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TOM VERDUCCI
May 15, 2006
Despite using Barry Bonds in all but six of their first 32 games, the Giants (15-17) could not play winning baseball over the first five weeks. In the bizarre world of the National League, however, that wasn't nearly as strange as the fact that the Reds and the Rockies were in first place at week's end. Stranger still was the upside-down act of the Braves, who with last Saturday's loss to the Mets fell nine games out of first place for the first time since August 1993. Though they beat New York on Sunday, the Braves faced a steep climb to extend their run of 14 straight division titles. � After taking two of three over the weekend, David Wright (below) and the Mets had won or split 10 of 11 series, while allowing the second-fewest runs in the league. And the second-place Phillies, themselves four games ahead of Atlanta, ended the week on their first eight-game winning streak in 15 years. One fifth of the way through the season, here are the other surprising developments that rival the Braves' plight.
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May 15, 2006

In Other News ...

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STAYING POWER: Good. Among the top 10 active winners, all except Wells, who has been limited to one start this season because of a right knee injury, are healthy.

Long and Strong

They're baa-aack. After homers fell by 12.6% last year from 2004, balls are flying out of parks at a near record rate. According to Stats Inc., April home runs were up 27.5% from last year to 845 (the most in the month since 1961, excluding the height of the Steroid Era in 2000 and '01). Albert Pujols of the Cardinals set a record with 14 homers in April, and Kevin Mench of the Rangers (above) became the first righthanded hitter to homer in seven straight games.

"I don't know what, but something's going on," says Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti. "It's unusual to see home runs go up by that much." Major League Baseball said recently that it is testing the composition of baseballs for any increased liveliness. (No timetable for results was announced.) Players and executives have also speculated that the increase could be attributed to some pitchers' getting off steroids because of the tougher drug policy this season, which mandates a 50-game suspension for a first offense. (The common view among baseball people is that a pitcher losing a few miles per hour off his fastball is hurt more than a batter who loses 10 feet off his long ball.)

STAYING POWER: Excellent. The homer rate may lessen somewhat, but the jump is too big to ignore. And Pujols might make a run at the untainted single-season record: Roger Maris's 61.

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