The second half of the Major League Baseball season will start on Friday, with some great storylines to watch for. But what about the first half? There were some surprising teams out of the gate and even some who have shot up the standings towards the end, so who makes the list of the five most surprising teams in the first half of the 2023 MLB season?
5.) Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays sneak on the list because of what they did in April and May. The Rays are a good team that people had making the playoffs before the season started, but the American League East was expected to be run by the Toronto Blue Jays, or even the New York Yankees, but the Rays came out of the gate with other plans. They started the season winning 13 straight games and didn’t suffer their first loss until April 14th; they didn’t lose a game at home until April 25th. The Rays finished April 23-6, and then they were 40-18 after May. Before the All-Star break, they suffered a rough stretch dropping seven straight before winning the last game before the break. It’ll be interesting to see how the Rays do when they come back for the second half, but they surprised people in the first half.
4.) Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks ended the first half tied for first place with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which no one saw coming. After the money they spent in the offseason, the National League West was expected to be all Dodgers or the San Diego Padres, but the Diamondbacks had other plans. The 1-2 punch of Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly have helped, and Gallen is the favorite at the break to win the NL Cy Young award, but the lineup has helped this team. The lineup has been led by Ketel Marte but Christian Walker as well as Geraldo Perdomo are having a breakout season; Corbin Carroll has also been a big part of the Diamondbacks success this season and is right now the favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. He even could be in the MVP conversation. They also added Lourdes Gurriel in a trade this offseason, and he has provided a spark to the lineup. It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep it up in the second half, and they will start on the road in Toronto.
3.) Miami Marlins
I wrote before the season that the Miami Marlins could make the playoffs, and they are proving me right, but they are doing it in ways I didn’t expect. Reigning National League Cy Young award winner Sandy Alcantara has struggled in the first half of the season, going 3-7 with a 4.72 ERA in 18 starts. It’s been the lineup that has helped this team, and a lot of the conversation can be said the addition of Luis Arraez has provided this team a boost; he will be talked about a lot in the second half as people are excited about the possibility of him hitting .400 and he could even be a name to watch for the National League MVP award. The Marlins have always been great at developing young pitching, but Braxton Garrett and Eury Perez have been having solid seasons for Miami. Garrett has made 17 starts and is 5-2 with a 3.70 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, and a 9.8 K/9. Perez has also been dominant since being called up, he made his big league debut on May 12th against the Reds, and since then, he has gone 5-3 with a 2.36 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and a 10.3 K/9; Perez was sent back down to AAA to try to limit his innings off a rough outing against the Atlanta Braves, but you’d have to imagine he’ll be back up in August or September as the Marlins will need him for a postseason run. The Marlins are currently second in the National League East, but the most surprising part is they post the second-best winning percentage in the National League and fourth-best winning percentage in the entire league; they’ll be a fun team to watch in the second half.
2.) Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds started the season looking like it be another year in the bottom of the National League Central, but then they called up their top prospect Elly De La Cruz, and since then, they have taken off; since his major league debut on June 6th, the Reds are 23-8 and even had a 14-game winning streak. De La Cruz has a slash line of .325/.363/.524 with a .887 OPS in 30 games. De La Cruz is not the only rookie for the Reds to make his debut; they’ve had SS Matt McLain, 1B Spencer Steer, LHP Brandon Williamson, and LHP Andrew Abbott all make their debuts this season. The Reds still have a veteran presence as 1B Joey Votto is still there, along with 3B Nick Senzel and 2B Jonathan India. The Reds top pitcher Hunter Greene started the year with the team, but he has suffered an injury and will be out for a while. They ended the first half winning one of three against the Brewers, who trail them by only one game now, and when they start the second half, they will have a three-game series against those same Brewers, so that could be the test of how this Reds team will be in the second half. The Reds have been a fun team to watch and are electric. Hopefully, they can continue their run, make a run to the postseason, continue surprising people, and see these youngsters develop as the season progresses.
1.) Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles are my most surprising team to start the year; I had originally expected them to be towards the bottom of the American League East because their pitching wasn’t that eye-popping; boy, was I wrong. The pitching has not been somewhat okay, but it’s been the lineup and bullpen leading the charge for the Orioles. We’ll start with the bullpen; Yennier Cano and Felix Bautista have been dominant, Cano has a 1.48 ERA as well as a 2.37 FIP, a 0.98 WHIP, and an 8.0 K/9, and Bautista has been just as dominant with a 1.07 ERA, 23 saves, a 1.64 FIP, a 0.92 WHIP, and an 18.0 K/9. The young lineup continues to add prospects to it and doesn’t miss a beat; it’s been a total team effort from them as they average just under five runs a game, and five players have double-digit home runs. The Orioles post the second-best winning percentage in the American League and the third-best winning percentage in all of the MLB. The question will be, can everything they did in the first half hold up in the second half? I don’t see how it doesn’t, and they ended the first half just two games behind the Rays, and that’s because the Rays lost seven straight while the Orioles won five straight and even six of their last eight. They will start the second half against the Marlins and the Dodgers, but then the real test will be heading on the road for a four-game series against the Rays; there is a real chance the Orioles could be in first place by July 24th but even if they aren’t what they did to start the 2023 season is amazing.