Identifying this season's superb starts ... and the poor ones, too
Under Jim Tracy, the Rockies are finally living up to expectations
Brilliant A's GM Billy Beane headlines the list of folks who are off to bad starts
The Nats are off to a slow start in negotiations with No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg
Folks always talk about how important it is to get off to a good start. These players, managers and executives can say they're off to spectacular starts ...
1. Joe Torre, Dodgers manager: He's guided the one team in baseball that seems to have only highlights (save for Manny's suspension) and solidified his Hall of Fame legacy. The Dodgers have more than survived the Man-Ram's absence. Also, Torre has sold a helluva lot of Yankee Years books. And he will, of course, get that extension he says he's not sure he wants.
2. Jim Tracy, Rockies manager: He always seemed to me like something of a cornball. Shows you how much I know. Given the interim job, the Rockies have transformed into everything everyone thought they'd be, and actually a lot more than most. They won a ridiculous 17 of 18 and nine straight on the road before Tuesday night's 4-3 defeat to the Angels. The key, according to one Rockies insider, is spelling out roles. His own role may become a permanent one after this. Special mention to Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, whose acquisitions of Jason Marquis and Huston Street on a shoestring look very prescient now. If they fall out of it, both pitchers will have strong trade value, especially Street.
3. Juan Pierre, Dodgers fill-in: Among all the great things to go right for the Dodgers, Pierre's re-emergence has to bring the greatest personal satisfaction. Seemingly written off as an irrelevant backup, he's hit nearly as well as the Man-Ram, at least in terms of batting average. Pierre's hitting an unaided .329 to Manny's .348.
4. Zack Greinke, Royals starter: Everyone seems worried about him now that his ERA is all the way up to 1.90 (to go with his 9-3 record). He's still one of the two best under-25 pitchers in the game (Tim Lincecum's the other). And he got us to talk about Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968, at least for a little while
5. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks outfielder: This 21-year-old star has burst onto an otherwise dreary Diamondbacks scene and shown why he was taken No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft, perhaps the best draft ever. He's hitting .324 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs, batting .520 over the past six games. Unfortunately for Arizona, it's not rubbing off on his teammates.
6. Nick Green, Red Sox fill-in shortstop: Longtime backup and journeyman finally got his chance in Boston, and he's made the most of it. With the pressure of playing in a pressure cooker, even after reports surfaced that the team was seeking outside help, Green has thrived and almost made folks forget about Julio Lugo. The walkoff home run against the Braves was just the topper. Batting .293 with four home runs and 25 RBIs overall.
7. Albert Pujols, Cardinals superstar: Even by his ridiculous standards, he's having an absurd season. Pujols is on pace to set highs in all power categories after a big weekend back in his hometown of Kansas City. His OPS is a sick 1.159 now, and he leads the majors in home runs (26) and RBIs (70).
8. Cito Gaston, Blue Jays manager: He's helped combat injuries that decimated their pitching staff -- leaving him with four rookies -- and done it in the best division in baseball. Somehow, they are 39-33 and tied with the Yankees for second place in the tough AL East. Special mention to GM J.P. Ricciardi, who appears to have gathered more talent than anyone's given him credit for.
9. Mike Weiner, incoming players' union chief: He's about to get the job he's been doing anyway. The reputation is that he'll fight hard without creating the acrimony between players and owners we've had over most of the past quarter century.
10. Marco Scutaro, Blue Jays surprise: Bit player having a big year. He's second in the AL in runs, and recently made the Phillies' vaunted DP combo look foolish by taking second on a walk when they weren't looking.
11. Jim Leyland, Tigers manager: Tigers officials practically laughed off his attempt at a contract extension at the end of last year. But they jumped into a new two-year deal for Leyland in recent days, as he has his hot Tigers in first place with five straight wins and a four-game lead in what's always been thought to be a wide-open AL Central. That's lifted the spirits of the beleaguered state.
And some great baseball people not off to such great starts ...
1. Billy Beane, A's GM: The legendary Beane, who is one of the smartest people in baseball, followed owner Lew Wolff's directive to go for it this year, and it sure doesn't look like the A's are going to make it. Matt Holliday looks like prime trade bait now, but with teams still concerned about the economy, not many will be anxious to take the remainder of his $12.5 million contract. On top of that, the Moneyball script apparently stunk, and the whole thing may end up on the cutting room floor. That means no Brad Pitt.
2. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers superstar: He may have been cheered as an Albuquerque Isotope Tuesday night, but he's tainted now thanks to the test he failed, just like all the rest.
3. New York managers: Things were going great for Yankees manager Joe Girardi, with multiple pie-in-the-face moments for the Yankees' $200 million fun bunch, but the team hit the skids in the NL portion of its schedule (five defeats in seven games vs. the Nats, Marlins and Braves). Reports of a rift with A-Rod seem unfounded, or overblown at least. But nothing matters if Girardi doesn't make it to the playoffs a second straight season. Mets manager Jerry Manuel has been about the unluckiest manager in terms of injuries. And while the team has hung in the race (only three behind Philly despite the loss of Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, J.J. Putz, John Maine and now Carlos Beltran), he's getting criticized by Mets fans for his use of the bullpen. Or in a couple cases, overuse.
4. Chris Young, Diamondbacks outfielder: Just when he started to get his act together, going 4 for 4 vs. Kansas City and bringing his average up to .204 (marking the first time it's been above .200 since April 29), Young grabs his groin running into third base on a triple.
5. Don Fehr, outgoing players' union chief: After a mostly spectacular quarter century leading the players union, and overseeing player salaries rise about 10-fold, much of the talk as he retires is about steroids and how he either didn't grasp what was going on or didn't want to. According to one GM, several agents seem thrilled with Monday's change to Weiner.
6. Most 2007 LCS managers: Clint Hurdle is gone from Colorado and Bob Melvin is out of Arizona. Cleveland's Eric Wedge is having a rough time in Cleveland, with some folks getting antsy (but apparently not his boss, GM Mark Shapiro). Terry Francona of the '07 champion Red Sox is the only one of the four managers really rolling along.
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