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Contenders or pretenders? Are these five hot-starting MLB teams for real?

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Contenders or pretenders? Are these five hot-starting MLB teams for real?

The best part of the first month of any baseball season is the surprises, whether it’s the feel-good comebacks like Carlos Rodon or the out-of-nowhere stars like Yermin Mercedes. 

And every year, a couple of teams picked to finish way back in the pack start out strong. It’s fun for the fans of those franchises, because hope is a cool thing.

MORE: Panic or Patience? What to think of these five slow starts

Most times, those teams fade and it quickly becomes clear why expectations weren’t high in the first place. But sometimes, what quickly becomes clear is how very wrong most people were when evaluating the chances of those particular clubs. 

So today, let’s look at five teams exceeded expectations so far. 

Seattle Mariners

2021 record: 12-7, tied for first in AL West

What’s gone right: For a lot of reasons, this makes little sense. Let’s start here: The M’s have eight players with at least 50 plate appearances, and SIX of those eight have an OPS under .703, the current MLB average. Four of those six sit at .562 or worse. Their team batting average is .209, worst in the AL. Marco Gonzales, their best pitcher — the Opening Day starter three years in a row now — has a 6.04 ERA (though he was brilliant in his most recent start). Through 19 games, they’ve scored exactly one more run than they’ve allowed. So how in the world are they five games over .500? 

They’re 4-0 in extra innings, which is huge. They’re 6-3 in one-run games, which is key, too. How do you win games like that? Effective relievers. The Seattle bullpen has a 2.62 ERA on the season, and even that’s a bit misleading. Look at the ERAs for the five primary relievers, the guys who have made at least seven appearances: 

0.00, Kendall Graveman, 7 games, 8 2/3 innings
0.00, Anthony Misiewicz, 8 games, 6 1/3 innings
0.84, Will Vest, 9 games, 10 2/3 innings
2.35, Casey Sadler, 8 games, 7 2/3 innings
2.61, Rafael Montero, 10 games, 10 1/3 innings

On offensive side, Mitch Haniger has been a nice comeback story; he had his breakout season in 2018, but played just 63 games in 2019 and missed all of 2020 with back issues. He’s batting .316 with a 173 OPS+ and five homers. And Ty France, who had a sneaky good 2020 campaign, is hitting well again in 2021. 

Contender or pretender? I think it’s safe to raise expectations from what they were before the season started, when most projections had them competing with the Rangers for last place in the AL West, slotting in right about 70 wins. If the offense comes around a bit and the bullpen is solid, something around .500 is possible. But it’s hard to imagine this club competing for a playoff spot. 

Milwaukee Brewers

2021 record: 11-7, first in NL Central

What’s gone right: Maybe it’s unfair to put the Brewers in the “surprising” category. Most oddsmakers, though, had the Brewers middle of the pack, at best, on their World Series list, and most everyone had them behind the Cardinals (at least) in the NL Central. So we’ll put them here. And here’s the truth: This pitching staff is good enough to win the division, and then win in October. Corbin Burnes has been a revelation, with a 0.37 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings in his first four starts. 

Beyond that? Brandon Woodruff has a 1.96 ERA, Freddie Peralta has a 2.00 ERA, Brett Anderson a 2.65 ERA and Adrian Hauser is “last” among Milwaukee starters with a 3.32 ERA. That’s solid stuff, folks. In the bullpen, Josh Hader and J.P. Feyereisen have yet to allow an earned run in 15 1/3 innings, with 20 strikeouts, and veteran Brent Suter has been a solid addition to the bullpen as a multiple-inning lefty. Devin Williams has had a few hiccups, but last year’s NL Rookie of the Year is capable of making even the best hitters look silly. 

Contender or pretender? Well, we already gave this away. They’re contenders. Very legitimate contenders for the division crown (the NL Central ain’t great), and if that pitching staff’s healthy in October, it’s not one that any team would look forward to facing. The offense isn’t much, but 2-1 wins count in October just as much as 6-1 wins. 

Kansas City Royals

2021 record: 10-7, first in AL Central

What’s gone right: Didn’t we learn in 2014 and 2015 not to doubt a team led by a healthy and magical Sal Perez? He’s healthy and magical again this year, with five homers and a 143 OPS+ in 17 games and walk-offs like this one. 

Carlos Santana has been a nice veteran addition, in the lineup mix with an ever-consistent Whit Merrifield. Oh, and speaking of the magic of Royals years past, Danny Duffy has a 0.50 ERA in his first three starts of the season. Wade Davis and Greg Holland are back in the bullpen, too, though they haven’t exactly recaptured their old form, with 5.40 and 6.43 ERAs, respectively. 

Contender or pretender? If you’re a Royals fan, there’s reason to allow yourself to be at least a little excited. Your favorite team is in first place, without much production from slugger Jorge Soler, and even if matching his 48-homer output of 2019 isn’t going to happen, it’s reasonable to expect more than what he’s done so far. And Brad Keller, the youngster who was so very good in nine starts last year (2.47 ERA/3.43 FIP) has been mostly atrocious thus far; he has a 12.00 ERA and has been chased in the second inning in two of his four starts. He has to get better, right? That is, at least, the hope. 

Realistically, though, competing with the White Sox and Twins — yes, they’ll turn it around — over a six-month season will be tough. If we’re talking about playoff hopes and expectations, Kansas City is more pretender than contender. 

Boston Red Sox

2021 record: 12-8, first in AL East

What’s gone right: For starters, J.D. Martinez is healthy and raking again. It’s been a while. He’s just one spot in the lineup, but when he’s hitting like he is right now — .361, 215 OPS+, six homers and 20 RBIs in 18 games — that’s a dangerous Red Sox order. Also in the mix: Rafael Devers (six homers), Xander Bogaerts (.371) and Alex Verdugo (141 OPS+), and Christian Arroyo is batting at a .364 clip, too. It’s not surprising that the Red Sox lead the AL in runs scored. 

Nathan Eovaldi’s return to the rotation has been just as important as Martinez’s return to the lineup. The big right-hander has a 3.04 ERA with a strikeout per inning in his four starts. Nick Pivetta and Eduardo Rodriguez have been solid as starters, too. And the bullpen? It’s been pretty much a dream so far. Five relievers have pitched at least eight innings, and all five have ERAs of 2.00 or better. Closer Matt Barnes is 3-for-3 in save opportunities, with a 0.90 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 10 innings.  

Contender or pretender? They’re a legit contender. Boston needed a lot of things to come together for this to be something other than a rebuilding year, and that’s happened so far. 

San Francisco Giants

2021 record: 12-7, second in NL West

What’s gone right: Well, Buster Posey is back, so of course the Giants are World Series contenders. Why is that surprising? Only the most optimistic of Giants fans were hopeful that a team with older hitters — the average age of their hitters, 31.3, is by far the oldest in the major — and a pitching staff made up mostly of players coming off injuries, ineffective seasons or otherwise hoping for a rebound season could contend. 

So far, though? The projects are all panning out. Aaron Sanchez, who missed all of 2020, has a 1.83 ERA in four starts. Anthony DiScalfani, who had a 7.22 ERA for the Reds in 2020, has a 2.14 ERA in four starts. Jake McGee, who had a 5.54 ERA in 2018-19 with Colorado before rebounding with the Dodgers last year, has a 2.61 ERA with seven saves already. Evan Longoria, who hasn’t posted an OPS north of .762 since 2016, is chugging along at .972 in his Age 35 season. Oh, and Posey? He’s batting .310 with a .989 OPS and four homers in 12 games because of course he is. 

Contender or pretender? The Giants aren’t going to compete with the Dodgers for the NL West title. That’s just not happening. And competing with the Padres for second place in the division will be tough, too. Is a wild-card push possible? Sure. Never count out Posey and crew. 

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Marlins’ Jesus Aguilar quite literally tries to steal signs from D-backs’ Carson Kelly

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Marlins' Jesus Aguilar quite literally tries to steal signs from D-backs' Carson Kelly

Caught red-handed.

We know that batters can sometimes take a peek at catcher’s signs to try to get as much information as they can. It’s just part of baseball, after all. But Jesús Aguilar took it to the next level Thursday.

With Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly reaching first base, Aguilar decided to take a peak at the catcher’s signs — by lifting up Kelly’s wrist cheat-sheet.

MORE: Padres fan starts brawl after knocking out Rockies fan

Kelly responds with an incredulous, “What are you doing, man?”

Kelly’s disapproval to Aguilar taking a peek results in a hilarious reaction from Aguilar, looking like a kid who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar before breakfast.

Aguilar is one of baseball’s more fun personalities, so there’s nothing to read into here. But it’s not the first time that Aguilar has tried to steal signs. About a month ago, Aguilar stole an index card straight out of Dom Smith’s back pocket during a game against the Mets — presumably a defensive positioning card that players carry with them on the field.

The Marlins would go on to win the game 5-1.

If Aguilar keeps this up, he might be able to score a role in an “Ocean’s 11” reboot. 

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NASCAR lineup at Dover: Starting order, pole for Sunday’s race without qualifying

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NASCAR lineup at Dover: Starting order, pole for Sunday's race without qualifying

The starting lineup for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway was set by applying the statistical formula NASCAR is using for the majority of the series’ races in 2021.

Drivers’ starting positions for the Drydene 400 (2 p.m. ET; FS1, TSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) were based on four factors:

  • Driver’s finishing position from the previous race (25 percent)
  • Car owner’s finishing position from the previous race (25 percent)
  • Team owner points ranking (35 percent)
  • Fastest lap from the previous race (15 percent)

NASCAR is conducting qualifying and practice for just eight Cup Series races in the 2021 season. The next qualifying session will take place prior to the May 23 event at Circuit of the Americas, a road course outside Austin, Texas.

Below is the starting lineup, which was set without qualifying, for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race on Dover’s 1-mile oval.

MORE: Watch Sunday’s NASCAR race live with fuboTV (free 7-day trial)

Who won the pole for the NASCAR race at Dover?

Martin Truex Jr. was tabbed to lead the field to green for the Drydene 400 based on the mathematical formula. Truex is coming off his third win of the season, a dominating performance at Darlington last Sunday. He is the only driver to win more than once in the Cup Series in 2021.

Truex also gained the No. 1 pit stall, which is a valuable piece of real estate at Dover because track position is highly important on the Monster Mile.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is second in the series point standings to teammate Denny Hamlin, who will start in the second position Sunday. William Byron, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Chris Buescher received the other top-10 lineup spots.

NASCAR starting lineup at Dover

NASCAR used a mathematical formula to set the starting lineup for Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway, the Drydene 400, without qualifying.

Start pos. Driver Car No. Team
1 Martin Truex Jr. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing
2 Denny Hamlin 11 Joe Gibbs Racing
3 William Byron 24 Hendrick Motorsports
4 Kyle Larson 5 Hendrick Motorsports
5 Kevin Harvick 4 Stewart-Haas Racing
6 Kyle Busch 18 Joe Gibbs Racing
7 Ryan Blaney 12 Team Penske
8 Chase Elliott 9 Hendrick Motorsports
9 Joey Logano 22 Team Penske
10 Chris Buescher 17 Roush Fenway Racing
11 Christopher Bell 20 Joe Gibbs Racing
12 Tyler Reddick 8 Richard Childress Racing
13 Ryan Newman 6 Roush Fenway Racing
14 Austin Dillon 3 Richard Childress Racing
15 Brad Keselowski 2 Team Penske
16 Alex Bowman 48 Hendrick Motorsports
17 Chase Briscoe 14 Stewart-Haas Racing
18 Matt DiBenedetto 21 Wood Brothers Racing
19 Ross Chastain 42 Chip Ganassi Racing
20 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing
21 Michael McDowell 34 Front Row Motorsports
22 Bubba Wallace 23 23XI Racing
23 Erik Jones 43 Richard Petty Motorsports
24 Daniel Suarez 99 Trackhouse Racing Team
25 Ryan Preece 37 JTG Daugherty Racing
26 Corey LaJoie 7 Spire Motorsports
27 Anthony Alfredo 38 Front Row Motorsports
28 Kurt Busch 1 Chip Ganassi Racing
29 Justin Haley 77 Spire Motorsports
30 Cole Custer 41 Stewart-Haas Racing
31 BJ McLeod 78 Live Fast Motorsports
32 Aric Almirola 10 Stewart-Haas Racing
33 James Davison 15 Rick Ware Racing
34 Cody Ware 51 Petty Ware Racing
35 Quin Houff 00 StarCom Racing
36 Garrett Smithley 53 Rick Ware Racing
37 Josh Bilicki 52 Rick Ware Racing

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Oliveira vs. Chandler purse, salaries: How much money will they make at UFC 262?

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Oliveira vs. Chandler purse, salaries: How much money will they make at UFC 262?

There’s a whole lot of bling on the line at UFC 262, and not just from the lightweight championship belt.

Charles Oliveira (30-8-1, eight KOs) and Michael Chandler (22-5, 10 KOs) will vie for a significant payday and supremacy in the lightweight division as its Nos. 3- and 4-ranked fighters, respectively. That’s especially impressive for Chandler, who is fighting under the UFC flag for just the second time after moving on from Bellator. He is on a current three-win streak, all via knockout, heading into his bout vs. Oliveira.

Oliveira, meanwhile, is on an eight-fight win streak, mixing in wins via submission, KO and decision into the mix. Will he prove his superiority over the relative UFC newcomer, or will Chandler put his stamp as the best lightweight in the world in just his second UFC fight?

With that, here’s everything you need to know about the money they stand to make at UFC 262.

MORE: Sign up to watch the UFC 262 PPV, exclusively on ESPN+

UFC 262 purse, prize money

The official UFC 262 purse won’t be revealed until after the fight has concluded, but the headliners’ previous bouts in the Octagon could provide some indication of what they’re expected to make.

Michael Chandler made a reported $530,000 from UFC 257, which included his Performance of the Night, win and sponsorship bonuses. He made $350,000 in show money. Oliveira made a reported $250,000 from UFC 256: $115,000 to show, $115,000 as a win bonus and $20,000 in fight week incentive pay.

Considering that each fighter made those figures without headlining their respective events, it stands to reason that each will look to make at least $500,000 from UFC 262.

MORE: Everything you need to know about UFC 262

What is Charles Oliveira’s net worth?

Oliveria’s net worth is estimated between $2 million and $3 million per mmasalaries.com and $2.21 million according to sportkez.com.

What is Michael Chandler’s net worth?

Chandler has a net worth of $2 million, according to a 2020 estimate from wealthygenius.com.

UFC 262 card

Main card

  • Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler (lightweight championship)
  • Tony Ferguson vs. Beneil Dariush (lightweight)
  • Katlyn Chookagian vs. Viviane Araujo (women’s flyweight)
  • Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza (featherweight)
  • Matt Schnell vs. Rogerio Bontorin (bantamweight)

Prelims

  • Jacare Souza vs. Andre Muniz (middleweight)
  • Lando Vannata vs. Mike Grundy (featherweight)
  • Andrea Lee vs. Antonina Shevchenko (women’s flyweight)
  • Jordan Wright vs. Jamie Pickett (middleweight)

Early prelims

  • Gina Mazany vs. Priscila Cachoeira (women’s flyweight)
  • Kevin Aguilar vs. Tucker Lutz (featherweight)
  • Christos Giacos vs. Sean Soriano (flyweight)

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