Around The Bigs: Is This Going To Be Albert Pujols' Biggest Season Yet? | Sharapova's Thigh

Is Albert Pujols just improving at the plate? Yikes.

St. Louis Cardinals
first baseman Albert Pujols is the best baseball player in the universe. The 29-year-old is a .334 hitter, with 331 home runs, 1010 RBI, and a 1.051 OPS over his nine-year career. Pujols was determined to hit for more power coming into 2009, and so far, he's doing just that. He's tied for the MLB lead in home runs with 13, and leads the NL in slugging percentage at .707. His career high in homers in a season is 49, and his best single-season slugging percentage is .671, both taking place in 2006. He's still hitting .328 as well, and we know he'll finish around there when the season ends. If he can keep hitting for this much power though, he's going to put up his best season yet, and just might be able to keep the Cardinals in contention for the NL Central crown all season. He's got them in first place right now at least...

Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena are crushing the ball for the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays. Longoria, the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year, is batting .362, with 11 homers, and a ridiculous 45 RBI. His 45 RBI are ten more than anybody else in MLB has. His 11 homers are second in the AL, behind Pena. Pena, the Rays first baseman, has 13 longballs, 32 RBI, and a .634 slugging percentage.

Unfortunately, their tremendous production at the plate has not been enough for the disappointing Rays club. They're currently 15-19, 7.5 games out of first place in the AL East. Surprisingly, it's the starting rotation that's causing the most problems, and it was arguably the best rotation in baseball last season. Many questioned the decision to keep phenom left-hander David Price in the minors for a few months for business reasons, but he's 1-4 with a 4.60 ERA in Triple-A anyway. Still, expect him to get it together and be a boost to the rotation when he's expected to be called up next month...

It seemed like most, including myself, picked the Indians to win the AL Central. Injuries played a major part in their problems last year, and on paper, they're the most talented team in that division. They added Mark DeRosa who was very good at the plate for the Cubs the last two seasons and can play five positions adequately, as well as Kerry Wood, who of course was the Cubs closer last year. However, they've given up 199 runs on the season, which is the most in baseball. Cliff Lee's throwing the ball well and showing that 2008 wasn't a fluke, but Fausto Carmona(5.57 ERA), Carl Pavano(6.45 ERA), and Anthony Reyes(7.20 ERA) are putting a lot of pressure on the offense. Their pitching staff ranks near the bottom of the AL in about every major category. They're lucky to only be 6 games out with a 13-22 record, but they need to turn things around soon or they're going to be sellers again come July...

Remember all the hoopla in the first week of the season over Marlins third baseman Emilio Bonifacio? On opening day he went 4 for 5, hit an inside-the-park homer, had 2 RBI, and 3 stolen bases. The following game, he had almost had another inside-the-park homer(settled for a triple), and added 2 more RBI. Everybody was raving about his speed and he was picked up in fantasy baseball leagues everywhere. Well now he's batting .257, with 1 homer(opening day), 7 RBI(4 through the first 2 games), 7 stolen bases(caught stealing 4 of 7 times since the first series), and a .619 OPS...

The Dodgers are in first place with a 22-12 record and closer Jonathan Broxton is certainly not hurting the cause. The 290-pound fireballer has a 0.56 ERA in 16 innings pitched, with just 2 hits allowed, and a whopping 27 strikeouts with only 4 walks. He's routinely hitting 100 mph on the gun, and locating it as well.
Their pitching staff ranks #1 in the NL in ERA(3.81), batting average allowed(.230), and OPS allowed(.672). Their lineup is still loaded even without Manny while he's out with the suspension that you just may have heard about, and if they can keep pitching like this, they shouldn't have a difficult time winning a very weak NL West...

Last June I examined how the "Erik Bedard Trade" looked for the Mariners and Orioles. I thought it was quite a win for the Orioles at the time. It still appears that way with Adam Jones looking like the player many thought he could be, and much sooner than anybody could've predicted. The 23-year-old center fielder is hitting .325, with 8 homers, 25 RBI, and a 1.090 OPS. He's looking like a future Gold Glove winner in center field with tremendous range and maybe the best arm of any center fielder in baseball. The Orioles also got reliever George Sherrill in the deal, and he's having another good season thus far with 6 saves and a 3.68 ERA. Oh, and they got three solid prospects in the trade as well.

The deal's not looking quite as bad now for the Mariners as it did last year though, in that Erik Bedard is finally pitching like they expected him to. The 30-year-old lefty underwent shoulder surgery last September, and looks like his pre-2008 self with a 2.53 ERA, and 43 strikeouts in 42 innings...

Dan Haren has 8 "Quality Starts", as he's gone 6+ innings, and allowed no more than 3 runs in all 8 of his games. However, his record is just 3-4, as his Diamondbacks have scored just 18 runs total in those 8 games, for an average of 2.25 runs per game. If their offense keeps performing like this, the return of Brandon Webb from injury may not even really matter...

Two big names that I think will be moved by July 31st: Jake Peavy and Garrett Atkins. Peavy of course we've heard a ton about in recent months, with the Cubs as the most discussed destination for the 2007 NL Cy Young Winner. He's 2-5 with a 4.30 ERA, but his stuff looks much better to me than it did at any point last season. He's back in the 92-95 mph range on his fastball with four other pitches to toss up there. Look for the talks with the Cubs to get going again in the next couple months. They're likely moving starter Sean Marshall to the bullpen as they want a reliable left-hander in relief, and rookie Randy Wells had a scoreless starting debut in five innings last week at Milwaukee, but he certainly wouldn't stand in the way of Peavy.

Atkins is struggling mightily right now and is saying his swing is off. He's a free agent in the offseason, and the Rockies really want to get the talented Ian Stewart more at bats, but his primary position is third base where Atkins plays. Todd Helton looks like a rejuvenated hitter and won't be getting benched at first base anytime soon, so this puts Atkins in a difficult position. Other teams looking for a bat should be interested in buying low on a rental that hopefully gets it back together and hits like the great run producer he was from 2005 through 2008. He should only cost a decent young arm.

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