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Checkpoint one

May 1, 2010

Baseball officially passed its first checkpoint as April ended and May began. A quick look at the standings shows some surprises, but not many; I was thinking about listing the complete standings so far, but that would take far too long. So here are some of the surprises:

The Red Sox are in fourth place at 11-12, one game behind Toronto, who is even at 12-12. Both squads are surprises here. The Red Sox looked slightly weaker this offseason after losing Jason Bay and replacing him with Mike Cameron, but after signing John Lackey it looked like at least their pitching would carry them far enough each game to win. The offense has been up and down, especially with the lack of production from Victor Martinez and David Ortiz and the unavailability of Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury has clearly hurt the lineup. The Sox have shown pretty poor fundamentals at times, but all it’ll take for the team to get rolling is a few things to click and the Sox should be good to go.
The Blue Jays started off the year strong enough to surprise everyone with their expectation-defying winningness. Having traded Roy Halladay and not brought in any viable replacements, as well as doing little to upgrade their offense, the Blue Jays were picked by many to be cellar dwellers this season (I was one of the many). The team has held it together well enough to flounder around the .500 mark for the first four weeks; we’ll see how things go now that the second month has begun. The Blue Jays took their second straight from Oakland on Friday, with a refreshed and restored Vernon Wells hitting his eighth home run of the season and shortstop Alex Gonzalez hitting two of his own. This is Gonzalez’s second two-homer game of the year and he now has seven bombs on the season; to put that in perspective, Gonzalez hit eight home runs all of last year and though he had one season with 23 homers for the Marlins, he has never been known for his power.
The main reason that the Blue Jays will not end up in the basement at the end of the year is the Baltimore Orioles. While no one expected much from them going into the season, especially with the unavailability of Brian Roberts, most expected at least some kind of improvement over last season. However, their 5-4 win over Boston yesterday was only their second home win of the season and their fifth overall. Baltimore’s 5-18 record is one game worse than the 1962 Mets, who were 6-17 after their 23rd game of the season.
Whether or not you liked to think it, everyone expected the Angels and the Mariners to make things competitive in the usually lopsided AL West. Well, things aren’t so much competitive as they are even right now, as Los Angeles of Anaheim and Oakland lead the division with 12-12 records. Seattle and Texas are 0.5 games back at 11-12. The latter two teams got fantastic pitching last night, as Cliff Lee debuted for the Mariners with seven scoreless innings and Colby Lewis pitched nine shutout innings for Texas. Both received no-decisions, though, as the game went to the bullpens and Texas won 2-0 in twelve.
The Mets beat the Phils last night to push their winning streak to eight games and have now won ten of their last eleven to sit at 14-9, 1.5 up on the Phils who are 12-10. The surprise here, really, is that the Mets have been hitting as well as they have and that their pitching has been as good as it’s been. After a dismal 4-8 last-place start to the year with poor fundamentals and subpar pitching, the Mets will take their winning streak into Saturday afternoon’s matchup with Philly, pitting Major League ERA leader Mike Pelfrey against perennial pitching great Roy Halladay.
The Braves, on the other hand, have taken the Mets’ place in the basement and had lost nine in a row before their win over the Astros last night. So far the Braves, who have also been the  victims of a no-hitter this year, are not giving Bobby Cox much to enjoy about his alleged last season as a manager, and the only decent thing going for them right now is the prince of baseball, Jason Heyward, who ended April with 6 home runs and 19 RBI.
The Nationals, winners of three straight, have quietly short-hopped the Phillies and sit in second place at 13-10. There isn’t much to say here other than they are the team formerly known as the Expos, and despite a decent amount of improvements were still not expected to do much. They do have a great veteran leader in Pudge Rodriguez, though, and the biggest surprise so far this year has been closer Matt Capps, non-tendered by the Pirates over the winter, who leads the Majors with 10 saves in 10 chances.
Los Angeles has swapped places with San Diego on my champs/chumps list, as the Dodgers are in the midst of a pitiful stretch that saw them get swept by the Mets in dismal fashion and lose to the Pirates before beating Pittsburgh to avoid a horrendous start to their homestand. The Dodgers are now 9-14 and are not getting many encouraging words from general manager Ned Colletti.
The Padres are now 15-8 after beating the Brewers last night to increase their winning streak to four. If they keep it up, it looks like Adrian Gonzalez may not be traded after all; currently, Gonzalez is hitting .288 with 6 homers and 16 RBI. No one on San Diego has really outstanding numbers except Wade LeBlanc, who is 2-0 with a 0.52 ERA, but the Padres keep finding ways to win and have not really fallen off the pace at all so far.
Short hops: The White Sox have a few surprises on their squad, including Andruw Jones, who ends April with six home runs, and Paul Konerko, who leads the Majors with eleven. The White Sox are not doing much else to please Ozzie Guillen, though, and sit in fourth place, 0.5 behind Cleveland and tied with Kansas City at 9-14. … The Diamondbacks’ Kelly Johnson is surprising everyone with his revivial in Arizona, as he currently leads the NL with nine homers. Johnson hit eight all of last year. … The Brewers have now lost four in a row to slip back behind the Pirates in the NL Central. … Check out this comic featuring my least favorite ESPN reporter, Stuart Scott. I think it characterizes him quite well.
As always, if you like what you read, please keep coming back and follow the blog daily (there’s a link in the sidebar), and please pass the JOB on to friends to help me get one!
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