You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension.
L.A. Dodgers. Washington Nationals. Cleveland Indians. Baltimore Orioles.
Major League Baseball has entered the Twilight Zone.
Many of baseball’s typical cellar dwellers have played their way to the top of their respective divisions, leaving fans and pundits alike eye-rubbing and head-shaking.
The McCourTrain Wrecks, errrrr, Dodgers have the best record in the entire National League, the caveat being that we’re only 33 games into the regular season and in baseball, that’s nothin.
Now the question is which of these underdogs-turned-top dogs will last through the All-Star break and which will slide back down into the depths of disappointment?
In my MLB season preview I predicted the Dodgers would win the NL West and was surprised at how low many websites ranked them heading into the regular season. Do a Cy Young winner and MVP runner-up mean nothing to these people? The Dodgers had unknowns in other areas, true, but with a proven player like Andre Ethier, coupled with up-and-comer Dee Gordon and James Loney -who had a great second half last year- the boys in blue deserved a bit of respect.
Now they’ve earned it. With new ownership came an optimistic outlook on every phase of the Dodgers ball club from play on the field to parking at Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers have five guys batting .300 or better and currently, Clayton Kershaw isn’t even the best pitcher on the staff as Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano are a combined 9-0 thus far.
Offensively, the Dodgers rank 12th in runs in all of baseball, seventh in batting average, fifth in on base percentage and ninth in slugging percentage. That’s pretty impressive. LA isn’t too shabby on the defensive end either, ranking third in fielding in the NL.
Matt Kemp has done more than his fair share in taking the Dodgers to the top. The center fielder leads the NL in several categories, ranking third in batting average (.375), second in home runs (12) and third in RBI (27).
While the Dodgers are sitting pretty with a six-game lead in the NL West, we all know a lead like that this early in the season is of little relevance (see: 2011 Braves, Red Sox). The six-game cushion might not mean a whole lot right now, but the Dodgers have the talent in a weaker division and thus the best chance to stay atop the standings for the foreseeable future.
The rest of the gang is less predictable.
The downside for Washington is the fact that the Atlanta Braves are right on their heels and of course, Jayson Werth and Michael Morse being out with injuries. But there’s a ton of upside for the Nats, most notably, the pitching staff.
Washington leads the NL with a 2.65 ERA and ranks tied for second in the NL with 10 saves (the Braves lead the way with 14). Steven Strasberg has been outstanding while Gio Gonzalez is close behind, although needing to improve in the area of walking batters.
Rookie Bryce Harper invigorated the Nats as he started his major league career with a bang, but the teenager has since slowed down, going 1-13 in his last three games. After striking out four times total in his first 10 games, Harper has bit the dust four times in his last two games alone. Overall, the kid has a more than respectable stat line, hitting .233 with six extra base hits and three RBI. He’ll figure a way out of his current slump which should keep the Nats afloat.
With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley sidelined for the foreseeable future, I wouldn’t worry about the Phillies surging in the division any time soon. If anyone is going to challenge the Nationals, it’s Atlanta who is already doing a great job of pressuring Washington to play for the win every single time out. The Nats can go either way by the time All-Star break rolls around.
Meanwhile the Indians and Orioles sure are making things interesting in the American League. Ordinarily, I would count the Orioles out just for being the Orioles, and secondly, because of the fact that they play in the toughest division year in and year out.
There’s no denying that the Birds are off to an impressive start ranking second in the AL in pitching (with a 3.34 ERA, right behind the Rangers) and fifth in runs. The O’s defense is nothing to write home about as they rank dead last in fielding, yet whatever they are doing is working as Baltimore holds on to a one-game lead over the Rays with the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox bringing up the rear.
The Orioles are eighth in all of baseball in runs, fifth overall in slugging percentage and rank all the way at the top -numero uno overall- with 53 home runs. Seriously. Who knew? Adam Jones is having a breakout year as he leads the Birds in nearly every offensive category including batting average (.288), home runs (10), RBI (19) and hits (38).
Jason Hammel looks good on the mound with a 2.09 ERA and 4-1 record in six starts. Closer Jim Johnson is second in the AL with 10 saves thus far.
I like the Orioles and have wondered why they had such a hard time over the last few years as they had plenty of talent in the lineup. That said, I can’t picture them leading the AL East in July. Forget the Yankees and Red Sox, the Rays are scary enough! I don’t see the Birds holding on through the All-Star break but I sure hope they can pull it off as it would be a great story for baseball and wonderful for the city of Baltimore.
That brings us to the Cleveland Indians. Sadly, I think Cleveland in first place says more about Detroit than Cleveland.
With Justin Verlander, Prince Filder, Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson, the Tigers should be demolishing fellow-AL Central opponents. Unfortunately for Detroit, Doug Fister is out of commission and the bullpen is hideous making it tough to find consistency from game-to-game.
Thus the Tigers have left the door wide open for a team like Cleveland, who, with middle of the road stats, can find a place at the top of the pack.
Despite having one of the higher ERAs in the AL (4.14), Cleveland has found a way to win, primarily by doing a mighty fine job of getting on base, ranking fourth overall with a .341 OBP. The tandem of Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipinis has done enough offensively to keep Cleveland in the win column while closer Chris Perez has impressed with 11 saves. Derek Lowe is 5-1 in seven starts with a 2.47 ERA.
If the way Cleveland is playing now is good enough to to make it to the postseason, well, that’s not a good sign for baseball.
I question Cleveland’s ability to stay atop the AL Central because when a division is as bad as this one is, it’s anyone’s game. Erratic teams go up and down, in and out of slumps, making it hard to predict anything other than chaos.
I expect the Tigers to get their mojo back sooner or later, and I’m guessing it will be sooner than July. Cleveland fans, enjoy this ride while it lasts because the fun could come to a grinding halt at any moment.
Has hell officially frozen over? One might think so with the Dodgers, Nationals and Mets boasting the first, third and fourth best records in all of baseball, respectively. Making some sense at least are the Rangers with the second-best record in the league, but with the Orioles leading the AL East, something is definitely fishy in the majors right now.
I know it’s hard for some of you east coasters to keep your cool right now, but seriously Yankees and Red Sox fans, we’re not even 10 games into the season so please wait at least another month before you completely lose it.
Most season previews and Power Rankings I viewed at the conclusion of spring training predicted the Dodgers would be down in the dumps this year (yet again) but I disagreed and said as much in my own MLB season preview. Luckily, the boys in blue are making me look good as Los Angeles not only has the best record in baseball at 8-1, but that number is good for the Dodgers best start since starting the 1981 season at 9-1…a season that resulted in a World Series championship for L.A.
While the broke (see: Frank McCourt) and seemingly broke down Dodgers appeared to be devoid of any expectations from the national media or the public, that other team across the 405 freeway. with all its glitz and glam, was facing the exact opposite situation with the addition of bazillion-dollar off-season acquisitions Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.
In a bizarre reversal of fortune, the Dodgers are getting all of the praise while the now Pujols-led Angels (3-5) are bringing up the rear in not only their own division but the Halos are also near the bottom of the entire American League as well.
There is no real battle for L.A. at the moment - the Angels don’t even play in Los Angeles County, much less L.A. city proper, so, there’s that - as this isn’t a fair fight based on the Dodgers early dominance.
Matt Kemp picked up right where he left off as the NL-MVP runner up leads the majors with five home runs, 15 RBI and a .457 batting average. The center fielder isn’t the only hot hand at Chavez Ravine as right fielder Andre Ethier is close on Kemp’s heels with three home runs and 14 RBI, good for second-best in the league.
Now, to the downside. Yes, there is a downside. It’s called the Padres and Pirates.
That’s who the Dodgers have amassed an 8-1 record against. The Padres and the Pirates. Yikes.
It’s hard to take anyone seriously as a contender after the first nine of 162 games in a regular season but it’s also harder to give a team props when their “strong start” comes against two of the worst teams in baseball (thus far).
As for the new-look Angels, the boo-birds are already out making a stink about signing Pujols to a 10-year, $240M contract. Along with the three-time NL MVP came Wilson, the lefty who carried a hefty $77.5M price tag of his own.
The 31-year-old Pujols is off to to a S-L-O-W start, hitting an underwhelming .250 with only three RBI and not a hint of a home run in his repertoire . Fear not though Angels fans because the team is strong without Pujols, as proven by Anaheim’s 7-1 spanking of the Yankees in the Bronx on Saturday.
Remember how Boston’s big bat David Ortiz was hammered by the media during his slow start over the last few seasons? The Red Sox slugger routinely struggled for the first month of the season before warming up and regaining his typical good form in the batter’s box.
Pujols said after the Angels’ Friday loss to the Yankees, “I’m a human. Sometimes you want to press a little bit and try to do too much.” Slumps are often times mental and have nothing to do with physical pain or problems. Signing a contract of this magnitude surely put enormous pressure on Pujols’ shoulders and it’s showing early.
This wouldn’t be the first time Pujols found himself in a pickle. In the final year of his contract with the Cardinals - without an extension in sight - Pujols was hitting .143 through the first 30 at bats last season. How did that wind up for St. Louis? Exactly.
Much like the role reversal of the Mets and Yankees in New York for the time being, L.A. has the potential to be the baseball capital of the country this season.
It’s too early to crown anyone king of anything, so lets regroup after 30 games to reexamine Kemp and Kershaw vs. Pujols and Wilson. After all, what purpose would either team serve in SoCal without any Hollywood drama? Sit back, and enjoy the show.
The Southern California sun is shinning brightly in Dallas Thursday as Orange County is now the belle of the ball at Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings.
In stark contrast to Frank McCourt and his bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers, business must be great for cross-county rival Arte Moreno as the L.A. Angels of Anaheim owner dropped just under $330M to sign slugger Albert Pujols and pitcher CJ Wilson on Thursday.
For a bit of context, check out the following tweet from Yahoo Sports writer Jeff Passan:
@JeffPassan: Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson will cost Arte Moreno $147.5 million more than the entire Los Angeles Angels franchise did.
Anyway, the Angels have only one World Series title (2002) and haven’t made the playoffs in two seasons, yet Angel Stadium ranked fifth in the league in fan attendance last season. Let’s take a quick look at the facts and you can decide for yourself whether or not you like the signings.
Pujols, 10 years, $250M: At 31 years old, the former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman has 10 seasons of batting at least .300 with at least 100 RBIs and has 445 home runs under his belt.
Wilson, 5 years, $77.5M: Also 31, the lefty went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA with the Texas Rangers in 2011. According to the LA Times, “In 10 playoff games, nine of them starts, Wilson is 1-5 with a 4.82 ERA, allowing 46 hits, including 10 home runs, striking out 43 and walking 29 in 52 1/3 innings.”
By the way, huge props to the LA Times for reporting, “Albert Pujols being aggressively pursued by Angels” at 11:19pm EST on Wednesday. I’m not sure if they were the first, but this story seemingly came out of nowhere Thursday morning, didn’t it?
What do you guys think of the Angels new acquisitions? Obviously, time will tell but it certainly is fun to pull out the crystal ball and make predictions. My friend Lee wrote me saying, “Pujols is not a good long term decision, and Wilson has had…1 good year…we’ll see. I’d much rather have Prince Fielder for 6 yrs and Mark Buerhle for 3 yrs.”
Wilson is joining an already outstanding pitching staff and Pujols is one of the best players of all time, so barring serious injuries or a catastrophic collapse (a la the 2011 Boston Red Sox) the Angels should be in good shape, at bare minimum. Whether they win or lose on the field, the organization has won big, at least in the short term as fans will flock to Angel Stadium.
Despite the outstanding seasons of Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp at Chavez Ravine last year, the disarray of the Dodgers organization coupled with a strong hispanic fan base and their desire to see Pujols will finally be the catalyst the Angels needed to get some of the Dodger faithful to make the drive to Anaheim.