Five Up, Five Down
Gary Matthews Jr. is hot, the world champions are not
Posted: Thursday April 5, 2007 1:55PM; Updated: Thursday April 5, 2007 4:15PM
1. Gary Matthews Jr.: Following last year's breakout campaign, Matthews Jr.'s offseason didn't go quite the way he had planned ... It started off nice -- $50 mill nice. But the joy of a salary bump must have been soured by the ensuing response from the masses -- a disapproving (and deafening) cry of "one-year wonder." Public displeasure increased exponentially in February, when Matthews' name came up on an HGH customer list of an FBI-raided pharmacy. After two weeks of silence -- which only served to further enrage everyone, including Angels owner Arte Moreno -- Matthews Jr. denied ever taking steroids.
The investigation of the pharmacy has continued, but it has been reported that Matthews Jr. isn't a legal target. Regardless, Matthews Jr. entered the season under a wee bit of strain. But after watching his first three games in an Angels uniform, you certainly wouldn't know it. Granted, we're looking at a miniscule sample size, but in less than a week, Matthews Jr. has infused a stagnant Angels offense with a top-notch leadoff bat to complement Vlad the Impaler and made three highlight-reel grabs in the outfield. He instantly won over Angels faithful, who have given him multiple standing ovations for his efforts. And his stellar play hasn't gone unnoticed by teammates, especially pitchers. After one of Matthews Jr.'s spectacular catches ended an inning, a juiced-up John Lackey could be seen mouthing "That's why we got him" as he walked off the field.
2. Cole Hamels' first start: Just in case you were under the grand misconception that spring training stats actually meant something ... Phillies lefty Hamels struggled through a horrendous exhibition season. The phenom posted a 6.10 ERA and gave up a nine homers, the highest total of any pitcher in spring training. After his final start, in which he gave up four gopher balls, Hamels made a keen observation: "I don't know how many people have given up this many home runs and made the team."
In his first regular-season start against Atlanta, though, Hamels looked absolutely brilliant, tossing seven innings of shutout ball, while fanning eight and walking one. But he didn't earn the W because Tom Gordon gave up a game-tying homer to Brian McCann in the ninth. What were Flash's stats in spring training? 1.04 ERA, zero home runs. Riddle me that.
3. King Felix's command: The youngest opening-day starter since Doc Gooden in 1985 put on quite a show against the A's. Felix Hernandez embarrassed Oakland hitters with a foray of pitches that included a live heater and knee-buckling breaking ball. But most importantly, he kept the ball down. Over eight shutout innings, Hernandez compiled 12 strikeouts and 12 groundouts --- no fly outs. Keep the ball down and you'll keep the ball in the park. This kid's catching on.
4. Chorizo's return!: Sure, Ben Sheets' complete-game two-hitter was nice, but Opening Day marked the return to prominence of a much more integral piece to the Brewers franchise: Chorizo! You see, Chorizo burst on the seen last July during Klement's Sausage Race on Cerveceros Day. Although he finished second, Chorizo was immediately met with unbridled enthusiasm, as evidenced by this video. The MLB has strict rules about introducing new mascots, though, so after one race, Chorizo was cooked, creating quite the uproar in Milwaukee. In the offseason, Brew Crew officials fought the man and earned Chorizo a starting spot for all 81 regular-season home games. Although the spicey sausage finished third on Opening Day, his presence alone lifted spirits throughout Wisconsin.
5. John Kerry: Have no fear, Sen. John Kerry is here! Under pressure from the former presidential candidate, MLB struck a deal to keep the "Extra Innings" package on cable. No more MLB.TV games on a five-inch laptop window! (Adios, "buffering!!!")
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