlanta. In 56 games there after 100 with LA, he totaled 35 homers and 108 RBI. Last year, he helped the young Braves roster develop and contributed a .276 average with 19 homers in 115 games. So here he is back in southern California kicking ass. As of today he is hitting .338 with 10 homers and 41 driven in after 63 games played. The Dodgers, with all of their troubles, have to be happy.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. As noted, the Giants had a miserable season in 2017 and it was especially difficult for Crawford, who endured a sudden and unexpected death in his family. He has always been a brilliant defensive shortstop and , over the years, developed into a solid hitter as well. His numbers were not terrible in 2017 but they fell off somewhat as the Giants fell into disarray. Now he is playing like the MVP of the National League. In April, he floundered with a .189 batting average with 3 runs batted in.In May and June, so far he is ripping it at a .439 pace that has brought his numbers overall to .338 with 8 homers, 30 RBI, and absolutely filthy defensive work. He, and the Giants, are quite happy at the moment.
The nominees for pleasant surprises as teams are Seattle, San Diego, Atlanta, and Detroit. Detroit? Well, the Tigers came out of spring training looking like a AAA team and then Miguel Cabrera got hurt. Ouch! Here they are, though, in second place with a 31-36 record and now the big guy is back. San Diego is in the same boat. We tabbed the Padres as the only sure non contender in the National League West, but they too are 31-36 after a thoroughly miserable start and they are in the fight, at least for now. As for the Braves, they are tied for first in the N.L. East. That might be due to all of the injuries suffered by the Washington Nationals early on in the season but, at the same time, the young Braves have been good and are having fun. That’s the idea, right? Just ask the Astros. Also, Astros, what the hell is up with the Mariners? Just when we all decided that they were no longer contenders BOOM! It’s a great game.