Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Topsy Turvy Two Weeks | Baseball Digest

Topsy Turvy Two Weeks | Baseball Digest

It’s been a little over two weeks since the start of the Major League baseball season; so far we’ve seen some things that everyone would expect, but there has been plenty to make us go, “huh?”

The Baltimore Orioles started out like gangbusters winning their first four games and six of seven. The media quickly jumped on the bandwagon, “The Orioles have turned things around”; “Buck Showalter is a genius”. Well hold on to your crab cakes, the O’s have lost eight straight. Teams live and die with their pitching- during the losing streak the Orioles’ staff has given up nearly seven runs a game. Let’s all hold off on considering the O’s AL East contenders. Mm, k?

Speaking of fast starts, the AL Central leaders squared off last night. Twins? Tigers? White Sox? Forget it; it was the Indians and Royals. Yes, Cleveland and Kansas City entered Monday night’s play as the only two AL Central teams above .500. The Tribe won in extra innings and are a remarkable 12-4. The Indians rotation has been bolstered by their #3 and #4 starters, Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin, who have gone a combined 6-0, 2.03 in their six starts. The Indians have also gotten big time offensive production from an unexpected source- their middle infield. Second baseman Orlando Cabrera and shortstop Asdrubel Cabrera have combined for 25 RBI. And could it be that Travis Hafner’s shoulder is finally healthy? “Pronk” has a 1.061 OPS through 14 games. The Indians also turned the season’s first triple play- you can check it out here.

The Indians built most of their record without the services of center fielder Grady Sizemore who returned on Sunday with a home run. In two games, Sizemore is 5-9 with a pair of doubles, two RBI, and two runs scored.

Will Troy Tulowitzki break Barry Bonds’ home run record? No, but the star shortstop is healthy (and hopefully he stays that way), which should mean a huge offensive year. The Rockies have won 12 of their first 16 games in no small part because of Tulo’s 1.259 OPS, 7 HR, and 14 RBI. 2010 NL MVP contender Carlos Gonzalez has also picked up where he left off with 12 RBI. The Rockies are getting contributions from everywhere and at this rate I am going to have to eat my words for saying the Rockies wouldn’t make the playoffs. I get some redemption for talking about how overlooked Jhoulys Chacin was as a rookie last season. He’s off to a 3-0, 1.64 start and has picked up the slack for the injured Ubaldo Jimenez.

It looks like someone has finally gotten through to Matt Kemp, the Dodgers’ Mr. Inconsistency. Who better than new manager and hitter extraordinaire Don Mattingly? Kemp has always had the ability, but has been knocked for his inability to produce. Hello .459 batting average. Throw in 3 HR, 13 RBI, and 8 SB, and you have a monster season in the making. No expects Kemp to keep the average going, but a .325-30-100 line sure would be appreciated by the Dodger faithful.

The Twins are the consensus pick to repeat as AL Central champs, but they better wake up soon, especially their bullpen. Off to a 6-10 start and in last place, the Twins bullpen, a supposed strength is crumbling. Joe Nathan, a year removed from Tommy John surgery, returned to his closer role and last year’s closer Matt Capps became the 8th inning guy. Great 1-2 punch, right? Someone forgot to tell the two of them. Perhaps he’s not at 100%, but whatever the reason Nathan is out at closer after two blown saves, a loss, and five earned runs allowed in 5.1 IP. Capps struggled in the set up role, but has saved both games he entered as the new closer (he did blow one save prior to that in extra innings after Nathan had blown the lead in the ninth inning.)

Monday night the Tigers’ Ryan Raburn became the first player to hit a ball off the roof in Seattle’s Safeco Field. The ball was foul the entire time and fell between third baseman Chone Figgins and catcher Miguel Olivo in foul territory.

Ryan Franklin’s days as St. Louis’ closer are close to being over (they should have been already). The guy with the creepy goatee has blown four saves already in just 16 games. With the competitive NL Central, you just can’t be giving games away. At least someone hold him down and shave that thing off.

Some Q & A between me and me.

Should Yankees fans be worried about Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes?

Worry is probably too strong of a word, but if you follow the Pinstripes you should be concerned. Some fans and media (e.g. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan) have already pushed the panic button and feel Jeter should be batting eighth or ninth. While Jeter struggled for most of last season and hasn’t hit too many balls out of the infield this season, this season has only consisted of 14 games. Jeter’s reputation, at the very least, has earned him a full month or more before a move should even be considered.

Hughes is the bigger concern for manager Joe Girardi at the moment and rightly so. In his three starts, last year’s 18-game winner’s velocity has been missing in action. Normally throwing 92-93 mph, Hughes isn’t hitting 90 on the radar gun this season and has been battered around the ballpark. He’s now on the DL with a “dead arm”, which he at first didn’t want to own up to (perhaps he’s not really injured), and will work on long tossing to strengthen his prized right arm.

Are Josh Beckett and John Lackey for real?

Good question. Beckett has had back to back dominate performances, one of them against an impressive Yankees lineup. While I don’t believe he’ll continue throwing 2-hit ball for seven innings, it does give Red Sox Nation some hope. Lackey on the other hand could be a real problem. The 215 innings Lackey threw last year concerned me since he his numbers have steadily declined since he topped 200 innings in 2006-2007. He’s won one of his two starts this season, but has an ERA of 15.88 and has had his turn skipped once. Manager Terry Francona: “A lot of his pitches, it didn’t seem like he finished them, [he] left them in the middle. He had two walks, a hit batsman, and all three scored. Against that (Yankees) lineup, you got to make them earn everything they get, because they’re that good.”

Is Zach Britton the real deal?

Though he got knocked around in his last start, you bet he is. While Britton, the Orioles number one pitching prospect wasn’t expected to contribute until later in the season, he won his first two games and posted a 0.69 ERA. ESPN’s Buster Olney feels that Britton could generate as much buzz this year as the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg did last season.

Will Jose Bautista pop 50 home runs again?

Not a chance, but Bautista should hit 30-35. He’s hit three already and is slugging at a .510 rate, but a lot will depend on how much protection he gets in the order. At the moment that responsibility falls to Adam Lind; after a quick start, Lind is hitting just .230 as he tries to recapture his 2009 season (.305-35-114).

Biggest surprise and disappointment

Teams – If Tampa Bay hadn’t just won 7 of 10 it would have been them, but the Red Sox 2-10 start (now 5-10) is the winner for losing/disappointment. 2-10? Incomprehensible. I have to go back to the Tribe for the surprise. 12-4? Get out of here.

Players – Alex Gordon, KC. The uber-prospect may finally be reaching the heights expected of him. He’s batting .353 so far and is playing like someone with confidence. Finally. (Matt Kemp gets honorable mention) The biggest disappointment, hands down, is Boston’s Carl Crawford. The big free agent signee is already being vilified in Boston for his .133/.175/.167 splits. And when you don’t get on base, you don’t steal. Crawford has just two thefts in three attempts. (Phil Hughes gets honorable mention)

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