The Orioles have the best record in the American League, but is this another early-season mirage?
Don't look now, but with Thursday's win over the Royals and losses by both the Rangers and Red Sox, the Orioles assumed the American League's best record at 25-14. They've built a modest buffer against at least some of the usual suspects, leading the Rays by one game in the AL East standings, the Blue Jays by four, the Yankees by four and a half, and the Sox by six and a half. It's the Orioles' best record at this juncture since they started 26-13 in 2005 and held onto first place in the division until June 23, 72 games into the season. Of course, that hot start turned out to be just another mirage, one of so many over the past 14 seasons en route to yet another losing record. Hell, the O's haven't even won 70 games since 2006. Does this hot start mean that Buck Showalter's bunch has turned the corner?
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Josh Beckett's alternating good and bad seasons resembles the career of a former major leaguer.
On Tuesday—his 32nd birthday, coincidentally—Josh Beckett fired seven innings of four-hit shutout ball against the Mariners, taking advantage of one of the league's weak-sister offenses to rack up a season-high nine strikeouts. The outing pared Beckett's ERA by exactly a run, from 5.97 to 4.97, and more importantly, it allowed him to put an embarrassing sequence of events in the rear-view mirror. The Red Sox had scratched Beckett from his May 5 start due to a stiff latissimus dorsi muscle; the decision was made three days in advance because the Sox wanted to prevent a minor injury from getting worse. On the day of his next turn, a report surfaced that Beckett had played a round of golf the day after the announcement—hardly beyond the pale for a pitcher between starts, but questionable conduct for a player who was supposed to be recuperating.
Andy Pettitte's return to the Bronx is marred by the weak-hitting Mariners.
On a gorgeous 79-degree Mother's Day at Yankee Stadium—the kind of day fit for a storybook—Andy Pettitte made his return to a major-league mound following an absence of nearly 19 months. Revered by the fans for his contributions to seven pennant-winners and five world champions, the 39-year-old lefty received huge ovations every time his name came over the public address system prior to the game. Pettitte pitched into the seventh inning and left little doubt that he could help the 2012 Yankees, at times showing glimpses of his vintage self, but alas, he could provide no storybook ending to that setup, making a couple of crucial mistakes against a weak-hitting Mariners lineup. Meanwhile, his pinstriped teammates looked as flat as day-old soda against Mariners starter Kevin Millwood, no spring chicken himself at age 37, and the Yankees fell 6-2.
Don Mattingly's affinity for the bunt could be keeping the Dodgers from scoring more runs.
Like many a Dodger fan, I found myself pulling out clumps of hair on Tuesday night. The Dodgers—a first-place team at 19-10 to that point, surprisingly—were facing the Giants (14-15) in L.A. Despite having Clayton Kershaw on the hill, they were on the short end of a 2-1 score, because with a man on base in the second inning, their ace left a high fastball to Brett Pill a bit too far out over the plate, and Pill drove it 384 feet into the left-field bleachers. The Dodgers had plated a run against Ryan Vogelsong in the bottom of the second thanks to a pair of doubles, but they could get no more, and as the innings passed, the situation grew more desperate.
Manager Charlie Manuel's bullpen management has been doing Philadelphia no favours this season.
They may have entered the year as favorites to win their sixth straight NL East flag, but with every passing day, the Phillies look increasingly like a team whose time has passed. Over the weekend they dropped two out of three to the division-leading (!) Nationals and fell into the NL East cellar. On Monday, they suffered a shocking 5-2 loss to the Mets when Jonathan Papelbon surrendered a three-run pinch-homer to Jordany Valdespin, a pinch-hitter collecting his first major-league hit. On Tuesday, they blew a three-run lead against the Mets thanks to sloppy defense and ultimately fell 7-4. The skid dropped their record to 14-17, matching their worst start of the past six years, which came via their division-winning 2007 team. Their offense is wheezing, and while their star-studded rotation may be in reasonable shape, their manager is suffering from rigor mortis when it comes to handling his bullpen.
Which NL starters are off to a worse start than the Angels' not-yet-sluggy first baseman?
On Wednesday, I examined a half-dozen American League hitters who are off to chillier starts than even Albert Pujols in an attempt to shine a light on a handful of developing stories centered around underperforming players. Of course, none of those hitters has the track record or the job security of the Angels' newest marquee attraction; neither do seven billion other people on Earth. In other words, they're a wee bit more likely to find themselves riding the pine or worse if they continue to flounder, and at the very least, their small-sample struggles—and for this the threshold is 70 plate appearances, not long enough for any key hitter statistic to stabilize—are worth your attention.
Albert Pujols may be struggling, but there are major-league regulars doing even worse.
Albert Pujols you know about. The $240 million man has yet to get untracked for the Angels and ended the month of April hitting a paltry .217/.265/.304 without a homer. He's hardly the only hitter who has begun 2012 in a funk, though. In fact, 41 other hitters came into Tuesday with True Averages lower than or equal to that of Pujols' .225 in at least 65 plate appearances, i.e., enough to qualify for the batting title. Sure, those are small samples sizes, but we're 14 percent of the way through the season, with one page of the calendar wadded up into a ball, so it's not like we can't at least gawk at the outliers. What follows is a look at a half-dozen AL hitters—none of them as good as Pujols to begin with, admittedly—who are struggling to an even greater degree than the Angels slugger, and where they and their teams might go from here.
Stick around long enough in the business of covering baseball and you're bound to hear accusations of bias, particularly when you bring a little extra vitriol to an analysis of somebody else's favorite team. Let's face it: Even the homeliest of franchises is somebody's favorite team, and the homelier they are, the higher the chance that its fan base gets a wee bit sensitive when folks come a-piling on. After getting under a few more skins than usual, I started this project a few weeks ago as a way of making light of the grudges, great and small, that I bear against every team—including the ones for whom I cheer when I'm kicking back on the couch or at the ballpark. Welcome back to the Hate List, where I've got something against your team.
Michael Pineda's labrum tear doesn't bode well for his future, but it's not the death sentence it used to be.
On Wednesday, the Yankees revealed that Michael Pineda had suffered a torn labrum, a devastating turn of events both for the 23-year-old righty and for the team that acquired him from the Mariners for top prospect Jesus Montero back in January. Pineda will miss the entire season and part of 2013, thinning the Yankees' surplus of starting pitching—and underscoring the fact that you can never have too much—while raising the question of whether they will ever get much value out of him.
Though recent trends might indicate otherwise, aged pitchers rarely return to form after year-long layoffs.
Sure, it came against an Angels lineup whose centerpiece, Albert Pujols, has yet to get untracked, but it was difficult not to be impressed with Bartolo Colon's eight shutout innings last Wednesday. For one thing, it marked the 38-year-old Oakland righty's second consecutive scoreless start; he had tossed seven scoreless against the Mariners on April 13. For another, he reeled off a streak of 38 consecutive strikes, running from the second pitch of the fifth inning through the seventh pitch of the eighth inning, a span that included balls in play; he allowed only a single and a double during that time. Pitch-by-pitch records only go back to 1988, so there's no definitive account of whether Colon set a record, but via the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, the next-highest known total was 30 in a row by Tim Wakefield in 1998.
It's the end of a catching era; Pudge Rodriguez is hanging up the spikes.
Ivan Rodriguez is scheduled to announce his retirement on Monday, closing the curtain on a 21-year career in which he set standards for all-around play and longevity among catchers. Rodriguez played just 44 games with the Nationals last year, and while his name surfaced as a potential stopgap for the Royals when Salvador Perez went down with a knee injury in mid-March, the 40-year-old backstop apparently did not receive a formal offer from the club. No matter, his career is as complete as a Cooperstown résumé need be without crouching around waiting for Jonathan Sanchez to find the strike zone.