The San Diego Padres and their pitching staff are for real this year. After winning a franchise record 22 games in May, the Padres have set the bar for the National League. They are the hottest team in baseball and are posting a ridiculous 18-4 record at home this season. Jake Peavy is leading the way for what has been the most impressive pitching staff thus far in the NL. In last week's feature pitching matchup, Peavy took on Arizona's Brandon Webb. Peavy needed just 94 pitches to toss a complete game 2-hit shutout of the Diamondbacks. Though his opponent pitched a decent game lasting 6 2/3 innings and only giving up three runs, Webb suffered his first loss of the season.
The other key matchup I mentioned last week never materialized. I have to apologize, as my schedule was wrong. Dontrelle Willis and Pedro Martinez didn't face off. Too bad for baseball fans who were hoping for such a contest. Each one did get to pitch against the other's team, though. And we learned a lot from both games. Martinez was flat out phenomenal in Friday's outing against the Marlins. He took home a 1-0 victory lasting eight innings and striking out ten. Martinez also took his ERA back under three, down to 2.79. Clearly he's still got plenty left in the tank. Willis, on the other hand, showed again that he's tough, but not invincible. The Marlins' pitcher tossed six solid innings, but gave up two runs. Without any support, Willis ended up with the loss in a 6-1 final. The loss was his first of the season at home, and more importantly for the Mets' team confidence, the first loss of his career against New York.
After the month of May, it's clear Jim Edmonds is going to have another big year. His power numbers were down early, but with a streak the past couple weeks, which included a big weekend against the Nationals at Busch Stadium, Edmonds has his average up near .300 again and is sporting 10 HRs and 32 RBIs.
Adam Dunn is going to continue to hit a lot of home runs; and strike out a lot. With 57 Ks in 167 at-bats, he's whiffed better than once in every three times he's officially gone to the plate. Impressively he is walking more though, which has boosted his OBP over .400. But that batting average hovering around .240 isn't helping anyone.
Dunn's teammate, Ken Griffey Jr., is trying to make me eat my words. After his first two home runs of the season didn't come until the beginning of the month, and just barely snuck over the fence, I commented on how fans shouldn't be too expectant that his power stroke has returned. He's now tallied 8 HRs, which is more than I thought he'd have at this point. And he's racked up 35 RBIs courtesy of a big week of games against Pittsburgh and Houston. His average is still sub par at .266, but it is climbing. Griffey Jr. may not put up 40+ HR seasons anymore, but he's shown he can still drive in runs… when he's healthy.
Derrek Lee has shown he's not about to slow things down. Garnering NL Player of the Week honors again, Lee continues to torment pitchers. He added back-to-back 2-HR games this weekend in leading the Cubs back to the .500 mark. He's currently top in the NL in average (.363), HRs (16), and RBI (46). Pitchers might start to put two and two together and pitch around him some more, but he's having that mega-breakout season that opposing NL teams were worried about.
Moving on to some closely watched and pre-season MVP candidates…
Albert Pujols continues to amaze. Though Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera are giving Pujols a run for his money this season, the Cardinals' first baseman keeps doing what seems to come naturally – crush the baseball. Through May he is hitting .323 with 12 HRs and 42 RBIs – and that's after a week in which he only hit one HR and drove in 3 RBIs.
Bobby Abreu made Phillies' fans nervous through April. But after a slow start, he has lit up the National League and is throwing his hat back into the long MVP race. Some attribute the turnaround to Abreu's ability to turn some reported personal problems into a positive on the field. Others contend that this star just needed to warm up. Whatever the case, Abreu is keeping his team alive with his .332 average, 12 HRs, 37 RBIs, and 14 SBs. The Phils might still be in the cellar in the NL East, but they are only two games under .500 and three and a half games off the division lead.
Carlos Beltran hasn't exactly lived up to his pre-season hype. A large number of people made him out to be the undisputable best player in the NL. After two months, the Mets' outfielder is sitting with a .293 average, 6 HRs, and 25 RBIs – not bad numbers, but not exactly what was expected, and pale in comparison to Abreu and Pujols. Since 5/8, Beltran has really struggled to produce. He's been unable to drive the ball out of the park and has only 2 RBIs since. Oh, and the speedy star only has a single stolen base through two months this season.
Moving back to the positive, it would be a mistake to not mention the year Cesar Izturis is having. The Dodgers' shortstop has been consistent all year and is leading the league in hits with 75. He's currently third in the league with a .342 batting average and continues to add to his runs total of 33.
Two teams that are still searching for answers this season made a deal to try and sort things out together. The Cubs traded relief pitcher and problematic closer LaTroy Hawkins to the Giants for starting pitcher Jerome Williams and relief pitcher David Aardsma. Hawkins received a standing ovation from fans in his debut at SBC Park and could return to form in the new environment. Don't expect to hear from Williams or Aardsma on the Cubs front for a while, though. The Cubs have some other arms emerging from farm system - Todd Wellemeyer and Sergio Mitre are two names you'll be hearing more from as the season progresses.
Keeping with players in transition… It looks as though Raul Mondesi could be on his way out of baseball. The Atlanta outfielder lost his starting job as the frustrated Braves called up Kelly Johnson from AAA ball to be the new left fielder. He's yet to tally his first hit, but he did have an RBI in his first game, along with a nice defensive play where he threw a runner out at the plate.
On a final note, Cubs' fans cringed again as they witnessed one of their prized pitchers, Mark Prior, take a line drive off his elbow Friday. As Prior collapsed to the ground writhing in pain like his teammate Nomar Garciaparra did a while back at Busch Stadium, all feared the worst. But concern that it was a career-ending, elbow-shattering injury were alleviated when x-rays and MRIs came back with a concussion fracture. Less severe than what most people understand as a broken bone, the injury will only continue to keep already frustrated fans guessing and hoping for the best. Reports are that he will start throwing as soon as he can do so pain free. Early indication is that Prior will be out for a month before he begins rehab, but to the annoyance of all those in Cubdom there's no formal timeline for his return.
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