Diamond Update

Chants of USA!, Pl;ayers of the Week, Pirates bullpen success and more.

Chants of USA!, Pl;ayers of the Week, Pirates bullpen success and more.
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AL Player of the Week
Ben Zobrist, Rays

Zobrist made hsitory with his big day in Minnesota with 10 RBIs in a day-night DH. But he was raking the rest of the week as well. He hit .480 with a 1.561 OPS, three homers and 15 RBIs. He scored eight runs, had four doubles and stole three bags without getting caught.

AL Pitcher of the Week
Philip Humber, White Sox

Humber had two outstanding starts last week, one yielding a win, one a loss. He shut out the Yankees for seven innings, giving up one hit and two walks. Over seven innings facing the Orioles, he allowed three hits and two runs, but was saddled with the loss.


NL Player of the Week
Lance Berkman, Cardinals

Honored for the second time here in this young season, Berkman continues to be a huge part of the Cardinals’ suddenly dominant offense. He batted .458 with a 1.313 OPS. He hit two bombs, one a grand slam, scored four times and drove home eight.

NL Pitcher of the Week
Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

Kennedy tossed a gem against the NL East-leading Phillies last week, shutting them out on just three hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out 10. The young righthander followed that up with a solid outing against the Cubs, but got a no-decision in the Diamondbacks’ loss. For the week, he pitched 16.2 innings and gave up nine hits, a walk and whiffed 16.

USA! USA! USA!
Seemingly out of nowhere in the ninth inning of a tie game between the Mets and Phillies in Philadelphia Sunday night, fans began chanting USA! as if they were watching a World Baseball Classic game at Citizens Bank Park. As news spread among the fans regarding the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden via text, Twitter and Facebook, fans almost in unison sensed the national — even global — meaning. There was no announcement made, just fans spreading the word among themselves.

Players, presumably without any communication with the outside world, were a bit confused initially. The Mets’ David Wright relayed how he and Phillies second baseman Pete Orr were a bit puzzled.

“I was actually on second during a pitching change and (Phillies second baseman) Pete Orr and I were kind of puzzled I guess. An inning or so later I came in and saw it on TV. Pretty special moment,” Wright said after the game.

And Philadelphia fans, who have been known to boo Santa Claus, impressed the Mets’ third baseman. “It was pretty cool. I don’t like to give Philadelphia fans too much credit. But they got this one right.”

New York manager Terry Collins, obviously happy with the win, kept it in perspective, “This is a good win for us and obviously a huge win for the United States.”

Athlon Spotlight
Blue Jays Boppers Not Enough

Last week, when outfielder Rajai Davis returned from the Disabled List, Toronto sent promising prospect Travis Snider to the minors for more seasoning and experience. It wasn’t that Snider wasn’t producing at all at the major league level (he was hitting .184 at the time of his demotion, but had a modest five-game hitting streak). The Blue Jays believe he could hit himself out of the slump, but the problem was finding at-bats.

Over the last week, the first base-outfield-DH combination of Corey Patterson, Davis, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Juan Rivera absolutely mashed the ball. The quintet combined to hit .406 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs and 25 runs over seven games. Their on-base percentage was a stout .520 and they slugged .743. Aside from getting the young Snider back on track and producing again with the big club, manager John Farrell must figure out how to win games with this offense. While the big bats outscored opponents last week, 38-29, they won just four of the seven games. Winning four of seven might be good enough to win a postseason series, but that percentage won’t win the AL East.

Stolen Base Distraction
According to ESPN Stats and Info, stolen base attempts may be good for runners, but bad for hitters. During the first month of the season, hitters who were at bat during a steal attempt have combined to hit just four home runs in 523 at-bats. Johnny Damon of the Rays is the most cursed. Damon is 0-for-7 with five whiffs. Sam Fuld was the interrupting runner in each case. Although, in the two at-bats in which Damon put the ball in play, he advanced Fuld to third on a ground ball, so hardly inconsequential ABs. Fuld had attempted 13 steals in the first month, getting caught only three times. In those 13 tries, one caught stealing resulted in the final out of the inning, but the other 12 produced just one hit, a run-scoring single by B.J. Upton.

Pirates Relief
The Pittsburgh Pirates have spent the majority of the season hovering around two games below .500. Okay, so that’s no big deal, maybe even a little better than expected. The surprise is how the Pirates are doing it. Prior to the season, most experts viewed the Pirates’ lineup as decent with a huge upside. Once youngsters Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez mature, the Pirates believe they can run a feared lineup out everyday. But no one believed in Pittsburgh’s pitching. Probably not even the pitchers themselves.

Amazingly, the Pirates’ bullpen has been outstanding over the past week. Over a recent eight-game span to end April, the bullpen had tossed 18.1 innings and allowed just one run. And that lone run belonged to All-Star Evan Meek, currently on the DL. During that time, the unit has three saves, nine holds while yielding just 13 hits and four walks while punching out 17.
Pittsburgh has won every other game over their last 10 (as of May 1). But the bullpen was not letting them down. Over the past eight games, Pirates opponents have plated just 24 runs. Trouble is, the Pirates have scored just 25. Should the offense begin to click while the bullpen stays hot, dare we consider that the Bucs might challenge the Cardinals and Reds in the National League Central? Nah.

Honoring Servicemen
The Washington Nationals acted quickly. Upon news of the death of terrorist Osama bin Laden, the Nationals suddenly named May 2 as Military Appreciation Night. The Nationals held two Military Appreciation days in spring training. But no special day or giveaway was originally listed on the team’s official promotions schedule for May 2. According to the team’s website, “thousands of complimentary tickets will be donated to military personnel and their families.” Military personnel were allotted up to four comp tickets with a valid ID. Nice timely touch. There no doubt will be quite a patriotic display at Nationals Park.

Penny Wise
Evan Longoria // (Age 25) // 3B
Tampa Bay // Contract: 6 years, $17,500,000

Although currently on the Disabled List with an oblique injury, Longoria is in his fourth season with the Rays and has made three All-Star teams, won two Gold Gloves and received MVP votes every season. His contract will pay him just $2 million this season. Tampa Bay also holds options for 2015 and 2016, when Longoria will be 29 and 30, that will pay the face of the franchise $11 million and $11.5 million. This could be the best bargain in baseball.

Dollar Foolish
Alfonso Soriano // (Age 35) // LF
Chicago Cubs // Contract: 8 years, $136,000,000

Soriano is 35 and, including this season, has four years left on this mega contract. Back in Nov. 2006 when the Cubs inked this pact with Soriano, the leftfielder was coming off five All-Star seasons in which he averaged 37 homers and 33 steals. The power-speed combination earned him a third-place in MVP voting with the Yankees in 2002, and sixth with the Nationals in 2006. Over those five seasons, he also scored 108 runs and drove in 97 on average. Those are the numbers the Cubs paid for. The numbers Soriano has produced aren’t horrendous, but they are no $18 million stats. As a Cub, Soriano has averaged 26 home runs, 70 RBIs and just 13 steals over his first four seasons in Chicago.

Farm Report
Manny Machado, SS, Orioles

The 18-year old shortstop, and the Orioles’ top prospect, was just named Player of the Week in the South Atlantic League. Machado, who was the third overall draft pick last summer, hit .480 with five home runs and 12 RBIs last week. The Orioles are being careful not to rush their prized prospect, but he will be promoted to High-A at some point this season. It appears now, that might be earlier than the organization anticipated.

Brett Jackson, OF, Cubs
The Cubs’ No. 1 draft choice in 2009 is progressing nicely. Only 22, Jackson hit well (.316) at High-A last season and a respectable (.276) at AA Tennessee. Baseball America rated him the No. 38 prospect entering this season, and he is on track to see some time at Triple-A soon. Through his first 23 games, Jackson is hitting .302 and slugging .512 with three home runs. He’s scored 20 runs.

Turn Back the Clock
May 2, 1954

Stan Musial hits five home runs in a doubleheader against the Giants in St. Louis. In attendance is 8-year-old Nate Colbert, who will eventually be the only other player in history to match the feat. The Cards win the first game 10-6 and the Giants win the nightcap 9-7.

May 5, 1975
Oakland releases pinch runner Herb Washington, who played in 105 major league games without batting, pitching or fielding. He stole 31 bases and scored 33 runs.

Numbers Game
      10 RBIs for Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist in a doubleheader sweep of the Twins. He went 7-for-10 with two home runs, three doubles and a stolen base in the two games.

        6 MLB pitchers since 1900 to have six wins by the end of April. The Angels’ Jered Weaver became the sixth, and he’s the only hurler ever to win six by April 25.

   12-2 Home record for the Cleveland Indians during April. The Tribe got their 12th home win on June 12 last year.

      40 Base hits in April for Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier. That total tied the franchise record for the month, shared by Mike Piazza and Rafael Furcal.

   14-0 Record for Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester against the Orioles in his career.

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