News and notes from around the majors...
The Arizona Diamondbacks (14-5) have the most wins and the fewest losses in the majors. The D-Backs are also leading in runs scored per game (6.32) while allowing the fewest runs per game (3.53). The well-balanced club sports two of the league's best starting pitchers and a number of young position players with high ceilings. Arizona has the makings of a good postseason team if it can hold off division rivals Colorado, Los Angeles, and San Diego or sneak its way into the playoffs via the wild card.
The Marlins, out front in the NL East for now with a 12-7 record, is the best bet of them all to regress toward their preseason forecasts as the club has allowed more runs (99) than it has scored (92). Despite losing Miguel Cabrera, Florida is second in the league in home runs with 29. Hanley Ramirez, who just may be the most valuable property in all of baseball, and Mike Jacobs are tied for the team high with six apiece.
On the heels of a four game winning streak, the Chicago Cubs have overtaken the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. The Redbirds have surprised me as much or more than any other club thus far. That said, I still see the Cubs and Brewers battling it out for first place while the Cards will do well to beat out Cincinnati for third place.
Over in the American League, the Boston Red Sox, thanks to winning nine of the last ten, have the best mark at 14-7. With David Ortiz looking like the Big Papi of old rather than an old Big Papi, the Sox are the best balanced team in the AL and once again the club to beat. Could they make it three World Championships in five years?
The cellar-dwelling teams are pretty much as expected except, of course, the Detroit Tigers. However, the Tigers appear to have righted the ship, winning five of the last eight games. The team has played 12 of 20 games on the road so I wouldn't get overly worried about the slow start. Besides, the Cleveland Indians have an almost identical record. Give yourself bonus points if you had the Tigers and Indians with a combined record of 14-25 at this point.
Tampa Bay (8-11) may have disappointed those who predicted that the club was going to break out this year. I still think the Rays will beat out the Orioles and finish the season near .500. Baltimore, off to surprising 11-8 start, has played 13 of its 19 games at home (where it has fashioned a 9-4 record).
On the player front, Chase Utley hit his MLB-leading ninth homer – and sixth in five games – last night. This just may be the year Utley wins the MVP that he would have last year had he not broken his right hand in late July and missed a full month. His stiffest competition may come from Ramirez, Chipper Jones (if he can stay healthy all season), Albert Pujols, and David Wright.
Nate McLouth extended his season-long hitting streak to 19 games, the third-longest streak to start a season by a National Leaguer in the last 35 years (behind Atlanta's Edgar Renteria's 23 straight in 2006 and L.A.'s Steve Garvey's 21 in 1978). I think it is safe to say that the 26-year-old McLouth (.375/.444/.638) looks like the real deal.
Can you say sophomore slumps? Ryan Braun (.237/.253/.395), Troy Tulowitzki (.165/.241/.241 with 0 HR), and Hunter Pence (.229/.257/.329 with 0 HR), the top three vote getters in the NL ROY balloting last year, are all off to poor starts. Braun has whiffed 17 times while only drawing 2 walks in 79 plate appearances. He hit .361 on balls in play last year. While Braun's current BABIP of .263 is likely to improve over time, he needs to make better contact and increase his walk rate in order to fulfill the lofty expectations placed upon him after his outstanding rookie season. The same can be said of Pence, who has struck out 20 times with only 3 BB in 74 PA.