Friday, April 13, 2012

MLB Hot or Not: One Week In

With a full week of baseball in the books, let's take a look at one team, batter, and pitcher playing well, and not so well.

3 Up...

The Los Angeles Dodgers

Stormed out to a 6-1 start by taking three of four from the punchless Padres and sweeping the lowly Pirates.  LA leads the NL West and everything's clicking for them right now; Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are on fire, reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw picked up where he left off last year, and Javy Guerra has been lights out in the ninth.  Heck, even the perenially disappointing Chad Billingsley looks like an ace.  I was bullish on the Bums heading into the season based on their strong finish in 2011 and pegged them as the dark horse candidate to win the division, so hopefully they can keep rolling and prove me right.  If only James Loney, 1-for-18 thus far, would get a hit every now and then, they'd be unstoppable.

David Freese

To put it mildly, the 2011 NLCS and World Series MVP is swinging a hot bat.  The major league leader in hits, home runs, RBI, and total bases is already in October form with five multi-hit games and four multi-RBI games in his first six starts. That .429/.448/.750 batting line ain't too shabby either.  His 7/1 K/BB rate is a cause for concern, but I don't think Cardinals fans will mind as long as he's doing an Albert Pujols impression.  If Freese can just stay healthy, a big if for a soon-to-be 29 year old who's never played 100 games in a big league season, the third baseman is going to threaten .300-20-100.  Perhaps like Jayson Werth and Michael Morse, he is merely a late bloomer.

Kyle Lohse

Lohse has been dealing 
Filled in for Chris Carpenter in the first "real" game of the season, last Wednesday's tilt against the new look Marlins, and came up big with seven and one-third innings of one-run ball, holding Jose Reyes, Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and the rest of the potent Miami lineup to just two hits without issuing a free pass.  He pitched like an ace, but many critics weren't impressed because of the context--he did it in a cavernous ballpark on Opening Day, when batters are still getting into the swing of things.  So as if to prove that gem was no fluke, he took the hill Tuesday at Cincinatti, in a hitters park against another tough lineup, and more or less repeated his Opening Day performance.  Lohse held Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and company to one run on four hits over six innings.  Lohse (2-0, 1.35 ERA and 0.53 WHIP)  dominated during the first two months of last season , so he's no stranger to hot starts. There is still no timetable for Carpenter's return, so in the meantime look for Lohse to step up and assume the role of staff ace.

...And 3 Down

The Boston Red Sox

1-5 start...Swept by the Tigers...Terrible starts from Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz...Daniel Bard's first start a disappointment...No offense until the ninth inning...Shaky bullpen...Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury not hitting...Carl Crawford MIA...Poor Jon Lester...Yeah.  Didn't these guys learn anything from last April, when an 0-6 start cost them the Wild Card just as much as their 7-20 slide to end the year did?  They'll turn it around, but when?  Hopefully before the Rays--who are coming to Fenway this weekend--and Yankees lap them.  New skipper Bobby Valentine was supposed to light a fire under a complacent team, but I still don't see much passion and energy from a team that should be on a war path to make up for last year.
Lester has pitched well but isn't getting any run support
Marlon Byrd

Roped an RBI single as part of a 1 for 4 performance against the Nats on Opening Day, but hasn't had a hit since.  That 1 for 21 funk, good for a measly .048 batting average, includes five strikeouts.  With the Cubbies already off to a brutal start, last night he was lifted for Steve Clevenger, a backup catcher, in the ninth and tonight he rode the pine in the series finale against the Brewers.  The outfielder turns 35 in August, so we may be witnessing the beginning of the end.  His contract expires at the end of the season, so don't be surprised if he finds himself on the trading block in July.  That is, if he isn't keeping the bench warm every night.

Tim Lincecum

The San Francisco Giants have stumbled out of the gate to a 2-5 record, partially because their staff ace/two time Cy Young award winner has delivered back to back clunkers.  In his Opening Day start against the defending division champs, The Freak served up a pair of first inning bombs and failed to make it out of the sixth, allowing Arizona to score five runs off him and win the game.  Last night in Colorado he was even worse, lasting just two and one-third frames as the Rockies pounded him for eight hits and six runs in what became a 17-8 rout of the Giants.  That leaves him with an embarassing 12.91 ERA and 2.22 WHIP to date. Lincecum's fastball velocity has dropped again this year, topping out at 91, and he didn't throw a single slider against the Snakes.  San Fran needs him to shake off this early season rust and bounce back to his formerly elite levels if they're going to overtake the D-Backs this year.  He's too talented not to turn it around, but I have serioud doubts about whether he will ever be a top pitcher again.

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