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If you’ve blinked, you’ve missed some exciting baseball in 2012

If you haven’t been paying attention to Major League Baseball this season, then it’s time to wake up. Because you’re missing quite a show.

It’s not even June and we’ve already seen a perfect game pitched by Philip Humber and a no-hitter by Jered Weaver. Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in a game against the Orioles on May 8 and by May 29 Melky Cabrera reached 50 hits…in the same month. Chris Sale even struck out 15 batters on Monday and didn’t even pitch eight full innings.

Baseball will never touch the love affair that America has with football, but 2012 already has the makings of the most exciting season in recent memory. When you consider that the Orioles and Nationals are in first place while the Phillies and Red Sox are stuck in the cellar of their divisions, that’s exciting stuff by itself. (Or, at the very least, intriguing stuff.)

So are young players Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, who are raking Major League pitching despite the fact that they’re not even old enough to buy their teammates a beer yet. When you think about what Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal are doing in St. Louis, it’s not as if baseball is entirely a young man’s game either. Players from all ages are doing incredible things and making baseball a must-watch every night.

The game has become interesting off the field as well. Since his five-game suspension Ozzie Guillen has held his tongue but he’s still a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Apparently so is Indians’ closer Chris Perez, who all of a sudden has turned into a walking quote. What’s great is that Perez is also pitching his ass off, so he’s not making headlines just for being a mouthpiece. Just days after he hit one of the more you’ll ever see, Reds rookie Todd Frazier also saved a man’s life by using the Heimlich Maneuver while eating at a downtown Pittsburgh restaurant.

A no-handed home run and the Heimlich Maneuver all in the same week? Fantastic.

Yes, the law of averages is bound to catch up, as we’ve already seen with Albert Pujols. El Hombre entered play on May 6 with a batting average of just .194 with no home runs and five RBI through 114 plate appearances. Since then, he’s raised his average to .238, has blasted eight home runs and has driven in 23 runs. At some point things will come back to the mean in baseball and maybe the intrigue will die down with it.

But whether you’re a diehard or casual fan, it’s fun to watch Major League Baseball these days. Bud Selig has a good product on his hands and the best part is it’s a steroid-free product. (Well, not entirely steroid-free; just ask Guillermo Mota.) Thanks to the nightly feats of guys like Hamilton, Cabrera, and Matt Kemp, the storyline is no longer about how some big-headed monster is chasing down the home run record. Good, clean baseball is on display at ballparks across the nation.

And how refreshing is that?

MLB Hall of Famer Robin Roberts

Josh Hamilton has historic night while belting four home runs in one game

In three games this season against Baltimore pitchers, Albert Pujols had zero hits, zero home runs, zero RBI and just one run scored.

In one game versus Baltimore pitchers, Josh Hamilton had five hits, four home runs, eight RBI and four runs scored.

Yiiiikes.

With his historic performance on Tuesday night, Hamilton became the first American League player to go 5-for-5 with four home runs in one game. He also set an AL record with 18 total bases and became the 16th player to hit four dingers in a single game. Carlos Delgado was the last player to achieve the feat back in 2003 as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

It’s rather amazing to think that Hamilton, one of the best sluggers in the game, doesn’t even have a contract past this season. From the Rangers’ perspective, it’s understandable that they don’t want to pony up $100-plus million for a player that has battled off-field demons his entire career but come on – he’s now hitting over .400 and he has 14 long balls on the year. That’s absolutely incredible, I don’t care how early in the season it is.

There’s an argument to be made for St. Louis but thanks in large part to Hamilton, Texas still has the best offense in the league. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rangers make another deep postseason run, although let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still a lot of baseball left to be played.

It’s almost comical the way Hamilton and the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp are destroying opposing pitcher this year. Kemp almost looks like he’s not even trying and that’s meant to be a compliment. As of this writing, Hamilton now has more home runs than the entire San Diego Padres team.

For those scoring at home, Hamilton is now on pace to hit 75 home runs this season.

Bryce Harper unlikely to be sent down

Five Big Surprises Through the First Month of the 2012 MLB Season

With April now in the books, what were some of the biggest surprises through the first month of the 2012 MLB Season? I've outlined five shockers below.

It’s not completely surprising that Albert Pujols is slumping at the plate to start the season. After all, midway through April last year he was hitting just .222 for the Cardinals with only one home run. But who could have predicted that Pujols would look bad in his first full month with the Angels? He has zero home runs, is hitting just .217 and has collected only four RBI. He’s clearly pressing right now and it doesn’t look like he has a clue on how to shake out of his funk. He’ll eventually come around but thus far, his struggles at the dish have been national news.

Who would have thought that Adam Wainwright would be the biggest issue facing the Cardinals’ pitching staff through the month of April? Entering Tuesday’s action, Wainwright was sporting a 0-3 record with a 7.32 ERA. Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn are both 4-0 and Jake Westbrook is 3-1 with a 1.30 ERA. In fact, Wainwright is the only Cardinals’ starter that has an ERA over 2.78. When Wainwright eventually figures it out (and he will), and Lohse, Lynn, Westbrook and Jaime Garcia continue to pitch as well as they have, the Cardinals will be extremely tough to beat in the National League again this year.

Ask the Pirates – being in first place after the first month of the season or even at the All-Star Break (as Pittsburgh was last year) doesn’t mean squat. But the Nationals have been fun to watch regardless. Adam LaRoche has been fantastic, as he’s leading Washington in average (.329), home runs (4), RBI (17), OBP (.415) and total hits (27). But the other story has been the Nationals’ pitching, as four of their five starters have ERAs south of 2.00. The organization just brought up rookie phenom Bryce Harper too, which virtually guarantees that the Nationals will be relevant for a little while longer.

Blame the media for this one. Once the Tigers signed Prince Fielder last offseason, everyone just assumed that the rest of the AL Central would just roll over and play dead. But while the Tigers have had issues with their starting pitching, the Indians (11-9, first place) and White Sox (11-11, tied for second) have played well. Justin Verlander continues to be the rock of the rotation and Drew Smyly has been a pleasant surprise, but Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer have been disastrous. Porcello is currently sporting an ERA of 6.45 while Scherzer’s ERA is an abysmal 7.77. It doesn’t matter if Fielder and Miguel Carbera continue to hit the snot out of the ball – if the Tigers’ pitching doesn’t come around then there could be an upset brewing in the AL Central.

Ah, the power of Magic. Apparently all it took for the Dodgers to start playing well was for them to be sold. Los Angeles is currently sitting atop the NL West standings at 16-7, which includes a dazzling home record of 10-2. Matt Kemp has been ridiculous through 23 games, leading the league in batting average (.417), home runs (12) and RBI (25, tied with Texas’ Josh Hamilton). Better yet for L.A. Andre Ethier (.276, 5 HRS, 24 RBI) is actually contributing as well. If the pitching continues to be as good as it has (Clayton Kershaw is 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA while Chad Billingsley is 2-1 with a 2.64 ERA), then the Dodgers will prove that their hot start isn’t a fluke.

2012 MLB Season Preview & Predictions

Will the new-look Marlins eventually combust this season?

The Marlins have a new name, a new stadium, a new manager, and a new star, but will any of it translate into victories in 2012?

Stare too long at the Marlins’ fruit-stripped gum logo and you might start to buy into the hype. After all, the addition of Jose Reyes should make guys like Emilio Bonifacio, Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez better and it’s hard not to see the potential in this lineup. Plus, I love the addition of Heath Bell to the bullpen and Mark Buehrle should infuse some veteran leadership into a starting rotation that has often been led by youth.

But do the Marlins not scream “combustible situation?” First and foremost, Ozzie Guillen is their manager. The man has a World Series ring and a knack of taking the pressure of his club by drawing attention to himself, but is he the right man to deal with the egos of Reyes, Ramirez and the always volatile Carlos Zambrano?

Hey, maybe he is. Maybe Guillen is exactly the kind of skipper that his club needs and guys like Bell and Buehrle will keep the order in the clubhouse when Guillen is busy providing writing material for the media.

But the Marlins remind me a lot of the Dave Matthews Band: There’s just too much going on for my liking. You throw that many elements into one mixing bowl and things are bound to get a little messy.

How long before Ramirez becomes a problem because he doesn’t want to play third base? How long before Zambrano flips his lid and attacks an umpire? How long before the organization tries to rein in Morrison again?

Just like “Dave,” this thing could turn out to be something special. (I’m not a fan of his music but his millions of followers won’t hesitate to tell me how successful his band has been over the last couple of decades.) The Marlins have more than enough talent to outlast the Phillies and Braves in the division and be a surprise pennant contender come October. Again, let me point out that Guillen has a World Series ring and he may have already gained the respect of Reyes, Ramirez and Zambrano.

That said, I’m betting that the Marlins implode before they reach the finish line. As I suggested earlier, there are just too many combustible elements for this thing to end well for the Fish. I just can’t picture Reyes, Ramirez, Guillen and Zambrano passing around the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season while talking about what a united team they were throughout the year.

Either way, somebody pass the popcorn because things are about to get real interesting in South Beach. It just has to.

Will the American League return to dominance in 2012?

The Nationals are finally poised to compete

Baseball's Greatest Games: 2011 World Series - Game 6 Blu-ray Giveaway

The price of a World Series title? For Cardinals, it may be Chris Carpenter.

There’s always a price to pay in life. Success doesn’t come without failure and often times, elation doesn’t come without desolation.

For the St. Louis Cardinals, the price of their miraculous 2011 championship wasn’t losing Albert Pujols (like many had thought), but perhaps ace Chris Carpenter.

You could certainly make a case for Pujols or World Series hero David Freese being the most valuable player on last year’s Cardinals team. But in my eyes, it was hands down Chris Carpenter. Nobody threw as many innings in the big leagues last year than Carpenter, who was marvelous in the postseason. He won five of the six games he pitched, with his only loss coming in a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Rangers in the World Series. In that game he pitched seven innings of two-run ball while striking out four and allowing just two earned runs. He wound up pitching just four days later and beat the Rangers for the second time in the Series, limiting Texas to two runs on six hits over six innings while helping St. Louis win its 11th championship.

Now, with just two weeks before the start of the 2012 MLB season, in his right shoulder. The initial diagnosis was that he had a bulging cervical disc in his back and there was actually some positive news on his condition earlier this week. But it has been discovered that the discomfort he has experienced in his shoulder is actually nerve damage and nobody knows how long it’ll take for him to recover – or if he even will.

The word “retirement” and Chris Carpenter don’t really go together. He’ll be 37 years old at the end of April but it would take an army to pull him off the mound. But it really isn’t up to him on how his body will react over these next couple of days, weeks, and months. He rejected surgery on Wednesday because quite frankly, it wouldn’t help. It’s not like he has a tear – he’s dealing with nerve damage. All he can do now is wait for the nerve to heal itself (which could take some time), test his arm out, and then go from there. The nerve could essentially heal itself next month but then become damaged again when he attempts to throw. It’s just hard to predict what will happen next.

For the Cardinals’ sake, hopefully the nerve does regenerate quickly and he can get back on the mound at some point this season. But the news out of St. Louis right now isn’t good and there’s a chance that 2011 was the last we’ll see of Chris Carpenter in a baseball uniform. And if that is indeed the case, at least he and Cardinal fans will remember him for being the warrior he was in the 2011 postseason.

The Giants paid their World Series debt in the form of losing Buster Posey, Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval and Brian Wilson for extended periods of time last season, which prevented them from qualifying for the postseason. Now the Cardinals are paying the price for theirs and it’s a shame that it has to come in the form of Carpenter.

Brian Sabean has no excuse not to lock up Matt Cain long-term

Yoenis Cespedes’ deal with A’s has Billy Beane written all over it

Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s shocked the MLB world on Monday when they agreed to a four-year, $36 million contract with free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from Cuba. The move was rather surprising considering the A’s weren’t mentioned among the group of teams that were interested in signing Cespedes over the last few weeks.

The deal was also surprising when you consider that the A’s are supposed to be a cap-strapped organization. While there’s no doubt that a relative unknown like Cespedes is worth the risk for an Oakland club that is desperate for offense, the A’s have multiple holes to fill before they’re competitive again. Thus, it raised some eyebrows that Oakland was willing to give Cespedes more money than what the Reds handed Aroldis Chapman ($30.25 million over six years) back in January 2010. Chapman, of course, was the last Cuban player that was pursued by MLB teams.

Then again, this Cespedes deal has Beane written all over it.

Ken Rosenthal tweeted on Tuesday that Cespedes’ contract with the A’s . So in other words, if he becomes a star player down the road and Oakland doesn’t think it can re-sign him long-term, Beane can dangle the outfielder in front of as many teams as he wants. If Cespedes becomes an All-Star, Beane can complete one of his trademark deals where he unloads one player for multiple prospects, all while saving the Oakland organization money in the process.

There’s a chance that the A’s are starting to loosen the Kung fu grip they have on their checkbooks and want to build a competitive team centered around Cespedes and their young pitching. But knowing how Oakland and Beane have operated over the years, it wouldn’t be surprising if Cespedes’ name came up in trade talks sooner rather than later.

Marlins offer Yoenis Cespedes less than $40 million

Tigers’ Cabrera expected to move to third base to make room for Fielder

Following the Detroit Tigers’ acquisition of free agent first baseman Prince Fielder on Tuesday, Miguel Cabrera is expected to move to third base.

There was some initial talk that the club would use a rotation at the corner infield spots, as Fielder and Cabrera would each play first base on some days while Cabrera moved to third base on others. But Cabrera told the Venezuelan newspaper Lider en Deportes that he would move to third base to accommodate Fielder.

“I will come back to the third base, which is my natural position,” Cabrera said via a translated version of the story. “The arrival of Fielder will benefit us.”

Cabrera played third base with the Florida Marlins before being traded to Detroit and eventually shifting over to first. At 240 pounds he’ll likely need to get into better shape this offseason in order to gain more flexibility for the position, but his willingness to move has to be comforting for the Tigers. (Especially considering the small rift that occurred in Miami earlier this offseason where Hanley Ramirez gave the Marlins some gruff by stating he would not move to third base in order to make room for free agent acquisition Jose Reyes.)

Fielder batted .299 with 38 home runs and 120 RBI in his final season with the Milwaukee Brewers last year. Since 2007, he hasn’t hit less than 30 home runs in a season and outside of 2010 (83), he has never drove in less than 100 RBI.

He and Cabrera now make a dangerous duo in the middle of Detroit’s lineup. Cabrera drove in 105 RBI last season while belting 48 home runs and hitting .344. The addition of Fielder eases a lot of doubt created by the loss of Victor Martinez, who suffered a torn ACL during winter conditioning and could miss the entire 2012 season.

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