Baseball's biggest surprises — good and bad — at the quarter mark

Baseball's biggest surprises — good and bad — at the quarter mark

Baseball's biggest surprises — good and bad — at the quarter mark
May 25, 2007

Unless you're Derek Jeter in 2004, if you're hitting under .200 at the season's quarter pole, your odds of anything close to a .300 season have gone the way of the Cardinals' chances of repeating --- out the window. On the flip side, if you rank among league leaders on Memorial Day, odds are good that you'll be there come Labor Day.

Well, it's Memorial Day weekend, which here in the Midwest means school is almost out, neighborhood pools are opening and bug spray sales are climbing. It also means we can start talking about baseball's biggest surprises --- good and bad -- without hearing any of that "it's still too early" bunk.

So away we go. As always, feel free to disagree.

First base: Adrian Gonzalez is 25 now and has come into his power. He's on pace for 30-plus homers, very impressive when your home is Petco Park. Worth mentioning: After his past couple of seasons, it's great to see Todd Helton resume his place at the very top of the BA leaders. ... Boston's Kevin Youkilis, pretty good to begin with, looks like he's taken his game to the next level.
Oh, no: Carlos Delgado has 3 home runs after hitting 38 last season, and his BA has not been over .220 since mid-April. ... If Ryan Howard has learned one thing this year, it's to say no to the winter banquet circuit. Of course, after the way he's hit this season, he won't be invited anywhere next offseason. ... Richie Sexson is not hitting with power. Actually, he's not hitting at all: His .177 average is nearly 100 points below his career mark.

Second base: Kelly Johnson has made the Braves look smart by producing more than Marcus Giles, who was allowed to walk. Actually, he was pretty much told to take a hike.
Oh, no: Adam Kennedy has yet to homer for the Cardinals and his OBP is 51 points lower than last year.

Shortstop: J.J. Hardy's season was over at this time last year because of ankle surgery. This year he's the No. 1 home run hitter in the NL and a top-10 MVP candidate.
Oh, no: Miguel Tejada managed only 2 homers in his first 180 at-bats, though his average was over .300.

Third base: Well, about that prediction that this year would be a lot like last year for Alex Rodriguez. Wrong ... so far. A-Rod's historic April won over Yankee Nation, or at least bought him some time. More important for his own well-being, he has become comfortable blowing off reporters these days. A-Rod, however is not my AL MVP. That would have to be Magglio Ordonez, the cleanup hitter for the first-place Tigers, who leads the AL in RBIs. ... Worth mentioning: The Red Sox's Mike Lowell has a better average than A-Rod and 9 RBIs more than teammate Manny Ramirez.
Oh, no: Royals phenom Alex Gordon has not had his average above .200 all season. The good news: It was a season-high .195 two days ago, so maybe the Royals' faith in his toughness is beginning to pay off. ... Is Scott Rolen really an elite player, or has this just been a very embarrassing two months?

Left field: The fact that Albert Pujols doesn't lead the Cardinals in homers is stunning. The fact that Chris Duncan does is even more so. Yet what's really been unexpected has been Duncan's defense. The guy who was nearly hit in the head by a routine pop fly during the World Series has had more highlight catches than why-didn't-he-get-that type plays.
Oh, no: Manny Ramirez, who has played in every game except one, is struggling against curve balls and has not been close to .300 all season. A bigger shocker: The Red Sox haven't missed his production.

Center field: Torii Hunter is in his ninth full season but says he's still learning how to hit major league pitching. Judging by his spot among the HR, RBI and average leaders, he's picked up some valuable lessons this season. There's never been a better time to do so, considering he's going to be a free agent this winter.
Oh, no: Andruw Jones is considered the top potential free agent of 2007, but he has 54 strikeouts to go with only 34 hits. At what point do his struggles begin to cost him some money? Considering his agent is Scott Boras, they likely won't.

Right field: As good as Magglio Ordonez has been in the past, I didn't think he had this kind of season in him: Top three in average and homers and No. 1 in the majors in RBIs. Worth mentioning: If the Mets had dumped Shawn Green in spring training, few would have been disappointed. But he's hitting over .300 and producing in the bottom half of the order.
Oh, no: After a fast start, J.D. Drew is stuck on two homers and has only 13 RBIs, and his average is down to .237. But there is a bright side: He hasn't been on the disabled list yet.

Catcher: The Molinas -- two of them, anyway -- are hitting over .300 but one of the season's biggest surprises has to be seeing this name among the AL average leaders: Jorge Posada. His .367 is more than 100 points better than his career mark. Posada, 35, looks leaner and in better condition than in recent seasons, which should give him a better chance of not wearing down as the season wears on.
Oh, no: All those years of catching 140 games has caught up to the A's Jason Kendall. In spring training, it looked like he had improved his throwing. Well, he hasn't. He hasn't been hitting, either. His average has been under .200 all year. One thing that hasn't surprised: his absence of power. Over the past three seasons, he has hit one home run in more than 1,300 at-bats, and that includes the same number as you and me this season.

Designated hitter: So much for my prediction that Sammy Sosa would be back in hiding by now. He has showed he still can hit sliders and catch up to fastballs enough to rank among AL leaders in homers and RBIs.
Oh, no: I didn't really expect Frank Thomas do have another season like 2006, but I figured he'd be better than this: 6 HRs, 19 RBIs and .227. That can't be what the Blue Jays had in mind when they gave him a two-year contract.

Well, we've exceeded our word count (and run out of time) so we'll have to hold off on surprising pitchers. Enjoy Memorial Day, and don't forget the bug spray -- and to tell me what I've missed in this quarter-pole assessment.

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