Anaheim Angels: (Record: 52-46, Week: 3-4)
With more injury problems plaguing the Angels, Rob Quinlan has been given a chance to play every day and has taken full advantage of it. Quinlan is 13 for his last 25, giving him an average of .520. He has hit a home run and three doubles and driven in six. His ability to play four different positions gives him value and will help him remain in the lineup as long as he continues hitting.
Baltimore Orioles: (Record: 44-52, Week: 5-2)
Even though the team isn’t playing for much anymore, Miguel Tejada is still giving his all. The shortstop is 14 for his last 33 with a line of .424/.457/.939. During that time he has hit four home runs, eight total extra-base hits, 14 RBI, and 10 runs scored. Tejada has yet to miss a game this season and has not missed one since 2000. Hmm, a shortstop for the Orioles not missing games. That is strange.
Boston Red Sox: (Record: 53-44, Week: 3-4)
When speaking of players on fire, look no further than Kevin Millar. Millar is 15 for his last 24 with a line of .625/.667/1.417. He had six home runs, 13 RBI, and 10 runs scored and struck out just once. Best of all for the Sox, three of the games were against the rival Yankees. The Sox won two of them and all three games were high scoring. Without the help of Millar, they likely would have lost two total, if not all three.
Chicago White Sox: (Record: 52-43, Week: 5-2)
When they acquired Freddy Garcia from the Mariners, the White Sox hoped that they were picking up an ace that could solidify their pitching. That is exactly what they have gotten. Garcia has gone 4-1 with a 3.15 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 34.1 innings. Each outing has gotten better. He began by allowing four earned runs in six innings and in his most recent start, he threw seven shutout. Garcia’s problem has always been consistency so it may be tough for him to maintain it, but it is certainly possible.
Cleveland Indians: (Record: 50-49, Week: 6-2)
Jake Westbrook has been a pleasant surprise for the Indians and provides them with hope for both the present and future. His talent has always been there but few expected him to show it this soon. The 26-year-old All-Star has a 3.10 ERA and 1.20 WHIP on the season. His two most recent starts have been microcosms of his entire season. He won both, lasting a combined 16 innings with a 2.81 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. Westbrook, Cliff Lee, and C. C. Sabathia will be a nice trio for years to come.
Detroit Tigers: (Record: 46-52, Week: 2-5)
Marcus Thames has been given some playing time in the majors by two different organizations and has yet to performed well. That didn’t stop the Tigers from doing the same. After hitting .329 with 24 home runs in Triple-A, the Tigers called him up and gave him a shot. This time he came through, hitting .476/.500/1.143 with four home runs and 10 RBI for the week. His ability to play all three outfield positions, not to mention his hot bat, may help him receive more playing time.
Kansas City Royals: (Record: 35-52, Week: 1-7)
Despite some surprising trade rumors, Mike Sweeney has continued to do what he does best- hit. After a disappointing and injury-plagued 2003 season, Sweeney has bounced back and is poised to post one of his better years. One thing that has helped Sweeney stay healthy is the emergence of Ken Harvey at first base, allowing Sweeney to DH. If Sweeney is moved, although it remains unlikely, look for it to be to an American League team in need of a DH.
Minnesota Twins: (Record: 54-44, Week: 6-1)
Earlier in the season I had mentioned Grant Balfour as having one of the best names in baseball. That still holds true but now he also is having one of the most impressive stretches around. Since late May, Balfour has pitched 24.1 innings and posted an ERA of just 1.11, a WHIP of 0.904, while striking out 29. The one problem still biting Balfour is his “ball fours.” He has 12 walks during this stretch, averaging almost one per two innings of work. His wildness has actually helped up to this point, but that isn’t likely to last.
New York Yankees: (Record: 61-36, Week: 4-3)
Mariano is a great closer and he has always been able to handle the pressure of tight situations. He is not perfect, however, no matter what some Yankee fans may think. During the three-game series with the Red Sox, “Mo” was called upon in the eighth with Manny Ramirez due up with a two run lead and ended the inning. In the ninth inning, Nomar Garciaparra led off with a double and Trot Nixon advanced him to third on a fly out that just missed leaving the park. After a single by Kevin Millar that scored Nomar, Bill Mueller launched a Rivera cutter out into the bullpen to end the game and give the Sox a win. He is good, but not perfect.
Oakland Athletics: (Record: 53-44, Week: 3-4)
Another strong offensive performance tops this list as Mark Kotsay had an impressive week. Kotsay hit four home runs and drove in nine while hitting .429/.514/.857. His home runs came in three different games and the A’s won two of them. The center fielder is currently sporting the best average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage of his career, and will likely set a new career-high in RBI.
Seattle Mariners: (Record: 38-59, Week: 4-3)
The plan for Ichiro Suzuki this season was to get more days off, not less. Instead, the All-Star has played virtually every day and has performed better with time. He is hitting .336 on the season, his highest average since his rookie year, and is up to .413 in July. His power is down from past years but his steals are close to his rookie level. Without rest, it will be nearly impossible for him to maintain an average this high but a massive drop-off is not likely.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: (Record: 45-53, Week: 1-6)
Disappointing performances bring a disappointing week for the Devil Rays. Jose Cruz Jr. had just three singles in 19 at-bats. Jesus Colome allowed four runs in 1.2 innings. John Halama allowed nine runs in 3.2 innings, and Victor Zambrano was winless with a 5.06 ERA. It was a great run but the Devil Rays’ chances at .500 have been washed away this week.
Texas Rangers: (Record: 55-41, Week: 3-4)
With the surprising Rangers and Kenny Rogers getting a lot of publicity, one pitcher has gone entirely unnoticed. Ryan Drese has started 20 games and has a 3.47 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He has allowed just 34 walks in 135 innings pitched but has struck out just 59. With the strong ERA and the high-powered offense behind him, it is surprising that he has won just seven games. He has emerged as a solid arm for the Rangers, although not likely one that can carry them through the playoffs.
Toronto Blue Jays: (Record: 43-55, Week: 4-3)
Every year there are a few pitchers that emerge from the minor leagues to fill in a rotation spot and end up impressing the team so much that they must keep him there. This year is no exception and David Bush is another example. In four starts, Bush has thrown 27 innings and walked just six. His 14 strikeouts are not great but against his walks, they are fine. He has kept his ERA very low at an even 2.00 and his WHIP stands at a strong 1.074. Bush is just 24-years-old and could be a solid starter for the Jays in the future.
Arizona Diamondbacks: (Record: 31-62, Week: 0-7)
In what may be the beginning of the end for him in Arizona, Randy Johnson was stellar in his last start, only to have the win taken from him by the bullpen. Johnson struck out 14 over eight shutout innings and allowed just six hits. Mike Fetters and Randy Choate combined to allowed three runs in the ninth and cost the D-Backs, and Johnson, a win. This start may aggravate Johnson so much that he may demand a trade-if he hasn’t already.
Atlanta Braves: (Record: 52-45, Week: 4-2)
After saving just seven games during April and May combined, John Smoltz needed to make up for lost time. There is a problem with saves, however. Like wins, they are completely situation-dependent. Smoltz was as dominant as ever in the first two months but didn’t have many save opportunities. Since then his luck has changed and he’s had seven saves in both June and July. His total of 21 now looks a little better and more in line with what he has done over the past two seasons.
Chicago Cubs: (Record: 52-46, Week: 3-4)
Derrek Lee got off to a very slow start for the Cubs and many began to question his worth. Recently, however, he has played much better and has quieted those concerns. Lee had five home runs this past week and nine in July, giving him 19 for the season. His .300/.372/.550 line and 60 RBI are both very strong and when combined with his defense, the acquisition now must be considered a success. Now if the rest of the team can just come around like Lee has, the Cubs would be in business.
Cincinnati Reds: (Record: 50-49, Week: 2-5)
It’s amazing what a player can do when given a chance. Wily Mo Pena was a highly-touted prospect who until now, was never able to match his potential. He was buried in Cincy’s outfield behind Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., and Austin Kearns. Something then happened that no one saw coming; Griffey and Kearns both got hurt and Pena was given a chance to play. Pena has just gone on to hit .289/.344/.567 with 16 HR and 41 RBI. Four players, three spots. One has to go. The Reds have a "Griffey" for sale.
Colorado Rockies: (Record: 42-56, Week: 4-3)
Vinny Castilla + Coors Field = perfect match. Castilla has enjoyed success throughout his career, even in places outside of the thin air. However, he has never been able to match his Colorado years until now. Albeit back in Colorado. Castilla’s 22 home runs are just three off his non-Rockies high and his 84 RBI are seven off that same best. The runs scored? Six off. The average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage are already tops and even his doubles and triples are even or near the top. This is one formula with no exceptions.
Florida Marlins: (Record: 48-50, Week: 3-4)
It took a little while but Juan Pierre is close to once again resembling a base-stealer. After stealing just three bases in June, Pierre already has seven in July and is looking more confident on the base paths. The good news is that this is the only category that Pierre is struggling in as his other numbers are nearly identical to his 2003 level.
Houston Astros: (Record: 45-46, Week: 4-3)
It took some time but Carlos Beltran seems to be adjusting to the Senior Circuit fully; at the plate and on the bases. Until this week, Beltran had stolen just one base but has added three more in two recent games. He hit three home runs this week, giving him 10 since switching leagues. His average is down to .257 post-trade, compared to .278 pre-trade but his OPS is up by 55 points. The Astros are still floundering but they are close enough in the wild card race to hold onto Beltran. He’ll stay put.
Los Angeles Dodgers: (Record: 57-40, Week: 5-2)
Beltran, Beltre… belting home runs. The 25-year-old free agent-to-be Adrian Beltre has continued to hit at an amazing clip. He has already set a career-high in home runs with 28, and is on the way to doing the same in RBI with 73 already. His .326/.368/.617 line is the best of his career in each area and his defense keeps getting better. Whatever the cause may be for this season, it’s going to pay off big time for Beltre this winter.
Milwaukee Brewers: (Record: 48-49, Week: 1-6)
Like the Devil Rays, the Brewers have had a nice run but it has come to an end. This week all but knocked them out of the running and many players contributed to the poor showing. Doug Davis lost two games and had an 8.31 ERA over 13 innings. Chris Capuano had a 6.75 ERA in 5.1 innings, and Ben Hendrickson and Matt Kinney had the same luck over four frames. The Brewers may be out now, but they’ll be back soon. Their farm system is stacked with talent.
Montreal Expos: (Record: 37-61, Week: 5-2)
A few weeks ago I told you that it was only a matter of time before Chad Cordero took control of the closer role in Montreal. That time has come and he has locked it up. Cordero has saved nine of his 10 opportunities and has a 2.77 ERA on the season. His 50 strikeouts in 52 innings help counter the control problems he has faced with 32 walks. Even with the shaky command, he has had no problems keeping runners from scoring and that will help him be successful as a closer.
New York Mets: (Record: 47-50, Week: 1-5)
The David Wright era is finally here. No prospect has shot up the charts as quickly as he did. After 20 at-bats, the Mets had hoped for a little more but they can’t be entirely disappointed. He is hitting just .200 but has already shown good pop with a home run and a double. His defense has been shaky but that is expected of young infielders. He will quickly jump into the upper-echelon of third basemen. David Wright, meet Scott Rolen and Eric Chavez.
Philadelphia Phillies: (Record: 52-46, Week: 4-5)
Losing a no-hitter in the ninth inning on a blooper hurts, but perhaps not as much as going on to lose the lead and the win. Eric Milton was dominant until the ninth when Michael Barrett hit a double on a slightly misplayed ball by Doug Glanville. After two strikeouts, Mark Grudzielanek singled to keep the inning alive and Corey Patterson doubled home the tying runs. Ryan Madson was then called in to get the final out. The Phillies scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to give Madson, not Milton, the win. No no-no, no shutout, no complete game, no win. No big deal.
Pittsburgh Pirates: (Record: 47-49, Week: 5-2)
In this strange world, if you don’t get credit for the wins, you don’t get recognition. Sorry, Oliver Perez. Even though the Pirates are 11-6 when Perez starts, he is just 6-4. His 3.18 ERA and 1.09 WHIP are outstanding for a 22-year-old lefty and his 133 strikeouts in 110.1 innings are even better. With his fastball-slider combination, the “Little Unit” isn’t the nearly seven-foot lefty in Seattle, he’s now the 6-foot, 3-inch southpaw in Pittsburgh.
San Diego Padres: (Record: 54-44, Week: 5-2)
With the Padres facing some NL West foes, Jake Peavy picked the right time to get healthy. Since returning from injury, Peavy is 3-1 with a 2.98 ERA. On the season, the 23-year-old, who shares a birthday with yours truly, is 7-3 with a 2.32 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 14 starts. The 71 strikeouts in 81.1 innings suggest that he can maintain a strong ERA but the high WHIP would suggest otherwise. The Padres need the strikeouts to win out if they’re to do the same in the NL West.
San Francisco Giants: (Record: 55-45, Week: 4-3)
The Giants are another team attempting to make a push in the NL West and like the others, they need pitching. Jason Schmidt has been dominating opponents, but no one else has followed him. Jerome Williams has been solid enough as has Brett Tomko, but Kirk Rueter has been disappointing. One pitcher who could possibly step up is Dustin Hermansen. He won his last start by allowing two runs on three hits and a walk in 6.2 innings. If two starts are removed from his line, his ERA sits at a neat 3.60, and his WHIP at 1.23. He may be the one to step up.
St. Louis Cardinals: (Record: 62-36, Week: 5-2)
If .287 with seven home runs is a slow start, Albert Pujols started the season slowly. He has since picked it up to a great degree, especially in July. Since the beginning of the month, he has hit .413 with nine home runs and 21 RBI. On the season, he is now hitting .325/.415/.644 with 29 homers, 73 RBI, and 86 runs scored. Instead of the off-year that looked probable early in the season, Pujols is looking to have the best year of his amazing young career.
Stat of the week:
Kevin Millar, July 23 against the Yankees:
3-4, 3 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R
The Red Sox went on to lose this game. Yet another clue that baseball is a team game and no one player can do it all.