Making pre-season predictions is a fool’s errand, which may of course be why sportswriters are paid to do it. But two months into the 2012 season, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought things would be going exactly this way. Sure, everyone expected the Texas Rangers to be bigger and badder than ever, but did anyone think that Josh Hamilton would be on pace for a career year at age 31 (especially considering his, ahem, “off-season distractions”) – or that the only guy keeping Hamilton from leading the American League in all three triple-crown categories would be 36 year-old White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who as of Monday was leading the AL with a .366 batting average?
The American League East, dominated in recent years by the three-way dogfight between the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, is currently coiled tighter than a fist with all five teams (including the usually hapless Orioles and Blue Jays) playing over .500 ball. The White Sox, Nationals and Dodgers are all topping in their respective divisions, while the Tigers and Angels have so far failed to ride their big-ticket free agent signings to the runaway success that was widely predicted for them, and the once-mighty Phillies are languishing in last place in the NL East amid a slew of injuries.
There’s been a definite “bizarro world” vibe to 2012 thus far. While the Cubs’ thoroughly dismal performance has surely come to the surprise of no one, who could have predicted that Cubs hurler Ryan Dempster would still have a shot to finish the season as the first pitcher in history to snag an ERA title without actually winning a single game? Or that two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum would be struggling worse than ever, while his Giants rotation mate Barry Zito would suddenly sparkle again after five straight lousy seasons? Or that Johan Santana would not only be looking dominant after missing the entire 2011 season with severe shoulder problems, but that he’d also pitch the first no-hitter in the Mets’ 51-year history? Likewise, even the sagest commentators out there couldn’t have called Albert Pujols’ agonizingly slow start, Mariano Rivera’s freak season-ending injury, or that the hottest pitcher in the game right now would be… Chris friggin’ Sale?!?
Of course, we’re only about one-third of the way into the season, which means that player and team performances will probably “normalize” over the course of the next four months. But it’s been a hell of an interesting year so far, and we’re hoping it only gets better and/or weirder. In the meantime, we’d like to ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads – now including Vinnie Paul! – the following questions: What’s been the biggest surprise of the 2012 season so far? And what’s been the biggest disappointment?
Name: Vinnie Paul
Band: Hellyeah, Pantera
Biggest surprise: Josh Hamilton making a huge impact after getting busted partying in a bar. We all know he’s good, but he has been spectacular, batting an astounding .354 with 21 home runs – four of which came in one game – and playing awesome in the field. Way to bounce back, Josh!!! I see the Rangers making their third consecutive World Series appearance and winning this time! Baseball’s biggest disappointment has to be Albert Pujols. After helping the Cardinals beat my Rangers in the World Series, he goes to our hated rivals the Anaheim Angels … but he forgot one thing: He left his magic bat in St. Louis! He’s batting a very weak .235 and with only eight home runs so far … which me and my Rangers are happy to see! Hellyeah!!!
The Dodgers are the biggest and most pleasant surprise to me. Ned Colletti went thrift store shopping in the off-season, and wound up with the team with the best record who are still winning without their best player. Chris Capuano has been pitching out of his mind, and Don Mattingly is proving to be a great manager.
Biggest surprise? The Dodgers. They began the spring with a new lease on life, their tabloid headlining ownership situation behind them and their entire coaching staff from the late-surging 2011 season returning… but I still would have bet that it would have taken sophomore manager Don Mattingly another season or two to reign his outfit in, and would never in my wildest dreams have picked the Dodgers to lead their division, much less hold the best record in baseball eight weeks into the season. Way to go, Donnie Baseball! Biggest disappointment? The Yanks’ starting rotation. The loss of Pineda before he ever threw a pitch. The struggles of the normally dependable Hughes and Garcia. Yikes! Come on, Andy!
The topsy-turvy state of the standings has to be the biggest surprise. And it’s very enjoyable. I mean, how great is it to see the poor Orioles fighting to stay atop the heavyweight AL East? And certainly no one predicted that the Tigers and Angels would struggle so much thus far, but who can feel sorry for them? Or the Phillies or the Red Sox, for that matter. The biggest disappointment for me is that The Freak’s mojo seems to have worn off. Baseball just isn’t as fun with a guy as cool as Tim Lincecum getting pounded most every game. Let Timmy smoke!!
The biggest surprise of the year is right there in the standings (which, of course, may have changed by the time this is published). As of this writing, the Red Sox and Phillies are in last place, with the Brewers and Yankees not far behind (ahead, I mean). And the Nationals in first? Then again, it IS only June and I predict the biggest surprise, at least when it comes to the standings, will be no surprises at all. And the biggest disappointment? Well, that’s easy – and I’m sure a lot of my esteemed colleagues here will agree – it would have to be the loss of Mariano Rivera for the season and, likely, for his career. This year could have, should have been the perfect victory lap to a great career. The moral of the story? Don’t shag flies. Just don’t do it.
I LOVE that the Orioles and Nationals are playing competitive ball so far this season. As a Mariners fan, I am wired to always root for the underdog. That being said, I will be shocked if by September either team is still in contention. The season is too long for teams to not play to the backs of their collective baseball cards. The O’s and Nats (especially) have great, young cores and solid pitching, but the Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees are too stacked to be at the bottom of their divisions for much longer. The biggest disappointment so far was watching my M’s get perfect gamed by a mediocre starting pitcher, AT HOME! Granted, it was just one game, and much better teams have been perfect-gamed multiple times in recent years (eh-hem … Rays) but it still sucked and was embarrassing to watch. I learned that I am not one of those people who cheers for the achievement over my own team. In the days (weeks?) after the perfecto, I reluctantly started to admire Humber’s performance.
Name: Joshua Epstein
Band: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Position: Vocals, Keyboards
So far this season I am shocked at the Detroit Tigers. I think everyone predicted them to run away with the division, and so far they look pretty average. Prince Fielder hitting behind Miguel Cabrera has been the biggest letdown of the season so far.
My biggest surprise and disappointment so far has been that the Tigers are playing under 50/50 ball. I thought they would be 10 games ahead by now. But the pitching staff is waking up, and it may be better to have them get hot towards the middle and end of the season when they really need to be hot.
It is a game, it is our national pastime. I’m a fan of a game. I can’t say there are any disappointments. I’m disappointed when I see certain teams that can compete having major injuries to key individuals that can help them, such as the season-ending injury to Brian Wilson of the Giants. Ryan Howard is not playing, and Mariano Rivera – a future Hall of Famer who people want to see pitch – is out, which distresses me. On the other hand, The Mets are over .500 – that’s not a thrill, that’s a miracle.
I think what surprises me most about the season so far is how calm I am over the state of the Red Sox. I freaked out for a minute when they were legitimately sucking, but I chilled. I attribute this to my advanced age, the long-lasting effects of the 2004 World Series win, or a combination of both. I am disappointed that I have only been to a handful of games so far.
Biggest surprise and disappointment is the fact that the Yankees are only 29-24. Ridiculous.
Biggest surprise AND disappointment? Same answer for both questions: The fact that the two teams that make up the greatest rivalry in American sports, the Yankees and the Red Sox, have been battling to stay out of last place, instead of fighting for first.
Gotta say the Orioles are the biggest surprise, but hopefully they will fade. Josh Beckett would be the biggest dissapointment early on, but he seems to be finding his groove. If Beckett doesn’t have a great year, the Sox don’t have a chance.
The Baltimore Orioles are the biggest surprise. My Yanks need to come around, and they will. The line up is too good, and the pitching will come around.
The biggest surprise would certainly be Albert Pujols’ inability to hit as an Angel. Perhaps the Rally Monkey is spooking him. The biggest disappointment is, as you might guess, the Chicago Cubs’ basement-dwelling status. I have no more tears to cry.
Dan Epstein’s book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s, is now available in paperback.