One Month Completed: Major League Baseball's Biggest Surprises

Baseball May 03, 2021

We're now an entire month into the 2021 Major League Baseball regular season.

While some things have been predictable, other things were unforeseen and thus have been huge surprises.

What follows are the ten biggest surprises in baseball, so far (from a gambler's point-of-view):

(1) The NL East is garbage.  Okay, except for ace pitcher Jacob deGrom.  All five teams in this division – including the NY Mets, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, and Miami – have been disappointments in one way or another.  All are playing .500 baseball, or below.  Every team in the division has lost money for their bettors.  The division leader (the Mets) is 11-11 and has scored a grand total of 71 runs all season (worst in the majors).  It looks like four mediocre teams will jockey in the standings while Miami (last year's surprise up and comer) is destined for the cellar.  Projections were that four teams in this division would win at least 85 games.  That's unlikley to happen.

(2) Chicago Cubs in last place. In 2021, the once-mighty Cubs were projected to fall from grace from the ranks of elite teams.  But they've plunged faster than anyone could have predicted.  Chicago was forecast as an 80-win team.  Right now, they're 12-16 and in last place, even lower in the standings than the dismal Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Cubs have reverted back to the loveable losers they were so so many years and show no signs of contending anytime soon.  Bettors have lost big with the Cubs, down -18 percent in ROI overall.

(3) San Francisco Giants in first place. No one saw the Giants as a contender this season.  Oddsmakers had them as a 75-win team at the start of the season.  The last full year they played (2019), they won just 77 games.  But look where we are now – San Francisco has catapulted over the powerhouse Dodgers and the new darling of the division, San Diego, and stands atop the standings in what's arguably the best division in baseball.  They've done it with pitching, so far.  The Giants rank 25th in batting, but are #2 in the majors in pitching at the moment.  One suspects they won't win the division with so much talent beneath them, but give San Francisco their due as a big surprise.  Giants are +17 percent ROI betting them in every game this season.

(4) Kansas City Royals in first place.  Wait!  That can't be right.  Weren't the Chicago White Sox supposed to run away with the AL Central this season?  That's not happening.  Lowly Kansas City, forecasted to win 73.5 games and finish near the bottom along with the toothless Tigers, is showing surprising consistency as a 16-10 first-place team.  We'll see if the Royals have what it takes to remain in first place in what's clearly a weak division.  Bettors sure have loved the Royals, returning +19 percent on investment for all their games, to date.  This ranks second in the majors, to Seattle which has been the biggest moneymaker.

(5) Oakland's incredible turnaround.  The Athletics completed one of the most unusual first-months in major league history.  They lost their first 6 games – outscored 50-13 in runs.  They were written off as a dead team going nowhere by just about everyone.  Now, only three weeks later, Oakland is 17-12 and in first place.  Go figure!  The A's have even managed to produce a 12 percent ROI for their backers in their 29 games this season, despite the horrible start.  Yes, it's still early, but Oakland will compete for sure in the AL West and is probably belongs in the conversation to win the AL penant.

(6) The Toronto Blue Jays are hanging tough.  Let's give Toronto a lot of credit for overcoming the biggest scheduling challenges this 2021 season, as a team with no home.  The Blue Jays have been forced to play home games at a minor league stadium in the Tampa area, with no real advantages when it comes to home-versus-away.  Yet "Toronto" is 14-12, in second-place, and very much in the thick of the AL East hunt, which has multiple World Series contenders.  The Blue Jays have returned a profit to their bettors and are playing well – especially when it omes to pitching.    

(7) The NL West is a beast.  If the Arizona Diamondbacks were in the NL East, they'd be in first-place with a two-game lead.  Instead, they play in the brutal NL West, stocked with four winning teams.  Three of these teams – San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego – are ranked in the top four in pitching overall in the majors this season.  Now, that's dominance.  We can expect the top four teams (toss out Colorado) will beat each other up this season.  Certainly, this division can boast 2 bona fide World Series contenders and 2 up-and-coming teams that could make things very interesting.

(8) Cincinnati Reds leading the majors in team offense.  What's up with the Cincinnati Red scoring all the runs?  They lead the major league in runs scored (151) and home runs (43).  The Reds average 5.6 RPG, which is unusually high for an NL team (recall the DH).  The Reds have been crushing OVER totals this season, returning a staggering +38 percent on investment on all their games.  Of course, this also means the Reds have a very weak pitching staff.  Cincinnati is the OVER team of the moment and shows no signs of letting up when it comes to high-scoring games.

(9)  The Atlanta Braves pitching staff being the worst in the majors.  Traditionally, the Atlanta Braves have been known for their pitching.  For two decades, this has been a dominant staff that's always been in the top third of the majors.  For a ten-year stretch, the Braves starting rotation was an iron wall.  Even the 4th and 5th pitcher in the rotation were considered starters that would have been aces on any other staff.  Now, fast forward to the present:  Atlanta (12-16) is dead last in pitching with an ERA over 5.00 – and has allowed more runs than any other team.  The Braves were forecast as a ridiculous 91.5-win team.  They aren't going to even have a winning record if this level of pitching continues.

(10)  The MVPs aren't who we thought they were – except for Mike Trout. The majors is stacked with young talent and lots of MVP-calibre talent, including some lesser-known names that haven't surfaced before.  But this award is Trout's right now based on his performance and current form.  The three-time MVP could very well add a fourth title to his resume.  In the NL, my vote would go to Jacob deGrom, who is the most dominant pitcher in the majors and a complete game changer.  Yeah, he will win the Cy Young for sure.  An NL pitcher hasn't won it since Clayton Kershaw (2014), but he's the best on the game at any position.  So, perhaps it's no surprise that Trout and deGrom are the two MVP frontrunners.  Read more here on the MPV for each team in April.

Note:  All stats are taken from