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Posted: Friday May 22, 2009 12:43PM; Updated: Monday May 25, 2009 2:20AM
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Cubs, Brewers look like best hopes to get Peavy deal done (cont.)

Tigers are the surprise of the league yet again

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The Tigers have to be baseball's most unpredictable team. Last year everyone loved them, and they bombed, finishing last. This year, nobody expected anything, and they are leading the AL Central.

What's more, their supposedly iffy pitching has often been dominating, with a 3.99 ERA (third best in the AL). They came into the season relying on an underachieving ace (Justin Verlander) and a 20-year-old (Rick Porcello), while hoping for the best from a lost former star (Dontrelle Willis). Yet it's all working now. Willis provided inspiration when he pitched superbly in his second game back. And if he can keep it going, the Tigers' pitching may be as good as anyone's.

The resurgence of Verlander (4-2, 3.99) is vital. He had gained a rep for pigheadedness in his clubhouse but seems to have rediscovered his third pitch while curtailing his propensity to overthrow. Now that he's at his best he's living at 93-95 mph while saving the hard stuff for crucial times. Asked whether Verlander has matured, GM Dave Dombrowski said, "It looks like it ... he's pitching rather than throwing.''

Porcello (4-3, 3.86), whom no less than David Cone predicted great things for, is tied for the team lead in victories just two years out of Seton Hall (N.J.) Prep.

Edwin Jackson (4-2, 2.55), whom Dombrowski acquired in a great trade for spare outfielder Matt Joyce, has thrived in spacious Comerica National Park. But Willis is the biggest story. He allowed only one hit, and even better, two walks, in 6 1/3 innings in the win over Texas.

Willis couldn't throw strikes at all last year, then began this one on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder, and he has spent more time lately with doctors than pitching coaches. "They told me he'd have results,'' Dombrowski said. "He's not over the hump yet, though.''

It's still a nice story in a city that needs more of them.

Around the majors

Mark DeRosa's versatility should draw decent trade interest, perhaps from the Mets and a few others. Some took issue with my calling DeRosa a "poor man's Casey Blake'' in the last Daily Scoop, citing DeRosa's better numbers. However, Blake is playing in a pitchers park (Dodger Stadium), has had way more big hits and has at least one position at which he is major league average (third base). Still, DeRosa's ability to hit and play almost anywhere is a selling point.

• There's no indication that Indians star Victor Martinez is or will be available. But if he is, the Red Sox will be at the front of the line.

• As to whether David Ortiz may be nearing the end (he finally hit a home run on Wednesday), one scout said that while Ortiz looked bad to him, "You never know. [Carlos] Delgado turned it around.''

• Among the teams that say they cannot add payroll ... the Indians and Yankees (yes, that's what they say -- well, at least until they need someone).

• One AL executive said he believes that Pedro Martinez would sign for $3 million plus incentives now. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Bill Chuck (from the Bill Chuck Files) notes that if Martinez doesn't pitch again, he'll finish with 99 losses (which doesn't look bad going with his 214 wins), and that he's one of 11 all-time with 99 defeats, including Andy Messersmith, Ross Grimsley and Ralph Terry. B.C. also notes that while Jason Kendall became the 253rd player to have 2,000 hits, he's only the eighth catcher. The others are Pudge, Ted Simmons, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza and Gary Carter. Also from B.C.: With renewed interest in stealing home, only two players have stolen home at least 10 times since Jackie Robinson retired -- Rod Carew and Paul Molitor, who each had exactly 10. My own note: Perhaps that's the quickest way to get to the Hall of Fame, as both are Cooperstown inductees.

Scott Kazmir "doesn't look healthy,'' one exec says. Instead of throwing 95 with a power slider, he's throwing 90 with a limp slider.

• Got to give it up for the Astros' LaTroy Hawkins, who was released last year and this year plays in the WBC and becomes a closer (at least in Jose Valverde's absence).

• The Mets have to be the most optimistic crew ever. Jose Reyes isn't on the disabled list and is considered day-to-day (though don't expect him in there tonight). In any case the Mets will still need to acquire a defensive shortstop since Alex Cora is also out and Ramon Martinez's time has passed.

• Glad to see Mets manager Jerry Manuel taking my advice and trying Daniel Murphy at first base in Carlos Delgado's absence. (Of course other Mets people probably noticed that it was odd to have Murphy, an infielder, struggling in left field, especially when outfielder Jeremy Reed was occasionally being used at first base.) The almost-always-candid Manuel didn't exactly sound confident when he declared, "I'm scared to death,'' upon putting Murphy at first base. While his footwork needs work, Murphy made three nice plays at first in his first game there after making almost no nice plays in left.

• Sure, the Yankees are beating up on teams they usually beat (Twins and Orioles), but they are also playing beautiful fundamental baseball. Manager Joe Girardi takes a lot of heat, so this must be noted, as well.

Brian Bruney, who's throwing 96 mph, is back as the eighth-inning guy for the Yankees, a big plus. I have admiration for Bruney because he's a rare person to have taken off 30 pounds and kept them off. He was inspired by a poor season a few years back.

• The Rangers would listen to offers for Hank Blalock, since they have plenty of hitters (Andruw Jones, Max Ramirez, Justin Smoak). They would want relief in return.

• Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has to get the credit for turning Jones around. Jaramillo worked with Jeff Francoeur this winter, but he seems to be falling back into his bad pattern.

• Bad news for the rest of the American League. Boston's John Smoltz has been activated to begin his rehab.

Adam Wainwright is underrated. As are many St. Louis Cardinals.

• The greening of shortstop. Both Cardinals shortstops are named Greene (you'd think a shortstop would want to lose the "E,'' however), Khalil and Tyler.

• Nice touch for the Padres to acquire Tony Gwynn Jr., who got to San Diego in time to participate in a game-winning rally. Not a bad publicity ploy, too, at a time that they're trying to trade Peavy.

Trevor Hoffman (11 for 11 after saving one on Thursday) may have been the best winter pickup.

• Condolences to Scott Schoeneweis, a great battler who's been through too much in his young life and lost his wife Gabrielle, 39, this week. Schoeneweis, who overcame testicular cancer while a star at Duke, issued a statement, which read in part: "On behalf of my and Gabrielle's entire family, I want to express my deepest appreciation for the prayers and support of my current and former teammates, front office and team personnel and dear friends, both inside and outside of the baseball community.''

• I have located Sonya Keller, a Cubs fan, great all-around person and winner of a valuable (actually token) prize for being my 2,500th Twitter follower. I will award other great (actually token) prizes in the future. If you'd like to follow along, and help me catch Twitter king Nick Swisher (actually no chance of that), I'm at si_jonheyman.

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