The four biggest surprise teams in the major leagues heading into Memorial Day Weekend are the Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Twins entered Thursday’s play with a 25-18 record and a two-game lead in the American League Central. That marks quite a turnaround from last season when their 59-103 record was not only the worst in the major leagues but also the worst since the franchise relocated in 1961 from Washington.
The Brewers held a ½-game lead over the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central after going 73-89 in 2016.
The Rockies’ 31-17 record was good for first place in the NL West, two games ahead of the D-backs (29-19). Last year, the Rockies finished 75-87 and the D-backs were 69-93.
While this weekend is a significant point in the baseball schedule, it should also be noted that four more months of the season remain. So, all four teams still have a long way to go before they can start dreaming about printing playoff tickets — or making them available for download. Or mapping World Series parade routes.
With that in mind, we conducted a quick and unscientific poll of five scouts and executives to see which of the four teams they feel has the most staying power.
Four picked the D-backs, with the biggest reason being the presence of Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation. He is 6-2 with a 2.82 ERA in 10 starts this season after going 13-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 26 starts last year, his first since signing a six-year, $206.5-million contract as a free agent.
“When you have that No. 1 starter, then you always have a chance to compete in the long haul,” an executive from an NL team said. “Their bullpen scares me, but I like their lineup and I think (first-year manager) Torey Lovullo has done a helluva job there turning the whole attitude around. It just stuns me that it took this long for someone to give him a chance.”
The other vote went to the Brewers.
“I like their lineup a lot,” a scout from an AL team said. “They’re going to score runs. I like how they play with enthusiasm. They need more pitching, though. If they can get it, they are good enough to hang in the race.”
The Rockies and Twins did not receive any votes.
“Both teams are undoubtedly better, but what concerns me about both is the starting pitching depth,” an executive from an AL team said. “The Rockies have a lot of talented young guys, but they run the risk of wearing out later in the season, especially pitching (at Coors Field). Beyond Ervin Santana, the Twins don’t have anyone who I can truly put my trust in.”
One of the biggest keys to the Twins’ turnaround has been improved defense.
According to ACTA Sports, the Twins had 32 defensive runs saved coming into the week. Their DRS total was minus-50 last season, giving them the biggest gain of any team in the major leagues.
The biggest difference has been behind the plate, where catcher Jason Castro has provided seven DRS so far in the first season of a three-year, $24-million contract he signed as a free agent in the offseason. The Twins’ primary catcher last season, Kurt Suzuki, had a minus-12 mark.
Shortstop Jorge Polanco has also shined with five DRS.
The Twins are one of seven teams that started the week with positive DRS after having negative marks last season, joining the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and D-backs.
By John Perrotto