What in the name of George Herman Ruth is going on in baseball? The Cleveland Indians are still leading the pack (largest margin of any division leader and tied for second-best record in the majors) after two months of play. Eventually someone has to either call them contenders or let Cleveland know that they can’t be playing this well. Mariano Rivera (13 SV, 1.71 ERA and the greatest closer of all time) blows a save in the 12th to the Seattle Mariners – meaning that Adam Kennedy and the Emerald City Roasters have won 9 of 10 and are a half-game out of first in the AL West. Seattle also shoots for their first three game sweep of the Bronx Bombers in Seattle since 1996 (swept Yankees in New York in 2002). Jay Bruce (33 hits, 11 HR, 29 RBI) and Raul Ibanez (31 hits, 5 HR, 16 RBI) are fighting for NL Player of the Month but no one has noticed Nick Markakis (32 hits in May) or Adam Jones (36 hits). Michael Young is without a position in Texas but his bat is on fire while Martin Prado (36 hits, 4 HR, 20 RBI) toils in a broken and bruised Braves lineup. Jose “Popeye” Baustista has 20 HR, 35 RBI, 125 TB, .801 SLG, .502 OBP and seems to have proven that 2010 was not a fluke and that the most offensive substance he has used is spinach.
The weirdest development may be that of Wilson Valdez who became the first player to start a game in the field and then pitch (18 innings later) for the victory since Babe Ruth in 1921. Valdez, who retired reigning NL MVP Joey Votto, the red-hot Jay Bruce and hit Scott Rolen (on his only breaking pitch) before retiring the side, averaged 87 mph on his fastball (according to Pitch F/X his fastest pitch was 89.5 mph). According to FanGraphs, Mark Buehrle (85.4), Shaun Marcum (86.4), Bronson Arroyo (86.6) and Livan Hernandez (83.7) are among those with slower fastball average. Valdez joked that he throws harder than former teammate Jamie Moyer, too (tops out at 80 MPH). Valdez earned a win this season before such pitchers as Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez (who started the All-Star Game last year), the Yankees’ Phil Hughes, San Francisco’s Barry Zito and the Angels’ Scott Kazmir!
Memorial Day Weekend is a time of reflection, relaxation and the one-third marker for the MLB season. Approximately 50-60 games have been played meaning that the baseball landscape has begun to take shape. Hitting streaks (Ethier) and team winning streaks (Kansas City) have petered out and the separation between “luck” and “skill” has become much clearer.
Lance Berkman (.356), Adrian Gonzalez (.338), Matt Holliday (.347) and Jose Bautista (.353) are trailing in the batting race to a Tampa Bay (Devil) Ray named “Matt Joyce.” Can anyone honestly say that they knew who this guy was more than 10 minutes ago? Anyone…? Mrs. Joyce, are you raising your hand? Fair enough. Anybody else? Matt Joyce was a hot dog vendor who got hold of a uniform and has never had more than 240 AB in four ML seasons (with Detroit and then Tampa) but he is leading the majors in hitting. Colorado’s leading hitter of late is not “Cargo” nor “Tulo” but Chris Ianetta (7 HR, 22 RBI but half of those have come in the month of May). Carl Demonte “Perfect Storm” Crawford has virtually doubled his average (.245, 4 HR, 21 RBI) from April to May and with that Boston (thanks to Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury who share 79 hits between them) has regained bragging rights in the AL East. Leading the majors in wins would be Kevin Correia (7-4, 3.44 ERA for PIT), Cole Hamels (7-2, 3.01 ERA, 78 K in 75 IP for PHI) and Jon Lester (7-1, 3.36 ERA, 70k in 70 IP for BOS) who have 7 wins each rather than Sabathia, Halladay and Weaver (who led in April). ERA leaders consist of Atlanta’s Jair Jurjens (1.56), Florida’s Josh Johnson (1.69) and Texas Rangers Alexi Ogando (TEX 1.81 ERA with 5-0 record). Not to be outdone, the trio of Halladay (47), Hamels (44) and Lee (47) have the collective lead in strikeouts nosing out Felix Hernandez (46) and James Shields (53).
Best bullpen in the majors may not reside in the Bronx where Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano boast the most expensive dynamic duo – rather it may rest in Atlanta where the relatively anonymous tandem of Craig Kimbrel (8 SV in May) and Johnny Venters have combined for 14 saves in 18 opportunities. Leo Nunez (18-19) of Florida has been statistically more successful as has surprising JJ Putz (15-15) for Arizona but these stats match those of Francisco “Don’t Call Me K-Rod” Rodriguez who has saved 15 of 16 but blew up for 3 runs just this week. No one seems to be talking about Joel Hanrahan (14 saves) or the fourth-place Pittsburgh Pirates who have actually been above the .500 mark for the first time since 1992 – and who currently lead both Chicago and Houston while trailing Cincinnati in NL Central by less than two games (24-26).
Cubs (.275), Cardinals (.285) and Red Sox (.270) lead in team hitting but the Sox and Cards each lead their divisions. Meanwhile the Seattle Mariners (.233) trail the Texas Rangers (.257) by a slim margin in the standings due to their exceptional pitching. Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Erik Bedard and the rest of Seattle’s Best sport a team ERA of 3.35 (8th), 6 shutouts (3rd), 364 strikeouts and just 171 ER in 51 games. Philadelphia leads in team pitching (33W, 3.02 ERA, 432 strikeouts) but more surprising than the success of the Four Aces is Cleveland’s “No Faces” effort to rank third (31W, 3.62 ERA, 443 IP and 305 strikeouts) with the likes of Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona leading the way. Milwaukee’s Zack Grienke (3-1, 5.79 ERA, 39K & 29 hits in 29 IP)/Shaun Marcum (6-2, 2.980 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) experiement has not been successful thus far although Randy Wolf (4-4, 3.43, 1.29 WHIP) and Yovani Gallardo (6-2, 4.35, 1.42 WHIP) have held their own. Likewise for Oakland who has been led by Brett Anderson (3-4, 2.84) and Trevor Cahill (6-2, 2.02) while Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden have struggled. Pitching always seems to win championships but even the best pitching needs some kind of run support that is down across the league.
Baseball is a marathon and the grueling 162-game schedule over 180 days truly separates the proverbial men from the boys – but it also the only sport which allows us to watch it evolve game by game over such a long haul. Basketball and hockey have 82 game seasons while football offers us just 17 weeks. Memorial Day, the All-Star Break and Labor Day offer us mile markers to use as a yardstick and see how our favorite teams and players measure up against the competition. Can Jose Bautista shatter the HR record? Probably not though he is on pace to hit about 60 this season. Will Ichiro Suzuki eclipse his own record of 262 hits in a season? Right now he has 59 (ranking 16th overall in 2011), which puts him on pace for about 180 though he has hit at least 200 in each of his 10 MLB seasons – surpassing 240 twice with an average of 228. Perhaps Adrian Gonzalez (72), Jose Reyes (72) or Starlin Castro (68 hits with .781 OPS) are on pace for more than 200 hits. Will the Cleveland Indians remain in contention while the Yankess free fall? What kind of wildcard race will it be if teams like Arizona, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Milwaukee all remain relevant? Is the AL West completely up for grabs and will the AL Central be upside-down all season or will we see a rebound from Chicago and Minnesota? Who will be buyers and sellers when the Trading Deadline approaches? All this and more is yet to be determined.
Enjoy the holiday weekend and remember those who have gone before to provide us the freedom to enjoy baseball and barbecue on a three-day respite but know that there are still more than 100 games remaining in the 2011 regular season. We won’t know who is for real and who will be reeling until Labor Day and we have the entire summer to enjoy what baseball has to offer us. The Grand Old Game… our National Pastime… a day at the ballpark… Play Ball!
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org