Twenty observations from an eventful opening (cont.)
11. David Wright still looks all wrong at the plate.
Scouts say Wright appears to be bailing against right-handers. They aren't sure whether it's related to the beaning he suffered last year against Giants' hard-throwing righty Matt Cain, but Wright was flinching after that, so it can't be ruled out. Wright still looks terrific vs. left-handers (.308 vs. lefties vs. .212 vs. righties), but unfortunately for him, there aren't as many of those. Compounding Wright's early struggles is Jason Bay, who's "having so much trouble with of-speed stuff,'' according to one scout. The reports on how to pitch to Bay, said that scout say "soft, soft and softer.'' Bay's defense has been stellar, so as it turns out, he might have fit better into Boston's new defense-first scheme than they thought when they let him leave as a free agent over the winter.
12. The Pirates might be the worst 7-8 team ever.
Their run differential is a negative 55. Yet if they win tonight they'll be 8-8 and might be the most undeserving .500 team ever. In getting outscored 36-1 in a three-game sweep against Milwaukee, including 20-0 on Thursday, the Pirates didn't even look like they belonged on the same field with the Brewers, a much better team that's somehow only one game over .500 at 8-7.
13. Rickie Weeks is finally living up to his billing.
The former No. 2 draft choice overall came to camp determined to have a big season after an injury spoiled his fast start last year, and he is making the most of it. He's hitting .327 with three homers and 11 RBIs, and it looks like Brewers coach and former All-Star Willie Randolph is helping to turn him into a very good second baseman, too.
14. The defending champs aren't messing around.
At lest three Yankees came to camp in appreciably better shape -- Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher -- and two of them are off to big starts (Pettitte and Posada). The Yankees did not get fat off their first title in nine years, and rather returned with a resolve to do it again. Pettitte (2-0, 1.35) and Posada (.357, three home runs, eight RBIs) continue to contribute mightily to the World Series favorite while building possible Cooperstown cases.
15. King Felix is still amazing...
...and some of the others in Seattle's rotation sometimes look like royalty, too. The Mariners are trying to steal a winnable division with pitching and defense, and they could do it. Even with big winter pickup Cliff Lee not scheduled to make his first start until April 30, the Mariners are shining. Over three games this week, Hernandez, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas allowed two runs over 23 innings (0.78 ERA), and Hernandez now has an unthinkable 17 straight quality starts.
16. Lou Piniella didn't wait long to shake up the slumping Cubbies.
Piniella pulled a shocker by moving Carlos Zambrano and his $91-million contract to the bullpen and making him the most expensive setup man in history. The Cubs' pen has been nothing short of a disaster, and with Ted Lilly coming back, one of the starters had to make the move. Ex-reliever Ryan Dempster seemed logical, and one friend of Zambrano's called the move "asinine.'' But Zambrano, never thought to be a favorite of Piniella's, has yet to complain.
17. Jorge Cantu can do.
One of the best ever pick-ups for nothing, Cantu was once inexplicably released by the Rays. The Marlins, one of the smarter teams around, pounced a couple years back. Cantu set a record for most games with an RBI to start a year and is batting .300 with four home runs and 18 RBIs while dedicating his start to the new team that saved him from the scrap heap. Nice touch.
18. Brad Penny may actually be worth those 750 million pennies.
Everyone thought the $7.5-million deal was an obvious overpay at the time. But Penny (2-0, 1.29), under the guidance of pitching coach and noted miracle worker Dave Duncan, looks like a new man in St. Louis.
19. Barry Zito and Vernon Wells may not be busts anymore.
This pair of $126-million men may shed their tags as nine-figure busts if they keep this up. Zito (2-0, 1.86 ERA) and Wells (.364, 7 HRs, 12 RBIs) may never prove to be worth those monstrous deals, especially after both struggled mightily in the first few years after signing those contracts. But they are finally performing again at an All-Star level.
20. Shin-Soo Choo is an unheralded star.
The Indians outfielder is one of the more unheralded stars in the game. He is hitting .313 with four home runs and 13 RBIs and was a fitting winner of the first Player of the Week award in the AL.
Around the Majors
Current Rangers owner Tom Hicks and prospective owner Chuck Greenberg are still haggling over dollars. MLB issued a statement expressing hope that a deal to complete the sale of the team can still be worked out, but doubts clearly are growing at this point. Hicks, who has been pessimistic throughout, appears to remain so.
Outgoing Padres owner John Moores is seen by some as a potential buyer of the Houston Astros, whose owner, Drayton McLane, is willing to at least field offers to sell the team. Moores has moved to Houston after the divorce that caused him to sell San Diego.
Former Braves outfielder (and one-time NFL player) Brian Jordan told Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on Sirius/XM that he believes Chipper Jones needs to work harder as he gets older to avoid injuries. Seems like a reasonable idea for an injury-prone veteran.
The Rays are wise to lock up versatile star Ben Zobrist to a guaranteed three-year deal with two years worth of team options. The recent trend for team options is a major boon to the clubs.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman did a classy thing driving to Citi Field to present Xavier Nady with his World Series ring when the Cubs were in town to play the Mets.
MLB Truth & Rumors