This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: April 1-7, 2013
Will Baseball Panic Over a Lack of Hitting? Jay-Z Can Rap—But Can he Rep?
They're Nuts About Manny in Taiwan R.I.P. Bob Turley

Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
22 5 10 3 0 4 17 2 0 1 0

It was a historic week (though not as historic as we thought, see below left) for the guy who also finished the 2012 season with a flourish. In a 11-game span that went back to last year, Davis hit 11 home runs with 29 RBIs—further cementing that he’s finally become the player that the Texas Rangers hoped he would become, but never did, before trading him to Baltimore.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
25 5 12 2 0 3 9 2 0 0 1

Could a new star be on the rise in Cincinnati to follow in the footsteps of Jay Bruce and Joey Votto? The 27-year-old New Jersey native, who in his first full season last year emerged quietly (except when he made news for saving a restaurant patron choking on food), got his 2013 campaign off to a bang this week, highlighted by a four-hit, two-homer performance against Washington on Friday. This is a potentially wonderful development for the Reds, who need some added bulk with the loss of Ryan Ludwick.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Josh Donaldson, Oakland A's

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
25 3 3 1 0 0 3 1 0 0 0

Numerous everyday AL players had fewer hits in the season’s first week, but the 27-year-old third baseman makes the grade as the worst because of his propensity to hit into double plays. What he gave with four plate appearances that ended safely on base were more than outweighed by what he took away, hitting into five double plays. It’ll be mid-May before anyone catches up to him for the AL lead in that department.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Luis Cruz, Los Angeles Dodgers

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
17 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0

It was the clichéd refrain last year when the Mexican native emerged as a reliable supporting cast member in the Dodger lineup: “The fans aren’t booing, they’re ‘Cruz-ing’.” It probably grew to more of the opposite at Dodger Stadium as the week went along and Cruz couldn’t buy a hit. For someone who seemed so consistently tough on opponents in 2012, his hitless week sticks out as something of a surprise.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
2-0 13 5 1 1 7 0 1 0 0 13

The Indians have the hitting after swooping up numerous sluggers over the offseason…but do they have the pitching? That, many believe, is the challenge for the Tribe this season—and Masterson, for one, answered this week with two sharp outings including a Sunday start producing seven shutout innings at Tampa Bay. After an awful 2012, the 28-year-old righty from Jamaica is hoping to regain his 2011 form when he authored a 3.21 ERA; this week bodes well towards achieving that goal.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
2-0 16 6 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 16

Whatever the Dodgers were thinking of paying the tall young southpaw as contract extension talks progressed, they’re probably going to have to pony up more as Kershaw shot out of the gates as the most dominant moundsman to be found in the majors to start 2013. He shut down the Giants on Opening Day and aided his own cause by homering to break a 0-0 tie in the eighth; he then silenced the Pirates with seven more stellar innings on Saturday. It’s a long season, but those who predicted Kershaw as this year’s NL Cy winner must be feeling pretty good.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
0-2 10.2 15 12 10 6 0 0 1 0 9

Seems like old times for the 38-year-old knuckler, who returned to the AL this past week and performed much the same way he did the first time around when he labored with a 5.43 ERA over seven years for three different junior circuit teams. Of course, after winning the Cy Young Award last year, no one expected a relapse back to sub-mortality. Dickey’s worst was saved for Sunday when the Red Sox thrashed him for eight runs over 4.2 innings.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
0-1 2.2 8 6 6 0 0 0 0 0 4

This is not a good start for a guy who’s coming off a turbulent 2012 campaign. Axford celebrated his 30th birthday on Monday by blowing an Opening Day save (the Brewers recovered and won), got shelled in a mop-up role on Wednesday, then took a Sunday loss when he served a two-run shot to Eric Hinske—his fourth homer allowed on the week—that gave Arizona an extra-inning win. Part of the problem for Axford is diminished velocity that threatens to kick him out of the closer’s role.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Boston Red Sox (4-2)

Many pundits said that the Red Sox, flushed out and sanitized after last year’s forgettable stinker of a campaign, would be among the league’s top surprise teams. Surprise! The Red Sox began the season admirably on the road, beating up a hobbled Yankee team to start and then taking two of three from upstart Toronto, capped with an impressive 13-0 rout of R.A. Dickey on Sunday thanks in part to Will Middlebrooks’ three homers. All this, and David Ortiz hasn’t even come to bat yet.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Colorado Rockies (5-1)

Not a bad start for a team we predicted as one of baseball’s worst. Granted, the Rockies played two weak links within the majors in the Brewers and Padres, but they’re supposed to be even weaker. Major kudos for this impressive first week falls on the shoulders of a pitching staff that was supposed to sink fast this year but instead gave up just 18 runs in six games, all played within live ballparks (Coors Field and Miller Park).


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Houston Astros (1-5)

Here they are, baseball’s discount franchise as advertised. Yes, the Astros will always have Opening Night—where they put on a Cinderella-like show before a full house and national TV audience as they romped over the Rangers; but after midnight, the magic slippers were replaced with a major reality check. Five losses before miniscule crowds followed, including a near perfect-game loss in which Yu Darvish retired the first 26 Houston batters. The scary part: The Astros as a team are striking out at a higher rate than Adam Dunn—and have only walked nine times in their first six games.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Pittsburgh Pirates (1-5)

Breaking News: A mission persons report has been filed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, asking for the public’s help in locating their offense. These players are described as shy, embarrassed and in desperate need of a hitting lesson after batting just .119 through their first six games of the 2013 season, with just one home run. If anyone sees any signs of these players, please contact the Pirates immediately. There is no need to feel apprehensive in approaching these players; trust us, these guys are not considered armed and dangerous.


 

 

 

Best and Worst of the Week

Monday, April 1
The Washington Nationals play the role of World Series favorites well on Opening Day: Bryce Harper homers in his first two at-bats, Stephen Strasburg throws seven shutout innings and newly arrived closer Rafael Soriano retires the side in order in the ninth to give the Nats a 2-0 win over the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park.

Clayton Kershaw does it all for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He shuts out the defending champion San Francisco Giants on four hits while sparking a four-run, eighth-inning rally with a leadoff home run to center—his first career blast—to give the Dodgers a 4-0 win at Chavez Ravine. Kershaw needs just 94 pitches to complete his gem; he’s the first pitcher since Bob Lemon in 1953 to throw both a shutout and homer on Opening Day.

Detroit ace Justin Verlander, winless in five previous Opening Day starts, finally notches a win as the Tigers tally early and defeat the Twins at Minnesota, 3-1. Verlander goes the minimum five innings to earn the victory but allows no runs on three hits and two walks while striking out seven. Game time temperature in Minneapolis is 35 degrees with a 17-MPH wind.

In the first-ever Opening Day interleague game as league vs. league competition starts on a continuous basis for the first time, the visiting Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outlast the Reds at Cincinnati in 13 innings, 3-1. Chris Iannetta knocks in all three runs for the Angels: One on a solo homer in the third inning, the other two on a single that ultimately wins the game in extra frames.


Tuesday, April 2
After winning big in their American League debut, the Houston Astros come crashing back down to reality in their second game—but gain consolation points by depriving Texas starter Yu Darvish of a perfect game when, with two outs in the ninth, shortstop Marwin Gonzalez fires a sharp single through Darvish’s legs and into center field. Darvish (who strikes out 14) is removed and the Rangers complete the 7-0 win.

Big expectations, big pomp, big crowd—and a lousy start for the Toronto Blue Jays, who considerably strengthened themselves during the offseason. Cleveland starter Justin Masterson pitches six strong innings and keeps the Jays from getting their highly touted offense into gear, registering a 4-1 win before a sold out crowd at Rogers Centre. R.A. Dickey, on the other hand, is mortal for the Jays—and catcher J.P. Arencibia is given a tough baptism in handling the reigning Cy Young Award winner’s kunckler, as he’s charged with three passed balls.

Mike Morse, who from 2005-08 rode the bench and served the minors for the Seattle Mariners before breaking out later with Washington, belts two home runs in his second game back with the M’s during their 7-1 trouncing of the A’s at Oakland.


Wednesday, April 3
A day after Darvish’s near-perfect game, the Rangers continue to flatten out the Astros. Alexi Ogando strikes out ten over 6.1 innings and the Texas bullpen chips in with five more, giving the Rangers 43 strikeouts through the first three games—setting the major league record previously held by the 1966 Cleveland Indians. The Rangers shut down the Astros for the second straight game, 4-0.

The Giants’ Tim Lincecum has a shaky first outing of the year in which he walks a career high-tying seven batters in just five innings, but the Dodgers’ bats can’t capitalize and notch just two unearned runs off him. The San Francisco bullpen clamps the Dodgers down the rest of the way and, backed by blasts from Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, upend Los Angeles at Chavez Ravine, 5-2.

It takes 16 innings, 15 pitchers, 11 extra base hits, five hours and 32 minutes, but the series finale between the St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix finally ends when the D-Backs’ Cliff Pennington strokes his third extra-inning hit (after going hitless in the season’s first 11 at-bats) to bring home the winning run in a 10-9 game.


Thursday, April 4
Philadelphia pitcher Cliff Lee, who probably got screwed out of more wins than any other major leaguer in 2012 (30 starts, 3.16 ERA…and just six victories), takes matters into his own hands by firing eight innings of two-hit shutout ball, silencing the Braves in Atlanta, 2-0. It’s the first loss for the Braves after a major league-record 23 straight wins with starting pitcher Kris Medlen (who goes five innings and allows both Phillie runs) on the mound.


Friday, April 5
After breezing through a three-game sweep against Miami, the Nationals face real competition in Cincinnati—and take a real beating. In fact, the 15-0 loss to the Reds is the worst for the Nats since the team moved from Montreal in 2005. Cincinnati smashes six home runs, including a pair each from Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart, to knock first-year Nat Dan Haren out of the box.

Some homecoming for Josh Hamilton. The ex-Ranger and current Angel plays the visitor at Rangers Ballpark for Texas’ home opener and gets lustily booed by Metroplex fans upset over his leaving for divisional rival Los Angeles of Anaheim—then turns the boos to cheers when he strikes out twice amid a 0-for-4 day at the plate. Craig Gentry, Hamilton’s replacement in center field, scores the winning run on a two-out, eight-inning Ian Kinsler single to give Texas a 3-2 victory. Hamilton, after the game: “I’d lie to you if I said (the booing) didn’t bother me a little bit.”

The Orioles’ Chris Davis breaks up a 5-5 tie and caps a five-run, eighth-inning rally with a grand slam to give the Orioles a 9-5 win over Minnesota in their home opener at Camden Yards. Davis ties a major league mark shared by Willie Mays, Mark McGwire and Nelson Cruz with homers in each of his first four games; his 16 RBIs through the first four shatter another record.

Barry Zito picks up where he left off from his stellar postseason performance of 2012, pitching seven shutout innings to disable the Cardinals, 1-0, in the Giants’ home opener. San Francisco becomes the first team since the 1976 Milwaukee Brewers—and the second since 1916—to not have a starting pitcher allow an earned run through the season’s first four games.


Saturday, April 6
Trailing 5-1 in the eighth inning, the Braves shoot back with three runs before back-to-back home runs by B.J. Upton and his brother Justin win the game in the ninth over the Cubs, 6-5. It’s the first time ever that a pair of brothers share in belting both a game-tying homer and the walk-off to decide a game. Chicago’s Carlos Marmol suffers the loss and is removed from the closer role afterward following his third subpar appearance to start the year.

The Phillies are facing a 1-4 start when they trail the Royals going into the bottom of the ninth, 3-1—but Kansas City closer Greg Holland walks the first three batters, recovers to strike out the next two—then serves up a double to Kevin Frandsen that clears the bases and wins the game for Philadelphia, 4-3.


Sunday, April 7
Will Middlebrooks powers three homers, two off Toronto starting pitcher R.A. Dickey, and his Boston teammates chip in with three more blasts while Jon Lester throws seven shutout innings as the Red Sox dump on the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, 13-0, to take the weekend series.

Billy Butler ties a Kansas City record by driving seven runs—four on a third-inning grand slam off Cole Hamels—as the Royals defeat the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, 9-8. The Phillies, who rallied to win the day before, score four in the ninth and have the tying and winning runs in scoring position before the Royals finally shut the door.

Everything’s peach and fuzz for the defending champion Giants, who receive their World Series rings in a glowing pregame ceremony before taking a 2-0 lead through three innings; but then starter Matt Cain, who retired the first nine St. Louis hitters, allows nine runs in the third as the Cardinals send 14 men to the plate, and the Giants end up on the losing end of a 14-3 rout.


More DH, Less 000-000-000's?
In the wake of a string of low-scoring games and shutouts (20 after the first week) to begin the season, writers and talkers within the sports world began to wonder aloud if pitching that’s grown more dominant since the peak of the steroids era will continue to trend to the point that baseball will make the designated hitter mandatory in both leagues—especially now that each league has 15 teams and there’s at least one interleague game every day in the majors.

First things first. We’re far from 1968, when baseball hit a collective .237. (Last year, it was .255.) Yes, through Friday it’s also at .237, but it must be factored in that pitchers are historically ahead of the curve in relation to hitters to start a season—and an unusually cold April has left teams in the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard playing in temperatures just above freezing. Let’s face it: Once the weather warms up, so will the hitters.

Baseball did deal with the epidemic of weak hitting in the 1960s by lowering the mound, and, ultimately, introducing the DH to the American League—40 years ago this week, in fact. The National League said no to the DH and had the power to since it was a separate entity from the AL; with both leagues today merged on a corporate level by MLB, that’s no longer the case.

It’s been rumored that the Houston Astros’ move to the AL is a prelude to full DH use in both leagues; we talked about this ourselves last year at this time. But if the hitting doesn’t improve as Spring sprouts and Summer follows, will the subject become a higher priority at MLB meetings? Hopefully not.

We like that the NL continues without the DH and prefer that style of play, since it makes the strategy of baseball much more interactive and important. We’ll never likely see the elimination of the DH from the AL; we just hope it doesn’t spread to the NL.

Rap Ballad
Robinson Cano apparently wants to stay a New York Yankee for the long term. That’s the tea leaves we read after he fired agent Scott Boras—the agent who more than any other embraces the almighty dollar and scoffs at the notion of hometown discounts—and hired a New York-area firm run by rap star Jay-Z, a good friend of his. This is bound to make future contract talks between Cano and the Yankees much friendlier, especially after Boras rejected the Yankees’ wintertime contract extension proposal on behalf of Cano.

The Yankees really can use a healthy star in his prime—they have plenty of beat-up ones past it—and Cano, like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera before him, likely envisions the idea of playing out his career in pinstripes.

Is the Writing on the PA Announcer’s Wall?
Didn’t it seem telling that Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees’ most expensive asset, was not included in the pregame roster introduction at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day?

Manny Ties One On in Taiwan
Well, it certainly didn’t lack for excitement when Manny Ramirez, perhaps trying to earn his way back to the majors, hit his first home run as a member of Taiwan’s EDA Rhinos this past week. Wearing the familiar no. 99 on a uniform that’s littered with enough sponsor logos to make a NASCAR driver blush, Ramirez smacked a 415-foot drive over the center-field wall to the enthusiastic response of the broadcaster covering the action and a packed house that resembled a frenzied throng overlooking Thunderdome. (The Super Mario-like TV graphics add some fun chutzpah to the moment as well.)

Today Long Island...Tomorrow, the World?
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck. And so it is with Vladimir Guerrero, who like Ramirez is an over-the-hill star looking for anyone to give him a job. He finally got it this week, gaining employment with the Long Island Ducks of the Independent Atlantic League, where former major leaguers go to give it one last desperate shot. The 38-year-old Guerrero has not played in the majors since a blasé stint as a DH for Baltimore in 2011 (hitting .290 with just 13 homers in 145 games).

Le Grand Return?
In our opinion piece from this winter, we suggested that the attendance-challenged Tampa Bay Rays move to Miami, where the Marlins would be sold (with sanity-challenged owner Jeffrey Loria ousted) and moved—perhaps back to Montreal, where Loria pretty much left the Expos in ruins before they were moved to Washington. Now Montreal is hoping to get back in the game. Former Expo Warren Cromartie is the face of a grass roots effort to lobby MLB into getting a team back into Canada, whether it be an expansion outfit or an existing one relocated—probably from Florida.

The Montreal Baseball Project has a $200,000 war chest at its disposal to work on gathering local political and corporate support for a retractable-roof ballpark as a starting point to bring baseball back. “We have the population, the corporate presence, the hunger by the population that misses baseball and misses talking about baseball,” Cromartie told the Boston Globe. “I look at it like a scout. Montreal is a five-tool city. We have rich baseball history. Jackie Robinson played here.”

Ah yes. When all else fails, use the Jackie card.

But the Sign Only Said No Pepper Games
Opening up a ballpark just to watch your team practice would seem like a fairly boring option to get out of the house—but the Colorado Rockies spiced it up with a fight. Stunned onlookers watched as pitchers Juan Nicasio and Edgmer Escalona locked horns and traded blows during stretching exercises. The two were separated by teammates and later brought to manager Walt Weiss to be given a talk on chemistry and togetherness. Weiss later commented on his two children: “They are actually like brothers, and brothers fight sometimes. I wish it hadn’t happened in public, but they are fine.”

Double-Secret Funny
In a new TV ad, the San Francisco Giants channeled Animal House to recall last year’s come-from-behind theatrics with clubhouse spiritual leader Hunter Pence playing John Belushi in an attempt to rally the troops. The casting is impeccable, right down to Madison Bumgarner’s priceless one-liner. Check it out here.

Two Thousand More Reasons MLB is King
Alex Ramirez became the first foreigner to collect 2,000 career hits playing in Japan when he achieved the feat this past Friday playing for the Yokohama BayStars. A two-time MVP in Japan, the 38-year-old Ramirez never hit it off in America, batting .259 with 12 home runs in 332 at-bats over three seasons split between Cleveland and Pittsburgh from 1998-2000.

Bob Turley, RIP
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the passing of former Cy Young Award winner
Bob Turley, who died at the age of 82 a few weeks back. A laid-back Midwesterner with a killer fastball, Turley was the key component of a record 17-player trade between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles after he led the AL in both strikeouts (185) and walks (181) in for the 1954 Orioles. With the Yankees, he continued to rack up both the K’s and the BB’s but also gave up few hits, four times leading AL pitchers in batting average allowed.

Turley’s career peaked in 1958 when he copped the Cy with a 21-7 record, 2.97 earned run average and AL-best 19 complete games; he also bailed out the Yankees in that year’s World Series, winning Games Five and Seven while saving Game Six within a four-day stretch to send New York back from a 3-1 game deficit to defeat Milwaukee in seven. His career went into immediately decline in the years to follow and he was done at age 33 in 1963; he prospered in retirement within the insurance industry, retiring in 2001.

Did We Really Say That?
Baltimore slugger
Chris Davis set a record this week, but not the one we were advertising in advance last week. Flat out: We screwed up.

We’re usually very meticulous and accurate when it comes to uncovering potential records on the horizon—even those that the media don’t catch on to. So when we noted last week that Davis was starting the 2013 season having homered in his last six games of 2012—and he homered in his first three this week to, in our minds, set a major league record of going deep in nine straight—we were perplexed by the utter lack of media attention afforded to him. Turns out that we were, for once in our lives, wrong. Somewhere along the way we had missed out on Davis’ actual last performance of 2012, where he went hitless in four at-bats with three strikeouts. (Davis still made news by breaking the major league mark for most RBIs over the first four games of a season, with 16.)

We also messed up on Atlanta pitcher Kris Medlen. We said last week that the Braves needed one more win with Medlen starting to break the all-time record for most consecutive victories by a team when a particular pitcher starts. Turns out, Medlen broke that record in his final start of last year; the streak was snapped this week when, in his first outing of the season against Philadelphia, he and the Braves lost 2-0.

So let us know if there’s regular or low-fat milk to choose from and pour over our crow, which we obviously have to eat. Sorry.

He Said What?
“That’ll force a guy to learn a little of the language here in America.”—Houston broadcaster
Alan Ashby after Texas’ Yu Darvish gave up two-out, ninth-inning single to the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez to ruin his bid for a perfect game. Ashby later apologized, though he didn’t seem to understand what much of the fuss was all about. Frankly, neither did a lot of other people.

This Week’s Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
With hits in each of his first five games of 2013 after doing the same for his last nine games of 2012 (before his year ended to injury on May 30),
Troy Tulowitzki ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 14 games. For all it’s worth, Tulowitzki is hitting a sparkling .400 with six homers and 18 RBIs during his run.

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekThere’s nothing worse than to get out on Opening Day…and suffer a serious injury. Ryan Ludwick can relate. The Cincinnati outfielder separated his shoulder and had to undergo surgery after sliding into third base in the Reds’ season opener against Los Angeles of Anaheim; he won’t be back in the lineup until midsummer.

Also hitting the shelf quickly to start the year was the I-can’t-believe-I’m never-healthy Brian Roberts, the Baltimore second baseman who ruptured a tendon in his knee and will miss up to four weeks; Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman (oblique, 15 days); Tampa Bay pitcher Jeff Niemann (sore shoulder, 15 days), Milwaukee third baseman Aramis Ramirez (knee sprain, 15 days), Cleveland pitcher Scott Kazmir (strained rib cage, 15 days), and Houston pitcher Alex White, who’s undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow and will miss the entire season .

TGG’s 2013 Season Preview
Lock the doors, batten down the hatches and head for the hills, because TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio are stormin’ through with their picks for the coming baseball season. Check it out now in our Opinion section!


The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.


share this page with a friendShare this page with a friend.

Have a comment, question or request? Contact us at This Great Game.

© 2016 This Great Game.