Spring is officially here. Hot dogs are sizzling on a smoky ballpark grill, catcher’s mitts are popping with every crisp fastball, the Cubs are 3.5 games back in the NL Central when only five games have been played, and all is right with the world.
The 2012 baseball season’s debut week has already been ripe with action in both leagues – the AL West and AL East in particular.
Cuban-defect turned Oakland center fielder, Yoenis Cespedes, signed a massive contract over the offseason to improve upon an Athletics’ offense that was 24th in the league in average, hits, and home runs last year. So far in 2012, Cespedes has not improved upon the average, but leads the league in strikeouts (11) and ties for the league lead in home runs (three).
Time will tell if the strikeouts are growing pains; Cespedes has been called a five-tool player, and Oakland will need all five of them to compete with the Rangers and the Angels.
The Rangers and the Angels have two big contract signings themselves: 25 year old Japanese starter Yu Darvish for Texas, and Albert Pujols for Los Angeles.
Darvish went five and two-thirds innings in his first start and gave up five earned, but he also settled in after a forty-plus pitch first inning. If Darvish struggles from inconsistency like so many Rangers starters in the past, Texas will not be able to fill the void in their rotation left by now-Angel C.J. Wilson.
I’m inclined to think Yu’s resiliency is a good sign, but the Ballpark in Arlington is also a hitter’s park. If Yu can’t keep his pitches out of the bleachers, he will be relying on his powerful Texas offense more often than not.
Pujols was the big story over the offseason, but his stat line (.222/1 R/2 RBI) is nowhere close to where the Angels want it. Keep in mind that his whole month of April in 2011 was also weak, but he still ended up hitting .299 with 37 home runs. This is a temporary slump; Los Angeles is far too stacked for Albert not to succeed.
As an objective journalist, I cannot pick favorites or grudges against any team; however, I won’t pretend that seeing the Yankees at the bottom of their division, even in the first week of the season, makes me smile a little bit.
New York’s pitching staff is 25th in the majors in batting average against (.271), so it is no wonder that they haven’t done very well so far. Yankee Stadium seems as shallow as a Little League park so rotational problems are likely to persist, but a streaking Derek Jeter (.370) and an unseasonably consistent Brett Gardner (.353) at the plate complement the rest of their deep lineup. Sorry, Boston – the Yankees are still talented.
But Boston does not have much hope to contend with New York regardless. They’re dead last in earned run average as a team (6.40) and they have given up the second-most hits; Red Sox nation might be in trouble this year with Jonathan Papelbon off to the Phillies, Daniel Bard giving up five runs in five innings, and Clay Buchholz giving up seven earned in four innings. Neither of these two starters had a good spring training either, so this looks to be a recurring issue.
As for Boston’s disabled list? Reliever Andrew Bailey, a big offseason pickup, is due back around the All-Star break. Starter Chris Carpenter is on the 60-day DL. Outfielder Carl Crawford is gone until late April. Starter John Lackey is not back until next year from Tommy John surgery. Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka returns during June at earliest from elbow surgery. Reliever Bobby Jenks had back surgery and will not resume playing until July.
The Red Sox have too many holes; they had better pray for some good prospects to come through.
Highlight of next week:
The Marlins are without skipper Ozzie Guillen for three more games due to comments about Fidel Castro, missing a series with the Astros. Time to see if the team can stand up to scrutiny without their manager by winning a series against a team they should beat.