Last summer, the San Diego Padres surprised the baseball world by monopolizing first place in the National League West for most of the season.
Outside of Adrian Gonzalez, the 2010 Padres didn't have a powerful lineup or any starting pitchers who were Cy Young candidates. They were, however, one of the league's most-improved defenses from the previous season. Chase Headley excelled in his return to his natural position at the hot corner, and Tony Gwynn Jr. covered a tremendous amount of ground in the outfield before a late-season broken wrist took him out of the lineup.
According to Baseball Info Solutions' estimates, San Diego's fielders saved 53 runs with their defense last year, third-best in the NL and a 54-run improvement from the previous season's total. The Minnesota Twins were devastated by injuries to key players Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau, but their under-the-radar acquisitions of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson helped the team actually improve from 85 wins in 2009 to 94 wins and the AL Central title.
Who will be this year's version of the Padres and Twins, two teams that surprised everyone last year thanks to defensive upgrades? Let's look at three contending teams that have boosted their chances with improved defenses.