Anaheim Angels: (Record: 30-20, Week: 1-5)
Even though much of the Angels early-season success can be attributed to the offense, there is one pitcher that if they were without, they would be in tough shape. Francisco Rodriguez has been nearly perfect for the Angels in any relief role in which manager Mike Scoscia has chose to use him. Rodriguez has allowed just two earned runs in 26.2 innings giving him an ERA of 0.68. He is striking batters out at a rate of 13.84 per nine innings and has posted a K/BB rate of 5.86. If the Angels are to go all the way this year, K-Rod will lead them, yet again.
Baltimore Orioles: (Record: 23-23, Week: 3-3)
Rodrigo Lopez was unhittable while pitching out of the bullpen. He allowed just one run in 27.1 innings and provided the Orioles with an aura of confidence when the game was turned over to the O's relief corps. Since he has been added to the rotation, the Orioles have gone 6-10, including a few tough losses suffered at the hands of their own pen. If he is able to continue his success as a starter, the Orioles may be able to get by without his arm at the back end of games.
Boston Red Sox: (Record: 31-19, Week: 4-2)
Some experts were skeptical about Curt Schilling's chances of maintaining his career-long performance level, mainly because of his advanced age and the concept of changing leagues. Instead of cracking under the pressure in Boston, Schilling has been even better than advertised. He is averaging over seven innings per start and is 6-3 with a 3.00 ERA. Even though he is technically behind Pedro Martinez in the rotation, he is without a doubt the Red Sox ace right now.
Chicago White Sox: (Record: 29-20, Week: 4-2)
As I have said before, Scott Schoeneweis is much underappreciated. He has started eight games for the White Sox and seven of them have been quality starts. He goes out there each time and gives his team a chance to win the game. The left-hander is 5-2 with a 3.64 ERA on the season. In two of Schoenweiss's starts, the bullpen lost the lead and cost the former Anaheim Angels two more victories. He won't get it, but he deserves much of the credit for the team's strong start.
Cleveland Indians: (Record: 22-26, Week: 4-2)
Cliff Lee has always had the potential and this year he seems to be putting it all together. The 25-year-old lefty is 5-0 with a 2.87 ERA in his ten starts. If he is able to remain healthy, he and fellow southpaw C.C. Sabathia will give the Indians two of the better left-handed starters in baseball. For the rebuilding Indians, it is key that the two are very young and are locked up for a few years before free agency comes calling.
Detroit Tigers: (Record: 22-27, Week: 1-5)
Ugueth Urbina got a late start for the Tigers due to his late signing, but since he's joined the club, he's given the Tigers a rock to go to at the end of close games. Prior to his most recent outing, Urbina had allowed just three runs in 15.1 innings for an ERA of 1.76. He was a perfect six for six in save chances and has one win and one loss. Even though he has since blown a save, he is still a strong answer for the Motor City Kitty Cats when the game is on the line.
Kansas City Royals: (Record: 17-30, Week: 4-2)
The Royals' early struggles can be partly attributed to their inability to find a steady closer. They have tried Justin Huisman, Nate Field, Jamie Cerda, Curt Leskanic, Mike MacDougal, and now Jeremy Affeldt. The bullpen has combined for 10 wins and nine losses. If the Royals are looking for an area to improve, look no further.
Minnesota Twins: (Record: 27-22, Week: 2-4)
With the rest of the Twins rotation struggling, Brad Radke has been the one solid starter throughout the year. He is just 4-2 but has four quality starts that resulted in a no-decision. His ERA sits at 3.52 and his peripherals, specifically his K/BB rate of 8.00, are well above where they were last season, suggesting that he will be able to maintain this level of performance. The Twins will need everything they can get from him if Johan Santana and the rest of the rotation can't get back on track.
New York Yankees: (Record: 30-19, Week: 5-1)
The Yankees' goal this winter was to improve their bullpen and while they haven't much helped its depth, the core is as strong as any. Mariano Rivera is up to his old tricks with 18 saves and a 0.96 ERA in 28 innings and Tom Gordon has a 1.57 ERA in 28.2 innings. Paul Quantrill has been solid enough with a 4.40 ERA in 30.2 innings but the rest of the bullpen has combined for a 5.84 ERA. The middle innings are very weak for the Yankees right now. Look for them to make a move to correct that.
Oakland Athletics: (Record: 26-23, Week: 1-5)
"The Big 3" of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito has been solid but not spectacular, similar to the overall record of the A's. The three have combined to go 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA. Most teams would have no problem with that but when the A's hopes rest directly on the shoulders of those three, more is certainly expected. If they are able to get their combined ERA to 3.00, the A's will be a force as they have been in the past.
Seattle Mariners: (Record: 18-31, Week: 3-3)
The pitching staff for the Mariners has been a complete disappointment, but no one has been as far below normal as Joel Pineiro. He is 1-6 with a 5.74 ERA, and that is good compared to his month of April when he was 1-3 with an ERA of 8.26. Pineiro has been much better of late, however, giving the M's some hope for this year and beyond. It may be late for the M's, but it's not too late.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: (Record: 17-31, Week: 3-3)
Victor Zambrano has been a disappointment for the Devil Rays thus far this season. Even though his striking out over two-and-a-half more batters per nine is on par with the rest of his 2003 numbers, his ERA is nearly a run higher than last season. The two things killing him this year are the increase in home runs and his issue with walks. At his current pace, he would walk nearly 30 more batters and allow eight more home runs than last season. Since it was likely a lost year for the D-Rays from day one, he will need to fix those area if he wants a future in Tampa.
Texas Rangers: (Record: 27-22, Week: 2-4)
No one Ranger has been more of a pleasant surprise than Kenny Rogers. His 3.10 ERA is currently the best mark of his career as a starting pitcher. Rogers' secondary numbers, do not follow this success. His K/9 and K/BB are worse than last season's ratios and his average against is higher. As DIPS would say, the average is mostly about luck. Expect Rogers to take a fairly significant hit in ERA by the end of the season.
Toronto Blue Jays: (Record: 22-28, Week: 5-1)
Miguel Batista was brought in and was expected to be the number two starter behind Roy Halladay. The former Diamondback has not pitched up to expectations and is just 3-4 with a 5.13 ERA. Most of the decline can be attributed to the loss of command as his K/BB rate is much worse than last season. He was borderline acceptable at 2.37 last season but is way below par at 1.29 this year. Roy Halladay alone is not enough for the Jays to make a run this year. They will need the help of Batista and the rest of the rotation.
Arizona Diamondbacks: (Record: 18-32, Week: 1-6)
Brandon Webb was outstanding as a rookie and the D-Backs are counting on him to repeat his success of last year. Webb however, hasn't been able to come close, mostly due to his lack of command. Webb's ERA sits at 4.48 and his K/BB rate sits at just 1.34. Not many outside of the Arizona organization expected him to repeat last year, but most expected better results than what he has put forth thus far.
Atlanta Braves: (Record: 24-25, Week: 4-3)
Even though it isn't at all his fault, John Smoltz could be considered a disappointment after two months of the 2004 campaign. The Braves have won 24 games yet Smoltz has just seven saves to his credit. He hasn't blown a save and has allowed just two runs since April 10. Amazingly, he hasn't walked a batter all season. If the Braves can get leads to their ace closer, he would again be up there with the best closers in the game statistically.
Chicago Cubs: (Record: 26-23, Week: 1-5)
Even with Mark Prior having not thrown a pitch this season, the Cubs rotation has been one of the best in the league thanks to Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement. The two have combined to go 11-5 with a 2.72 ERA. With Kerry Wood due back soon from his ailment and Prior back this week, the Cubs rotation will get even better. Don't forget about Cy Young Junior either. Maddux always finds a way to win 15 games
Cincinnati Reds: (Record: 29-23, Week: 4-3)
The entire Reds rotation has been a surprise this season but none more than right-hander Paul Wilson. Wilson has been inconsistent but has put up good numbers overall. He is 7-0 with a 3.34 ERA thanks to his improved command and home run rate. He is unlikely to maintain this pace as his strikeout rate is extremely low at 4.87, lower than he has ever posted in a single season.
Colorado Rockies: (Record: 18-31, Week: 1-5)
Joe Kennedy has never posted an ERA better than 4.44 in a season and last season he was at 6.13. This year, in Coors Field, he is having the best season of his career. He is 4-2 with a 3.49 ERA and his strikeout rate is up while his walks are down. Kennedy's home runs allowed are surprisingly low, considering the park effect. The left-hander is either in the middle of the best run of his life, or has been extremely lucky. Either way its been quite a surprise.
Florida Marlins: (Record: 30-20, Week: 6-1)
There are a few impressive performances on the Florida pitching staff but perhaps none as impressive as Armando Benitez. He has allowed just one run in 29.2 innings for an ERA of 0.30. He has 20 saves on the season and has blown just one, on an unearned run. There were many that questioned him this winter, saying he didn't have it anymore. However, he is out of the spotlight and doing just fine.
Houston Astros: (Record: 27-22, Week: 3-3)
I have mentioned Roger Clemens here a few times, but when reviewing early surprises, it's impossible not to mention him again. Clemens came out of retirement technically, but he never really left. Clemens is 7-0 with a 2.38 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 64.1 innings. Clemens is fifth in the league in ERA, third in strikeouts, and tied for first in wins. He just keeps on going.
Los Angeles Dodgers: (Record: 26-22, Week: 3-3)
Hideo Nomo had been improving his numbers each year and the Dodgers were hoping that more of the same would be on the way. However, he was hit with injuries and perhaps his age and has been very disappointing. His ERA sits at 7.13 and his peripherals are pretty much awful. His ERA will have to improve a little because not many can remain that bad for that long but don't expect him to end much better than 5.00.
Milwaukee Brewers: (Record: 25-23, Week: 3-3)
Ben Sheets may not be considered a surprise since he is just pitching to his potential, and ten some. Thanks in part to his 18 strikeout game, Sheets is second in the league in punchouts and his ERA sits at a strong 2.71. His K/BB rate is an outstanding 7/1 and he isn't showing any signs of slowing down. This could be the beginning of the next big starter in baseball.
Montreal Expos: (Record: 16-33, Week: 2-4)
I'm not sure what's more surprising, the way Chad Cordero is pitching or the fact that he isn't the closer yet. Cordero was in college a year ago and now has a 1.27 ERA setting up in the majors. Rocky Biddle, the current closer, has a 7.16 ERA but just one blown save. Cordero should, and probably will be closing by the All-Star break and it could come as soon as Biddle blows his next save.
New York Mets: (Record: 23-26, Week: 1-4)
Tom Glavine is another surprise in the near-40 crowd. After the most disappointing season of his career in 2003, Glavine has come out in 2004 with something to prove. In 11 starts he has a 2.17 ERA and his holding opposing batters to a .194 average. Glavine's walks are down, home runs allowed are down, and pitches-per-inning are down. He won't be able to maintain a sub-2.50 ERA, but low threes is certainly a strong possibility.
Philadelphia Phillies: (Record: 27-21, Week: 3-3)
Ryan Madson hasn't been getting any recognition so far, but that isn't his fault. He isn't being given a chance to be recognized. A starting pitcher all through the minors, Madson is being used in relief and has allowed just three runs in 30.2 innings. When Brett Myers was struggling, the Phillies didn't insert Madson in the rotation, although that can be more of a tribute to Myers' potential. If Madson gets a chance to start, he could be a good one.
Pittsburgh Pirates: (Record: 23-23, Week: 4-2)
Oliver Perez was the key to the Brian Giles deal and he is showing why the Pirates thought so highly of him. The lefty hasn't been given a chance to pitch on regular rest each start, often getting pushed back due to off days and rain outs, but when he took the hill he was successful. He has just eight starts but has a 3.12 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 52 innings. With his peripherals, he has a chance to maintain this level throughout the year.
San Diego Padres: (Record: 28-22, Week: 4-2)
Jake Peavy, like Ben Sheets, may be ready to fulfill his potential. Peavy has a career ERA of 3.90, which is being greatly aided by his league leading 2.01 ERA on the season. He is striking out a batter per inning and is walking less than he has in the past. He has allowed just two home runs and 12 total extra-base hits. As with other pitchers that have an extremely low ERA, it won't last but he can still have an outstanding season.
San Francisco Giants: (Record: 25-24, Week: 6-0)
The Giants have not played up to their expectations, but Jason Schmidt has returned to form, that is for sure. Coming off elbow surgery, Schmidt wasn't expected to pitch like he hadn't missed a step but he has gone 6-2 with a 2.57 ERA and has struck out over a batter per inning. He has been worked very hard and his average against is well below a normal level so expect a significant decline in performance over the length of the season.
St. Louis Cardinals: (Record: 26-23, Week: 3-2)
The Cardinals knew that right-hander Matt Morris would be their ace but they were expecting Woody Williams to be a strong number two. Instead, Williams has struggled with his command and is sporting a 5.19 ERA. On top of the control issues, his strikeouts are down and home runs are up. The formula for success is not looking complete for Williams and the Cards.
Stat of the week:
Ugueth Urbina on 5/30 against the Orioles:
1/3 IP, 4 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, loss and blown save
His first blown save of the year certainly came in grand fashion.
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