With no complaint about Juan Pierre‘s whereabouts within earshot, the Dodger outfield helps power the team to eight straight wins, with Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier combining to hit .353/.457/.753 over that span. Ethier’s tied for second in the league with five homers, and all three players are among the league’s top 10 in EqA, as is Orlando Hudson, who’s tied with Ramirez for most times on base.
Albert Pujols‘ big day (4 4 3 3, two homers, one walk) powers the Cardinals to a sweep of the Mets, enabling them to overcome a series loss to the Cubs and open up a two-game lead in the NL Central. Pujols is hitting .345/.459/.724 with a league-high six homers and 21 RBI, while Ryan Ludwick (.353/.382/.706) is running second in both categories with five and 18, respectively. The Cards’ offense is hitting .290/.376/.471, good enough to rank them second in the majors in EqA.
Ruh-Roh: Ricky Romerocombines on a 1-0 shutout of Oakland, his third quality start in as many attempts, but he’ll take his 1.71 ERA to the disabled list due to an oblique strain, the second member of the rotation to be sidelined thus far. Also hitting the DL is B.J. Ryan, who’s just 2-for-4 in save opportunities with an 11.29 ERA; while the pitcher and team have continually denied there’s anything physically wrong with the closer (big surprise), he’s been getting by on smoke and mirrors, minus the smoke.
It’s Easy Being Green: With Julio Lugo still out on a rehab assignment, Jed Lowrie undergoes surgery that could sideline him for six weeks, but Will Carroll says his injury is a broken arm, not a wrist injury, while offering a sunnier prognosis once he returns to action. In the meantime, Nick Green‘s stint starting at short is going well; he’s hitting .313/.371/.563 while the Sox are riding a seven-game winning streak.
Blankety Blanks: The Pirates shut out opponents three times in four games, with Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, and Ross Ohlendorf all putting together scoreless starts. Under new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, the team continues to be the majors’ stingiest, yielding 3.3 runs per game, and their 10 quality starts top all comers. Alas, the staff will be without the backstopping (and hitting) skills of Ryan Doumit, whose wrist fracture will sideline him for 8-to-10 weeks, and it could sap his power once he returns.
Pirated: The Marlins’ season-opening 11-1 tear is brought to a screeching halt by Pittsburgh’s upstarts, who sweep a three-game set. Despite the hot start, the offense is struggling; Hanley Ramirez (.270/.324/.429), Dan Uggla (.196/.297/.357), Cameron Maybin (.214/.298/.333) or Cody Ross (.241/.276/.463) are off to good starts, and Emilio Bonifacio is just 6-for-42 after bursting from the gate by going 14-for-24. While they’ve played their share of easy teams, it’s worth noting that with sets against the Phillies and Mets up next, by month’s end the Marlins’ opponents’ projected winning percentage of .516 will be comparable to their MLB-high full-season mark of .519.
Zero Hero: Zack Greinke pitches his first career shutout (9 7 0 0 0 10) and runs his scoreless streak to 20 innings this year, and 34 dating back to last September 13. He pulls off the feat in hitter-friendly Arlington, where he’s posted a 2.00 ERA and 29/3 K/BB ratio in 27 career innings. Meanwhile, Brian Bannister returns from the minors to blank the Indians for six frames, bumping the execrable Horacio Ramirez out of the rotation, hopefully consigning at least one bad Trey Hillman idea to the dustbin of history.
Milton Impossible? In his first start in 10 days, Milton Bradley is once again felled by a groin injury. He’s just 1-for-23 on the year, with seven strikeouts, and he’s still got a two-game suspension for ump-bumping pending; he could have served it out while recuperating, but he’s appealing as a matter of principle. One way or another, what Bradley’s attempting to do-return to the field on a regular basis for an NL team after spending a year as a regular DH-has been done only twice, and not in 20 years.
Murph on the Turf: During spring training, much was made of manager Jerry Manuel‘s commitment to converted third baseman Daniel Murphy as the team’s everyday left fielder. While Murphy is hitting fairly well (.309/.361/.400), a pair of critical defensive miscues have contributed to Met losses, most recently in the opener of a three-game sweep by the Cardinals. Meanwhile, at the other outfield corner, Gary Sheffieldcracks his 500th homer, the 25th player to do so, and Ryan Church is hitting .333/429/.521.
What’s Wang With This Pitcher? The Yankees scuffle their way to a winning record in their new stadium’s first homestand, but all is not well in the Bronx. Chien-Ming Wang is torched for eight runs while lasting less than two innings for the second straight start, inflating his ERA to 34.50. According to pitching coach Dave Eiland, Wang’s arm is five inches higher than normal, which is costing him velocity and preventing his sinker from sinking. He’ll miss a turn while working in extended spring training, with a DL stint for arm fatigue possibly looming if the correction takes longer.
After jumping out to a 9-3 start, three straight losses provide a reality check for the Pad squad. Even as they scrape together just seven runs in those three losses, their offense is showing some encouraging signs, averaging 4.5 runs per game and ranking fourth in the league in EqA, with Adrian Gonzalez and part-timer Scott Hairston both in the individual top 10. On the other hand, Brian Giles is off to a miserable start, hitting just .159/.209/.190 amid continuing off-field woes.
On Q: Carlos Quentin homers in three straight games, helping the Sox take a four-game set from the Rays. After bashing 36 home runs last year but losing out on the league crown due to a season-ending, self-inflicted broken wrist, Quentin leads the majors with seven. He’s not just a product of the homer-friendly Cell either; 20 of those 43 shots have come on the road. Also picking up where he left off, and then some is John Danks, who’s yielded just two runs over three starts.
Felix Hernandez and friends outduel James Shields and company in a 1-0 win-the sole run a leadoff homer by Ichiro Suzuki-to take the rubber match of a series with the defending AL champs. The Mariners lead the AL West thanks to their pitching, as it sure as hell isn’t their offense (.241/.293/.352). The staff leads the league in ERA (3.01) and HR/9 (0.3), while Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard have combined for a 1.78 ERA, a strikeout per inning, a 40/7 K/BB ratio and five quality starts out of six.
Just Like the Bad Old Days: A 2-7 skid offers a brief reminder of the first decade of Tampa Bay baseball while sending the Rays to their fourth straight series defeat. The hits have been concentrated in too few bats; while Evan Longoria (.386/.419/ .772), Jason Bartlett (.352/.407/.519), and Carlos Pena (.242/.329/.581) are swinging effectively, the entire outfield is hitting just .232/.320/.337, and the team has managed just five homers in that nine-game span after bashing 15 in their first seven games.
Carl Pavano pitches well in his return to the scene of the $39.95 million dollar crime, Aaron Laffey becomes the first pitcher in 39 years to generate double-play grounders in five straight innings, and Cliff Lee rights himself with a pair of strong starts (14 IP, 3 ER), but they can’t lift the Tribe out of the cellar. As bad as the rotation has been (5.95 Fair Run Average), the bullpen’s been much worse (7.35), with go-to guys Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis combining to allow 35 baserunners in 14 2/3IP.
Eye Caramba: Post-Lasik surgery complications send Brian McCann into a 1-for-22 slump and sideline him for a couple days. While a new contact lens helps him snap out of it, he’s hitting just .195/.333/.415 thus far. That’s not helping the Braves, who are caught in a 2-7 tailspin in which the offense is scoring just 2.7 runs per game.
Victorious in three straight series against NL Central opponents, the Reds’ rotation is starting to click. Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto put up their first quality starts of the year, while Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo continue to rebound from mediocre 2008 showings. After going 21-28 with a 4.78 ERA last year, they’re a combined 5-2 with a 2.91 ERA thus far despite receiving just four runs per game of support.
Into the Future: Blue-chip prospect Derek Hollandtosses 2 1/3 scoreless frames in his debut; he’ll wet his feet in middle and long relief, and the Rangers could use the help given the bullpen’s 7.92 FRA. The rotation could use a hand as well, given the crisp 8.13 FRA of the four non-Millwood starters, but that’s not on the menu for the 22-year-old just yet. Related thought for the day: how come Anna Benson’s been so quiet?
Pectacular: Vladimir Guerrerowill miss at least a month with a torn pectoral muscle. That’s hardly the kind of news a team that’s in the bottom three in all three triple-slash categories-not to mention an understandable emotional funk-needs, though it at least gives Gary Matthews Jr. something productive to do. And because absolutely nothing’s going right these days, elbow tightness forces Dustin Moseley to the DL as well, though it’s worth noting that his 4.30 ERA is actually the highest among Halo starters.
The Astros snap the Dodgers’ eight-game winning streak, and Lance Berkman‘s eighth-inning homer sparks a comeback which helps the team clinch the three-game series. It’s Berkman’s third homer in seven days, but the Big Puma’s been struggling otherwise, hitting just .204/.358/.463, and the offense as a whole is wheezing its way to 3.3 runs per game.
Deserted: The Diamondbacks’ offense scrapes together just 16 runs all week while being blanked twice. They’re last in the league in OBP (.294) and in the bottom three in both AVG (.226) and SLG (.389). They do score a pair of runs for Dan Haren, which is one more than they had in his three previous starts; he combines one of the team’s two shutouts for the week, which enables them to split the slate.
Shouldering the Blame: Cole Hamelstakes responsibility for his early-season woes, blaming his overstuffed winter schedule for delaying his preparation for the year. He’s sporting a 9.69 ERA and has yet to put together a quality start, and he leaves his latest after being struck in the shoulder by a line drive. The staff as a whole has been getting battered to the tune of a league-worst 6.34 ERA, with not a single starter below 5.00.
Must Be the Brotherly Love: Philadelphia-area resident David Bush continues his recent knack for baffling the local nine. He holds the Phillies hitless for 7 1/3 innings before Matt Stairs breaks up his no-hit bid with a homer, winding up combining on a two-hitter to help the Brewers clinch a series against the defending World Champs. At one point the Phils had beaten the Brewers in seven of their previous eight games, including the NL Division Series, where Bush collected the lone Brewers win, and last September’s four-game sweep, where Bush started the game in which skipper Ned Yost‘s bullpen mismanagement triggered his dismissal.
While it’s not quite the Boston massacre, the Orioles’ aspirations of improving their AL East standing take a hit, as they’re swept in four games at Fenway by a combined score of 29-14. The pitching staff get mixed news: Alfredo Simon is forced to undergo season-endingTommy John surgery after just two starts, but replacement Brad Bergesencollects a win in his major league debut. He’s no Chris Tillman or Brian Matusz-he failed to crack their top prospects list-but for a staff that’s sporting a 5.98 ERA, he’s next in line.
A 2-6 road trip drops the Rox into the NL West basement, and as you’d expect, they’ve go their share of rotation woes. Aaron Cook‘s sinker isn’t sinking; he’s carrying a 10.22 ERA and a ground-ball percentage of 40, after being above 57 percent in every year of his career. Ubaldo Jimenez‘s similar troubles are exacerbated by 13 walks in 15 innings. And now Franklin Morales could miss two months due to a shoulder strain at a time when things are beginning to click for him.
Francisco Liriano remains perfect, with four starts and four losses, not to mention a 7.06 ERA. He’s hardly alone among Twins starters, however, as the rotation has combined for a 5.59 ERA, with Glenn Perkins (1.50) the only starter below 5.40. If the lack of Joe Mauer behind the plate is a contributing factor, at least he’s on the road to returning; he’s catching in extended spring training, and expected back in the bigs on May 1.