Four Corners: What has been the biggest early surprise in baseball?

April 20, 2010

Twins plug in, plug away

Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune

A lot of baseball experts were going to pick the Twins to win the AL Central but looked elsewhere when closer Joe Nathan left Florida for season-ending surgery on his right elbow.

Fox's Ken Rosenthal went so far as to pick the White Sox not only to seize the chance to win the division, but also to win the World Series. Oops.

The Central team that looks capable of winning the Series is the Twins, who are showing that Nathan is replaceable. Jon Rauch, previously considered a not-ready-for-prime-time pitcher, has gone 6-for-6 in save situations as the Twins won their first four series. Three of those saves came when he was nailing down a one-run lead.

The Twins probably shouldn't be seen as a surprise, given a 50 percent payroll increase to bolster their standing as perennial division favorites. But no team is underestimated more regularly, and Nathan's injury made it easy to do that in 2010.

progers@tribune.com


Bad starts in Boston

Mandy Housenick, The Morning Call

Two weeks into the season, the once-feared Red Sox rotation is struggling, and that's the biggest reason Boston is 4-9 and in fourth place in the AL East.

The starting pitchers are 3-5 with a 5.18 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting better than .285 against them, and they have a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) higher than 1.53.

John Lackey was the latest victim when the Rays tagged him Monday for eight earned runs on nine hits and one walk in 3 1/3 innings. His WHIP soared to 1.63.

While the Red Sox bullpen has a more respectable 3.60 ERA, it has lost four games. All told, Boston pitchers have a 4.58 ERA, third-worst in the American League. That's not going to cut it.

ahousenick@tribune.com


O's lows hard to digest

Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun

Though I doubt anyone would be surprised that the Orioles are not doing well -- considering they've run off 12 straight losing seasons -- it's fair to say one of the biggest surprises of the early weeks of the season was their complete collapse out of the gate. It's almost impossible to be as bad as they were for the first two weeks, losing 11 of their first 12 games and putting up one stat that boggles the mind.

A few days ago the Orioles were 1-for-40 with runners in scoring position and two outs. That's hard to do. You probably could send 40 major league hitters to the plate blindfolded and get two hits. Combine that with a rash of blown saves and injuries to leadoff man Brian Roberts, closer Michael Gonzales and third baseman Miguel Tejada, and you have the worst Orioles start since the infamous 0-21 start in 1988.

This team was supposed to be an improvement on 2009. Right now, it looks like a train wreck.

pschmuck@tribune.com


Red Sox need a U-turn

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times

The complete list of teams with a worse record than the Red Sox as of Monday afternoon: the Orioles and Astros. That's it.

You have to count on better from pitchers Jon Lester (0-2, 8.44 ERA) and John Lackey (1-1, 5.63). But for the Red Sox to avoid their first losing season since 1997, they'll need more than a few offensive turnarounds.

The slow start has revived the "Is David Ortiz done?" debate, and his statistics -- .158 batting average, .289 slugging percentage, 15 strikeouts in 38 at-bats -- are not encouraging. But he is not alone: J.D. Drew is batting .146, Kevin Youkilis .217, and catcher Victor Martinez -- whose poor defense sets up opposing teams to run wild on the Red Sox -- .212 with one home run.

wshaikin@tribune.com

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