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Travel Day

The first full week of baseball of the 2012 season is in the books.  Injuries, bad breaks, unlikely comebacks, and parity were among the dominating themes. In other words, it was business as usual.

Parity and Sweeps

The five teams in the AL East are separated by one game.  Although the season is only a week and a half old, it’s probably a foreshadowing of things to come.

The gap between the elite in this division and the chronic also ran’s has narrowed substantially.  Don’t expect much separation in this division anytime soon. All of these teams have great strengths and Achilles heels.  Baltimore looks to have solid young pitching and a good middle of the order but lacks a bullpen and depth. Toronto has solid starting pitching and a solid lineup but lacks a bullpen.  The Yankees have great depth and a great bullpen but lack consistent hitting.  The Red Sox have a good lineup and a strong 1-2-3 in the rotation but lack a bullpen and depth.  Tampa has a great starting staff but is inconsistent offensively.  This could be the most entertaining top to bottom duel in the AL East in decades.

Injuries and Maladies

Closer Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants has been lost for the year after an MRI revealed structural damage to his elbow that may require Tommy John surgery. Also in San Francisco Buster Posey, lost for most of last year in a home plate collision, missed a start due to the Shingles. I have to agree with ESPN writer Jerry Crasnick who tweeted: “What’s next for Posey? The plague?”

After losing free agent signing closer Andrew Bailey until at least July the Red Sox were dealt another blow when CF Jacoby Ellsbury was injured in a collision at second base and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks.

After struggling with pain in his elbow for over a year, Twins pitcher Scott Baker will undergo surgery and is lost for the season.  Baker will have surgery to repair the flexor pronator tendon in his right elbow.

Closer Drew Storen of the Nationals underwent elbow surgery that is expected to keep him sidelined until mid July.  Also in Washington, cleanup hitter Michael Morse will be shut down for at least six weeks after aggravating an injured back muscle that already had him on the DL.

Who Are You Calling Old?

In the last few years I’ve read too many predictions that “this will be the year that Derek Jeter and David Ortiz are finally done” to count.  Jeter and Ortiz continue to make those predictions look foolish.  Jeter, who turns 38 in June, is off to a scorching start in 2012. Jeter is batting .366 with an OBP of .395.  Jeter also has two home runs and 6 RBI’s to go along with an OPS of 1.005.

Ortiz, who turns 37 later this year, is off to an incredible start this season. Ortiz is batting .444 with an OBP of .475 with 10 RBI’s and 1 home run.

Extensions

The trend of teams locking up valuable players on long term contract extensions continues in MLB.   Catcher Carlos Santana received a five year contract extension worth twenty-one million dollars that includes a club option for the year 2017.  Having now locked up Santana as well as shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who was extended earlier this spring, the Indians have two valuable cornerstones locked up and can look to build around them.

The Texas Rangers extended second baseman Ian Kinsler this past week.  Kinsler received a five year extension worth seventy-five million dollars.  The Rangers can now focus on Josh Hamilton, who is a free agent at the end of the 2012 season.

The days of building a team through free agency are over and done with.  Fewer and fewer impact players are making it to free agency and those who do are receiving obscene 7-10 year deals that cripple payroll towards the end stages when production from these players declines in their late 30’s and early 40’s.  The free agent class of 2013, which once looked so promising, is looking less appealing by the week.

Are You Serious?

Justin Verlander has pitched shutout ball in the first eight innings of consecutive starts and received credit for a win in neither game.  In his first start against the Red Sox, Verlander pitched eight innings of shutout ball allowing only two hits, before being lifted before the ninth inning for closer Velaverde who surrendered two runs and lost the lead. The Tigers would go on to win the game.  In his last start against Tampa Bay, Verlander took a one hit shutout into the ninth inning.  Manager Jim Leyland, probably mindful of what happened against the Red Sox, allowed Verlander to attempt to finish what he had started.  Verlander was charged with four earned runs as Tampa Bay rallied to win.

Verlander looks scary good again so far in 2012 and will receive credit for plenty of wins before the year is over. His domination of hitters on both sides of the plate and his incredible velocity late into games is truly a marvel to witness. There may be more accomplished pitchers in MLB than Verlander but right now there isn’t anyone close to his level.

Top Of The Heap

To no one’s surprise, The Texas Rangers lead the way in the AL with an 8-2 record.  Their lineup’s blend of power/speed/avg/obp is the main reason they’ve won consecutive AL pennants and nothing about that lineup has changed.  The scariest part of Texas’s early success? Nelson Cruz(.211), Elvis Andrus(.194), Mitch Moreland(.150) and Mike Napoli(.125) haven’t even gotten going yet.  If anyone was expecting the Rangers to “bounce” off their consecutive World Series losses they were dreaming.  As much as everyone screams these days about pitching being everything, the bottom line is that a team with a lineup as deep as Texas’ doesn’t need an all star pitching staff.  Runs win games, and Texas will continue to score many of them this season.

To the surprise of many, the Dodgers lead the way in the NL with a gaudy 9-1 record.  Matt Kemp is playing like a beast.  Kemp is hitting .487 with an OBP of .523 and an OPS of 1.548.  Kemp also has 6 home runs and 16 RBI’s.  Watching Kemp so far this year has been like a watching a human highlight reel.

Chad Billingsley has allowed only 1 earned run in 14 1/3 IP to lead the Dodger’s staff.

The Natural

No, I’m not talking about Roy Hobbs. I’m talking about Terry Francona. Across the country people have been thrilled to listen to Francona in the broadcast booth since his debut during the 2011 postseason.  His work so far this season confirms that last year’s entertaining broadcasts were no fluke.  As good of a manager as Francona was and could be again, there are plenty of us who hope he decides to stay in the booth.  Listening to Francona speak is entertaining as well as informative. His insights into what a manager is really thinking in a situation, as well as his candid views of current players and managers in the games he is covering are fantastic.  His honesty and self deprecating humor combined with his sharp insights and experience are the same traits that another World Champion coach in another sport brought to the booth with him in the 1980’s. Francona could be the John Madden of baseball broadcasting if he sticks to his current position.  I personally can’t recall a single broadcast booth personality in a lifetime of watching baseball that I ever enjoyed listening to as much as Francona.  If he’s doing a game, I’m watching it.

Gee, What a Shock

Well that certainly didn’t take long. Bobby Valentine’s comments and motivating tactics have always been controversial and questionable.  I once wondered if his success in Japan was due to many of his players not being able to understand what he was saying.  His comments about Kevin Youkilis’ lack of effort this weekend were bizarre and greeted with an immediate reply by Dustin Pedroia that made it clear that the inmates are still running the asylum in Boston

“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,” Valentine said on WHDH’s SportsXtra.

“I know that Youk plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in my life,” Pedroia said (also via WEEI). “I have his back, and his teammates have his back. We know how hard he plays. I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do. But that’s really not the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.”

That’s about as strong of an admonishment by a player to a manager that you’ll ever see. He’ll figure that out soon?

Valentine has to respond to Pedroia’s comments with either words or actions or will risk a failure of players taking him seriously.  I don’t think we’ve heard the last about this matter and expect a “Valentinian Response” sooner than later.

Tweet Of The Week

“Maybe Andino is mad because he found out his girlfriend has one of Derek Jeter’s gift baskets”

Eric from NY after a screaming Robert Andino had to be held back by his manager Buck Showalter following a loss to the Yankees this past week.

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