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Shock & Awe: The 10 Biggest Surprises Of The 2012 MLB Regular Season

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10 Major Surprises From The 2012 MLB Regular Season

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Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

You might say that baseball is a sport often filled with surprises; hell, sometimes it might even feel like that older-than-baseball adage about the fat lady's musical inclinations might just be conceived about this sport.

Even so, it's not very often that you could say an entire MLB season was, more or less, defined by the element of surprise.

Yet, that's exactly where the 2012 regular season ended up. From the moment the season began, consensus pre-season predictions began to fall at an unexpectedly rapid rate. No, not all surprises are good, and there were certainly some unexpected things gone awry for some teams and players; largely, though, this was a regular season that will be best remembered by the extraordinary performances we were treated to from unlikely teams and players.

Of course, as with all lists, the items on it are going to be debatable, and it's by no means anything conclusive - there are likely going to be some deserving players on it whom I've missed. Remember: this is not simply a list of particularly great/poor performances that took place over the regular season, but a list of unexpected things that most of us didn't see coming (barring those with the mental capacity to see the future, of course)

So I'm sorry, Kris Medlen, but your brilliant run as a starter didn't quite make it - but hey, that's more of a compliment than anything else, because you were just that good as a reliever.

With all that said, here are ten of the biggest surprises from the 2012 MLB regular season:

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Mike Trout's Historic Rookie Season

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

We knew he'd be good.

...but probably not this good. Rookies don't simply come in and do what Mike Trout does - baseball at this level is simply too hard, too overwhelming for even the most talented players trying to learn the nuances at the pinnacle of the sport.

Not Mike Trout, I guess. The super-rookie came into the league at 20-years old, generating a wave of buzz along with fellow not-old-enough-to-drink rookie Bryce Harper. It was Trout who soon pulled away from the comparisons, captivating the baseball world with his highlight reel home run-robbing catches, while putting up a near 30-50 season (which doesn't happen too often, I hear) with a .326./.399/.564 triple slash and leading the league with a ridiculous 10.0 WAR.

All that, as a 20-years old in just his first season? No wonder why folks are clamoring for the him to win the MVP.

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Chase Headley's Power Breakout

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Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

If you've played fantasy baseball over the last few years, you've probably had this thought about Chase Headley: "Well, he's a decent hitter that I could stream for average and OBP, but he doesn't hit for enough power to be a reliable year-round option."

Well, no more.

If Headley was a sneaky AVG/OBP option with speed before, he's just about ready to bust into the top tier after this season. 31 homers isn't necessarily a capital-I incredible feat in its own right, but it is for the San Diego Padres third baseman, who has never hit more than twelve long balls before this season.

Let's put it this way: Headley hit more homers in 2012 than his last three seasons combined - while playing at Petco for half of the season. A 31-17 age-28 season should help move him up the draft boards, out of the sneaky-underrated range for next season.

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Edwin Encarnacion Puts It Together

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Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

40 home run power. Toronto Blue Jays fans have been saying that about Edwin Encarnacion long enough for it to almost become a joke.

Almost.

That's because the DH/first baseman finally put things together this season, breaking out from years of inconsistent performance at the plate to put up his best numbers this season, surprising hometown fans in Toronto all season long with 42 homers and a .280/.384/.557 that looks like it should belong next to Jose Bautista's name.

More surprisingly, the Blue Jays found Encarnacion a place to play - first base. Turns out, playing a less difficult position was all it took. Sure, he's still not exactly great with the glove, but with a .941 OPS that leads all qualified major league first basemen, I think the Blue Jays will manage to keep him in the lineup.

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Tim Lincecum Falls Apart

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Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

Like I said, not all surprises are good - for Tim Lincecum, the 2012 season may have been the worst kind.

Long considered one of the few elite pitchers in the league, the fall of the San Francisco Giants' former ace has truly been staggering. It started with one bad inning, which turned into one bad outing, and...well, you get the idea. Before anyone really knew what was happening, the Giants' former Cy-Young winner had entered the All-Star break as one of the very worst starters in all baseball with a 6.42/1.58 ERA/WHIP ratio.

What was wrong with Timmy? Why did his home run rate spike to nearly twice his career numbers? Was it the drop is fastball velocity? Was he hurt? Whatever the reason, Lincecum was knee-deep in a season-long funk that he never truly shook off, leaving the biggest question - will he bounce back?

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R.A. Dickey, Strikeout Artist

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Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Even by late bloomer standards, what 37-year old R.A. Dickey has done in 2012 has been remarkable.

Not necessarily because he's still finding incredible success with the knuckleball, no; but because he's learned to harness it in a way that hasn't quite been done on his way to becoming a strikeout pitcher. Dickey set career-highs in his counting numbers (2.73 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, .226 BAA) in 2012, but the most impressive ones may have been his career-best 8.86 K/9 and a 4.26 K/BB ratio.

Opposing batters have seen his knuckleball for years, but only in 2012 was Dickey truly able to consistently make hitters look silly with the pitch, generating an elite 12.2% swinging strike % in a season that will surely garner him some Cy Young votes.

In what should be the twilight of his career, Dickey is not only thriving - he's learning how to add new elements to his game. NL hitters should be concerned about what he might come up with next.

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The Revenge Of Fernando Rodney

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Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Look, I'm not usually one to put much stock in the save statistic. Luckily, I don't have to do so here: even if you disregard his 48 saves, Fernando Rodney's ridiculously good season with the Tampa Bay Rays is truly something straight out of left field.

Why? Well, because it's just so incredibly un-Rodney-like. Bad pitchers aren't supposed to have dominant seasons, and let's face it - Rodney is not exactly what you'd call a good pitcher headed into this season. He walks far too many batter to be reliable, and has put up his worse seasons in the last few years of his ten-year career.

That all went out the window this season. Rodney, in what might be the biggest surprise from a pitcher this season, walked just 1.81 batters per nine over his 74.2 innings of work - less than half of his career-rate, and almost four times better than his 2011 number.

Rodney's 0.60/0.78 ERA/WHIP look like what might have happened if someone gave him 99 on all of his stats in a video-game; but, the 35-year old did it by throwing harder than he ever has in his career, and striking out batters at his highest clip since 2009. I've been looking at the numbers again, and can still hardly believe them.

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The Washington Nationals Conquer The NL East

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Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Onto the full-team surprises, then.

Sure, the signs were always there for what the Washington Nationals could do in the NL East this season. They were a darkhorse for the division, maybe, and would likely compete in the wild card race all year long.

That they won the division so decisively, and finish the year with the best record in all of baseball? I don't think even the most hopeful of Nationals fans truly saw that coming. Whether it was the incredible starting pitching trio of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann, or the unexpected breakouts of players like Ian Desmond, the Nationals channeled all of the upside and potential on their young roster, and made it a thing of the present.

Best in the division? How about the best team in baseball?

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The Boston Red Sox Collapses In Disarray

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Bob DeChiara-US PRESSWIRE

Hindsight being 20/20, you might say that the Boston Red Sox' dismal season was probably set in the books with the team hired the mercurial Bobby Valentine to be its new manager.

Within weeks, he'd alienated some of the team's longest-serving veterans. Then Kevin Youkilis was unceremoniously divorced from the team. Then a clubhouse mutiny. The Red Sox were always something of a dysfunctional family, especially when things aren't going well on the field; Valentine's particular style of dealing with it simply amplified things.

So the losing just continued. Just like that, the Red Sox sat firmly in the AL East basement, its once contender-worthy roster (on paper) gutted at the heart of the order with the trade of Adrian Gonzalez, combined with the salary dumps of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.

Was it a rebuilding move? Or a reloading one? The Red Sox have cleaned house, but have their work cut out for them, if they hope to skip the former and head right back into contention next season.

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Baltimore Orioles Go Worst-To-Almost-First

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Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

The Baltimore Orioles were that close from taking the AL East from the grasps of the New York Yankees. Instead, they'll just have to settle for what could only be described as a magical season.

This wasn't the same story as when the Tampa Bay Rays broke out, as no one really gave the Orioles that chance headed into the season. No, they didn't quite stockpile the high-upside talent yet, the team led by Adam Jones, followed by question marks at just about every other area on the roster. It was going to be another season at the AL East basement for the Orioles, while the next wave of talent arrived.

Except, the talent was already there. It might not be a group with a ton of elite talent outside of Jones, but Buck Showalter found enough of what's there, and helped turn that into a team that believed it had the talent to contend. Jim Johnson became an elite closer. Chris Davis shook the quad-A tag with 33 homers. They might have been pieces to an incomplete puzzle, but they were pieces that had conviction in their ability to win games and put it all together - not later, but now.

So they've done just that. Just like magic, the OriLOLes are no more.

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Oakland Athletics Defy The Odds To Take AL West Crown

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Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

They weren't supposed to compete until 2015.

They were projected to lose 90+, maybe even 100 games, en route to a 4th place finish in the AL West.

They didn't like that story. Instead, the Oakland Athletics defied the odds to win the AL West crown on the final day of the season. They did it, despite being 13 games back on June 20th. They did it by being the best team in baseball after the All-Star break, with a unlikely cast of characters that featured cast-offs like Josh Reddick, on a minuscule payroll less than half of the Texas Rangers'.

Could you call this Moneyball 2: Billy Beane's revenge? I suppose, but doing so would not do justice to all of this group's particular accomplishments. If the 2012 season was defined by the unexpected, you could say that the A's embodied the season.

Oh yeah, and did I mention they won the division down the stretch with a starting staff consisting entirely of rookies?