MLB roundup: who’s hot, who’s not
The midway point of the MLB season is quickly approaching, and many players have emerged as surprise award candidates (Hello, Max Scherzer and Paul Goldschmidt!), some teams have become surprise contenders and other teams have quietly made their way to the bottom of the standings. In case you’re just getting reacquainted with baseball now that hockey season has concluded, here are some of the biggest stories that you should know:
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays had won 11 straight before falling to the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday night. Either way, those 11 consecutive wins brought them within 5.5 games of first place in a tight AL East race, and the Blue Jays have started to become the team everyone expected before the season started — and this is all without currently injured shortstop Jose Reyes. Even some of the non-power hitters are getting in on the home run parade, including scrawny and lovable shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, who hit his first MLB home run last Friday. Regardless, the Blue Jays have struggled against teams within their division, so they’ll have to figure out a way to crack those teams if they want to gain any more ground in the standings. The return of Reyes in a couple days should help somewhat, but it’ll be interesting to watch.
His teammate and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander has a less-than-stellar ERA (3.90) by his standards, at least, but the Detroit Tigers’ Scherzer has emerged as an early Cy Young candidate and potential All-Star Game starter in the first half. He has yet to drop a decision, going 11-0 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts — one of only five pitchers in the past 40 years to start 11-0 or better. Three of the previous four pitchers to do so have gone on to win the Cy Young that season, which bodes well for Scherzer and the AL Central-leading Tigers.
Teams have started to call up prospects for some much-needed relief, and boy, have they delivered. New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler made his much-anticipated major league debut last week against the Atlanta Braves, striking out seven and giving up only four hits in six innings for his first big league win. He is set to make his second start tonight against the Chicago White Sox. Seattle Mariners infielder Nick Franklin was called up about a month ago to take the place of struggling former No. 2 pick Dustin Ackley, and has become one of the Mariners’ top hitters (though not that that’s saying much), batting .283 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 26 games. Tampa Bay outfielder Wil Myers has 10 hits in his first eight games, including two home runs and seven RBIs, including a grand slam against New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia. And of course Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig remains one of the most talked-about stories in Major League Baseball, adding his seventh home run in 20 games and a tiebreaking RBI single in last night’s 3-1 win against the stunningly struggling fourth-place San Francisco Giants.
On top of highly touted free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton’s .207 average, the Los Angeles Angels have lost three straight and sit in fourth place in the AL West behind Texas, Oakland and the less-than-stellar Mariners. The pitching staff hasn’t helped out much, either — $16 million pitcher Jered Weaver has a 4.65 ERA, while the team’s best pitcher, CJ Wilson, is only putting up a 3.61. They won’t finish last — thanks, Astros — but unless something picks up soon, they’ll be lucky to finish in third place.
The Phillies closer started out the season in incredibly strong fashion, but over his past several appearances, it’s been the complete opposite story. Papelbon’s struggles manifested Monday night when he entered the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead over the San Diego Padres and allowed three runs before the Phillies lost 4-3 in 10 innings. It’s his third straight blown save and the fourth in his past five opportunities. It’s tough to say right now whether this is just a temporary slump or is a sign of the future for the former Red Sox closer, but it should be interesting to see what Phillies manager Charlie Manuel decides to do with Papelbon in the coming days.