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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.
Retooled Red Machine
Not since its wire-to-wire championship season of 1990, and only four times since 1901, has Cincinnati gotten off to a better start than its 20-10 mark this season. Such success was wholly unexpected for a club that hasn't had a winning record since 2000 and made minimal personnel upgrades over the winter.
Though star centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. has missed all but eight games with a knee injury, the Reds have been energized by low-wattage acquisitions: third baseman Edwin Encarnacion (part of the 2001 Rob Bell deal with the Rangers), second baseman Brandon Phillips (acquired on April 7 after the Indians designated him for assignment), righthander Aaron Harang (picked up from the A's in a midseason 2003 trade for outfielder Jose Guillen) and righthander Bronson Arroyo (acquired from the Red Sox on March 20 for outfielder Wily Mo Pe�a). Encarnacion (above) and Phillips had combined for 49 RBIs at week's end, while Arroyo and Harang were 10-2.
Says shortstop Felipe Lopez of Arroyo, "He's meant a lot to us. He's been on a winning team. He has a lot of experience in the postseason, and we're feeding off of that."
STAYING POWER: Minimal. The Reds can hit with any team in the NL, but their pitching, which had given up the most homers in the league at week's end (44), won't hold up.
Like the Reds, the Tigers are a proud franchise that quickly squandered the feel-good boost of a new ballpark while extending a long streak of losing seasons (a club-record 12 straight and counting). But under the attitude-adjusting style of new manager Jim Leyland, Detroit (20-12, 2 1/2 games behind the White Sox) has played like a team that expects to win.
First baseman Chris Shelton might have gained early attention for his nine home runs in his first 13 games, but pitching is at the heart of the team's revival. The staff is much deeper than last year's, which finished eighth in the AL in ERA, because of the additions of free agent Kenny Rogers and hard-throwing rookies Justin Verlander, a starter, and Joel Zumaya (above), a reliever. Veteran lefty Mike Maroth, 28, ranked third in ERA through Sunday at 2.55, far below his career mark of 4.82.
The Tigers became only the fifth AL team since 1990 to allow 100 runs or fewer in its first 30 games, following in the footsteps of the 2005 world champion White Sox. Says the 61-year-old Leyland of his staff's consistency, "It's a little mind-boggling, to be honest."