- The Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers currently have the best record in all of baseball at 9-2. Don Mattingly is pushing all the right buttons, Dee Gordon has provided excitement, the clubhouse is loose, and every bounce is going right. (Did you see that triple play on Sunday???!??) Matt Kemp is mashing the ball, hitting .465/.500/.977 with 6 homers and 16 RBI. These are video game numbers and this is the kind of production the Dodgers envisioned when they extended his contract until 2019.Kemp also leads the NL in runs scored, runs created, total bases, and hits. Andre Ethier is also hitting well, with 4 homers and 17 RBI. The schedule has been home heavy, playing the short-handed Padres, and underwhelming Pirates, so LA’s hot start could be a mirage. The schedule gets tougher, as the Dodgers hit the road for 2 more after dropping the opener in Milwaukee, but they follow that series with another easy one against Houston. If Matt Kemp keeps hitting, and the pitching staff stays in the top half of the National League, the Dodgers are a legitimate contender.
- Justin Verlander. The Cy Young/MVP winner threw his 1st complete game of the year on Monday in a 3-2 win over the Royals. Verlander used an astounding 131 pitches to dispatch the Royals and his last 3 all clocked in at 100 mph. He dominated the Royals last night with a steady diet of fastballs offset by a fantastic changeup, which he was locating beautifully, throwing it for a strike 74% of the time. As you can see from the chart, JV got better as the game progressed, gaining velocity thus becoming more difficult to hit. Verlander has picked right back up from his torrid pace a season ago. He already leads the league in innings pitched, strikeouts, has allowed 0 homers, and has the lowest WHIP in baseball. All of the teams he was facing have offenses that will probably rank in the top half of baseball as well, so its not like he was piling up big numbers against banjo hitters either. Verlander has earned the right to be called the best pitcher in baseball, over other worthy contenders like Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Clayton Kershaw.
- Highlights from Around the League. Josh Reddick, the new right fielder in Oakland, has a rocket launcher for an arm. He’s already gunned down two different runners at 3rd and has 4 assists total. Impressive. Congrats are due to Jaime Moyer, who at 49 became the oldest pitcher ever to get a major league win, going 7 innings and only allowing 2 unearned runs in Colorado’s 5-3 win. Derek Jeter’s early season surge continued, as he picked up another 2 RBI last night out of the leadoff spot. He’s now hitting .367/.385/.633 with 3 homers, 9 RBI, and 18 hits total. He also has 2 leadoff home runs on the season. Josh Willingham is also off to an excellent start this season, hitting in all 11 games with 5 total home runs. He has been carrying Minnesota’s offense during the early season. Gio Gonzalez seems to be enjoying life in Washington, picking up his 1st win in a 1-0 victory over Houston. Gonzalez has struck out 21 batters in 17.2 innings over his first 3 starts, and has a 2.04 ERA.
- LA’s other team. The LA Angels easily have one of the most talented rosters in baseball. The rotation is stacked, with 2 aces and 2 other plus arms, the lineup is full of powerful bats, and they have young talent oozing through the minors. So what is wrong with the Angels so far? They are 4-7 and no one on the team looks to be comfortable. Albert Pujols is homerless so far, a streak that is 48 at-bats long and counting. The combination of Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter is keeping the powerful Mark Trumbo planted on the bench, because he is a liability at 3rd base. The #1 prospect in baseball Mike Trout is sitting in Triple-A because of the outfield problems. If the Angels really want to win, they need to plant Wells on the bench or trade Hunter, in order to free up playing time for the younger players. Or they should try and build a time machine to go back in time and undo the Vernon Wells-Mike Napoli swap. They butchered that trade about as badly as an franchise has in the past decade, losing a powerful catcher and taking on a bad contract in one foul swoop.
- Baseball’s Closer Problem. Tom Verducci wrote an in-depth article yesterday on SI.com detailing the issue. Closers are breaking down at higher rates than ever before, despite the advances in modern medicine, and teams are spending a combined $487 million last year on injured relievers. “Fifty percent of all starting pitchers will go on the DL every year, as well as 34 percent of all relievers, according to research by Stan Conte, director of medical services for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That bears repeating: half of all starting pitchers will break down this year. ‘When I did the research,’ Conte said, ‘I was so surprised I figured I must have done the math wrong.'” This is an astounding issue, especially with season-ending injuries already to Joakim Soria, Ryan Madsen, and Brian Wilson. And many teams that aren’t having injury issues with their closers are, instead, having performance issues. Jose Valverde has already blown 2 saves, Boston can’t find a closer, Heath Bell has blown a couple, and the list goes on. Teams need to think outside the box a little more with relief pitching, because the uber-defined roles and the one-inning or one-batter appearances are leading to injury, as well as poor performance.
- Struggles from Around the League. Albert Pujols’ base running has been abysmal so far. He’s the runner in the clip posted above, being gunned down at 3rd. This is already the 3rd time in the young season he has been thrown out being too aggressive on the base paths. Pujols doesn’t quite have the speed he possessed earlier in his career and the league knows it. Tim Lincecum had another iffy start against the Phillies on Monday giving up 4 runs in the 1st. He settled down nicely after that inning, throwing nearly all breaking balls and using his slider 30 times, allowing only 1 run. He had previously said he was scrapping the pitch, but it appears to be vital to his success, so he brought it back after the 1st and proceeded to look like the Timmy of old. If he continues to use the pitch, it will be interesting to see going forward if it has any negative effects on his arm, or if it was just a case of Lincecum being a little too cautious.