Silver Chips Online

Major League Baseball heats up

What to watch for this summer on the diamond

By Abe Schwadron, Online Managing Editor and Josh Zipin, Online Managing Sports Editor
May 17, 2006
America's Pastime is back. With the first month of April out of the way, things are starting to get interesting in the baseball world. In the first month of the 2006 season, Barry Bonds had a syringe thrown at him, Chris Shelton and Jonathan Papelbon arose out of anonymity to become household names and Albert Pujols dominated (again). With the month of May still in its early stages, Silver Chips Online breaks down a couple of the most intriguing plot lines developing around the league.

Albert Pujols' Monster Season

The Cardinals slugger is from another planet. How else do you explain his astonishing numbers? In 37 games Pujols has already had what sme major leaguers would consider a respectable season. Pujols has hit 19 home runs while maintaining a .333 average and driving in an astonishing 48 runs. Cubs manager Dusty Baker said "[Pujols] just doesn't swing and miss." Phat Albert has a .332 career average with an unbelievable career on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of over one. During this amazing first half stretch, Pujols reached 19 home runs faster than any player in baseball history. It is not a question of whether or not Pujols continues to club home runs and amass incredible statistics, the question is how many records he'll break this season.

Barry's Troubles

What's in an asterisk? As Barry Bonds will soon find out, mostly controversy. The proud owner of 713 career home runs, the Bay Area slugger is just one round-tripper away from tying the Great Bambino (The Sultan of Swat, The Colossus of Clout, The King of Crash, The Babe), Babe Ruth for second all time on the home run list, behind Hank Aaron. Bonds' season has been rough so far. It took him 14 games and 34 at-bats before he hit his first home run, well below his career average of one home run for roughly every 13 at-bats. Bonds is hitting .217 with only has 17 RBI to start this 2006 campaign, and it remains to be seen how long his body will hold up.
In addition to some of his on-field struggles, Bonds has faced even more off-field difficulties. It seems as if every baseball city has made a pact to heckle Barry Bonds for at least until he ties The Babe, and it cold escalate afterwards. Some fans have gotten creative in their mocking of Bonds. Fans in Philadelphia, where Bonds hit his 713th moon shot that traveled a whopping 450 feet, had a sign hung in left field to welcome Bonds that read "Ruth did it on hot dogs and beer. Aaron did it with class. How do you do it?" In Bonds' first game of the season in San Diego, one fan threw a syringe onto the field at him. With all the controversy Bonds has remained relatively stoic, trudging on. It will be interesting to see the reaction once Bonds finally connects with numbers 714 and 715.

Hot Starts:

Cincinnati Reds (23-15)

The acquisition of Red Sox starter Bronson Arroyo has turned out to be just the spark the Reds needed to get off to a hot start in 2006. Arroyo (5-1, 43 K, 2.03 ERA) and the Reds' pitching staff have helped Cincy to second place in the NL Central, just a game back of the World Series-seeking Cardinals. The Reds have been fueled by an influx of offensive firepower from their young starters, like Brandon Phillips (.296 AVG, 25 RBI) and Edwin Encarnacion (6 HR, 28 RBI).

Detroit Tigers (24-13)

Nearly a fourth of the way through the MLB season, the Detroit Tigers are keeping pace with baseball's top teams, as they sit just a half game back of the defending World Champion Chicago White Sox in the AL Central division. An improved pitching staff, led by Nate Robertson, Justin Verlander and Kenny Rogers, and an onslaught of offense from little-known players like early-season sensation Chris Shelton (.313 AVG, 11 HR, 22 RBI) have put the usually lowly Tigers on the radar in '06.

Cold Starts:

Chicago Cubs (15-22)

After acquiring speed demon Juan Pierre to patrol centerfield and Jacque Jones to plug the middle of their lineup, the Cubs looked to 2006 with optimism. But disaster struck early, as All-Star first baseman Derrek Lee. Since losing Lee, the Cubs have tumbled to the depths of the standings in the ultra-competitive NL Central. So, why the struggles? A 4.83 team ERA and a starting pitching staff that has given up 30 home runs so far this season. Cubs fans are already praying for the speedy and successful recovery of Lee, who racked up three home runs, 10 RBI, five stolen bases and a .318 batting average in just 44 at-bats before fracturing his wrist.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (16-22)

Favored by many experts to win the mediocre AL West, the Angels have gotten off to a sluggish start this season, posting a 7-10 home record. The source of the Angels' woes is guided primarily by all-around underachievement; the team has a batting average of just .247 and a combined ERA of nearly 4.5. And the future looks grim for the Angels, who are just 4-9 in the month of May.

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