The Week That Was in Baseball: April 26-May 2, 2010
Baseball: Arizona's Collateral Damage Ten Pitchers Who Surprised in April
Just What the Dodgers Need: Another Soap Opera
Is Trevor Hoffman Washed Up?

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Immigrant Song and Dance
Baseball has, unfortunately, become unwillingly caught up in the hysterical firestorm that has erupted over Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration bill, recently approved by the state legislature. There are concerns that young Latino prospects involved in Arizona’s rookie leagues with little or no command of the English language will be unfairly targeted. Understanding of such scenarios, the Major League Baseball Players Association has officially condemned the law; elsewhere, protesters picketed Chicago’s Wrigley Field, where the Diamondbacks were visiting the Cubs, and there were sweeping calls for MLB to pull the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix.

We usually steer clear of politics unless it bluntly applies to baseball, but all too unfortunately, the sport has been sucked into the controversy. Hence, it must be said: As badly flawed as the Arizona law (officially titled SB 1070) is, it never would have been needed had the rest of the nation not turned its back and long ignored a growing and, nowadays, almost irreversible problem, whether people want to hear it or not. At least Arizona’s attempting to do something about it.

Trouble in Tinseltown
The Los Angeles Dodgers are hitting the ball well—or at least they were before Manny Ramirez went on the disabled list and kicked in some kind of negative chain reaction throughout the batting order—but one thing they haven’t done particularly well all season is win. That frustration publicly boiled over this past week when Dodger general manager Ned Colletti went on KABC radio and claimed the team was overconfident, that “some guys…think they’re better than they are.” In particular, Colletti called out one player, outfielder Matt Kemp, saying that his baserunning and defense was “below average.”

Nothing cures cold hitting, losing and internal turmoil more than the sadsack Pittsburgh Pirates, who came to Los Angeles this past weekend and helped the Dodgers shake their losing ways, but the bigger problem remains with a Dodger front office that, if reflective of Colletti’s opinions, is in denial. After all, how can the Dodgers be any better when a family feud (the McCourt divorce) at the top of the totem pole has stunted spending to the point that the team payroll is less than Minnesota’s, and the starting rotation currently boasts names like Carlos Monasterios, Charlie Haeger and John Ely?

Ryan's Dope
The potentially crowded field of free agent superstar first basemen for 2012 thinned out this past week when big Ryan Howard signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Philadelphia Phillies. This still leaves Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Lance Berkman as prime candidates at the Hot Shot Corner for the free market after the 2011 season—provided that they, too, don’t get contract extensions before then. The St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols’ incumbent, probably wished that Atlanta manager Bobby Cox had muzzled himself when he publicly stated that Pujols was twice as good as any player in the game—and thus should get double ($50 million per year) what Howard would earn. The Cardinals are certainly hoping that Pujols will at least have twice the hustle on the basepaths as Howard, who celebrated his first game after agreeing to the extension by lazily trotting into second base at San Francisco on what he thought would be an easy double—only to be tagged out after a quick rebound and throw from Giant outfielder Nate Schierholtz.

The Ails of Hoffman
Can Trevor Hoffman, with 594 career saves, make it to 600 before he runs out of gas? It’s looking pretty iffy for the 42-year old King of the Saves, who suffered consecutive blown save opportunities against the Pittsburgh Pirates—yes, the Pirates—this past week, ending a long stretch of 22 straight losses endured by the Bad News Bucs at Milwaukee, and increasing Hoffman’s blown save count on the year to four—matching his entire total for 2009. Even in two of the four saves he’s earned so far in 2010, Hoffman has allowed a run, and opponents have already hit five home runs off him.

Keeping the Pitcher Guessing, Too
Milwaukee catcher Gregg Zaun might have been doing what he could to keep from visibly shaking his head while teammate Hoffman struggled, but he had his own embarrassing flaws to cover. In the first inning of Tuesday’s game against the Pirates, Zaun caught a pitch from starter Yovani Gallardo and threw wildly past him on the return throw. He did it again after the next pitch—and again on the pitch after that. Somewhere, Chuck Knoblauch must have been suffering nightmarish flashbacks watching the highlights.

We Like Ike
Could the New York Mets have found the answer to all their troubles of recent times? The team started the year almost on cue, stumbling about amid a rash of injuries and rumors of manager Jerry Manuel’s imminent firing. Then a highly touted prospect by the name of Ike Davis showed up, with the New York press playing up his arrival as the Second Coming. We thought it was overzealous, too, but here’s the shocking truth: The Mets won ten of their first 12 games with Davis (batting .306) on the roster.

Growing Up Quick
Last week we mentioned that Detroit rookie center fielder Austin Jackson, as well as he’s been hitting the ball to start the season, has otherwise been a strikeout machine—leading the majors in whiffs and setting a record for the most consecutive games with a strikeout to start a career (at 19). Jackson’s streak finally came to an end on Tuesday at home against Minnesota when he avoided strike three. Apparently, Jackson is a quick study; all those games with at least one strikeout, he went four straight without one.

Virtually Just Short
The San Diego Padres are one of three teams in the majors without ever having a pitcher throw a no-hitter (the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays are the other two), and even their relievers fall just short of a virtual no-no. Luke Gregerson gave up a two-out hit to the Marlins’ Gaby Sanchez in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game at Miami, ending a club-record in which he had retired 26 consecutive batters—or, just one shy of a what would have been a perfect game had he carried the streak over one game.

Wounded of the Week
It happens at least once every year in the majors. Player gets upset, storms into the clubhouse, takes his anger out on inanimate object…and loses. The first to wear the dunce cap of pain this season is Philadelphia fill-in closer Ryan Madson, so angered by a poor performance this past week against the Giants that he took it out on a folded chair in the tunnel to the clubhouse. Result: Broken toe and a trip to disabled list.

Making the Ouch Couch in more honorable ways this past week were two Colorado starting pitchers (Jorge de la Rosa and Jason Hammel), rising Texas slugger Nelson Cruz, New York Yankee center fielder Curtis Granderson and St. Louis infielder Felipe Lopez, on the shelf with a bad elbow sustained while working emergency pitching for the Cardinals in their 20-inning marathon against the Mets on April 17.

Now Playing at TGG
TGG's Eric Gouldsberry lets us in on the best way for MLB to use comprehensive video replay in the latest Opinion installment.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.

Ten Pitchers Who Shook the World (in April)
While hitters we expect to do well are doing so with few surprises mixed in, we’ve been taken aback by the number of journeyman pitchers making a successful impact early in 2010. Granted, it is early—pitchers have a tendency to make a u-turn in the wrong direction at any moment—but these April achievements certainly merit more than mere applause:

Matt Capps. It was hard to believe that a full-time closer like Capps could blow five saves through a season and still lag with a wretched 5.80 ERA, as he did for Pittsburgh in 2009. Jettisoned to Washington, Capps has been a big reason the Nationals are off to an unexpectedly great start, converting all ten of his save opps so far with a 0.68 ERA.

Doug Fister. The sophomore Seattle hurler had an April WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) of 0.93 to go with a stellar 1.67 ERA—but more surprisingly, he’s allowed no home runs this year after giving up 11 in just 61 innings last season.

Livan Hernandez. The old pro from Cuba had to all but beg for a major league job this year, but his third tour of duty with Washington may be his most unexpectedly sweetest yet, allowing three earned runs in just 31 innings while throwing his first shutout since 2004—way back when the Nats were the Montreal Expos.

Colby Lewis. After struggling through his first five years in the majors with three teams and a 6.70 ERA, Lewis headed to the Orient for two years where he must have received tough sage from the baseball equivalent of king fu master Pai Mei from the Kill Bill saga. The change has been startling; Lewis is 3-0 for Texas after five starts with a 2.76 ERA and 38 strikeouts (against just 13 walks) in 32.2 innings.

Francisco Liriano. The Minnesota lefty who blazed upon the scene in 2006—only to fall quickly to Tommy John surgery—has finally got his Mojo back. He finished April with 23 straight innings of scoreless pitching and is striking out opponents at a high rate—without all the walks.

Carlos Silva. The Mariners must be thinking: Where was this guy for the last two years? The Cubs definitely have a different Silva (2-0, 1.73 ERA, 0.77 WHIP) then the guy who was 5-18 with a 6.81 ERA over two miserable, injury-scarred years at Seattle.

Mitch Talbot. Projected to be a pushover in a weak Cleveland rotation, Talbot has instead marveled with a 3-1 record and 2.05 ERA, including a complete-game performance against Texas on April 16. Not bad for a guy whose previous major league experience consisted of three ugly appearances for Tampa Bay in 2008 (11.17 ERA, 11 walks in 9.2 innings).

Dontrelle Willis. The former All-Star southpaw hasn’t been exactly setting the league on fire, but he’s been in control—and that’s good enough for the Tigers, who suffered to watch him bomb over the last two years with 1-6 record, 8.27 ERA and 63 walks in 57.2 innings.

C.J. Wilson. After five years as a mostly inconsistent reliever, Wilson has moved into the Texas rotation and become another bright surprise on the mound for the Rangers, going 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA in April.

Barry Zito. A typically slow starter—over the last two years, he’s 2-14 in April and May—Zito has got it together out of the gate this season, winning in four of his five starts (he should have won the fifth as well) while limiting opponents to a .167 batting average. Suddenly, Giants fans are okay with that mega-contract.

FYI For Midsummer Classic Attendees
MLB this past week instituted a number of changes to the All-Star Game that leaves you not so much wondering who will be participating, but who won’t. So many players will ultimately be included with the new rules, it may be an insult to those who don’t get selected. Among the changes: An increase in the roster to 34 players from 32; the likelihood of more players beyond that new figure as starting pitchers who throw the Sunday before the All-Star Game (played on a Tuesday) will not be allowed to play; a designated hitter will be used by both teams, regardless of whether the game is played in an American or National League park; and one player will be allowed to re-enter the game if the roster has been exhausted of all other players.

Most of these changes, suggested by MLB’s blue ribbon committee this past winter, make sense. Starting pitchers performing on one day’s rest was sensibly considered by some to be hazardous, even if they were only to throw one or two innings; the lack of a DH in NL ballparks unfairly put the bat in the hands of AL pitchers who haven’t been practicing the craft (and besides, who comes to an All-Star game to see the pitcher hit?); and the re-entry player takes the stress off a manager who feels obligated to get everyone in the game without the fear of running dry should the game go extra innings—though, we wonder if it would have made more sense to up the re-entry count to as many as three players, with a pitcher or two vitally included.

Trivia Question
When was the last time a player was allowed to re-enter a major league game? See the bottom of this column for the answer.

A W For Ian
Ian Kennedy got the victory in his first major league appearance on September 1, 2007 for the New York Yankees against Tampa Bay—then was winless in 15 starts since until this past Thursday, when he delivered eight innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks and got supported very well in a 13-5 rout of the Cubs at Chicago. Kennedy had been 0-4 in those previous 15 outings.

Keeping Them in the Park
When prized Atlanta rookie Jason Hayward homered against the Cardinals at St. Louis on Thursday, it was the first long ball hit by a Cardinal opponent at Busch Stadium in 98 innings this season. It’s the longest such streak to start a season since 1972 when the Chicago White Sox also went 98 innings without allowing a home run at home.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Ryan Theriot of the Chicago Cubs finishes this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak, at 12 games. In all but two of the games during the streak, Theriot has had two or more hits; he’s hitting a blistering .482 during his run.

TGG's Predictions For the 2010 Regular Season
Our annual, detailed preview of all major league teams is now live. Will the Yankees and Phillies repeat? Can the Rockies carry on the momentum? Just how much better are the Mariners? And do the Pirates, Padres, Nationals and Royals have any chance at all? Check out who we think will rise, fall, stabilize and collapse in 2010.

Trivia Answer
According to retrosheet.org, the last time a major leaguer re-appeared in a game came on August 10, 1952, when Pittsburgh’s Eddie Fitzgerald was allowed to re-enter after fellow Pirate catcher Clyde McCullough was injured and the team’s other catcher, Joe Garagiola, had already been used as well. Phil Cavarretta, manager of the opposing Chicago Cubs, allowed the move to be made.