Around The Bases Vol VII: Zimmerman Keeps Hitting, Greinke Keeps Pitching

Here we are, one month into the season. Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria picked up right where he left off last season. The Washington Nationals have their own superstar in Ryan Zimmerman and possibly another one on the way with pitcher Stephen Strassburg. The Kansas City Royals, winning like no one ever expected them to, have a budding Cy Young Award winner in pitcher Zach Greinke. And, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez started his season with a bang.

This week, Around the Bases takes a look at all of this and more, and we proudly bring back the Weekly Trivia Question.

Manny
First off, let’s get the Manny thing out of the way. Unless you’re living under a rock, you now know that Manny Ramirez has been suspended for 50 games for violating the leagues policy. According to all reports, he didn’t get hit for steroids, but he popped positive for the female fertility hormone, human chorionic gonadotrophin. Since Manny probably wasn’t trying to get pregnant, he most likely was using the hormone for its secondary purpose, to kick-start testosterone in males after a steroids cycle.

His excuse that it was something his physician gave him and he thought it would be OK just doesn’t wash. I know that Manny has lived in Manny-World for a very long time now, but there is just no excuse for a player in today’s culture not to check anything that he takes against the MLB Banned Substance list. All it takes is a simple phonecall to any number of people. To not check if something is ok to take is jsut plain irresponsible and dumb. It is not surprising to see another superstar fall, but it is very disappointing.

Too Early to Predict MVPs?
There are several current players that can be considered superstars in their own right, and we can only hope that they are playing the game clean. The top player on that list, St. Louis Cardinal’s slugger Albert Pujols, is now leading the NL in HR and RBI (12 & 33 respectively) as well as slugging (.696), runs (32), and OPS (1.139). He is well on his way to another MVP award.

Another guy who we hope is “doing it right” is Tampa Bay 3B Evan Longoria. So far this season, Longoria has been on fire. He has 44 RBI in the team’s first 32 games. Nearly half of those (21) have come against the Red Sox, who the Rays have now played 9 times already. It would surprise no one if he became the 2nd AL player in a row to win the league MVP Award the year after winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia won the AL MVP last season after winning the AL ROY Award in 2007.

The Kansas City Royals are Where??
What is going on in the AL Central? Is there anyone out there who would have thought that one month into the season we would see the Cleveland Indians not only with the worst record in the division, but also the worst record in the AL (12-21)?

And who is just a few percentage points out of 1st place in the division? Amazingly, the Kansas City Royals, with an 18-14 record. They are first in the majors in team ERA (3.45), lowest Earned Runs (109), and complete games (4). Their ace, Zack Greinke, has been nothing short of spectacular so far this season. He leads the majors with six wins (tied with Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halliday) and an unbelievable 0.51 ERA (Seattle pitcher Eric Bedard is 2nd in the AL at 2.53).

Greinke had one of the best April’s in Major League history. By month’s end, he was 5-0 with a 0.50 ERA. His first four starts he went 43 straight innings without allowing a run. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Greinke is only the 3rd pitcher in history to win at least 5 games in April with that small of an ERA. He joins Walter Johnson (5-0, 0.24) in 1913 and Fernando Valenzuela (5-0, 0.20) in 1981.

Can He Possibly Be This Good?
Let’s stay on the subject of pitchers for another moment. Last week, the Washington Nationals made a deal with San Diego State Aztecs pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg to make him the first pick in the MLB draft next month. Scouts all over the country are calling Strassburg the best prospect they have ever seen. In 87.1 innings pitched this season, he is 11-0 with a 1.24 ERA and 2 shut-outs. He has 164 strikeouts compared to 17 walks. Amazing.

His last game, against Air Force, Strasburg pitched a 17K no hitter. It is reported that in the last inning, he didn’t throw a pitch under 98 MPH. The price that is swirling around for the Nationals to sign him is in the $50 Million range. Not surprisingly, uberagent Scott Boras is his agent, so it should be interesting, to say the least. Strasburg is a lock to win the USA Baseball Player of the Year Award this weekend.

TRIVIA QUESTION:
Stephen Strasburg could join a very exclusive list (20 players) to hit the majors straight from college. Who was the last player to accomplish this feat? (no looking online, that’s just too easy)

Submit your answer/guess on the form below. The first person with the right answer receives a copy of the Nickleback Live at Sturgis 2006 DVD.

And The Hits Keep Comin’
Washington Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman has now hit safely in 29 consecutive games. That’s more than halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s record of 56 consecutive games, a record long thought to be untouchable. Zimmerman is actually much closer to the NL record, held by Willie Keeler in 1897 (45 games), but he did it over the course of two seasons (1896/1897). Pete Rose holds the NL single season record of 44 straight games, which he accomplished during the magical 1978 season.

Everytime someone gets to the 29-30 consecutive game area, we revisit this. So, let’s do that, because it just never gets old. If Zimmerman reaches 30 consecutive games, that will put him in the company of such baseball luminaries as Moises Alou (’07), Albert Pujols (’03), Nomar Garciaparra (’97), George Brett (’80), Stan Musial (’50), Tris Speaker (’12), and nine others.

If he hits in 31 straight games, he’ll be in the company of Vald Guerrero (’99), Nap Jolie (1906), and 5 others. If he makes it to 32 games, he’ll stand alone. The last player to make it to 35 games was Philadelphia’s Chase Utley, who did it in 2006. Not including Jimmy Rollins, who hit in 38 straight games over the ’05-’06 seasons, Utley recorded the most consecutive games with a hit since Pete Rose. With the A-Rod and Manny debacles, something like this to root for is exactly what baseball needs right now. See, wasn’t that fun?

Quick Hits
* A Happy Birthday shout-out to the incomparable Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who turns 84 today. Berra is considered by many to be the greatest catcher of all time, although some could argue that Johnny Bench or Carlton Fisk should hold that honor. But, I digressed. Berra, a three-time AL MVP, appeared in 15 consecutive All-Star games. He was in a remarkable 14 World Series, and has 10 World Series rings.

One thing that no one can dispute, he is the patriarch of the New York Yankees. Of all the great players who graced the field during last season’s final game ceremonies at Yankees Stadium, it is the image of Berra standing at home plate that received the longest, loudest ovation and is something that will never be forgotten.

* On Friday, Alex Rodriguez played in his first game of the season after hip surgery sidelined him for the opening month. Everyone wondered how he would fare after the layoff, so naturally, he belted the very first pitch that he saw out of the park. And he wasn’t even the first person to do that this season. Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur did it the first day of the season against Philadelphia.

* Roger Clemens had his first interview in a couple of years this morning on the Mike & Mike Show on ESPN Radio. He decided to appear on the same day that “American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America’s Pastime,” a book by four New York Daily News reporters, was released.

In the interview, Clemens claimed that he’s seen excerpts from the book and says that they are completely false. He continued to vehemently deny any steroid use, despite the fact that Golic and Greenburg (the two Mikes) brought up the fact that his wife admitted to receiving steroid injections from Brian McNamee, his former personal trainer, and former best friend Andy Pettitte has said that they discussed HGH use. To that, Clemens once again said that “Andy misremembers”. That was the same line he used when facing a congressional hearing on the subject. Way to stick to a story.