Major League Surprises and Disappointments at the Quarter Pole

We’re a little over a quarter of the way through the major league baseball season, and like every season, there have some been some great stories and some sad tales so far. With Barry Bonds finally catching the Babe in home runs, we can now focus on the teams and the pennant races.

Detroit ‘Stop’ City

The biggest surprise in all of baseball has to be the Detroit Tigers. Heading into Tuesday’s games, Detroit has the best record in the majors at 30-14, one game ahead of the defending world champions, the Chicago White Sox. The Tigers were expected to improve under new manager Jim Leyland, but no one could have predicted this kind of success.

Detroit will be in the race for the long haul because of their outstanding starting pitching. The Tigers’ staff is leading everyone with a 3.26 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Veteran Kenny Rogers has led by example in his first year in Motown. He’s headed towards another all-star birth, posting a 7-2 record with a 2.91 ERA. Rookie Justin Verlander has been outstanding, winning 6 of his 9 starts including a 5-hit shutout of Kansas City on Monday night. Fourth-year pro Nate Robertson is 4-2 with a 3.03 ERA, and 23-year-old Jeremy Bonderman, who was expected to be the club’s ace coming into the season, has a 1.14 WHIP and is averaging 8 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Angels Can’t Get Out of the Infield

No American League team has been more disappointing than the Los Angeles Angels. Mired in last place in the AL West, only the anemic Royals have a worse record than the Angels. Their offense has been pathetic. They are dead last in the majors with a .299 on-base percentage and last in the AL in slugging percentage.

The only player hitting anywhere close to his average is Vladimir Guerrero. But the Angels have no one in the lineup to protect Guerrero, so teams have already started to pitch around the all-star outfielder. Los Angeles had a chance to acquire Manny Ramirez in the off-season, but decided the price tag was too high for the Red Sox slugger and went with unproven youngsters like Casey Kotchman, Robb Quinlan, and Dallas McPherson. They have combined for 2 HRs and 11 RBIs so far.

Return of the Big Red Machine

Over in the Senior Circuit, Cincinnati has gotten off to a Red-hot start. Cincinnati is hanging tight with St. Louis in the NL Central and would be the National League wild card representative if the season ended today.
The Reds have belted the second most home runs in the National League behind only the Brewers. Adam Dunn leads the team with 16 big flys, trailing only Albert Pujols, who is in a league of his own. Dunn and fellow 26-year-old outfielder Austin Kearns are both slugging over .500 and with the return of Ken Griffey Jr. to the lineup, Cincinnati’s offense should continue to put up impressive numbers all season.

While the Reds’ offense was expected to be good, not much was expected of the pitching. A March trade with the Red Sox changed all that, though. Cincinnati acquired Bronson Arroyo in the deal for outfielder Wily Mo Pena with the hopes that he would turn out to be the team’s ace. Arroyo has not disappointed as he has an NL-leading 2.40 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. He even blasted a home run in each of his first two starts. The rest of the Reds’ staff has been average at best, however, and ultimately will be their downfall.

The Loveable Losers

In a position all too familiar to their long-suffering fans, the Chicago Cubs are struggling again. Like the Angels in the American League, the Cubs can point to their pitiful offensive output as the reason for their problems. Chicago is last in all of baseball with a .364 slugging percentage and their .301 on-base percentage ranks last in the NL.

Injuries have decimated the Cubs. Star pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have been out all season with shoulder injuries. Wood just returned but was tagged for 3 home runs in 5 innings in a loss against the light-hitting Washington Nationals in his first start of the season last week. Prior has just started throwing off the mound in his rehab assignment and the club hopes he can return to the majors in early June. 

The other devastating injury to Chicago was to first baseman Derek Lee. Lee, who was a triple-crown contender last season, was off to another brilliant start batting .318 with 3 homers and 10 RBIs through 14 games. Lee is still in a cast after breaking his wrist and most likely won’t be back until after the All-Star break. Even if the Cubs get all of their stars back from injury, don’t bet on them making a run in the NL Central. They’ll be too far back with not enough time left.

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