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Each Major League Baseball season comes with its own suite of assumptions in tow. The 2024 season, which we are now one month into, is no exception. Most of these annual expectations will wind up being met, given that they are likely outcomes to one degree or another. These, though, are the early hours, and chaos is on the guest list. 

Among major team sports, baseball, by virtue of its unpredictability and reliance on randomness, is prone to a great deal of early noise across small sample sizes. That is presently the case with April almost freshly behind us. We call such things surprises and we regard them as the opposite of those aforementioned expectations, for good or ill. 

Let's now examine five of this season's most notable surprises across baseball at both the team and individual levels. These probably won't be sustained across the entire season, but for now, they qualify as shocking stuff. 

Houston Astros

Whatever your definition of a "modern baseball dynasty" is, the Astros should meet it. They've made it at least as far as the American League Championship Series in each of the last seven seasons, and they won it all in 2017 and 2022. They've sustained their success despite roster turnover, changes in the front office and changes in dugout leadership. 

Coming into 2024, the consensus expectation was that the Astros would keep the good times rolling. Yes, future Hall of Fame manager Dusty Baker retired and was replaced by first-timer Joe Espada. However, the core was back. Additionally, deadline acquisition and old friend Justin Verlander would be around for the bulk of the year, and lockdown closer Josh Hader had been added via free agency. Anything less than yet another trip to the playoffs would be surprising.

Well, as April draws to a close, the Astros are poised for such a surprise. As of this writing, the Astros are 7-19 and in last place in the AL West, which, of course, puts them behind even the A's. Even more surprising is that they're lugging around a run differential of minus-36, which suggests this isn't just an early-season run of misfortune. The Astros really have been bad so far. 

The main culprit has been pitching. The Astros, thanks in part to a rotation battered by injuries, right now rank 28th in the majors with a staff ERA of 5.07 and 29th with a K/BB ratio of 1.90. There is some hope on offense, though, as the Astros' ranking in runs scored (20th) is a bit out of step with their rank in OPS (ninth). Maybe that equalizes soon enough. 

Still, significant damage has already been done. According to FanGraphs, the Astros, coming into the 2024 season, had an 85.9% chance of making the playoffs. Now, that figure has tumbled all the way down to 44.9%. It's hard to slough off so much probability in a single month, but the Astros have done just that. There's a heavy lift ahead if Houston is going to make it back to October.

Cleveland Guardians 

It is the first season in a long time without skipper Terry Francona at the helm for Cleveland. In his place is rookie skipper and former major leaguer Steven Vogt. Yet, somehow, the Guardians find themselves on pace for 117 wins. Obviously, that's almost certainly not going to happen, but Cleveland has indeed thrived thus far, coming off a 76-86 campaign in 2023. We're accustomed to the Guardians being something of a pitching factory, but this year, it's the offense that is doing the heavy lifting. Cleveland right now ranks sixth in the majors in runs scored and eighth in OPS. Particularly vital to the attack has been first baseman Josh Naylor, who's authored a team-best OPS+ of 169 thus far. 

Elsewhere, the rotation has largely struggled in the absence of ace Shane Bieber, but the bullpen has been among the game's best in 2024 (2.31 relief ERA with 119 strikeouts in 101 ⅓ innings). The bold start has improved their postseason chances, as you might imagine. FanGraphs' preseason odds for Cleveland were at 33.4%, but now those odds are in coin-flip territory. Also of note is that the fact that the Guardians currently have the best run differential in all of baseball. 

Milwaukee Brewers

Yes, the Brewers won the NL Central last season, but the loss of manager Craig Counsell, one of the best in the league, to the Cubs was a hit (and this is to say nothing of the departure of David Stearns to the Mets). Another blow was how much starting pitching they shed from last season. Gone before the season were ace Corbin Burnes (traded to the Orioles), co-ace Brandon Woodruff (re-signed after being non-tendered but will miss all of 2024 as he recovers from a shoulder injury) and useful back-ender Adrian Houser (traded to the Mets). In those moves, the Brewers lost 64 starts, 372 innings, 32 quality starts, and a combined ERA of 3.40. That's to say nothing of Wade Miley, whom the Brewers recently lost to Tommy John surgery. He pitched to a 3.20 ERA across 23 starts last season. 

It's hard for any team to overcome that, particularly one in a balanced division like the NL Central. Thus far, though, that's what the Brewers under Pat Murphy have done. They're 16-8, and they've achieved that record despite playing what's been one of MLB's toughest schedules to date. FanGraphs gave Milwaukee just a 17.4% chance of snagging a playoff berth coming into the season, but now they have a 47.4% chance. While Milwaukee's results to date have been surprising, William Contreras' MVP-caliber production from the catcher spot is not all that much of a shocker. 

Ranger Suárez 

The Phillies' 2024 rotation has been more than "just" tandem aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, and that's thanks in large part to Suárez's April performance. The 28-year-old lefty has made five starts, one of which was a complete-game shutout, and over that span, he boasts an ERA of 1.36 with no unearned runs allowed. Of note, Suárez has a K/BB ratio of 6.40. Compare that to his pre-2024 career K/BB ratio of 2.54. He's not a hard thrower, but he's got a deep repertoire, which he commands very well. Also, Suárez has strong ground-ball tendencies, and that's especially been the case this season. 

Paul Goldschmidt

On the one hand, how can it be shocking that a 36-year-old first baseman is cratering? Fair point, but Goldschmidt's season to date still qualifies as an unpleasant surprise. Sure, his surface-level numbers last season declined from his 2022 MVP campaign, but his quality of contact indicators actually improved in 2023 (and remained elite). That kind of thing tends to bode well for the short-term future, but that hasn't come to pass for Goldschmidt in 2024.

Presently, Goldschmidt has an OPB hovering around .300 and a sub-.300 SLG, and he's struck out roughly three times as often as he's walked. More troubling still is that those aforementioned quality-of-contact numbers have declined steeply. Goldschmidt places in just the 39th percentile in average exit velocity off the bat and just the 21st percentile when it comes to his rate of "barrels." Those are troubling trends for a player who's been one of the best hitters in baseball over the course of his career.