Major League Roundup

InsidethePark.com's Ian Levin takes readers on an afternoon stroll around the major leagues. No team goes unturned. No player unexamined. Join Ian on his journey from Miami and New York to Seattle, San Francisco and Houston, as well as everywhere in between. Okay, so Canada isn't anywhere in between but Ian found time to include the Expos and Blue Jays too.

Week three has come and gone and we have seen some outstanding individual performances. Some not so outstanding. Many questions have yet to be answered and some new riddles have presented themselves. Position battles are being resolved while others are just beginning. Oh, and the Tigers still have a better record than the Yankees. That's why they play the games.

Anaheim Angels: (Record: 11-8, Week: 4-2)
Just when there was a potential position battle at the back of the Anaheim rotation, Ramon Ortiz went out and threw as well has he has all year. Kevin Gregg, who has had an outstanding April, posting a 0.63 ERA, was the man to replace Ortiz if he continued to struggle. Ortiz, however, went five innings and allowed just two runs on April 25 at Oakland. That start has bought him a few more turns throught the rotation, but this battle could heat up again in a few weeks.

Baltimore Orioles: (Record: 10-7, Week: 3-3)
Following a disappointing 2003 season, Rodrigo Lopez has lost his spot in the rotation for the time being. He is currently dominating in middle relief and has yet to allow a run though 12.2 innings. Even though manager Lee Mazzilli said that he would like to leave Lopez in that role, if he continues to pitch this way, he should see the rotation again soon.

Boston Red Sox: (Record: 12-6, Week: 6-1)
Following a four-game series win against the Yankees last week, the Red Sox took the short trek to the Bronx for a rematch. That did not stop the hot Red Sox. Derek Lowe, Bronson Arroyo, Pedro Martinez, and the bullpen combined to hold the Yankees to just four runs in the series. The Red Sox have taken rounds one and two, with round three scheduled for June 29 in New York.

Chicago White Sox: (Record: 11-7, Week: 3-3)
Paul Konerko was one of many established hitters to have an awful 2003 season but he seems to have bounced back nicely. He is currently the only White Sox regular that is hitting above .300 and his four home runs are more than he hit through June last season. Konerko's RBI total is approaching a similar level as the slugger proves that 2003 was a fluke.

Cleveland Indians: (Record: 7-12, Week: 2-4)
Jake Westbrook is currently the hottest pitcher in the league; at least of those facing the Tigers. In two appearances against the Tigers this week, Westbrook has allowed just two hits in 16 innings. In the first appearance, he came into the game in relief of Jeff D'Amico and was perfect for seven innings. He got the start in the second game and was just as strong, throwing a complete-game two-hitter, allowing two runs. Westbrook will cool down eventually but until then, I hope your favorite team doesn't have to face him.

Detroit Tigers: (Record: 11-8, Week: 4-3)
The Tigers won 43 games in 2003 and they are already more than ¼ of the way to eclipsing that total. The pitching, as expected, has been mediocre but the Tiger offense leads the American League in runs scored. Rondell White has been the factor in much of that scoring and is currently hitting .333 with five home runs, five doubles, 19 runs, and 19 RBI. With Ugueth Urbina joining the team, they are looking better every week.

Kansas City Royals: (Record: 6-11, Week: 2-3)
Carlos Beltran might not be a Royal following this season but he will certainly be paid well. He is a free agent at the end of the year and has already said that he'd like to test the market. Prior to this season it was expected that he'd be one of the higher paid outfielders in the league and if he can keep up his torrid pace he may get a contract worth more than that of Vladimir Guerrero. Beltran is hitting .302 with seven home runs, 17 RBI, 20 runs scored, and six stolen bases. In addition to his strong offensive output, he is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. Not too bad for a 27-year old who is still getting better.

Minnesota Twins: (Record: 12-6, Week: 4-2)
After missing 15 games with a hamstring injury, Torii Hunter rejoined the Twins just in time. Hunter hit a three-run home run in the third inning of the Twins 4-2 win over Kansas City on Sunday. Hunter was used as the designated hitter in the game but when he begins playing the field again, he will make the Twins even stronger.

New York Yankees: (Record: 8-11, Week: 2-5)
With all the attention Alex Rodriguez has gotten for his early-season struggles, Derek Jeter has gone under the radar. Jeter is hitting just .175 and has only recorded three extra-base hits. While Rodriguez and the rest of the Yankee team slowly regain form, Jeter's average continues to dip. He is now hitless in his last 25 at-bats. The Yankees will need to him start hitting again to get their record up to expectations.

Oakland Athletics: (Record: 10-9, Week: 2-5)
In hindsight, I think Barry Zito wishes it had rained on April 23. Against the Angels for the second consecutive start, Zito had the worst start of his career. He lasted just four innings and allowed nine runs. He was able to throw strikes but they caught too much of the plate as he allowed 10 hits. His ERA now sits at 6.26 but that is misleading. Expect Zito to bounce back next time out.

Seattle Mariners: (Record: 6-13, Week: 2-5)
Location, location, location. Joel Pineiro doesn't need a real estate agent to tell him what's wrong, he knows the problem. Pineiro currently isn't displaying good command of his pitches and it is showing. Even though his K/9 is up from last year, his walk rate is sky high. If he were to maintain this pace for the remainder of the season he'd allow nearly 40 more walks than last year. When Pineiro regains command of all of his pitches, expect his ERA to begin to freefall and return to a more Pineiro-esque number.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: (Record: 7-10, Week: 2-4)
Paul Abbott doesn't necessarily look like a pitcher. His stuff doesn't blow you away and you generally wouldn't go to a game just to watch him. But he continues to get the job done. He is now a fixture in the Tampa Bay rotation and pitching like he belongs. In three starts he has a 2.37 ERA and has allowed just 16 runners in 19 innings. If he can repeat his success from his time in Seattle under Lou Piniella, he can be a major asset for the Devil Rays.

Texas Rangers: (Record: 11-8, Week: 5-1)
Laynce Nix doesn't get the recognition that his bat demands. He's always been underrated but it's hard to figure out why. The Rangers' center fielder is hitting .364 with five home runs in his second season in the majors. He is, and will be for many years, one of the better hitters for the Rangers.

Toronto Blue Jays: (Record: 6-12, Week: 3-3)
The closer battle continues, minus one candidate. Aquilino Lopez was sent to the minors following his disastrous beginning, leaving Justin Speier and Kerry Ligtenberg to battle for closing duties. While Speier has the only save for the team, Ligtenberg is pitching in late-inning situations and throwing just as well. This battle could go back and forth all season long.

Arizona Diamondbacks: (Record: 7-11, Week: 3-3)
Danny Bautista has never been given a full-time job for the entire season until this year and he is taking full advantage of it. Bautista has 10 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and is hitting .386. His four long-balls already equal his entire 2003 output and it looks like he will easily eclipse his career high of 11, which he set in 2000.

Atlanta Braves: (Record: 10-8, Week: 3-3)
J.D. Drew comes back, Chipper Jones goes down. Such is life in Atlanta right now. Even though the injuries, they remain above .500 but if they are to stay there they will need some luck in the injury department. Drew finally appears to be coming around. He is now hitting .271 and has six extra-base hits in 48 at-bats. He is drawing walks at an excellent rate with an OBP of .417. When his power comes around and Jones comes back healthy, Atlanta could make the claim of having the best offensive outfield in the league.

Chicago Cubs: (Record: 12-6, Week: 6-0)
With Mark Prior out, someone needs to step up and fill his shoes. Carlos Zambrano has done just that. Zambrano leads Chicago starters with a 1.23 ERA in his three starts. He has allowed 21 runners in 22 innings and has struck out 17. If he can maintain his pace when Prior returns, the Cubs will be deadlier than expected. He remains a candidate, however, to break down from overuse, so the Cubs must be careful.

Cincinnati Reds: (Record: 11-7, Week: 4-3)
Sean Casey isn't your typical power-hitting first baseman, he is just a hitting first baseman. Casey is hitting .425 with three home runs. He already has recorded nine doubles and 18 RBI. He isn't a big-name player and he doesn't look smooth in the batter's box. He just gets the job done.

Colorado Rockies: (Record: 8-10, Week: 3-3)
It is early, but Joe Kennedy is already having more success in Colorado than he ever had in Tampa Bay. His three wins already have matched his entire 2003 output. His solid command has allowed him to succeed, even in Coors Field. The former Devil Ray has walked just four batters in his 25.1 innings and he struck out a surprising 17. The left-hander is just 24 years old and is still getting better. This could end up being a very nice pickup for the Rockies.

Florida Marlins: (Record: 12-6, Week: 4-2)
Dontrelle Willis, the rookie that took Miami by storm last year, is at it again. In his fourth start of the season, he finally allowed his first earned runs of the year. Yes, fourth. Willis' ERA sat at a nice, round number, make that three nice round numbers, through three starts; 0.00. He is now 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA through four starts. Josh Beckett may have been their ace in October, but it is Willis' title right now.

Houston Astros: (Record: 11-8, Week: 2-4)
Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, two of the original three "Killer B's," are still stinging. Both are hitting .329 and have driven in 16 runs. Biggio has scored 16 runs and recorded 12 extra-base hits. Bagwell has scored 20 and his five home runs give him the slight edge over Biggio in slugging percentage, .586 to .575. With another "B" in Lance Berkman and a few other random letters scattered around the lineup, the Astros come at you with one of the best offensive lineups in the league. They will challenge for the NL Central crown all season long.

Los Angeles Dodgers: (Record: 12-6, Week: 3-3)
When the Dodgers acquired Milton Bradley, Dave Roberts' job was though to be in jeopardy. Many thought he'd be used as a fourth outfielder but instead he has used his legs to become an asset to the Dodgers. Roberts is using his natural speed and his newly-discovered plate discipline at the top of the Dodgers' lineup to give them exactly what they needed. He has already stolen 13 bases without being caught. The 31-year-old is helping the LA improve their overall offense more than any other team in the NL.

Milwaukee Brewers: (Record: 10-10, Week: 4-2)
Ben Sheets may have turned the corner in his development and the Brewers couldn't be more pleased. It is always good to have a pitcher realize his potential, but with the outstanding farm system that the Brewers have, this may be the best possible timing. Sheets' ERA sits at 3.21 and in 28 innings, has allowed 28 runners to go along with 27 strikeouts. His K/BB rate of 9.0 is nearly three times better than it was last season and his home runs allowed appears to be on the decline. Look out for Ben Sheets.

Montreal Expos: (Record: 5-14, Week: 3-4)
Brandon Webb is not the only impressive young sinker-baller in the National League. Zach Day has been just as impressive this season. Day does not strike out many hitters, but he is dominant in his own way. He keeps the ball on the ground more than twice as much as he induces fly balls. His ERA of 2.00 this year is better than his stellar April last year and his strikeout rate is up as well. Even though the Expos can't hit their way out of a YMCA concert, they can still win games with Day and other solid starters on the mound.

New York Mets: (Record: 7-12, Week: 2-5)
Like the Braves, the Mets are another team that needs to get healthy in a hurry. Cliff Floyd is expected to return this week but it is still unknown when Jose Reyes will find his name penciled into the lineup again. When Floyd is activated from the DL it will mark the return of their second-best hitter and their best left-handed threat which they desperately need when facing the tough right-handed starters in the NL East and throughout the league. Reyes will provide them with more speed on the bases to help put additional pressure on opposing pitchers. Until they both return, expect the Mets to continue to struggle offensively.

Philadelphia Phillies: (Record: 7-10, Week: 2-4)
Their record may not reflect it, but Philly is starting to come around. They are beginning to get strong performances from their starters, specifically Randy Wolf. Jim Thome is hitting like the Jim Thome of old again, and has blasted five home runs. They are still not running like they are capable of, but that should pick up soon as well. Once Jimmy Rollins or Marlon Byrd claims the leadoff spot, this team could take off.

Pittsburgh Pirates: (Record: 8-9, Week: 1-4)
Oliver Perez was expected to be used sparingly during much of the season as the Pirates would be able to skip him when they have days off. However, Perez didn't want that and his performance has backed up his request to stay in turn. In his most recent outing he posted the first complete game shutout of his career, and tying his caree-high in strikeouts with 10. Perez has an ERA of 1.74 and has struck out 22 batters in 20.2 innings. He will be inconsistent this year, but the young lefty has loads of potential.

San Diego Padres: (Record: 10-9, Week: 4-3)
The Padres have one of the better young starting duos in Jake Peavy and Adam Eaton. The two are just 2-2 combined on the season but have posted a 2.36 ERA between them. With the two young guns at the top of the rotation being backed by a few solid veterans and a very strong offense, San Diego is a leading candidate in the NL West. They could be this year's "Cinderella Team."

San Francisco Giants: (Record: 7-12, Week: 2-5)
With each start this season, we have seen Jerome Williams look better. In his most recent start, he lasted 8.2 innings and allowed three runs. Two of the runs scored on a two-out two-run home run in the ninth inning. His 3.95 ERA leads all San Francisco starters and if they are to compete in the NL West, he and Jason Schmidt will need to be at their best for the entire season.

St. Louis Cardinals: (Record: 10-9, Week: 4-2)
Lost in the outstanding offense in St. Louis is one of its top contributors, Reggie Sanders. Sanders is tied with Albert Pujols in home runs with seven, second in RBI with 18, third in average at .319, second in slugging percentage at .696, and second in steals with five. He does a little of everything for the Cardinals and doesn't get much recognition.

Stat of the week:
Josh Fogg 4/21 against the Cubs:
0 IP, 6 runs, 5 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 1 WP
He managed to do that without allowing a home run and while throwing just 32 pitches. Impressive.

Mr. Levin resides somewhere east of the Rockies and spits at the feet of broadcast veterans that make the mistake of calling a base on balls an official at-bat. Ian enjoys the success of the Duke Blue Devils and at press time remained a long time Griffey fanatic. Feeback is always welcome at IanLevin@InsidethePark.com


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