|Between the Foul Poles: A Weekly Trek around the Majors III||| Print |||Send|
Written by Robert Democh (Contact & Archive) on May 01, 2009
The Toronto Blue Jays found themselves in an unfamiliar position Sunday: Leading the AL Eastern Division with a 14-6 mark.¬† Since taking the helm last June, manager Cito Gaston has cajoled the Jays to play .600 ball, posting a major league best 65-43 record during that time.¬† Toronto‚Äôs surprising success has come in the absence of home cooking.¬† They established a franchise record last week by winning their first three series on the road.¬† Roy Halladay has built on his sensational 2008 season with a perfect 4-0 start, while Vernon Wells, Aaron Hill and Lyle Overbay have paced the offense.¬† Even the loss of closer B.J. Ryan hasn‚Äôt dampened the confidence and enthusiasm of Canada‚Äôs lone big league franchise.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
With pitcher Chien-Ming Wang on the ropes, Andy Pettitte has provided a steadying influence within the Yankees rotation.¬†¬† Pettitte, who turns 37 in June, has also produced on the mound, winning two of three starts with an impressive 2.96 ERA in 27 innings.¬† Those who predicted a steep drop in production from Yankee captain Derek Jeter had better look again.¬† Through Tuesday, Jeter was batting a respectable .294 with four homers, four steals and 13 runs.¬† Health is always a major concern but Jeter appears far from done.¬† Being swept last weekend by the dreaded Red Sox has raised a chorus of calls for Alex Rodriguez to return to action.¬† Not so fast, according to Yankees manager Joe Girardi.¬† A-Rod will not be permitted to go on a minor league rehab assignment until he has proven to Girardi‚Äôs satisfaction that he can slide into bases.¬†¬†¬† Upon passing that test, he will spend time playing with the Yankee‚Äôs Class A affiliate in Tampa.¬†
Things are looking up deep in the heart of Texas.¬† The conventional wisdom was the Rangers would rise or fall with the fortunes of slugger Josh Hamilton, but that has not been the case. Hamilton, who left last Saturday‚Äôs game with bruised ribs, has not played since and may be headed for the DL.¬† Stepping into the void has been the surprising Michael Young, who has slugged a team-leading six home runs through Tuesday.¬† The testy off-season exchanges between Young and Rangers management about moving him to third base are now ancient history with Young again demonstrating the batting form that made him one of the AL‚Äôs most consistent batsmen (200 or more hits annually between 2003-2007).¬†¬†¬†
A shiny new stadium does not a contender make, as the New York Mets are already tottering on the verge of collapse.¬† Other than consummate ace Johan Santana, the remaining starters have been an embarrassment, with a combined 7.43 ERA and just four wins in 14 starts.¬† Mets management has threatened to clean house, but they have little in reserve that‚Äôs major league ready.¬† All that money invested in Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz will be wasted if the starters can‚Äôt hand off some leads. On offense, Carlos Beltran has been hitting above .400 but his teammates, especially David Wright, are struggling to keep up.¬† Wright has but one homer and uncharacteristically leads the NL with 23 strikeouts in his first 70 at bats.¬†¬†¬†¬†
With a 4-15 record following Tuesday‚Äôs action, the Nationals again have ‚Äúdoormat‚ÄĚ written all over them.¬† Adam Dunn should once again crank 40 home runs but beyond his proven power this is a team with numerous holes.¬† One glaring weakness is their inability to win outside the nation‚Äôs capital, with just one win in their last 17 road games.¬† Until they can begin to address that failing, it‚Äôs going to be another very long summer for the Nats.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
Arizona ace Brandon Webb has been shut down and placed on the DL, out a minimum of six weeks with shoulder bursitis.¬† He missed time last season with a similar complaint, suggesting this is a lingering condition.¬† Webb had a well-deserved reputation for sturdiness, hurling 200 plus innings each of the past five seasons.¬† That sizeable workload may now be catching up with him.¬† The D-Backs also placed shortstop Stephen Drew on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.¬† Their combined absences will place enormous pressure on a team that has difficulty manufacturing runs (they average a league-worst .205 with RISP).¬† Nor have Arizona hitters been able to solve the puzzle of left-handed pitching.¬† Their combined .191 average against southpaws likewise ranks last in the NL.¬†
With Albert Pujols reestablishing himself as the best hitter in the known universe, the Cardinals have streaked ahead in the NL Central, boasting a 14-7 record through Tuesday.¬† Pujols, who is tied for the league lead with seven home runs, is keying an offensive attack that is averaging six runs per game.¬†¬† Catcher Yadier Molina‚Äôs start may warrant All-Star consideration.¬† Molina recently compiled a ten-game hitting streak with a blistering .344 average.¬† On a staff boasting Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse has been a pleasant surprise, with a 3-0 record and 2.42 ERA.¬†¬†¬†
San Francisco‚Äôs Matt Cain may ultimately be remembered as one of the hardest luck pitchers of his era.¬† Cain was poised to net his third win Sunday after shutting down Arizona on one run through seven innings.¬† The D-Backs rallied for three runs in the ninth however, again spoiling things for Cain.¬† Last season, his 3.76 ERA placed him among the top twenty NL hurlers.¬† However, his teammates bore some responsibility for his poor 8-14 record by providing Cain with the second-lowest run support in the majors (3.14 runs per game).¬† The Giants rotation has been dominant, recording quality starts in seven of their last eight games, highlighted by a miniscule 1.00 ERA in their last 54 innings concluding Sunday.¬†
The Weekender: Here are some intriguing pairings this coming weekend (May 1-3).
Indians at Tigers:¬†¬† The runs should be plentiful when these pitching-starved rivals meet
Red Sox at Rays:¬†¬†¬† Boston seeks vindication for last year‚Äôs elimination at the Rays‚Äô hand
Mets at Phillies:¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Beltran-Hamels war of words due to heat up?¬†¬†
Padres at Dodgers: Will we finally hear the sound of San Diego‚Äôs glass slipper breaking?