Monday, April 7, 2008


SO WEEK ONE of the new baseball season is behind us and things are pretty much as expected. Defending World Series champions the Boston Red Sox are bottom of the American League East, the Kansas City Royals share top spot in the Central and the vaunted Detroit Tigers have played six, lost six!

No team that has started the season 0-4 has gone on to win the World Series. Wily Tigers coach Jim Leyland won’t be pushing the panic button just yet. To use an old cliché, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But to say things haven’t gone according to plan for some of the more fancied teams is an understatement.

The Red Sox may be paying the price for their long-haul flight to Japan. That was followed by a trip to the West Coast to play Oakland, then a three-game series in Toronto.

The Blue Jays, beaten 2-1 by the New York Yankees despite their superior starting pitching, bounced back to sweep the Sox 3-0. Josh Beckett, making his first start of the season, gave up five runs, three hits and four walks in four and two thirds innings on Sunday.

The good news for Terry Francona and his jet-lagged players is that they return to Fenway Park this week to start a six-game home stand against … yes, you guessed it, the Tigers, then the Yankees.

“A lot of us are tired. We’re ready to go home,” admitted first baseman Kevin Youkilis. “All these different countries, different currencies. I’m sick of it.”

American League East a three-horse race?

Perhaps the biggest concern for both the Red Sox and the Yankees should be the Blue Jays’ form. The division could well turn into a three-horse race, which will probably eliminate two of the teams from wild-card contention.

Not only do the Jays have the best starting rotation but they expect to have closer B.J. Ryan and third baseman Scott Rolen back off the disabled list shortly.

So what of the 3-3 Yankees? If Chien-Ming Wang is starting, Joba Chamberlain pitching the eighth inning and Mariano Rivera closing, then they are pretty much unbeatable. But when it’s Mike Mussina, followed by LaTroy Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworth, no lead is big enough.

The encouragement provided by Phil Hughes’ first start was offset by the struggles of Ian Kennedy. Like Beckett, Andy Pettite was probably a little rusty following his injury lay-off. However, given the inconsistency of their pitching staff, the Yankees are unlikely to put together a long winning streak.

Some pundits are predicting they will score between 950 and 1,000 runs. They’ve got plenty of catching up to do, having scored only 17 in six games so far.

It’s hard to see the pedestrian Jason Giambi playing first base every day and with opponents putting the shift on him when he comes to the plate, he has to hit the ball out of the park to make a contribution.

Yankees rely on Melky Cabrera in outfield

Hideki Matsui, and to a lesser extent, Johnny Damon, are also a liability in the outfield. Just as well the Yanks didn’t trade Melky Cabrera.

While 55,000 fans packed Yankee Stadium on a chilly Sunday afternoon, the current division leaders, the Baltimore Orioles, are struggling to entice more than 10,000 into Camden Yards. Their attendance of 10,505 against Seattle was the lowest since the ballpark opened in 1992.

It’s amazing how quickly pre-season optimism can give way to post-traumatic pessimism. Just ask New York Mets’ fans.

A hamstring injury to Pedro Martinez, followed by an all-too-familiar series loss against the Atlanta Braves, suggests the Amazins may not be the “dead cert” to win the National League East that many people thought.

They certainly can’t afford to be losing games started by Johan Santana, who looks every inch the ace the Mets paid big bucks for.

The Mets begin a nine-game homestand against Philadephia tomorrow. With the whispers already starting about the job security of manager Willie Randolph, especially after last season’s September surrender, Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Delgado need to start hitting.

While Randolph and new Yankees coach Joe Girardi have been under the weather (for different reasons), Joe Torre is enjoying the sunshine out in Los Angeles. His Dodgers are 4-2. Only another 156 games to go!

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