Anaheim Angels: (Record: 61-50, Week: 4-2)
Just when it appeared that Bartolo Colon had turned his season around and regained his form from past seasons, he took another step in the wrong direction. After going 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA in four starts, he allowed four runs on eight hits in six innings against the Royals. Since Colon began his hot streak, the Angels have gone from third place in the AL West to two games out in the division and to the top of the Wild Card race. If they are to stay in the playoff picture, the 31-year-old will need to continue his improved pitching.
Baltimore Orioles: (Record: 52-57, Week: 6-0)
In a lost season for the Orioles, a few surprise players stepped up which provide them with more hope for the future. Daniel Cabrera has been given a lot of press for his eight wins and 3.66 ERA but David Newhan has been more impressive. In 178 at-bats, Newhan has hit .360/.413/.528 with five homeruns, 29 RBI, and 39 runs scored. He has played four different positions and has earned himself more playing time. Even though he is 30-years-old, he appears to have a position on the roster for next year and could play an important part.
Boston Red Sox: (Record: 60-42, Week: 4-2)
Welcome to Boston, Orlando Cabrera. After the negativity surrounding Boston following the trade of Nomar Garciaparra, Cabrera needed to do something to make the fans accept him. In his first at-bat in a Red Sox uniform he took a 2-1 pitch from Johan Santana and hammered it over the wall in left. One homer doesn’t mean much and it was his glove that the Sox brought him into town for, but that swing surely must have made the fans feel a little better.
Chicago White Sox: (Record: 53-49, Week: 2-4)
It never fails. A struggling pitcher with talent finds a new home and all of a sudden he is pitching at the top of his game. Since joining the White Sox after the trading deadline, Jose Contreras has pitched 14 innings and has allowed just three runs on 12 runners. He’s allowed just one home run while striking out 12. Remember: trading just for the sake of making a trade never works out.
Cleveland Indians: (Record: 57-55, Week: 4-3)
When is Travis Hafner going to get the recognition he deserves? After a disappointing 2003 season, Hafner has done everything imaginable this season to quiet his doubters. He has hit .324/.413/.602 with 22 homeruns, 88 RBI, and 73 runs scored. He has played some first base this season but has been primarily a designated hitter. No matter where he ends up in the years to come, he will establish himself as one of the best hitters in the league.
Detroit Tigers: (Record: 51-60, Week: 1-5)
Like Hafner, Carlos Guillen still hasn’t been given the credit he deserves. The shortstop is hitting .323/.387/.559 with 17 homeruns, 81 RBI, 81 runs scored, and eight stolen bases. He has been very durable, playing in 109 games and the Tigers rewarded him with a contract extension. If he can continue putting up similar numbers, he will have to be mentioned as a candidate for best shortstop in the game.
Kansas City Royals: (Record: 39-70, Week: 2-4)
In a lost season, one pleasant surprise has been the success of rookie starter Zack Greinke. The 20-year-old righty has a 4.52 ERA but an excellent 1.15 WHIP. He has walked just 16 and struck out 57 in 83.2 innings pitched. Greinke has often drawn comparisons to Greg Maddux for his stuff and command and he appears to have a chance at a similar career.
Minnesota Twins: (Record: 62-48, Week: 3-3)
The long-overdue Justin Morneau era has finally arrived. After tearing apart the minor leagues at nearly every stop, Morneau is in Minnesota to stay. In his time in Minny this season, Morneau has hit .281/.323/.529 with eight homeruns and six doubles in just 121 at-bats. Morneau is a power-hitting lefty with outstanding long-term potential. He can be an immediate impact bat for the Twins as they make their playoff run.
New York Yankees: (Record: 71-39, Week: 5-1)
While Jose Contreras has pitched well in Chicago, Esteban Loaiza, as expected, has struggled in New York. In two starts covering 12 innings, Loaiza has allowed nine earned runs on 21 runners. He has already allowed three homers and has struck out just eight. His 6.75 ERA with the Yankees will come down but he is certainly not a part of the playoff rotation. What was the point of the trade again?
Oakland Athletics: (Record: 62-48, Week: 3-3)
The next big A’s pitcher has arrived on the scene but he won’t enter the rotation. Jairo Garcia will likely never leave the bullpen and he may end up as the closer one day. Wherever he pitches, he should succeed. In 53 minor league innings this season, Garcia has allowed just 28 hits and 21 walks while striking out 91. He allowed just four earned runs leaving him with an ERA of 0.68. Keep an eye on him and if he gets the nickname “K-Gar” you heard it here first.
Seattle Mariners: (Record: 41-70, Week: 2-5)
It seems as if every Seattle prospect to get a chance with the big club this season has struggled in his debut and that trend has continued with Jose Lopez. The 20-year-old shortstop has shown signs of coming around recently but is hitting just .231/.250/.231. It is unlikely that Lopez will be sent back down and he will likely continue to improve as the season goes along. Lopez, like the rest of the prospects, are good bets to have solid seasons as soon as 2005.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: (Record: 53-58, Week: 3-4)
The biggest prospect to get a call-up recently was B.J. Upton and he has struggled, like Lopez. Upton is hitting .227/.261/.273 but will also improve as the season progresses. His long-term potential is tremendous and as soon as next season could be a top-five player at his position, shortstop. With the Rays out of it and playing for next year, Upton will join the AL's best base stealer Carl Crawford, to keep people interested in the team.
Texas Rangers: (Record: 60-49, Week: 3-3)
After an outstanding month of June in which Rod Barajas earned the job of starting catcher he hasn’t been the same. He hit .277 with seven homeruns, 16 RBI, and 15 runs scored in June but has just one homerun, four RBI, and seven runs scored since. He hit just .188 in July and is just one for 12 in August so far. The decline in Barajas’ performance coincides with the suffering record of the Rangers but it is not the only factor. If he can begin hitting again, he could help them get back in the race.
Toronto Blue Jays: (Record: 47-64, Week: 2-4)
It took over 200 at-bats but Alexis Rios finally hit the first homerun of what is expected to be many in his career. The 23-year-old rookie has hit .289/.330/.407 with 23 total extra-base hits in his 246 at-bats this year. His low homerun total isn’t concerning anyone as the extra-base power will eventually turn into homers. In time, he will likely be one of the best outfielders in the league.
Arizona Diamondbacks: (Record: 35-78, Week: 2-4)
A new week means a new closer in Arizona. Greg Aquino is next in line despite his sub-par performance in Triple-A prior to his promotion. Since joining the D-Backs, Aquino has posted a solid 3.60 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He has three saves and has yet to record a blown save. If he can maintain this level of performance, he will hold on to the closers role until Jose Valverde returns from the disabled list.
Atlanta Braves: (Record: 63-47, Week: 5-1)
Slowly but surely, he is starting to come around. Chipper Jones is having a season well below his career standards but he has not stopped trying to return to his established level. Even though he is hitting just .244/.353/.442 with 15 homeruns on the season, he’s hit .448 in August and .308 over the last three weeks. The likely cause of his down season is the hamstring injury he suffered early in the year so as that becomes less of a problem, the numbers will go up.
Chicago Cubs: (Record: 61-50, Week: 4-2)
Congratulations, Greg Maddux. It wasn’t his best start of the year but it was enough to get him win number 300 for his career. Maddux has been so good for so long in a career that appears to be coming to an end in the same place that it started. While Maddux may go on to win 320-plus games, it will be many years, if ever, before someone else wins 300 games. This is a great accomplishment for a great pitcher.
Cincinnati Reds: (Record: 54-57, Week: 3-3)
Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn were supposed to become the best one-two-punch in baseball but only half of the potential has been fulfilled. While Kearns has struggled through numerous injuries, Dunn has finally come into his own in 2004. He has already improved his career high in homeruns by seven to 34 and he will likely set career highs in average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. If Kearns can make it back and stay healthy he wouldn’t have to do much to make a great duo with Dunn.
Colorado Rockies: (Record: 49-62, Week: 2-4)
With the Rockies out of the running and playing for next year, it’s time to take a look down on the farm at breakout prospect Jeff Francis. Francis was a solid prospect coming into the year but what he has done in Double and Triple-A has been amazing. The left-hander has combined to go 15-3 with a 1.98 ERA. In 145.2 innings pitched, he has allowed just 100 hits and 25 walks while striking out 186. Francis may see time in the Colorado rotation next season and should succeed if Coors doesn’t get in his head.
Florida Marlins: (Record: 55-55, Week: 3-3)
With the exception of stolen bases, his specialty, Juan Pierre has posted nearly identical numbers to last season. His .312/.364/.386 line is within 25 points total of his line from last season. His 27 steals are not even half of his total last year (65), however. Recently, he has been running a little more with nine steals since the start of July. If he is to perform at his peak, he needs to be stealing bases at a better rate.
Houston Astros: (Record: 55-56, Week: 3-4)
Lance Berkman is one of the best hitters in the game but has been having a rough time at the plate recently. He hit just .222 in June and .266 in July but that all changed along with the calendar. Since the beginning of August, Berkman has hit .458/.567/.500. He has yet to regain his power stroke but that should come soon. With Berkman hitting second in the lineup in front of Carlos Beltran, he will likely see many fastballs and could have a huge final two months.
Los Angeles Dodgers: (Record: 65-45, Week: 4-2)
After hurting his arm in the first inning of Sunday’s start, Brad Penny almost put an end to any hope that the controversial trade would work out well for the Dodgers. The good news came on Monday when an MRI revealed that there was no structural damage and he would just miss one start. The Dodgers need Penny and his 3.02 ERA to return to the rotation as soon as possible so they can make their push for the playoffs.
Milwaukee Brewers: (Record: 52-58, Week: 1-5)
One of the pleasant surprises for the Brewers this season has been Chris Capuano. The 25-year-old lefty sports a 3.70 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in his 15 starts. The Duke grad’s quick emergence in Milwaukee gives the team another potential solid starter for the future. With Ben Sheets’ breakout season and Capuano’s positive showing, the Brewers have a nice duo for years to come.
Montreal Expos: (Record: 44-66, Week: 3-3)
The Orlando Cabrera trade is looking better and better for the Expos. Since acquiring Alex Gonzalez in the deal, he has hit .308/.308/.615 with two home runs, five RBI, and five runs scored in just 26 at-bats. Gonzalez has not had a good season but perhaps the change of scenery will allow this improved hitting to continue.
New York Mets: (Record: 52-58, Week: 3-3)
Give him a chance to play and he will produce. Vance Wilson has been given more of an opportunity this year than in the past and it shows. For the season he is hitting .291/.365/.464 with four homeruns and 17 RBI in 110 at-bats. He has hit .440 during the last four weeks and .372 since the start of July. With Jason Phillis struggling, expect Wilson to get more starts.
Philadelphia Phillies: (Record: 58-53, Week: 5-1)
There has been nothing but bad news coming out of Philadelphia in recent days. Ryan Madson injured a finger shagging fly balls in batting practiced and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Kevin Millwood has a strained tendon in his pitching elbow and will miss at least a month and Pat Burrell is out for the year with a ruptured tendon in his left wrist. The Braves are quickly pulling away in the NL East and there appears to be no help on the horizon for the Phils.
Pittsburgh Pirates: (Record: 51-58, Week: 2-4)
This has been a rough season for Kip Wells thanks to a few bad breaks and a finger injury on his pitching hand. After improving his ERA for four straight seasons, Wells looked to be on the way towards doing it again after a strong April. However, a rough May and the finger problem inflated his ERA to well over 4.50. Recently, he has been healthy and has pitched much better. He posted a 2.63 ERA in July and 3.19 thus far in August. When he is healthy, he is one of the best and most underrated pitchers in the National League.
San Diego Padres: (Record: 59-52, Week: 1-5)
Even though the Padres are being given credit for their nice season thus far, their best pitcher, Jake Peavy, has gone unnoticed. Since he does not yet have enough innings pitched to qualify, his 2.16 ERA is not officially leading the league. He has struck out 92 in 96 innings and walked just 34 batters. He has done everything possible to help the Padres and if he can stay healthy, they have their ace they need.
San Francisco Giants: (Record: 60-53, Week: 3-3)
I have to admit, I didn’t see this one coming. In a surprise move, the Giants have decided to convert Dustin Hermanson to closer and the results thus far have been impressive. In his three relief appearances, he has yet to allow a baserunner and he has struck out four. He converted his only save opportunity; a difficult 1.2 inning one. There has been much success of late converting starters to closers, perhaps Hermanson is the next in line.
St. Louis Cardinals: (Record: 72-38, Week: 5-1)
With all of the focus on Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds does not get the credit he deserves. Not only is he an outstanding defensive center fielder but he has been amazing at the plate. Edmonds is hitting .300/.414/.649 with 30 home runs, 79 RBI, and 75 runs scored. He has hit eight homers over the last three weeks and 15 since the start of July. After entering the season with a few questions, he has done everything imaginable to answer them.
Stat of the week:
This actually happened last month but it is still worth mentioning here.
Todd Zeile on June 26 against the Expos:
1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 45.00 ERA
Zeile made his second appearance on the mound in a major league game and wasn’t quite as good as the first time around when he allowed just one hit and no runs in one inning. Zeile now has a career ERA of 22.50 and the Rangers are beginning to ask about his availability.