|Between the Foul Poles: A Weekly Track around the Majors VI||| Print ||
Written by Robert Democh (Contact & Archive) on May 22, 2009
Completing a four game sweep of Chicago on Monday, Toronto extended its remarkable early success.Â Essentially the same team that finished 2008 at 86-76, the 2009 edition is 27-14 with a three game edge in the AL East.Â The Blue Jays starting rotation is almost comical: A stud (Roy Halladay), a converted reliever and three rookies. It has required the Blue Jays to rely on a nitro-fueled offense to power their game.Â They rapped 400 hits over their first 39 games, a new franchise record for hits in that span.Â Scott Downs has been exceptional since wrestling closer duties away from B.J. Ryan.Â Over 18 appearances, Downs is 5-for-5 in save opportunities with 22 strikeouts against just two walks.Â Are they for real? Letâ€™s reserve judgment until we see how Toronto fares over the next month with more games against their divisional foes.
The Motor City may be in frenzy over the Red Wings Stanley Cup run, but meanwhile the Tigers are quietly acquitting themselves.Â Detroitâ€™s weekend sweep of Oakland left them in sole possession of the AL Central lead.Â The Tigers, who recovered from being swept by the Twins earlier in the week, have patched together a pitching staff of youngsters (Rick Porcello) and cast-offs (Edwin Jackson).Â Jeremy Bonderman is on yet another rehab assignment while last yearâ€™s sensation Armando Galarraga stumbles (0-3, 10.90 ERA his last four starts).Â Fernando Rodney isnâ€™t pretty but he has converted six saves.Â His bloated 4.20 ERA, however, portends he wonâ€™t hold the job indefinitely.Â Fortunately, Justin Verlander has flashed Cy Young form in his past four starts (3 wins, 0.92 ERA).
Texas native John Lackey had an entourage of friends and family on hand Saturday to witness his 2009 debut in Arlington against the Rangers.Â The Angels-Randers rivalry has seldom involved spilling of bad blood, so Lackeyâ€™s conduct was perplexing.Â Facing leadoff man Ian Kinsler (who had punished the Angels with two homers Friday), Lackeyâ€™s first pitch swooshed behind his head.Â Taking deliberate aim, his second delivery drilled Kinsler in the ribs and earned the Halo starter a quick ejection. If Lackey sought retribution against Kinsler, his teammates certainly werenâ€™t in on it.Â The Angels have to be elated that both Ervin Santana and Lackey are back and Vlad Guerrero is expected to play next Monday.Â Now they have to figure out an answer for the potent Rangers, who are playing with a swagger the Angels have never seen before.Â Â Â
The second guessing and recriminations have spread like wildfire through the Valley of the Sun.Â How could the Diamondbacks fire popular manager Bob Melvin and replace him with novice A.J. Hinch?Â Novice would be overstating things; Hinch, most recently the D-backs Director of Player Personnel, has never coached or managed a team at any level.Â Melvin, although well respected and popular with the players, became the designated fall guy for Arizonaâ€™s lethargic 12-16 start.Â There is a risk the team, already struggling, will regress further under what they perceive to be an interim skipper lacking on-field credibility.Â Ace Brandon Webb began a light throwing program last Friday, the first time he had thrown since being shut down April 24 with a sore shoulder.Â His lone start this season was on opening day.Â At an age when most youngsters languish in the lower depths of the minors, 21-year-old Justin Upton is feasting upon ML pitching.Â He has hit safely in 21 of his last 22 games, including a stretch of 18 straight.Â Over that 22 game span, Upton is hitting .372 with seven homers, 18 RBIs and a .763 slugging percentage.Â For now, Justin has supplanted brother B.J. as the most talented baseball playing Upton.Â Â Â Â
Few teams favor a home cooked meal as much as the Colorado Rockies.Â Last season, the Rockies finished an abysmal 31-50 on the road.Â In 2009, Colorado has but one road series win and are 6-10 overall away from Coors Field.Â May hasnâ€™t been hospitable either as the Rockies have yet to capture a series.Â In preseason polls, Garrett Atkins consistently ranked among the top five third basemen in the NL.Â In a remarkable turnabout, he now languishes on the Colorado bench, replaced by Ian Stewart.Â Atkins has only himself to blame.Â The Rockies were extremely patient but eventually had to address Atkinsâ€™ .194 batting average and unproductive 11-for-44 (.250) with runners in scoring position.Â The Rockies bullpen has been consistently bad this season.Â Exhibit A: They blew three-run leads both Saturday and Sunday as Colorado dropped consecutive games at Pittsburgh that should have been victories.Â
The world is spinning -- literally -- for young Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto.Â Votto, who missed four starts on the Reds last home stand with flu-like symptoms, returned to the lineup last Monday at Arizona.Â He subsequently left Tuesdayâ€™s game in the fourth inning while complaining of dizziness, then sat out Wednesdayâ€™s game.Â He felt well enough to return to the lineup Friday at San Diego, homering and playing all nine innings.Â Votto started Saturday but departed by the fourth inning after once again experiencing dizziness and an inability to focus his eyes.Â He underwent a battery of tests Tuesday in Cincinnati that team officials hope will pinpoint the cause of the dizziness.Â The malady couldnâ€™t have come at a worse time for Votto, who is off to an exceptional start, hitting .366 with five homers and 27 RBI.Â Pitcher Johnny Cueto has been superb in the early going, boasting a 4-1 record and 1.93 ERA.Â In his last four starts, Cueto has pitched at least seven innings and limited opponents to no more than one run each time.Â Francisco Cordero is a flawless 9-for-9 in save opportunities this year but has absorbed a loss both times he has entered a tie game.Â After a horrendous start which saw his average dip to .192, second baseman Brandon Phillips has come back with a vengeance in May.Â For the month, he has four homers, 20 RBI and a searing .344 average.Â
The Weekender, Interleague Edition: Here are some intriguing pairings this coming weekend (May 22-25).
Phil at Yankees:Â Â Â Â Â The World Champs visit the Bronx Taj Mahal.
Mets at Red Sox:Â Â Â Â Johan Santana is a mere mortal at Fenway (1-3 career)Â Â Â
Rays at Marlins:Â Â Â Â Â Winner gets bragging rights in the Sunshine State.Â Â Â Â Â
Angels at Dodgers:Â Thereâ€™s really only one team in LA â€“ the Dodgers.