Around The League: At The End Of A Week…

Major League Baseball is back and in full swing.  What a first week we just had!  We’ll be taking a look around the league to discuss who’s hot, who’s not and what’s going on.

American League East:

Many pre-season analysts had the Toronto Blue Jays winning the World Series this year.  “It’s early,” as they say, but so far the Blue Jays do not look like contenders.  Toronto has started the season 2-4 and got thrashed by the Boston Red Sox earlier today by a score of 13-0.  The Red Sox pace the American League East so far with a records of 4-2, Baltimore and Tampa Bay each split 6 this week and finds themselves an even 3-3, and the Yankees and Blue Jays finish the first week at 2-4.

The big story in the American League East this week?  Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles.  Davis hit home runs in each of his first 4 games this season and finished the week with 4 home runs, 17 RBI, and a .556 Batting Average and a 1.391 slugging percentage in only 18 at bats.  How’s that for a hot start?  Davis’s teammate Adam Jones has been helping fuel the fire as well, hitting .522 with 7 RBIs through the first week of the season.  The Orioles’ offense picks up where it left off last year.

R.A. Dickey found himself on the wrong end of a hit barrage to start the season out up in Toronto.  Dickey had rough outings in each of his first two start.  Entrusted to be the Ace of the Blue Jays’ staff, the line on knuckleballer Dickey indicates he’s anything but so far.  His ERA stands at 8.44 after 2 games.  Dickey has surrendered 12 runs, 10 of them earned, in just 10 2/3 innings.  He has surrendered 3 home runs and has struck out 9 batters while walking 6.

The Yankees have struggled in the early going, but ended the week on a positive note, getting 7 shutout innings from C.C. Sabathia to beat Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers 7-0.  Without Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson in the lineup, the Yankee offense has struggled to get going.  Beating Tigers’ ace Verlander is a positive sign that the Yankees may be able to find a way to compete in the very talent-deep American League East.

American League Central:

The first week has shown a lot of parity in the Central, with the White Sox and Twins sharing first place at 4-2 and the Tigers, Royals and Indians sitting a game back at 3-3.

The Twins are the surprise hot starter of the group.  Starting the season projected to finish dead last by several analysts, the Twins started the season out by winning back-to-back series against the Tigers and the Orioles, both playoff teams last year.  Justin Morneau paced the Twins’ offense this week, hitting .364 and getting on base at a .462 clip with 2 doubles, 3 RBIs, and 4 runs scored.

The White Sox have been just as hot, getting great hitting performances out of Alex Rios who starts the season hitting at a .364 clip with 3 homers and 5 RBIs.  The White Sox also got some excitement in the form of a walk-off home run from Dayan Viciedo against the Mariners today.

Justin Verlander won on Opening Day, but had one rough inning today against the Yankees.  Verlander was still solid, pitching 7 innings of 3 run ball against the Yankees, but got no help from his offense or his bullpen as the Tigers wound up losing 7-0.  Despite being favorites to repeat as the AL Central Division Champs this year, the Tigers find themselves at .500 after dropping a series to the Twins and failing to sweep the Yankees after an uninspired performance today behind Verlander’s efforts.

The Indians finished the week on a decidedly different note than the Tigers.  Needing a win today against the Tampa Bay Rays to split the 6 games of their first week, the Indians knocked Rays started David Price around and put up 13 runs in support of Justin Masterson. The Indians’ 13-0 win shows their offense has momentum going into the second week.  Catcher Carlos Santana paces all Indians hitters with a .500 average, and First Baseman Mark Reynolds is off to a hot start as well with 4 homers and 7 RBIs.

American League West:

The A.L. West features the Oakland Athletics holding the division lead with a 5-2 record after a week.  Trailing the A’s are the Texas Rangers at 4-2, the Seattle Mariners at 3-4, the  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at 2-4 and the Houston Astros at 1-5.

The A.L. West greets the former National League Central member Houston Astros into the fold, and the Astros started the season out with a huge win over the Rangers behind Bud Norris.  But after that, the Astros have fallen short in 5 straight games.  Yu Darvish retired the first 26 Astros he faced in the second game of the season, falling just short of perfection, and the Astros haven’t been able to fully recover ever since.  With a team payroll that sits at around $18 million, the Astros don’t figure to be a significant factor this year, but certainly the team and its fans were hoping for a better start after winning convicingly on Opening Night.

The Texas Rangers on the other hand rebounded beautifully from their Opening Night loss to the Houston Astros and Bud Norris.  Yu Darvish’s near-perfect game righted the ship, and the Rangers’ offense carried them this week.  The Rangers capped off the week by taking 2 of 3 from the Angels.  Darvish only lasted 5 innings in his second start, but Ian Kinsler’s 3 run shot in the 6th inning off the Angels’ Mark Lowe proved to be too much for the boys from Anaheim to overcome.

The Angels had a thrilling 3-1 victory in extras against the Cincinnati Reds.  Catcher Chris Ianetta is finally healthy and showed how valuable he can be as an offensive force by driving in all 3 of the Angels’ runs in the game, including the 13th inning single that provided the deciding margin.  Albert Pujols had a 2 homer game in Texas, but otherwise struggled, hitting under .200 on the week.  A scary moment for the Angels tonight in Arlington when staff ace Jered Weaver took a line drive off his left arm in the 6th inning.  Weaver had to leave the game, but initial tests on the arm were negative and Weaver is not expected to miss any significant time with the injury.

The Oakland Athletics picked up where they left off, winning 5 of their first 7.  The A’s split their opening series in Seattle against the Mariners, losing the first two games but then taking the next two to earn the series split.  The A’s immediately followed up a hard-fought battle in Seattle by sweeping the Astros.  Outfielder Coco Crisp provided some highlights, and Cuban Sensation Yoenis Cespedes, while struggling to find his groove, did manage to launch two homers and drive in five despite his .120 start.  Newly-acquired shortstop Jed Lowrie hit .500 to open the season for the A’s.

The Mariners got a strong outing behind Felix Hernandez on Opening Day, but then proceded to drop 4 of their next 6.  The Mariners’ offense is much improved from last season with the additions of power hitters Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales.  The Mariners’ ability to get offense out of Morse and Morales will strongly determine the outcome of their season.

National League East:

The National League East belongs to the Atlanta Braves and their 5-1 record so far this year.  The Braves are followed by the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets at 4-2, the Philadelphia Phillies at 2-4, and the Miami Marlins at 1-5.

The Braves week was highlighted by taking 2 out of 3 from the Phillies.  The Braves managed to beat Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay in the first two games of the season before falling 2-0 in a hard-fought loss against Cliff Lee.  The Braves then pulled off a sweep of the Cubs.  B.J. and Justin Upton have provided some power, including back-to-back game-tying and walk-off home runs against Carlos Marmol of the Cubs this week.  Freddie Freeman finished the week hitting at a .412 clip.  And Tim Hudson, somewhat shaky in his first outing of the season, bounced back to allow only 1 run in 6 2/3 against the Cubs today.

The Mets were also benefactors of a strong first week.  John Buck took the Triple Crown for the team the first week, hitting .400 with 2 homers and 9 RBIs.  David Wright got on base at a .462 clip.  And the Mets benefitted from opening against the Padres and the Marlins, taking 2 out of 3 from each.

The Washington Nationals got strong Opening Day pitching from Stephen Strasburg.  The word on Strasburg is that the innings limit is out the window this year, and this may enable the Nationals to repeat as NL East champions.    Though Strasburg got knocked around for 6 earned runs in his second outing, the Nationals still managed to finish the week at 4-2.  A sweep of celler dweller Miami helped cushion the blow that the Nats took by dropping 2 of 3 to the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds.

National League Central:

The NL Central could feature an interesting race.  With pushover Houston now gone to the AL West, the Central has greater parity and lacks an obvious door mat.  After one week, Cincinnati’s original Red Stockings pace the division at 4-2, followed by the St. Louis Cardinals at 3-3, the Chicago Cubs at 2-4, and the Pittsburgh PIrates and the Milwaukee Brewers each at a disappointing 1-5.

Cincinnati came into the season with high expectations, and had a solid opening week.  The Reds dropped a 13 inning thriller on Opening Day, then took 4 of their next 5.  The Reds’ most impressive win so far may have been the 6-3 decision over the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg earlier today.  3rd Baseman Todd Frazier paced the Reds through the first week, outhitting better-known names like Joey Votto and newly-acquired Shin-Shoo Choo by putting up a .480 average to go with 3 homers and 9 RBIs.

The big story this week may have come from the one NL Central Team that’s arguably in a definitive rebuild mode.  The Chicago Cubs put up a 2-4 record, but may very well have split their opening 6 if not for the Upton Brothers’ back-to-back blasts in Atlanta off of closer Carlos Marmol.  Marmol is now out as the closer in Chicago, replaced by Japanese sensation Kyuji Fujikawa.  Fujikawa has not been very impressive in the early going himself, boasing an 11.57 ERA through one week of play, but Marmol’s shaky start and an ERA over 20 prompted Cubs manager Dave Sveum to make the move.  Fujikawa came over on a 2 year, $9.5 million contract with a vesting option for a third season and General Manager Jed Hoyer states that Fujikawa is part of the club’s rebuild plans, though there is much speculation that he may be used as trade bait at the deadline to help the Cubs acquire more prospects.

The Cubs will be going through a rebuild of a different sort very soon, however, as the Ricketts family has announced some exciting plans to renovate iconic Wrigley Field.  According to ESPN, the half-billion dollar renovation will be focused on building a large video board in left field as well as another large board out in right field.  Owner Tom Ricketts has proposed paying for the plan entirely out of his own pocket, which will increase the likelihood that the City of Chicago will approve the plans.  Improved parking and a $200 million hotel also are alleged to be part of the proposal.  The Cubs hope to play more night games in the coming years and believe these renovations will help them to move more of their home games from day to night, as well as generate increased revenues from advertising.  The Cubs are expected to announce the deal officially in time for their home opener on Monday.  Word is that owners of the rooftop bleacher sections across the street in left and right field plan to take legal action if the renovations do anything to obstruct their views.  For more on this topic, the ESPN article is located here.

The Cardinals split their 6 games, but managed to take 2 of 3 from the defending champion San Francisco Giants.  The Milwaukee Brewers disappointed in the first week, beating the Colorado Rockies on Opening Day before dropping their next 5 to NL West Front-Runners Colorado and Arizona.  The Pittsburgh Pirates, who have shown many encouraging signs the last couple of seasons before late-season fades that saw them fall below .500, have had cold bats to start the season.  A.J. Burnett is a hard-luck 0-2, and cleanup hitter Pedro Alvarez was 0-for-10 with 7 strikeouts in the recently-completed 3 game series against the Dodgers.

National League West

The National League West has a little season-opening surprise: neither of the two teams in first place is in California.  The Diamondbacks and Rockies sport 5-1 records after a week and are tied atop the division.  The Dodgers follow with a 4-2 record, the Giants check in with a split of 6 games at 3-3, and the San Diego Padres finish the week off at 1-5.

The Dodgers and Giants opening series was highly anticipated and featured an Opening Day matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Matt Cain.  Cain was solid, giving the Giants 6 shutout innings, but Kershaw was spectacular, throwing a complete game 4-hit shutout and supporting his own cause by breaking up a scoreless tie with a long home run to center in the Bottom of the Eighth inning.  Madison Bumgarner returned the favor by blanking the Dodgers for 8 the following night, benefitting from two Justin Sellers errors that allowed the Giants a 3-0 cushion in the 6th that they wouldn’t relinquish, and Tim Lincecum wobbled his way through 5 innings, allowing only 2 runs despite giving up 7 walks, and the Giants took the Rubber Game in Los Angeles over Josh Beckett.

After that, the Dodgers took on the Pittsburgh Pirates and had their way with them.  Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw both have scoreless starts, and Korean sensation Hyun-Jin Ryu started out shaky but settled in to write his own masterpiece as the Dodgers swept the Pirates.  Carl Crawford hit .450 with 5 runs scored and 2 stolen bases to pace the Dodgers’ offense.  Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez had their struggles, but accounted for all 6 of the Dodgers’ runs on Sunday and are showing signs of coming around.  Kershaw is making a strong opening statement for why he should be the Cy Young front-runner this year, with 16 K’s and only 1 walk and 6 hits allowed in 16 shutout innings so far this season.

The Giants, meanwhile, dropped two of three to the Cardinals, with Matt Cain getting rocked by the Cardinal offense on Sunday.

The Rockies and Diamondbacks both got off to impressive starts at 5-1.  The Rockies lost to the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day, but then ran off 5 straight.  Picked by many to finish last in the division, the Rockies have been getting it done with the bat, hitting .316 through the first week of the season to lead the league.  Michael Cuddyer has paced the Rocks with a .450 Batting Average and 7 RBI, and Dexter Fowler has had a power surge, placing 4 balls in the seats.  It will be interesting to see if the Rockies can sustain this early success when they go on the road.

The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have been getting it done in thrilling fashion, including an 8-7 11 inning thriller today in Milwaukee.  Gerardo Parra, not originally anticipated to make the starting lineup, has taken charge in light of trades and injuries to the Diamondbacks outfielders, hitting .400 the first week.  Paul Goldschmidt has established his bat early on as well, contributing 2 homers and 7 RBIs to go along with 3 doubles and a .370 batting average.

The Padres had a week to forget, with the lone bright spot being a 2-1 by pitcher Eric Stultz over the New York Mets in the 3rd game of their young season.  The Padres hope to get things going at home, opening up their schedule at Petco Park with a 3 game set against the Dodgers.

And there you have it!

An exciting first week in Major League Baseball, with some surprise hot starts and some big news in Chicago.  Keep coming back for more articles, analysis, recaps, interviews and, well, more at Eric’s Dodgers Blog.

 

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