We are through the first month of baseball, and certainly no one could have seen this coming – Hall-of-Fame first baseman go homer-less, and a Hall-of-Fame Closer tearing his ACL. That, no-hitters, hot streaks, and cold teams are just a taste of the first month of the season.
When Mariano Rivera tore his ACL while taking fly-balls during batting practice, it sent shockwaves throughout the sports world. Rivera, at age 42, had hinted at possibly retiring upon the conclusion of this season. Everything that needs to be said about Mariano Rivera has already been said, so I won’t waste many words on it. Having Mariano is an invulnerability to the walk-off, the blown save, and the ninth inning. It is a drawn card that no other team in baseball, and perhaps all of professional sports, can match. Rivera has said that he will not let this injury injure his career. As much as that sounds like music, I’m not sure if his body will be up for it. An ACL tear is one of the most painful injuries in sports, and one of the most severe. Although his body has shown an otherworldly resilience to the hands of time, he is still mortal. So if this is indeed the end, let us celebrate and cherish the fact that over the past 15 years, baseball has been granted a legend in every sense of the word.
There is great news for Mets fans – Jason Bay’s contract is no longer being seen as the worst contract in baseball. That title now belongs to Albert Pujols. The Hall of Famer, who signed a massive contract this past winter, is batting .194, with no home runs and just five RBI. That is, without a doubt, the worst month of his major league career. Perhaps its to be expected. There is an incredible amount of pressure on him. In St. Louis, he had a home, the most good-natured fanbase in baseball, and a connection to the team that was palpable. In Los Angeles, he was seen as the prized commodity, and the missing piece of the puzzle. He has to perform; it doesn’t come naturally, like it did in St. Louis. We have seen star athletes struggle with new locations all the time – Alex Rodriguez, John Lackey, Jayson Werth – but perhaps none of them struggled as badly as Albert. Pujols, despite missing nearly a month of action last year still managed to hit 30 home runs. He helped will the Cardinals to an improbable playoff berth, and, eventually, a World Championship. In Game 3 of that series, Albert hit three more home runs in one game than he has in the entire first month. That is what is most shocking – Pujols’ numbers in the playoffs (.330 AVG, 18 HR, 52 RBI, in 74 games) would suggest that he does not feel pressure. Maybe it’s adjusting to new pitchers in the American League, maybe its the ballpark, but whatever it is, baseball is not the same for Albert as it was in St. Louis.
Phillip Humber and Jered Weaver are the two most recent members into baseball’s exclusive club. Humber’s perfect game on April 21st was shocking, considering it was only his 12th career victory. Still, he managed to befuddle the Seattle Mariners and become only the 21st pitcher in modern baseball history to throw a perfect game. This past Wednesday, Jered Weaver no-hit the Minnesota Twins, which is more of a pitcher finally reaching his full potential rather than a surprising achievement. Weaver has become the ace of the staff that the Angels had been expecting him to be. If not for Justin Verlander’s historic 2011 season, Weaver would have a Cy Young Trophy to show for his efforts. In case anyone in baseball was asleep and didn’t know about Jered Weaver’s ascension to one of the best pitchers in baseball, they do now. Weaver has been the Angels’ lone bright spot with a record of 4-0 and a microscopic ERA of 1.61.
Pitching dominance continues the upward trend that it started during the 2010 season. Perhaps it is increased awareness of PEDs, or the abolishing of amphetamine use, or just better pitching. There are a ton of reasons why it could be that we’re seeing a shift toward pitchers, but whatever the reason is, I like it.
The three best teams in baseball are the Rays, the Dodgers and the Nationals. The Rays have won twelve out of their last thirteen games and, with a record of 19-8, have the best record in baseball. Their record has not been the toughest, as the only opponent with a winning record during that stretch has been the Rangers. The Rays took two of three from them, and then lost Evan Longoria for what is estimated to be a month and a half. That will cost them, since Longoria was batting .329 with an OBP of .433. While no starter has been dominant, outside of David Price (5-1, 2.35 ERA), pitching has not been bad. The bullpen, which was closer by committee last season, has thrived with the presence of Fernando Rodney to close out games. Rodney is 9-9 in save opportunities and has a sparkling 0.73 ERA.
The Dodgers swept the Nationals last week in Los Angeles, giving them an edge in the very early race for best record in the National League. In the series, the Nationals scored only 5 runs, but each game was tightly contested. Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to guess that these teams will match-up in a playoff series, which would be nice to see. Washington has never been in a playoff series and the Dodgers have been through so much over the past two years that they deserve a reward. I do think that we will see this series at some point in October.
If anyone is up for a laugh this weekend, they can watch the Mariners and Twins try and no-hit each other. The Twins, at 7-18, have the worst record in baseball and look nothing like the team that Ron Gardenhire managed to the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. If things do not improve, Gardenhire may find himself on the hot seat, as it would be back-to-back seasons with one of the worst records in the game.
The Kansas City Royals, with the second worst record in baseball, finally won a home game. In ten home games that the Royals played in April, they did not win a single one. 0-10 at home, in April. That changed on Thursday night, when they won their 8th game of the season. Yes, somehow, the Royals defeated the Yankees to pick up their first home victory. But we all know that only happened because the Yankees were emotionally distressed from watching Mariano Rivera tear his ACL, right?
Check back two weeks from now for another Turning Two, and follow me on Twitter @JustinCirillo