As we like to do every 4 weeks, let’s take a look back at the season so far and May as a whole.
Pujols’ Rough Month
Albert Pujols is just fine, but it has certainly been a rough month. It included an 11 game RBI-less streak, a batting average around .250, a couple errors, and a brief dugout spat with Tony LaRussa. He will be completely fine and will hit over .300 for the year with the power, defense, and consistency we know, but he has had a really rough go of it. The spat with LaRussa is not a big deal, though if nothing else it illustrates the frustration surrounding the Cardinals as a whole. Holliday isn’t really hitting, some of the young guys (Colby Rasums in particular) have cooled off, and LaRussa is sending runners with Pujols up, which is hardly a vote of confidence. Baseball is a humbling game. You can fail 7 times out of 10 and be a really good hitter. Everyone has rough patches because that is just the nature of the game, and even the best player we have in the game are susceptible to this. So while it has been tough, Albert Pujols will be just fine.
Did you just read the above paragraph? You can more or less re-read it and insert “Tim Lincecum” where you see “Albert Pujols”. Everyone has some rough outings where they just don’t have their best stuff and get knocked around a little. Ubaldo Jimenez is doing his best to prove me wrong on this currently, but Tim “The Freaky Franchise” Lincecum will be just fine. It will be hard to catch Ubaldo for the Cy YOung if Ubaldo even close to keeps this up, but Lincecum is still an ace, and should be regarded as such. No worries for Giatns fans as long as they remember that baseball is humbling game.
Joe Mauer has two home runs this year, and many fantasy owners are outraged. Here are Joe Mauer’s home run totals since his first full year in the majors in 2005 at age 22: 9, 13, 7, 9, 28. I understand that Most players peak power year is around age 28, and Mauer is 27, but why did we expect him to go do something he has never really done regularly. He is still the best catcher in the game, but we is not a power hitter, just an amazing hitter. Shame on everyone for thinking he was going to duplicate the power numbers, especially when moving to a somewhat spacious ballpark. He is still great, but few should be shocked at his power “slump”.
Where We Stand
Here are your first place teams 2 months in: Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Texas, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, San Diego. The AL teams are predictable at least. The Rays have otherworldly talent, the Twins have been my favorite to win the division all along, and the Rangers are a very good team in a wild wild AL West.
However, the obvious stories here are the Cincinnati Reds and the San Diego Padres. I picked the Reds to finish third in the NL Central with a record of 81-81. I am officially moving them over the struggling Cubs and moving them well above .500. I am still taking the Cards to win the division, but the Reds are going to make this interesting. They still don’t have Edinson Volquez from Tommy John surgery, Brandon Phillips has yet to really get going, and many of their young guys are just getting going. If I had to re-project the Reds record, I would say 87-75 and a definite shot at the wild card. They have been so impressive that I might have to make the two hour drive to see me some Reds baseball. In fact, the Reds have been so good, that no one is even asking about Aroldis Chapman. That is a true testament to their overall play.
The Padres are similarly impressive, but for different reasons. Going into the season, I pointed out that I really liked the look of their team, but early struggles and not enough pitching would mean Adrian Gonzalez would leave town and the Pads would stumble to last place in the NL West. In the preview, I decided that while the team was solid and could be sneaky good, I could not put them above the Giants or D-Backs as I had no real reason to believe they would. However, Jon Garland (2.10 ERA) has been as good as the D-Backs bullpen has been bad (6.95 ERA) and the rest of the rotation is holding up its end of the bargain as well. Mat Latos has been just as good as Padres fans had hoped, Kevin Correia is keeping it classy for San Diego like Ron Burgundy, and Clayton Richard (someone I pointed out as a potential problem for the Padres) has exceeded expectations. Whether or not the Padres can keep this up is anyone’s guess (if it was mine I would pick them 3rd), but I know that the San Diego Chicken has been doing a whole lot fo dancing for the Friars this year.
Perhaps they are not division leaders, but the Blue Jays deserve some talk too. They are currently in 4th in the AL East, but their 27-22 record is incredibly impressive on a team that many thought would roll over and die without Doc Halladay. They are hitting .242 at the plate (bad), yet thanks to outstanding pitching from guys like Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum and Shawn Camp have made the Rogers Centre/Sky Dome someplace that few teams want to go. Not only because it is out of the country, but also because of the Blue Jays threat. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they are stuck in a division with the Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox, which means it will take an Old-Testament-Sized miracle to make the playoffs. Even though they really cannot make the playoffs,you cannot help but be impressed by the spunk shown by this club. Kudos, Toronto, you have made 4th place respectable in the AL East.
Yes, I enjoy shouting his name too. The 25 year old has always had stuff this electric, but this year it is clicking beyond how it did in the past. His 98 mph fastball moves 8 inches into the hands of right handed hitters. His changeup comes in at 80 mph for a 15+ mph differential from his fastball. He throws a dirty curveball and slider to complement his other two so-filthy-it-should-be-X-rated pitches. He can speak French… in Russian. He is the most interesting pitcher in the world. Joking aside, Jim Tracy hit it on the head a few days ago when he says Ubaldo was the best pitcher in baseball right now. I think hitters would agree. 0.88 and 0.925 are good grades on a test, but those are not grades, those are his ERA and WHIP respectively. If you told me the MLB was going to redraft every pitcher in baseball, Strasburg would probably go first, but after that it is a toss-up between if someone takes Ubaldo Jimenez or Tim Lincecum next. He is that good, and I do not care if that sounds like hyperbole. He is that good. Keep in mind that Ubaldo’s home park is Coors Field a.k.a. where pitchers ERAs used to go to die. He is the Cy Young front-runner without question. I will withhold the title of best pitcher in baseball, but he has to be in the mix. You shouldn’t expect his ERA to stay under 1, but we have a shot at seeing his ERA stay under 2, which is absolutely phenomenal. I know it is only 2 months in, and there is a lot of baseball to play, but you are blind or in denial if you have not been impressed with what he has done so far.
What to Watch For
Watch Garrett Whittels to see if he can keep his 50+ game hitting streak alive.
Also, do yourself a favor and google the name Bryce Harper. I promise to write about him in next week’s column, but in case you haven’t heard, here are the basics. He is 17, playing for a Nevada Junior College in a wooden bat league, and is a catcher with a huge arm (mid 90’s fastball when he pitched). Ok, make sure you are sitting down, and get a paper bag to breathe into. In 62 games this year, his stat line is: (get ready) .442 batting average, 88 runs, 89 RBI, 29 home runs, a 1.510 OPS, 18 stolen bases, and a 39:35 K:BB ratio. Seventeen. That is a magazine, not the age of Baseball Jesus. Google him. Remember the name. Do whatever you can.
Oh, by the way, his last game? In the conference tournament, he went 6-6 with 10 RBI to help his team advance. Just another day at the park. I would highly suggest THIS ARTICLE from SI if you want other jaw-dropping info about Bryce Harper.