Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 3/26/12

It seems that every season there is at least one team that comes out of nowhere to make the general public say, "What? How are they winning? They are supposed to suck." Last year, those teams were the Cleveland Indians and the Pittsburgh Pirates, at least up until the All-Star break. Seeing supposedly bad teams challenge for a division title is always fun and exciting.

The only problem is, we never know who this team is going to be. Of course, if we did, then we wouldn't be so surprised. Me, I hate surprises. I have to know who this year's surprise team(s) will be, my intellectual curiosity demands it.

We know it won't be the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Rangers, Angels, Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals or Diamondbacks. They are already considered contenders. The only way they can surprise us is by playing poorly. That is an equally fun scenario to consider, but we'll save that for another time.

We can also safely eliminate the Blue Jays, Nationals, Marlins, Reds and Giants. They may or may not be legit contenders, but there is enough buzz around them that nobody would be shocked if they made a World Series run.

The Dodgers and Indians are candidates, but neither of them was really that bad last season. If either of them won 90 games, there would be only the mildest of surprise and that isn't what we are looking for.

Now, if there is one common thread amongst these surprise teams it is that they tend to come from bad divisions, just like the Indians in 2011 and the Padres in 2010 and so on. Factor that in and we can safely rule out the Baltimore Orioles in the stacked AL East, the Athletics and Mariners in the top-heavy AL West and the Mets in what looks to be a highly competitive NL East.

That leaves us with eight teams, although that isn't really true. The Pirates can be ruled out since they had their day in the sun last season. You just can't be a surprise team two years in a row, sorry. The Astros aren't going to be considered here either as they may not even have enough talent to be a surprise team in the Pacific Coast League. And just like that, we are down to six.

Or are we? Headlining the remaining teams is the Kansas City Royals, a team whose slogan should be "They'll be scary if they get some pitching." That statement has been uttered about them a countless number of times this spring. Finding that pitching won't be easy for them, but it does suggest that they are already considered dark horse candidates for a breakout season, thus negating the surprise factor.

This might be subjective, but the Colorado Rockies need to be eliminated too. Say what you want about what they are doing with their pitching staff, but can a team that boasts Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez every really surprise anyone if they turn out to be competitive? Methinks not.

And now we have our Final Four. Wow, what a timely coincidence. It is almost like I arranged it that way on purpose.

The Padres have certainly found the recipe for surprise success before, why can't they do it again? Yonder Alonso could give them the big bat they lost when they traded away Adrian Gonzalez. Cameron Maybin keeps getting better and the pitching staff could be better than expected, especially if Edinson Volquez can find his old form. Are they sure to be better than awful? Not at all, but they do have plenty of young talent at their disposal to help them beat the odds and maybe challenge for the NL West crown.

The other National League "contender" could be the Cubs. No, seriously. Matt Garza is a legit frontline starter. Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm can be very good, or good enough to eat innings at least. Chris Volstad and Jeff Samardzija are both dark horses for breakout seasons. Their lineup is awfully thin though. It is hard to see them contending in the NL Central unless Bryan LaHair, Anthony Rizzo and maybe Brett Jackson all have strong seasons. It would probably help if Alfonso Soriano had something of a bounceback season as well. Again, they will probably be bad, but is it ever wise to count out a Theo Epstein team?

Moving to the American League but staying in the Windy City, the White Sox have a case to be this year's big surprise. Even though Kenny Williams seems to have kickstarted a Pale Hose rebuilding project, he didn't blow the whole team up. The rotation is full of underachieving veterans like Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd and John Danks. Come to think of it, the lineup is full of underachieving veterans too. We all know what a disaster Adam Dunn's 2011 season was, but can he really be that bad again? One could ask the same question about Alex Rios. OK, so, yeah, they both could be that bad again, but they also could have big rebound seasons. If they do, suddenly the ChiSox have a rather potent middle of the order... provided Kenny Williams doesn't just trade them all away now that their trade value is peaking... which is probably what he would do.

Last and possibly least, the Twins. When in doubt, just hope for big years from Mauer and Morneau. That's pretty good, right? Plus their rotation has... Carl Pavano? Um, Francisco Liriano? That's not doing it for you either, huh? How about Scott Baker? Yeah, I know. Meh. And then there's that bullpen. Whoa, Matt Capps? Really? Umm... did I mention Mauer and Morneau already? I did? Well, let's make it three times then. Mauer and Morneau! OK, fine. The Twins don't have much going for them. But doesn't that make them perfect for this surprise team role? NOBODY would see it coming.

I think we have out winner. Term "winner" used loosely.

[follow]

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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