Three teams have broken the 20-win plateau so far this season. Tonight, Joey Votto will try to change his fortunes against Paul Maholm.
The Weekend Takeaway
Last Thursday, the Red Sox became the first major-league team to notch 20 wins, and over the weekend, the Cardinals and Rangers joined them by sweeping the Brewers and the aforementioned Sox, respectively. Each of those squads has taken a different path to the league’s top win total through 31 games—the Tigers and Royals, who are both riding four-game surges, still could win their 20th before losing their 12th, because of rainouts and off days earlier in the year—and today’s Takeaway is a quick look back at their ascents to first place.
The Cardinals: Road Warriors
Faced with 19 away games in their first batch of 31, the Cardinals haven’t been daunted by the task of racking up victories in front of hostile crowds. Since a season-opening series loss at Chase Field, Matheny’s team has won or split each of the road sets that it has completed, including sweeps at Nationals Park on April 22-24 and at Miller Park this past weekend. Perhaps as compensation for their early travel schedule, the Cardinals were fortunate to play their first six games against the Reds at Busch Stadium, and they won four of them, accounting for much of the 2 ½-game gap that currently separates the National League Central’s top two teams.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
Last night, Jake Westbrook pulled another Houdini act. Tonight, David Ortiz is set to tango with Texas' Derek Holland.
The Jake Westbrook bubble will not burst. The Cardinals righty once again clogged the bases but kept his opponents mostly off the scoreboard last night, surrendering one run on six hits with three walks as his ERA ballooned to 1.07. Westbrook has all but ditched the cutter this season and essentially become a two-pitch pitcher, attacking both lefties and righties with a sinker/changeup arsenal that hasn’t kept runners off base but has gotten the job done.
He has walked 17 in 33.2 IP. He has just 18 strikeouts so far, marking his lowest K rate since his first big league season. And when I said, “two-pitch pitcher,” that really only applies to lefties; righties know that sinker is coming and still can’t make solid contact. (Although Westbrook did an excellent job of surprising the Brewers’ righties with the curveball the second time through the order.) Can this continue?
Clay Buchholz continued dealing last night. Tonight, Jake Peavy will try to keep Adrian Beltre in check.
The Wednesday Takeaway
Earlier this week, mechanics guru Doug Thorburnpraised the positive impact that first-year manager John Farrell has had on the Red Sox’ pitching staff, which set a franchise record and led the majors with 255 strikeouts during the month of April. Last night, in a 10-1 victory over the Blue Jays, Clay Buchholz ensured that the group’s resurgence would carry over into May.
Buchholz, who worked at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs in each of his five April outings, tacked a sixth quality effort onto that total with seven shutout frames at the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays managed only three hits, all singles, and two walks off of the 28-year-old right-hander, who improved to 6-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.01. Buchholz’s 47 strikeouts through 44 innings rank fourth in the majors, trailing only Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, and A.J. Burnett.
The future looks bright for the Dodgers when Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier are contributing.
The Tuesday Takeaway
The Dodgers, who were tabbed by many as the pre-season favorites in the National League West and whose Opening Day payroll was a senior-circuit-high $216 million, entered their last game of April with a 12-13 record. But these weren’t the Dodgers that general manager Ned Colletti envisioned sending onto the field after his summer- and winter-long spending spree. These Dodgers needed nine starting pitchers and three shortstops to get through the first month.
Last night, for the first time this season, manager Don Mattingly had the pleasure of writing Hanley Ramirez’s name onto his lineup card at shortstop, the first step in a healing process that should effectively conclude about six weeks from now, when Zack Greinke’s broken collarbone is expected to be healed. Fellow right-hander Chad Billingsley, who underwent Tommy John surgery last month, won’t be back until next year, but once the Dodgers’ other injured starters make their way off of the disabled list, Mattingly should have ample rotation depth to endure the 2013 season without him.
On Monday night, the Angels and the A's took Ernie Banks' refrain a little too seriously. Tonight, Jose Bautista will get his first look at Jon Lester this season.
The Monday Takeaway
Only two players in the Live Ball Era have managed to pick up a golden sombrero and smack two home runs in the same game. Evan Longoria did it on August 4, 2009, when his second blast walked the Rays off with a 13-inning victory over the Red Sox. Last night, Brandon Moss joined Longoria in the history books, putting an end to a 19-inning marathon by sending the 597th pitch of the evening morning into the right-field stands.
Jarrod Parker is struggling mightily this year. Tonight, Josh Beckett will try to keep Ryan Braun in the yard.
The Thursday Takeaway
Shortly after allowing four runs in five innings in his regular-season debut, Jarrod Parkertold reporters, “I didn’t have anything to go to. I’m not going to be very successful when that happens.” Unfortunately for the Athletics, it seems to be happening again and again.
Parker’s 5 1/3-inning, six-run clunker in last night’s 10-2 loss to the Orioles marked his fourth poor effort in five starts and bloated his ERA to 8.10. He has coughed up 37 hits and issued 13 walks in 23 1/3 total innings, resulting in an unsightly .366 batting average against and a 2.14 WHIP. The A’s could hardly have foreseen such a stumble from a 24-year-old coming off of a strong first year in the majors. Parker compiled a 3.47 ERA in 29 starts in 2012, and his 3.38 FIP suggested that the success was not a mirage. Meanwhile, the gradual improvement in his K:BB, which peaked at 27-to-6 in an excellent September, made Parker a popular breakout candidate before Opening Day.
Mat Latos remained dominant on the mound last night. Tonight, Vernon Wells will try to continue his ownage of Mark Buehrle.
The Wednesday Takeaway
Three things used to be certain about April: showers, Tax Day, and Mat Latos slipping into an early rut. The first has washed away a plethora of games in the early going. The second came and went, as usual, on April 15. The third? After the right-hander blanked the Cubs for seven innings in a 1-0 Reds win, that might not be so certain any more.
B.J. and Justin Upton made history again last night. Tonight, Brandon Morrow will try to overcome his history against Adam Jones.
The Tuesday Takeaway
It didn’t take long for the Braves, who arrived in Colorado with the bitter taste of three consecutive losses at the hands of the Pirates in their mouths, to wash the skid away and begin a new string of wins. Both teams entered Tuesday’s doubleheader with a 13-5 ledger, tops in the National League, but after snagging both ends of the twin bill, Fredi Gonzalez’s squad is back to looking like the class of the senior circuit.
If the awards voting for the 2013 season were held today, Justin Upton might take home the hardware in unanimous fashion. With nine homers already under his belt, the right fielder took full advantage of the thin air at Coors Field on Tuesday, smacking a round tripper in both games to extend his major-league lead. Meanwhile, although the elder B.J. Upton is batting a far more pedestrian .160/.229/.320, he had a hand in enhancing the significance of his brother’s fifth-inning blast.
The Milwaukee Brewers have surged to within one game of the NL Central lead. Today, Clayton Kershaw will do battle with David Wright and the Mets.
The Monday Takeaway
It’s hard to believe, after the Brewers’ 7-1 win over the Padres last night, that Ron Roenicke’s team was once 2-8. Hard to believe, because before Milwaukee’s recent surge, no team that lost eight of its first 10 games had ever bounced back to win at least its next seven. Now the Brewers are 10-8, riding on the longest active winning streak in the majors and the franchise’s best run since August 2008.
The keys to Milwaukee’s sudden success? Improved starting pitching, ninth-inning stability, and the red-hot bat currently wielded by center fielder Carlos Gomez, none of which were present during its 2-8 start.
The Dodgers are proving a baseball adage to be true. Tonight, Derek Holland will try to cool Mike Trout's hot bat.
The Weekend Takeaway
Remember when, as Opening Day approached, the Dodgers’ roster was teeming with surplus rotation options—when beat writers were wondering which of the extra starters would be traded, when one of those spare arms was anxiously awaiting his assignment, and when manager Don Mattingly was intrigued by the length and versatility that converted starters could offer in relief?
The most salient stories out of Camelback Ranch at the time surrounded Clayton Kershaw’s extension talks, Aaron Harang’s possible ticket out of town, and Chris Capuano’s potential conversion into a swingman. Weeks earlier, some questioned whether Hyun-jin Ryu, in whom general manager Ned Colletti had invested $36 million over six years, was in good enough shape to merit a spot in the crowded starting five.
The Giants' rotation is off to a sluggish start in 2013. Tonight, Carlos Gonzalez will attempt to break his hitless streak against Ian Kennedy.
The Thursday Takeaway
When the Giants last finished a season with a rotation ERA north of 4.00 and outside of the league’s top 10, the year was 2008, Tim Lincecum was in his first full season, and the organization had not yet won its first world championship in San Francisco. If that streak is to live on through 2013, however, Bruce Bochy’s starting five already has work to do.
Following Thursday’s 7-2 loss to the Brewers, in which Matt Cain was charged with seven earned runs over six innings of work and saw his ERA rise to 7.15, the Giants’ rotation ERA stands at 5.07. Barry Zito, who did not allow an earned run in either of his first two starts, coughed up nine in 2 2/3 frames in the series opener, bringing his ERA for the season to 4.86. Ryan Vogelsong’s seven-inning, three-run effort in the middle match pared his ERA down to 5.89. Tim Lincecum, who did not pitch at Miller Park, sports a 5.63 mark. Put that all together, and, were it not for Madison Bumgarner’s 1.77 ERA, the quintet’s aggregate figure would shoot up to 5.99, and the team’s record might be well south of 9-7.