Around The Bases Vol V: First Week Down

One week down, twenty-five to go. Now that the first week of the 2009 baseball season is in the books, we have some early surprises, both good and bad. Some we can expect to last, some will have righted themselves before May 1st.

First, I have to mention two very sad losses. The very tragic loss last week of Angel’s rookie starter, 22 year old Nick Adenhart should be a lesson for everyone. As you all are very aware by now, Adenhart was minding his own business, driving with some friends after the best game of his very brief career, when the car that he was a passenger in was struck by a drunk driver who ran a red light. Not only was Adenhart killed, but so were two of the three people that were in the car with him: Henry Pearson, 25, and the driver, 20-year-old Courtney Stewart. These awful, senseless deaths will rock the baseball world for the coming months as too many have before it.

What will it take for the legislatures to crack down on drinking and driving and put some teeth into these laws that are already in existence? Rightfully, the driver of the minivan that struck Adenhart and his friends is being charged with three counts of murder, along with additional charges. This should be the norm, not the exception, when there is a vehicular death involving alcohol or drugs. California has taken the lead in our country on many, many fronts. Let this be another one where they are the example that the rest of the states start to follow.

Next, it was just announced a few minutes ago that long-time Phillies announcer Harry Kalas has passed away suddenly at the age of 73. Kalas was one of, if not the best broadcasters in all of baseball. His tag line, “It’s outa here!!”, following a Phillies home run, resonated through houses all over the Delaware Valley, including my own. It was always a great moment of excitement and joy to hear those words. I am very happy that Kalas got to announce the last play of the Phillies 2008 World Series Championship, his 2nd in his 37 year career with the Phillies.

Kalas collapsed today in the broadcast booth prior to the Phillies-Nationals game. How amazing that he died doing what he loved. Watching Phillies baseball will never be the same for me, my family, or the generations of Phillies Phans who had the privilege of inviting Kalas into their home night after warm summer night. He will be sorely missed.

OK, now that I’ve cast a dark shadow on this piece, let’s try to move on with our original intent, looking at some of the early surprises of the first week of the season:

Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria hit his 5th HR of the season yesterday. That’s 6 games. He didn’t hit his 5th HR of the 2008 season until May 19th, 35 games into the season. Longoria also has 13 hits in 27 at bats, and 10 RBI. I couldn’t find anyone, ever, to accomplish this feat. Last season, he had 10 RBI in the entire month of April, and the season started a week earlier than this year. His 2009 campaign to be the 2nd AL Rookie of the Year in a row to win MVP honors the following season (Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia won ROY in ’07 and MVP last season) is off to a great start.

Nelson Cruz, RF for the Texas Rangers, has more HR (3) than last seasons top four HR leaders, combined. So far, Ryan Howard (0), Adam Dunn (1), Carlos Delgado (1), and Manny Ramirez (0), are off to pretty slow starts. Cruz has a total of 22 HR in three big league seasons prior to this year.

I want to be optimistic about Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. So far this season, Tek has 2 HR and 2 RBI in 5 games, not a bad start at all. But, it needs to be pointed out that after the first 5 games of last season, Tek had 2 HR and 3 RBI. Also, last season he had 6 hits in his first 15 AB (.261) while so far this season he has 5 hits in 18 AB (.278). He does look more comfortable at the plate this season, and I hope that is a good sign that he will continue hitting.

The whole AL seems to be upside-down. In the AL East, Toronto (5-2) and Baltimore (4-2) lead the division, while Boston (2-4) is on the bottom. New York and Tampa sit in the middle at 3-3. Not to fret, Red Sox Nation. After the first week of the 2008 season, the Red Sox were in the basement of the AL East at 4-2, and we saw how that ended up.

In the Central, Detroit, who wasn’t expected to do anything this season because of their decimated pitching staff, leads the division (4-3). Cleveland is sitting on the bottom with only one win. Kansas City and Chicago are tied for the fewest runs allowed in the majors (19). Oddly enough, the Royals also had the fewest runs allowed (18) at the same point last season while the White Sox had 32. The White Sox finished ranked 14th while the Royals ended the season at 22.

In the strangest division of all, the AL West, The Seattle Mariners, who were not expected to win 60 games this year, have already won 5, and lead their division. Meanwhile, Oakland, who is favored by many to win the AL West title this season, is on the bottom looking up at 2-4.

No great surprises in the National League. Washington, the league’s worst team last season, is well on their way again. They have started the season 0-6. Six games into last season, they were 3-3. Things are not looking good there.

There is widespread panic in Gotham. The Yankees’ $350M experiment has not worked out exactly as planned, yet. CC Sabathia, is 1-1, but it’s an ugly 1-1. He has already given up 14 hits and 6 runs in 12 innings, with only 6 strikeouts. But, last season he had an even worse start. In his first three games with Cleveland, Sabathia went 0-2, while giving up 18 runs on 24 hits with only 13 Ks. He appears to have gained a few pounds (maybe 15-20, I would guess) to his already enormous frame, and it isn’t helping his delivery at all.

Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira isn’t exactly tearing the hide off the ball, either. In 4 games (16 AB), he has 4 hits (.250), including one HR and two doubles. But, put your pitchforks and nooses away, Yankee fans. Last season he started off even worse. In the first four games of 2008, Teixeira had only 2 hits, including one HR and one double, for a ridiculous .105 average. So, look how good he’s doing this season.

Neither of last season’s Cy Young Award winners are doing very well, so far, this season. In San Francisco, Tim Lincecum is starting out poorly with a 0-1 record. The real problem is that he’s given up 7 earned runs in 8.1 innings pitched (7.56 ERA). His didn’t even make it to the 4th inning of his first outing, throwing 78 pitches in 3 innings while giving up 3 runs. His second outing didn’t go much better. The lasted 5.1 innings, but threw 99 pitches and gave up 4 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks. Most people seem to think that he’ll settle down and find his groove, but it’s not looking too good so far.

In Cleveland, 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee is also having a rough start to the 2009 season. So far, he is 0-2 with a 9.90 ERA. He has given up 11 runs on 17 hits with 10 Ks. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time in baseball that both of the previous year’s Cy Young Awards winners had an ERA over 5.00 through their first two starts of the season.

But, not to worry. The season is still very young. And baseball being what it is, there will be surprises right up through the end of the season (Tampa Bay Rays last season, for example). Many of the above will turn themselves around, some by the end of the month. Sabathia will straighten out, as will Lincecum and Lee. Longoria may continue on his tear for months, and very well could win the MVP. He’s that good. But, you can count on Teixeira hitting like he’s supposed to also. You can pretty sure that the divisions will go back to normal and move out of this alternate universe we seem to be in at the moment. The only exception might be the AL Central. After the initial shock wears off, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Detroit to continue leading that division.