Nothing too complex here, pilgrims, just eight aspects of the season that I've found agreeable and I hope will linger.
1. The Indians: They’re 20-9, the same record as the Phillies and their all-star pitching staff. I am of an age when the Indians of my youth were the Pirates and Orioles of today, a dead franchise that seemed more in need of euthanasia than rebuilding. Over the first 24 years of my life, the Tribe never finished higher than fourth place in their division and were more often sixth or seventh, and they had just two winning seasons, 1979 and 1981, in each of which they were just one game over .500. Even after the renaissance of the mid-90s, the idea that the Indians could be competitive is still an unbelievable novelty. Check out Steve Comer, Pat Tabler, Ernie Camacho. Those will always be the Indians to me. Where have you gone, Cory Snyder? A nation turns its—no, no they don’t. Is It Really, Really Real? The Indians aren’t going to win 110 games, but even if they play close to .500 the rest of the way, they could hold on to this sad sack division.
2. Individual Indians: Will Jack Hannahan hit .274/.351/.464 for the season? It seems somewhere between unlikely and impossible given that he’s a .269/.370/.412 career hitter at Triple-A, but it’s nice to see. Will Matt LaPorta (.273/.347/.500) and Michael Brantley (.317/.402/.396) maintain their long-awaited breakout seasons? Will Orlando Cabrera continue to hit .300, speeding him along on his quest to become one of the weakest hitters to have over 2000 hits in the major leagues? How about comeback seasons from Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner? Is It Really, Really Real? I’m going to say Sizemore, Brantley, and LaPorta (fingers crossed) yes, Hannahan and Cabrera no, and Hafner somewhere in between—cooler but still valuable. Perhaps Shin-Soo Choo will get hot and Carlos Santana will remember how to hit by the time the Indians have to start paying back some of the outs these guys have put off making.
3. The A’s pitching staff: They said that last year was the year of the pitcher. They wrong; so far, it’s this year. I don’t know if the light hitting we’ve seen so far is just an artifact of the cool, wet springor if this year’s batch of baseballs has been deadened to serve as a soporific to Congress, but the result is that we’ve seen the start of some wonderful pitching seasons, several of which have chosen to live in Oakland. After Wednesday night’s action, Trevor Cahill has a 1.79 ERA, which you would think would lead the league but doesn’t even make second place. The staff as a whole has no peers, though, leading the league with a 2.65 ERA. No other team is under 3.22. Is It Really, Really Real? The idea that Brandon McCarthy can carry a 3.05 ERA through an entire season taxes my willing suspension of disbelief, so there’s going to be some regression as the summer heats up, but this staff can maintain its excellence. If only the hitters would give them a hand.
4. Kevin Correia piling up victories: He’s now 5-2 on the season. I know we’re not supposed to get excited about pitcher wins (I decried them myself not too long ago), but it’s still exciting to see a Pirates acquisition going right. I don’t think Correia will go 26-10, his pace according to our pals at ESPN, but it’s fun to think about. The last pitcher to win 20 games for the Pirates was John Smiley, who got there 20 years ago. The last pitcher to win 16 games for the Pirates was Zane Smith that same year. No pitcher has won 15 games in the black and gold since Todd Ritchie in 1999. Heck, it’s even been four years since Tom Gorzelanny became the team’s last 14-game winner. Correia had a difficult road to getting established in the majors, and it was disappointing to see him give back that progress last season, even if it was understandable given the tragic death of his younger brother in May. Is It Really, Really Real? I’m skeptical. Correia is relying on good control and a very low batting average on balls in play. He will be hard pressed to keep it up.
5. Austin Jackson piling up strikeouts, not hits: I don’t like to root against any player, and Jackson is no exception. However, his hard fall from a .396 BABIP—he’s currently at .286—gives me the comfort of knowing we live in an orderly universe. Is It Really, Really Real? Yes, I think it is.
6. Nate McLouth on the comeback trail: A dozen games into the season, he was hitting .220/.289/.293, and if you were a detractor (and there were many), you could nod your head and say, “See? A continuation of last year. The lad is all washed up.” (In my world, people still say “lad.”) In the 20 games since, he’s hit .328/.438/.493. His overall .287/.384/.417 line is good for a 122 OPS+ in these depressed times, and you know that the Braves will happily take that given how poorly their center fielders have performed since Andruw Jones left town. Is It Really, Really Real? McLouth isn’t going to hit this well the rest of the way, but he can be a solid contributor again.
7. Jose Reyes making the Mets’ season interesting in spite of their place in the standings: Now batting .315/.366/.446, Reyes is one of the few shortstops around with pop in his bat and a song in his heart. Actually, I cannot confirm the song, and even if I could, it would probably not be Billie Holiday singing “Pennies from Heaven.” Perhaps Roy Halladay. Whatever the tune, as long as Reyes stays hot, the question of which uniform he’ll be singing it in will remain an interesting question until the trading deadline. With the wartime shortage of shortstops, Reyes may well be one of baseball’s most irreplaceable players, so the Mets’ decision to deal him, whatever the return, would make rebuilding this patchwork club that much harder. Is It Really, Really Real? No. The tension surrounding the Reyes decision is real, but nothing is going to make the 2011 Mets interesting.
8. Hank Conger eating into Jeff Mathis’s playing time: It seemed as if it might take some kind of high-powered intervention to get Mike Scioscia to give the former first-rounder work ahead of Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson, but he seems finally to have gotten the hint. Conger might not ever be a great glove, but the kid can hit a little (.308/.368/.538 so far, though he’s probably not that good), while Mathis can’t hit at all. He’s the modern Bill Bergen, and his torrid hitting in the 2009 postseason must be chalked up to one of those weird caprices of the baseball gods. It’s always depressing when an American League manager opts to let a pitcher hit, and with .199/.262/.311 career rates, Mathis can’t hit as well as several pitchers presently working in the National League. Is It Really, Really Real? It’s real that Mathis can’t hit. It’s real that over the last 10 games, Mathis and Conger have split the starts. I’m not yet convinced that Conger will get a majority of the starts, or that Scioscia won’t backpedal as soon as Conger hits an 0-for-10.