Just four days after Liriano’s no-hitter, Tigers ace Justin Verlander fired the second no-hitter of his career Saturday night in a masterpiece over the Blue Jays in Toronto. Verlander faced the minimum 27 batters with a double play erasing the only walk he allowed of the game. He struck out four batters and finished with an efficient 108 pitches.

It’s been just about four years since Verlander threw his first no-no in interleague play against the Brewers back in June of 2007. Not much has changed since then. Verlander is still the ace of the Tigers staff and he’s still a dominant pitcher that can throw in the high 90s deep into games. Though he has seen the rotation changed around him completely in Detroit since ’07 when Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman, Chad Durbin, Mike Maroth and Andrew Miller each made 13 or more starts. None of those five pitchers are anywhere near Detroit’s roster today. It doesn’t seem like four years is an incredible amount of time for a franchise, but there sure has been a lot of change around him. Today, Verlander is surrounded with the likes of Max Scherzer, Brad Penny, Rick Porcello and Phil Coke.

Getting back to Verlander and his second no-hitter…he becomes the 24th player since 1919 to throw multiple no-hitters. Nolan Ryan of course leads with seven! Sandy Koufax tossed four of them and Feller recorded three while the rest of the list all put together two. Out of the entire list, six of the players are already in the Hall of Fame (Ryan, Koufax, Feller, Walter Johnson, Warren Spahn and Jim Bunning). Randy Johnson is another on the list, who will be in the Hall the first year he’s eligible. Then you have Roy Halladay, who is pretty much a lock for the Hall once his playing days are over. Halladay and Mark Buehrle are also the only two active players along with Verlander to accomplish this feat.

So eight of the players who have thrown multiple no-hitters will be in the Hall soon enough. Will Verlander join them down the road? It’s entirely too early to wonder about that as JV is just in his sixth full ML season, but his start hasn’t been too shabby to date.

Advertisements

No power outage
Can you name the batter who leads the Yankees in home runs this year? It’s not A-Rod, it’s not Teixeira and it’s not Robinson Cano, Russell Martin or Posada. Believe it or not, it’s former Tiger Curtis Granderson. Granderson ripped another two home runs in a 4-1 Yankees win in Texas Friday night. It looks like the Yankees lineup is a perfect fit for Granderson, who now has 10 homers through 30 games of 2011. Also, dating back to August 14, 2010, the only player who has hit more home runs than Granderson is Jose Bautista (who’s on his own planet right now) with 27. Granderson has 24 since last Aug. 14.

Ton of strikeouts and a big ol’ L
Phillies starter Cliff Lee struck out 16 against the Braves, but was tagged the loss after his offense managed just two hits off of Derek Lowe and the Braves bullpen in a 5-0 loss. According to B&R’s Play Index, there have been 287 games since 1919 where the starter struck out 12+ batters and took the loss. Lee’s performance Friday night was the first one of 2011. It happened five times last year: Josh Johnson (12k), Jhoulys Chacin (12k), Jon Lester (13k), Adam Wainwright (12k) and Jared Weaver (12k).

The most strikeouts for a starter who took the loss over the years at least since 1919? Randy Johnson (1997), Nolan Ryan (1974) and Steve Carlton (1969) all struck out 19 batters in a game where they were the losing pitcher. Ryan’s performance was an 11-inning pitched 1-0 complete game loss. Talk about a wasted effort.

Red Sox pitching routed again
Just when you thought the Red Sox were starting to turn it around, they drop three straight including a 9-2 beat down at home to the Twins. And I just wrote about the anemic Twins offense yesterday only to see them break out for nine runs in Fenway. This time the culprit was Tim Wakefield, who allowed eight runs (six earned) in just 4.1 innings of work. Besides Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, the Sox rotation has been a disappointment. This loss leaves Wakefield with a 5.73 ERA while John Lackey currently sits with a 7.16 ERA after his latest implosion. Meanwhile Dice K and Clay Buchholz are hovering in the mid-4 ERA. The Sox dropped to 14-18 and in last place of the AL East. That is not a misprint. Despite all the offensive improvement and signings in the offseason, Boston needs to find more consistency from its rotation if they are to compete for a pennant this summer.

Who’s this Berkman character?

Who in their right mind thought Lance Berkman would be leading the NL in OPS and SLG through the first 30 games of the season? I honestly thought it was a horrible signing for the Cardinals. I thought the 35-year-old had nothing left after watching him at the plate last year, plus I couldn’t imagine his legs being back in the outfield after a couple of years at first base and DH. Turns out, he’s been the best hitter for the Cards. Heck, for the entire NL and may also just be one of the best free agent signings of the year. I would have never of thought that prior to the season.

Berkman enters Friday’s game hitting .392/.462/.775 slash line with 10 home runs and a league-leading 32 RBIs in just 29 games. To put this into perspective, he hit 14 home runs total in 122 games with the Astros and Yankees combined. Even in the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium, he connected for just one longball in 106 at-bat with the Yanks. Overall in 2010, he hit a homer about every 29 at-bats. But this season, he’s belting one dinger about every 10 at-bats. What a difference a year makes.

Obviously, I think Berkman is just more comfortable in the NL, especially in the NL Central where he knows a lot of the pitchers. Not to mention that hitting in the lineup around Albert Pujols doesn’t hurt matters. His home run total last year was the lowest of his career besides his rookie year and he last blasted 20+ home runs in 2009 (25 with Houston), he’s well on his way to eclipsing that total. Of course if he can stay healthy, which is always the question mark for an aging veteran.

Yankees fast start

The Yankees are tearing the cover off the ball so far this season, propelling them to an early one-game lead in the AL East. The offense easily leads the league in home runs with 46 while ranking fourth in runs scored. That’s all fine and dandy, it’s the Yankees and we have come to expect that from them. But at some point this year (playoffs or before during pennant races), the bats will cool off or run into better pitching and will the Yankees be able to rely on pitching?

They are currently getting by with AJ Burnett, who’s having a bounce back year so far, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Phil Hughes has been horrendous (13.94 ERA), Nova is posting an ERA above 5.00 and Colon has been a nice story in April, but I don’t see him staying right for the entire season. CC Sabathia has  been solid and he’s their ace no question, but their pitching depth is very thin and they can’t afford a midseason injury or a Hughes type blowup again if they are going to compete in the AL East come September and beyond.

Runs at a premium

I shouldn’t have surprised to find out that two teams are actually scoring fewer runs than the A’s. The A’s are scoring 3.4 runs per game while hitting a slash line of .237/.304/.355. I thought that was bad, but can you name the two teams that are worse? It’s the Twins and the Padres. One playoff team from a year ago and the other a division leader for most of the season before falling behind the Giants yet still winning 90 games.

The Padres are scratching out runs at a 3.34 per game with a .218/.299/.327 slash line, but the Twins take the cake with 3.1 runs per game and a pathetic .230/.292/.323 line. When you are getting on base at a .292 clip, that is awful. With those numbers, it shouldn’t surprise anyone of the Twins 11-18 record and the Padres 12-19 record. The 16-16 A’s are getting by on stellar pitching, something the Padres and Twins (minus Liriano’s no-hitter) lack this season. How bad has it been for the Twins? Liriano’s no-hitter dropped his ERA to a 6.61 mark.

AL CENTRAL STANDINGS (as of May 2nd)

Indians        19-8        —
Royals         15-13     4.0
Tigers          12-15     6.5
White Sox  10-19    9.5
Twins            9-18     9.5

Yes, I know…it’s early. It’s only May 1st, but the Indians winning while the Tigers, White Sox and Twins lose has become a common occurrence in this early season. It’s been so common that the Indians are threatening to run away with a huge division lead. They finished the weekend by sweeping the Tigers right out of Cleveland to move to 19-8.

So do the Indians actually have a legitimate shot at winning the title. YES.

It has just as much to do with this Indians team as it does with the way the rest of the division is playing. Did you know that the Tribe currently leads the American League in offense? Probably not, but they are first with a .272 batting average and first in runs with 141. The lineup had the potential to be solid, but I’m not sure if anyone saw this coming. Young guys like Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley are healthy and producing while Travis Hafner is having a resurgence of a year. Grady Sizemore has also returned and given the Tribe a boost with a .379/.429/.822 slash line.

The surprising part about Cleveland so far this year is its pitching. They are fourth in the AL with a 3.49 ERA. The Tribe’s worst starter to date has been their ace to start the season in Fausto Carmona, who sits with a 5.15 ERA. But they are receiving stellar pitching performances from Josh Tomlin (4-0, 2.45), Mitch Talbot (1-0, 1.46) and Justin Masterson (5-0, 2.18). Masterson was always a high prospect of the Red Sox and showed shades of brilliance last year, but looks like he may be finally putting it all together. The question for this team will be can Tomlin/Talbot put together a full, solid season and can Carmona bounce back from his early struggles.

So there’s the breakdown of why the Indians are winning, but another reason they have a real shot at the AL Central title is because the rest of the division is floundering at the moment. The Tigers are looking like just an ordinary .500 team with not enough offense, starting pitching and a sketchy bullpen. The Twins seem to have run out of some of their magic and the White Sox are in the process of burying themselves early again. When a team is struggling early, you just can’t allow yourself to get buried in April and May, but the White Sox and Twins are already nine games below .500.

Last year, the White Sox started off 24-33 (nine games down as well), they did rebound to end up with 88 wins and a battle for the pennant, but they also went on a ridiculous run where they went 26-5 in a stretch of 30-plus games in June and July. Can you rely on something like that again? I’m not so sure. I think they will eventually turn it around, but I don’t know if they can get back and compete for the division.

That leaves the Royals, who like the Indians are a surprise team so far this season. Along with the Indians, they are the only other team above .500 in the Central though they haven’t been quite as exciting as the Tribe. The Royals have a lot of young talent that will hopefully help turn the corner of baseball in Kansas City, but I just don’t see this team hanging in a division hunt down the stretch.

Coupled with this talented Indians team and how the rest of the division is playing, I think the Tribe have a great shot at challenging the division. Pundits will still go with the “it’s still early” line and think the Twins and White Sox will still battle for this division. They is definitely possible, but at some point you can’t continue to use the early line and need to start stringing together some wins and actually look like a Major League team in the process, which the Twins and White Sox have not looked like so this year.

This may be considered nitpicking and labeled under the “things that don’t

The Brooklyn unis

really matter” category, but was I the only one who thought the Dodgers wearing the old Brooklyn jerseys on Thursday against the Braves was just wrong?

I have no idea how many times this has occurred since they left for the West Coast, but being a huge Ebbets Field and Brooklyn Dodger fan, this just doesn’t sit right with me. Sure the jerseys looked great, but to me it brings back the thought of what if the Dodgers had never left Brooklyn. If you aren’t there anymore, don’t wear the jerseys.

I mean, the Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who moved the Dodgers to LA after fighting with Brooklyn to get a new stadium, is long gone but it wasn’t a very amicable split. The hurt lasted long in Brooklyn or so I have read. Even when New York was awarded an expansion team for the Mets, true Brooklyn Dodgers fans never forgave the city or the Dodgers for leaving.

Maybe all of this was lost in the current ownership problems now that MLB has assumed control of the team. Maybe enough time has passed where the Dodgers felt it would be a cool thing to do and wear the blue Brooklyn jerseys. I mean that was all the way back in 1957 when they left for LA. Maybe the sting has dissipated from their fans over time or maybe there just aren’t many around in 2011, but seeing the team from Los Angeles wear a jersey with the Brooklyn script across the front didn’t seem right to me at all.

I haven’t talked much about the Pirates yet this season on here and maybe that’s me being selfish and not wanting to jinx their decent start, but after the series that just concluded I can’t steer away from talking about it.

The 2011 Pirates team is a hard one to figure out. They opened the season at Wrigley Field with a come-from-behind win over the Cubs that featured Neil Walker‘s grand slam, only the second Pirates player to ever hit a grand slam on Opening Day joining Roberto Clemente. The Pirates held the lead the next game until a major collapse in the eighth inning by reliever Evan Meek as the Cubs evened the series. But just when you thought that was a game to derail this team already, they rallied in the rubber match for two runs off Carlos Marmol in the ninth inning to give them a road series win.

The Buccos then flew out to St. Louis and took two-of-three from the Cardinals. Huh? Yes, the Pirates opened the season with two road series wins. That would have been unheard of last season when they won just a total of four series on the road all year.

So the Pirates came to Pittsburgh for the home opener against the Rockies with all the promise and hype from their great start on the road. And they absolutely laid in an egg. It started with the very first pitch from Paul Maholm, which was promptly lined into center field for a base hit, and ended with the Rockies cruising to a 7-1 win that included a rookie pitcher (Esmil Rogers) mowing down the Pirates lineup. There was pretty much nothing the Pirates did right in their opener. They rebounded the next night to win in extra innings (14 to be exact) and then dropped the next two games to Colorado in close games.

After a day off and a rainout against Milwaukee, the Pirates and Brewers finally played a couple of games though the Bucs offense basically took two days off. The Pirates were shut out in game one by Marcum and then blanked by Randy Wolf in the last game of the series. In fact, their only run of the two games came in the ninth inning of the last game on a wild pitch. Absolutely brutal.

The Pirates were sitting at 5-7 with a weekend four-game series in Cincinnati looming, so naturally I had the “this season is over” feeling. But the Pirates instead come out and take three-out-of-four from the first place Reds, winning another road series and getting back to .500 at 8-8. The offense produced six, seven and nine runs in the wins while the pitching staff saw TWO complete games (one from Charlie Morton and Kevin Correia each). If you’ve been a Pirates fan over the years, I don’t have to tell you how rare it is to see their pitching toss two CGs in one series.

Then came this three-game series against the Fish in Florida. The Pirates offense forgot to show up in the first two. I can understand the first game, they were shut down by Josh Johnson. He dominates most teams in the NL. But they also kept the bats in the hotel the next night against Ricky Nolasco and didn’t score five runs until they were already down 9-1 in the series finale. They were easily swept out of Florida while being outscored 21-5, including two shutouts. It was just a horrendous series to watch.

Heading into the season, I thought the one area of the team that would be fun to watch would be the hitting. While the big question everyone was wondering would be if the pitching would hold up. Well, 19 games into the season the pitching hasn’t been bad at all. Like I said, two complete games already is just one stat that is mind-boggling as a Pirates fan. They had just one all of last season.

But the alarming thing for me has been the complete disappearance of the bats out of nowhere. Basically being shut out two straight games against the Brewers at home, followed up by another two shutouts the next week against Florida will not cut it at all. You just can’t do that twice in a month. They cannot have those power outages all year if they are to stay around .500 this season.

So they stand at 8-11 this weekend with a homestand against the Nationals and defending champs Giants. My viewpoint on this season is to see significant improvement from the young talented core of McCutchen, Tabata, Alvarez, Walker, Hanrahan, Meek, Morton, McDonald, etc. And at times this month, this team just looks like different from other recent years, but then suddenly the floor drops out and it begins to look like every other year too. I honestly don’t know what to expect next from this group. I just hope they avoid the canyon (the massive free fall losing streak they usually get themselves in) and hover around .500 for most of the season.

Some random thoughts two weeks into the season…

The Jeter fascination is annoying. In the many nationally televised Yankees games already this month, I’ve grown tired of listening to the announcers feel the need to defend Derek Jeter at every step because of his down year in 2010. It basically goes something to this effect: “Everyone talks about what a bad year Jeter had last season, but who wouldn’t take a shortstop that scores 100 runs, hits .270 and wins a Gold Glove.” If I hear that line again, I may puke.Here’s my simple answer: Uh, that’s nice and all but I wouldn’t be paying this guy $20 plus million, which is what Jeter’s salary was last year, for that especially when his Gold Glove is a joke.

People will always defend him because of the greatness of his entire career, but let’s face it the guy has lost a step and is currently overpaid. He only hit about 50 points below his career average in 2010. It’s like “Holy cow! We can’t just say he had a bad year because he’s an awesome player and a nice guy!” We’ll see what year he puts together this season, but he’s already off to a slow, mediocre start.

The upside AL Central. While the Twins are struggling at 4-10 and the Tigers and White Sox are hovering around .500, the Royals and Indians are killing it in first place with a 10-4 record. I’m not sure I saw a preseason prediction that included the Royals and Indians anywhere but the basement. It’s a nice start, but at the same time it’s just a nice start. It’s April 16th. I hope both teams actually stay in the hunt, but I don’t see that happening. I liked the Indians lineup in spring training, but the pitching was going to be the question. Well so far, guys like Josh Tomlin, Mitch Talbot and Justin Masterson are pitching the lights out. If one of these surprise teams stay above .500, I see it being the Tribe than the Royals.

Fun fact: The Indians are the first team in the AL to win eight straight games after starting 0-2.

Craig Kimbrel. The Braves new closer is nasty. He nailed down his fourth save of the season today in Game 1 of a DH against the Mets. And he’s been pretty much unhittable since coming up last year. Check out these gaudy numbers: in 26.2 innings pitched in his career, Kimbrel has struck out 50 batters…that’s a 16.9 K/9 rate. Whoa. Kimbrel features a sinking fastball in the mid-90’s along with a devastating slider that hitters haven’t begun to figure out to date. This young kid is making Braves fans quickly forget about retired closer Billy Wagner.

Rockies rolling at 11-2. The Rockies are off to their best start in franchise history. And they are doing it without Ubaldo Jimenez, who is sidelined with an injured thumb. The Rox have certainly been impressive, but it should be noted that they have benefited from playing the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Mets already this season. They are just beating the teams that are scheduled in front of them, but I’m interested to see how they fare against the Phillies, Giants and some of the better teams in the NL.

Oh, and how big was Troy Tulowitzki‘s series against the Mets where he had 10 hits, four HRs and eight RBIs? He’s the first player to pick up numbers like that in one series since Vlad Guerrero smoked the Rangers in September of 2004 with 12 hits, five HRs and nine RBIs.

Charlie Morton has “good stuff.” And he may be finally showing it. The sinker was sinking all over the place Friday as Morton tossed a complete game in a victory over the Reds. He came within one out of the shutout before allowing a Jay Bruce home run. This is all significant because the Pirates had only one CG in 2010 when Paul Maholm fired a CG SO on July 18. Morton already matched their one CG in just two weeks into this season. After his disastrous 2010 season, Morton is off to a stellar start already: 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in three starts. NL Cy Young anyone?