Papi’s Slump, Rangers’ Success and Zack Greinke’s Pitching Have Made for a Season of Surprises
by Stuart Brown, Jr.
Jun 15, 2009 | 788 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WHO'S ON FIRST?

The first third of the Major League Baseball season has been filled with unforeseeable surprises. If you haven’t been paying attention to baseball, you’ve missed out on the fall of one of America’s favorite superstars, the thrilling seasons of two different teams, and the rise of the American League’s newest ace.

The most surprising aspect of the MLB season so far has been the continuous struggle of David Ortiz. After a poor performance in a recent game in Seattle, Ortiz advised reporters to “just put down Papi stinks” because he had been performing poorly all year. While Ortiz certainly does not stink at baseball (before this season his batting average had been over .264 for seven years in a row) his play has been far below par. Papi’s low batting average of .197 and his home run total of two (out of 198 at bats) have left many in bewilderment.

The bewildered, namely Red Sox fans, have sought excuses for Ortiz’s slow start. The most compelling excuse is that he be older than he actually claims to be. While your first response to this statement may be that Ortiz is one of the kindest and most likable players in the MLB and that would never lie about his age, this theory may not be that far fetched. Numerous Latin American players, over the last few years, have been exposed for lying about their age in order to be drafted earlier. These players include Dodger all-star shortstop Rafael Furcal and National League batting-average leader Miguel Tejada. An increase in Papi’s age would help to explain his slower bat speed, which has been the main factor in causing his batting average to decrease. No matter what the reason, Papi’s early season struggles have surprised everyone.

The second biggest surprise this season is that the Texas Rangers are doing well. They actually have a winning record. Not only that, they are winning the AL West and as of Monday were tied for the best record in the AL. Why is this surprising? In the last decade, the Rangers have had as tough of a time winning as Kobe did without Shaq (hopefully the Magic will continue this). They have not had a winning season since 2004 and have not made the playoffs since 1999, which was also the last time they won their four-team division (which should be the easiest to win because it’s the smallest in the MLB). The Ranger’s season has also been surprising because they are winning largely without the help of last year’s best player, Josh Hamilton.

So far, Hamilton has batted .240 and has been on the disabled list for a large portion of the season. By comparison, last year he batted .304 and came in second in the home run derby. So how have the Rangers been able to win, and win often, without Josh? The simple answer is that the Rangers, as a team, have scored the eighth most runs in the MLB. Also, they have drastically improved their pitching since last seasons. In 2008, the Rangers gave up more runs than any other team in the majors. This year, they are 20th in giving up the most runs. While this still isn’t very good, it is still a drastic improvement from last year.

Another surprising aspect of this season has been the Colorado Rockies, who are having a mediocre season, which is commonplace for the team. However, the way they have gone about achieving their mediocre record has been different from the ways they have done so in the past. The most obvious of these differences is that they fired their manager, Clint Hurdle, a few weeks ago and replaced him with Jim Tracy.

After firing Hurdle, the Rockies have gone 7-4, and have won their last five games in a row, by a combined score of 43-12. This is definitely a sign of great things to come for Colorado. This win streak has caused their run differential to rise to eight, meaning they have scored eight more runs than their opponents so far this season. Even though the Rockies have a losing record, they have the potential to turn into a winning team by season’s end. Obviously, it has also given them momentum and boosted their confidence.

The Rockies’ season has also been surprising because they have players in both the top five in wins by a pitcher and top five in batting average. Jason Marquis has won eight games, which is the most in the NL. Meanwhile, Brad Hawpe has a .337 batting average, the fifth best in the NL. These two achievements have placed both Hawpe and Marquis in all-star discussions.

The last surprising aspect of this season has been the achievements of Kansas City’s righty Zack Greinke. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard this name. Coming into this season, Greinke was 34-45 in his career and had an ERA in the low .400s. These stats are hardly enough to keep one in the majors and out of the minors. Luckily, Kansas City decided not to demote Zack and stuck with him. Little did Kansas City, or anyone for that matter, expect that Zack would go from being a mediocre pitcher to arguably the best in the majors in one year. This season, Greinke has a record of 8-2 and an AL leading ERA of 1.55. The AL pitcher with next best ERA, Edwin Jackson of Detroit, has and ERA of 2.16. The difference between 1.55 and 2.16 is one of the largest margins between the first and second best ERA’s in a division in years.

It will be hard for the last two-thirds of the season to be as exciting as the first third. However, if the middle and end of the season somehow manage to throw as many surprises at fans as the first two months did, America will be in for one hell of a ride.
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