This has been an MLB season full of surprises, from the San Francisco Giants emerging as one of the top teams in baseball to watching trade deadline fire sales from recent World Series champions like the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs.
Or how about watching movie-themed broadcasts, like ESPN's "May the Fourth Be With You" to promote Star Wars, and Fox's "Field of Dreams" game that turned out to have as much drama as a motion picture?
This piece will focus on individual performances, selected based on expectations for a given player's role versus how their seasons have panned out.
But first, let's consider some of these storylines.
There was in-season fallout concerning pitchers using foreign substances, and now they're getting checked between every inning. Never thought I would see the day.
An MLB record nine no-hitters have been recorded, and the Cleveland Indians have been on the wrong side of three of them.
Speaking of no-hitters, remember when Diamondbacks pitcher Tyler Gilbert threw one in his first career start?
Speaking firsts in a career, there was also Padres reliever and San Diego-native Daniel Camarena hitting a grand slam off Max Scherzer the day he was called up.
Future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols had an unceremonious exit from the Los Angeles Angels in a year they were expected to contend in the American League West.
When Javier Baez was still with the Cubs, he helped his team steal a run in one of the most bizarre defensive blunders you will ever see.
I'm sure we're leaving some meat on the bone. Feel free to drop your biggest surprises in the comments.
Here are the surprise players of 2021.
C Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
SS Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
2B Nicky Lopez, Kansas City Royals
3B Ty France, Seattle Mariners
RF Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays
3B Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves
2B David Fletcher, Los Angeles Angels
SS Willy Adames, Milwaukee Brewers
SS Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
CF Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles
SP Luis Garcia, Houston Astros
LF Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds
RP Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
10. SP Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers
The plan was always for Urias to take the next step this season, but he's been even better than expected. With Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer at the top of the rotation (and Trevor Bauer before his legal issues), Urias gets less attention.
Urias joins his teammates Buehler and Scherzer as the Dodgers' starters boast a combined WHIP of 1.02
While wins may not be the best way to determine a pitcher's effectiveness, and Urias enjoys some of the best run support from the Dodgers lineup, it's still surprising to see him with the most wins in baseball (18).
The Dodgers had been careful with Urias since shoulder surgery ended his 2017 season. He became a full-time starter in last year's shortened 60-game season when he started 10 games.
Urias stepped up this season and has been efficient doing so.
He's throwing the fourth-fewest pitches per inning (15.07) in the National League and fourth in MLB for walk rate per nine innings (1.87).
9. SS Amed Rosario, Cleveland Indians
When Cleveland traded Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets in January, it was understood coming back would be two of the Mets' highest-rated prospects developed over the past decade in Rosario and Andres Gimenez.
What we did not expect was for Rosario, at least in the early part of it, to make a case for the best player in the trade.
That's not to be ridiculous and suggest Rosario is better than Lindor. However, their slash lines are comparable this year, with Rosario performing above his career average (.279/.316/.405 in 2021; .271/.306/.403 for career) and Lindor performing below it (.231/.327/.407 in 2021; .279/.344/.479 for career).
8. SP Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
Rodon was supposed to be the fifth starter for the White Sox this season, but at times has shown signs of being an ace. Rodon is 12-5 with a 2.38 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP, along with 175 strikeouts.
His 12.63 strikeout rate per nine innings is also impressive.
This is quite the bounce-back season for someone who posted an 8.22 ERA in only 7.2 innings last season and a 5.19 ERA in 2019, though advanced numbers were kinder to Rodon at that time.
Rodon's FIP in 2019 was 3.62 and 4.89 last season, which is still high but not nearly as disastrous as what 8.22 would seem to indicate.
Now, his FIP (2.67) is much closer to the ERA, and overall he's made tremendous strides in 2021.