Sports are full of all kinds of surprises–that’s why we love them, after all. A team’s outlook can change with one good game that suddenly turns into a streak. Some player who’s been struggling can become a hero in an instant. Similar situations occur in the form of bad surprises as well; your team, the hometown favorite, somehow loses to the worst team in the league, etc. However, despite having seen many such moments over the course of my lifetime as a sports fan, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything quite as full of these surprises as the current MLB season. In fact, the 2015 MLB season might just be one of the most surprising seasons of any sport in recent memory. The beauty of this lies in the fact that we have yet to reach the playoffs; the regular season alone was unexpected enough to mark this season down in the history books.
As with the beginning of any sports season, fans, players, management, and anyone else involved go into the season with a certain set of expectations of how teams and players will perform. This was no different for this MLB season. The Washington Nationals were supposed to be one of the most dominant teams in all of baseball, strong in both their pitching and hitting. Classically mediocre teams like the New York Mets, the Houston Astros, and the Chicago Cubs were all seen as being mired in developmental phases, years away from competing legitimately. The Toronto Blue Jays had put out their wallets in the offseason and were expected to cruise to a playoff spot. The list could go on and on.
But not much went according to plan, as the MLB went on a roller coaster of a journey over the last few months. On the one hand, there were some teams that initially lived up to high expectations before gradually collapsing as the season progressed. Likewise, there were many teams that started off as pretenders who became contenders out of nowhere. The NL East was a great example of this. Until about halfway through the season, the Nationals appeared to have a good lock on the division title. Bryce Harper’s performance for the Nats was eye-popping (it still is, mind you), and his team wasn’t too worried. The Mets were likewise proceeding according to predictions, boasting impressive young pitching but lacking hitting almost entirely (second worst in the league for the first half of the season). However, the Mets somehow didn’t drop off entirely and remained not too far off from the Nats in the division. They acquired a hitter midseason, Yoenis Cespedes, who saw his own disappointing season turnaround when he came to the Mets and started banging out homers. He turned out to be that catalyst for the ensuing chain of events which saw the Mets become second in hitting in the league in the second half, overtake the collapsing Nats (who got quite ugly at points, even having a brawl among teammates in recent days), and clinch the division with more than 10 games to spare. Boom. Just like that. A playoff spot after almost a decade of ineptitude, a gift about two years early. Absolutely no one could have seen it coming; the Mets making the postseason alone would have been enough to make this season noteworthy.
And yet, the Mets were only one of many surprises for the MLB. The Cubs are playoff-bound and the Astros are very much in the heat of contention, which are unexpected outcomes for two teams that were indisputable bottom-dwellers for the last couple of years. The Blue Jays didn’t cruise to a playoff spot, but rather suffered through an awful first half; their recovery back to the top of the division over the Yankees in the second half was probably more stunning to watch, though. Speaking of the Yanks, Alex Rodriguez has been playing like he’s on steroids again (I think he’s learned his lesson about those, though). Pitching ace Cole Hamels went from a dreadful Phillies team to a struggling Rangers team and helped them go from 48-52 to 85-72 (currently leading the West, two games ahead of the surprise Astros). The standings have been changing so much over the course of the season that fans of many teams are probably still feeling dizzy.
Of course, there are still plenty of elements of this season that aren’t surprising at all, but are still admirable (and also prove to us that we’re probably not dreaming). The Cardinals have looked pretty untouchable all season, Mike Trout of the Angels with his hitting and defense still looks like he was made solely for playing baseball, and the Dodgers just clinched their third straight division title. Not every fun thing in sports has to be a surprise. More often than not, actually, you just find yourself admiring the handiwork of those who do their job well. An MLB fan had plenty of opportunity to do that this season, but could be forgiven for being too overburdened by regular shocks to their system over the course of the season.
Anyway, all this talk of surprises, shocks, and the like, leads us to an examination of where this MLB season stands at this moment. With only about 10 games left, many teams and players have already defied expectations and, in more than a few cases, logic. But there is more magic that could be made during these last 10 days as playoff races come to their respective climaxes. Who wouldn’t love to be stuck wondering how the Twins worked their way up to a playoff spot, if they do, despite having remarkably unremarkable performances? Can the Astros make the ultimate turnaround from 111 and 92 loss seasons to a division title? And then there’s the playoffs themselves? Will I live to see the eagerly (and perhaps foolishly) awaited New York World Series (Mets-Yankees)? The possibilities are seemingly endless for moments that could add to what has already been quite a momentous season.
I should probably slow down here, though. Frankly, this probably seems like a lot of hype over a boring sport to most of you, and you might be right about that. Unfortunately, I’m not quite in the state of mind to change your perspective (I had to refrain myself from throwing lots jaw-dropping stats out there, so be thankful for that), but I will leave you with this; if the MLB is boring, then boring has never been more exciting.