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The First Week of Baseball

While nothing happened in the first week of baseball that was quite at the level of excitement of Boston University’s win of the NCAA hockey championship, there was some exciting action, but also a reminder of how short life can be. Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart made just his fourth major league start and later that night was killed in a car crash after a drunk driver with a suspended license and potential prior convictions hit Adenhart’s car and ran. Hopefully the Angels can emotionally move on in time.

With that somber note out of the way, the great thing about the first week of baseball is all the wackiness that comes from small sample sizes.

NL West

MLB showed its wackiness in the NL West, where San Diego, who no one expects to compete, is currently occupying first place thanks to strong pitching from Jake Peavy and Chris Young. Manny Ramirez has received some Barry Bonds treatment this week as well, which if it continues, will also validate my point about AL pitching being better. After all, there were very few intentional walks that I can remember, for Manny in his games against the AL East. And using David Pinto’s Day By Day Database, I was able to come up with 61 intentional walks in his near nine years against AL East competition.

The Giants are in last and Tim Lincecum has had a rough start to the season. On the other hand, Matt Cain’s first start was very much what people have been expecting out of him. Arizona, who many expected to compete, may have a rougher road with Brandon Webb going on the DL for his shoulder. The offense has only scored 23 runs also, so if the offense gets going, the team may be able to overcome the short loss of Webb.

NL Central

In the NL Central, the biggest surprise may be that the Pirates have already won three games. Albert Pujols and the Cardinals have stormed out into first place and Pujols clearly should not have had Tommy John surgery so that he could’ve appeared more mortal-like.

The Cubs are behind them in second and may have already received their first Milton Bradley injury to complement Lou Piniella having chosen the wrong guy to close out games. But hey, Rich Harden’s arm hasn’t fallen off yet. The Milwaukee Brewers are in for a long season with the loss of Ben Sheets and C.C. Sabathia and not much of a bullpen either. Their offense, though, should at least make for some entertaining games, especially if Ryan Braun develops as expected.

The Reds received some solid starts from Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo, but that offense may qualify for the scrappiest of the post-1994 era and will definitely keep their pitchers’ win totals low.

NL East

In the NL East, Washington is feeling the effects of Jim Bowden’s roster construction, even after his departure from the organization. They are the last team in search of their first win and given their starting pitching, it could be a month before it comes. But in a positive note for the team, Nick Johnson’s bones have not decomposed.

The two teams who battled over the division last year, the Phillies and Mets, have gotten off to a bit of a dull start. With the Mets, their starting pitching behind Johan Santana is definitely going to be a bit of a rollercoaster. However, Philadelphia’s pitching is even worse, especially if Cole Hamels is not healthy. Chase Utley has provided hope to Yankees fans that A-Rod’s hip won’t be a big impact on his production when he returns. Ryan Church has recovered finally from his concussion issues and is performing well on the field again.

Florida and Atlanta are tied for the lead in the division and are doing so with very good pitching. Of note is Josh Johnson, who is now nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery and has great stuff and showed better command upon returning last year. Emilio Bonifacio, Hanley Ramirez, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson are all members of the “Small samples make rate stats look ridiculous” club. Emilio Bonifacio will probably have the roughest return to earth of the four.

AL West

In the AL West, the Mariners have jumped out to an early lead in the division. Of particular note is Erik Bedard who is looking to be healthy for the first time since arriving in Seattle. His start Sunday looked much like the Erik Bedard we saw in Baltimore. If Jarrod Washburn and Carlos Silva can be half-decent and Bedard does pitch well, in a weak division (and given the pitching injuries Anaheim and Oakland have had, it is weakened), Seattle can compete. But that’s asking a bit much, considering that the offense is still a bit subpar.

Oakland is running out a lot of young pitchers thanks to injuries and the lack of development of some of the starters is reflected in Oakland’s record. The Angels will be trying to float in the water until Lackey, Santana and Escobar return.

In Texas they found out that trotting out Kris Benson’s wife to the mound with him will not make hitters perform any worse when he throws meatballs. Their offense is also not quite as strong without Milton Bradley, who had the team’s highest on base percentage last year.

AL Central

In the AL Central, the Indians finally got their first win Sunday. Like the Brewers, they too are missing Sabathia. Also, they’re missing Cliff Lee having a career year. Well, sometimes a fluke really is a fluke. While they’re not as bad as they looked this week, their starting pitching depth will present problems.

The rest of the division is all around .500, which is surprising in the case of Kansas City. They were able to get a good start out of Kyle Davies, which helped. Meche and Greinke will be solid if not great this year, but their offense will be poor, and I don’t see K.C. being this year’s Rays.

Minnesota has received some poor pitching, but Scott Baker is on his way back and Francisco Liriano will not continue to pitch this poorly. The White Sox have had mostly good pitching this week (Jose Contreras pitching poorly does not surprise this Yankees fan), but their offense did not do much to supplement that. Too many of their key players outside of Carlos Quentin are too old and the young players are mostly poor hitters, except Josh Fields.

Finally Detroit is in first thanks to their offense, specifically Miguel Cabrera, who this week looks like the guy we thought he was in 2007. They still have pretty poor starting pitching and it looks like Justin Verlander is still a bit off. Rick Porcello pitched pretty well, but Jim Leyland left him in too long and he tired quickly. The Tigers will have to take it a little easier on their young stud’s arm if they want him to last deep into the season.

AL East

Finally in the AL East, there’s all sorts of wackiness as the two bottom teams from last year are currently up top. Toronto has actually had poor pitching outside of Halladay, but their hitting has surprisingly picked up the slack. Marco Scutaro had probably the best offensive week of his life since high school. Adam Lind is showing why he was a top hitting prospect for the team and rewarding the team for not completely giving up on him. And Scott Rolen, who the team is reportedly looking to trade, has gotten off on the right foot for the team to accomplish that goal.

For Baltimore, they’ve scored three runs or less in their two losses, and five runs or more in their four wins. Their offense has been pretty good thanks to Luke Scott, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones. Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara have looked pretty good for the rotation. But, considering that this rotation also has Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton, they’ve got a heavy anchor tied to their foot and it’s going to be tossed overboard at any moment. 

The Yankees, Rays and Red Sox round up the back and I think we all expect them to improve. After pitching poorly in the season opener, C.C. Sabathia rebounded and pitched well in his second start. Before hurting his wrist, Mark Teixeira had a decent start to his season. Nick Swisher has had quite the start to the season and is allowing Yankees fans to say “And all we gave up was Wilson Betemit?” Of course, Swisher’s error Sunday did help lead to the loss. But, the starting pitching will be good for the Yankees and once A-Rod returns, the offense will be very good. Robinson Cano is off to a hot start and looks to have improved his swing from last year and is even showing some discipline at the plate. It will be interesting to see if that continues.

Yet again, the Rays have good pitching, but with B.J. Upton out they have been a little punchless, but that will change tomorrow with Upton’s return. Without Upton, Evan Longoria is showing that he is a superstar and will be a menace for a long time.

Finally in Boston, the issue has been a dearth of offense. David Ortiz has not hit for power so far, which may indicate that the wrist injury sapped him of some strength, or it could just be the poor weather so far in the Northeast. Ellsbury, Lowell, Drew and Lowrie are also struggling to hit. Bay, Varitek and Youkilis have started the season exceptionally hot and Pedroia is hitting solidly as well.

Sox fans will have to hope that the struggling hitters rebound more than the hot hitters regress or else they’ll be in for a lot of low-scoring games. Josh Beckett is already showing his ace form on the mound, to the point that he threw a pitch near a hitter’s head on purpose Sunday. Jon Lester had a bit of a rough first start, but he’ll rebound and look more dominant. Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch better as well, but homers and walks will always be an issue with him. Sox fans will have to hope for more of last year’s luck, where the home runs Dice-K allowed were rarely with baserunners on.

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