Baseball analysts and fans have more data at their disposal than ever before. That information has made people more confident about their predictions prior to the start of a season. Before the first pitch is thrown, there’s usually a consensus regarding the handful of teams that will compete for a playoff spot.

However, one of the reasons people love baseball is the game is always surprising us. Every season there are teams and players who seemingly come out of nowhere and turn preseason projections on their heads. The 2017 season has been no different, and one glance at the standings reveals a few organizations experiencing unexpected levels of success.

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Prior to each season, several prominent projection systems give each team playoff odds for the coming year. FanGraphs is one such place where you can find this type of information. If you compare a team’s odds at the beginning of the season with their current odds, then it becomes obvious which clubs are playing well above expectations. Who are these teams, and what are the chances they can continue this level of play the rest of the year?


Playoff odds to open the season: 8.2 percent

Playoff odds as of June 15: 75.4 percent

What has gone right?

The Diamondbacks felt like nothing more than a punchline over the past few seasons. Yet, they currently hold a firm lead on a Wild Card spot. What’s changed in Arizona? They’ve had one of the most productive offenses in baseball up to this point. The Diamondbacks have scored the fifth-most runs in the league (342), and they’re in the top 10 by BA, HR, RBI, R, and SB. That sounds like a team capable of scoring a lot of runs.

The usual suspects are contributing to these results. Paul Goldschmidt is on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career. Similarly, Jake Lamb has built on a productive 2016, and it appears that he’s taken another step forward. Brandon Drury, David Peralta, and Chris Owings are all performing at or above league-average production. These pieces together have given Arizona a potent offense.

Perhaps even more surprising has been the success of Arizona’s starting rotation. Zack Greinke has rebounded from a disappointing 2016, and he’s looking more like the pitcher the Diamondbacks thought they were acquiring. However, Greinke isn’t the only story here. Three of the other four starters in the Diamondbacks rotation are giving the team above league-average production.

Robbie Ray has been the most impressive of this group. Over 13 starts, Ray has gone 7-3 with a 2.62 ERA. He’s striking out a career-high 11.7 batters per nine, and he’s surrendered zero earned runs in four of his last five starts.

Will they make the playoffs?

There’s still a lot of baseball to play this season, but it’s getting difficult to brush off Arizona’s start as a fluke. Not only that, but the team has a major factor working in its favor. If you don’t think Arizona is going to make the postseason, which NL team are you predicting to overtake them? Outside of the NL West, there are only two other teams in the National League with a winning record. The Diamondbacks are 15 games over .500. It’s likely the rotation is going to slow down at some point, although several advanced pitching metrics are optimistic about the results so far, but it’s hard to pinpoint a team that could take advantage of a run of poor play by Arizona.


Playoff odds to open the season: 10.4 percent

Playoffs odds as of June 15: 76.5 percent

What has gone right?

We’ll stay in the same division for our second team. Like Arizona, Colorado has benefited from a productive offense. The Rockies have scored the fourth-most runs in baseball, and they rank in the top five by R and RBI. Somewhat surprisingly, they have only hit the 14th-most homers in the league (82).

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Nolan Arenado hasn’t quite matched his production from the past few seasons, but even his “struggles” are better than most. Charlie Blackmon is once again putting together an impressive campaign. He’s on pace to set career highs in BA, HR, and RBI. Perhaps the biggest boost to Colorado’s lineup has been the bat of Mark Reynolds. He’s gone from an afterthought prior to the season to one of the team’s most productive hitters (.300/.382/561). Ian Desmond and Trevor Story haven’t lived up to expectations yet, but if they elevate their play in the coming months that would give Colorado a daunting lineup.

Solid offensive production is expected in Colorado, but little is ever expected of the team’s starting pitching. Jon Gray was likely to provide solid innings if he was healthy, but outside of his spot there were plenty of question marks. Three rookies (Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, and German Marquez) have more than answered those questions, and they’ve provided the Rockies with surprising performances up to this point. Freeland has been the most impressive member of that group. He’s gone 7-4 with a 3.57 ERA over 13 starts.

Not only has the rotation been productive, but the Rockies are benefiting from a much-improved bullpen. Colorado rolled the dice on Greg Holland prior to the season, and he’s responded by providing 23 saves with a 1.09 ERA. Jake McGee, Adam Ottavino, and Chris Rusin are also worthy of attention as dependable late-inning options for the Rockies.

Will they make the playoffs?

The Rockies face the same kinds of concerns as the Diamondbacks. The starting rotation appears to be pitching above its actual talent level, and that leaves fans wondering, “How long can they keep this up?” Several starters have already dealt with injuries this season (Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson), and while other pitchers have filled in admirably, it’s doubtful they can keep this up for an entire season.

The Rockies playoff hopes are boosted by a lackluster National League field. Colorado currently leads the NL West by half a game, and there’s quite a bit of separation between their current situation and a record that would keep them out of the postseason. You might try and dismiss Colorado’s success, but if you pick them to fall out of the playoffs, which team are you putting in their place? It’s difficult to come up with a great answer.


Playoff odds to open the season: 15.9 percent

Playoff odds as of June 15: 82.2 percent

What has gone right?

Aaron Judge.

Of course, there are things that have gone right in New York other than Judge’s production. However, few expected him to be performing like one of the best hitters in baseball. He’s already smacked 22 home runs, and his .338 batting average has been a shock given his track record. While his average is going to come down, Judge has clearly taken steps forward and given the Yankees a middle-of-the-order bat to build around.

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Judge isn’t the only Yankees batter producing at the plate. New York’s success this season has been spurred on by one of the best offenses in baseball. As a team, the Yankees have hit the most home runs, and scored the second-most runs in the league. Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, Aaron Hicks, and Gary Sanchez are all hitting the ball well. This is becoming a formidable lineup from top to bottom, and their home park is one of the most conducive to run scoring in baseball. That’s a powerful combination.

Had you told Yankees fans prior to the season that the starting rotation would thrive although Masahiro Tanaka would struggle, they would have laughed at you. However, that’s exactly what has happened. Tanaka is enduring the worst stretch of his big-league career, but New York’s four other starters have all been impressive. Luis Severino has performed like the best pitcher in the rotation. Jordan Montgomery has taken advantage of his major-league opportunity by going 4-4 with a 3.55 ERA. CC Sabathia was even experiencing a resurgence, although he hit the disabled list earlier this week.

New York’s bullpen has been one of the most formidable in baseball, even with a shoulder injury limiting Aroldis Chapman’s innings. Dellin Betances has been lights out, running a 0.45 ERA over 20 innings. Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard, and Chasen Shreve have been three of the more dependable relief options in the game. If that wasn’t enough, Chapman is slated to rejoin the bullpen as early as next week. The Yankees score a lot of runs, and they’re good at holding leads once they have them. That sounds like a playoff team to me.

Will they make the playoffs?

The Yankees currently have a two-game lead in the AL East, and their playoff odds sit at 86.6 percent. What makes this even more impressive is that they’ve accomplished this while playing one of the toughest schedules in the league. The starting rotation is the biggest question mark for New York. If the offense continues to score at this pace, it will mitigate the impact of a poor outing from a starter. New York does have to worry about more quality teams in their league than the NL teams mentioned above, but it’s hard to imagine the Yankees falling out of the postseason at this point.