This early in the baseball season, there are usually a handful of storylines that fans tend to follow closely. During the past seven days, baseball provided as much drama and fodder for the media as any daytime soap opera ever could. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest stories of the past week in Major League Baseball:
One of the greatest streaks in sports history was finally laid to rest this past week. No, not a streak from an individual or a team, but a compelling streak from a fan that had suffered for 86 long and tumultuous years of waiting for that elusive World Series championship. I am speaking of the sellout streak that Red Sox Nation built through heartache, loyalty, and finally relief. Empty seats dotted the view of the venerable Fenway Park, ending the nightly standing room only views at 820 consecutive games. The streak covered almost 10 consecutive seasons, witnessed two championships-including an improbably comeback from being down 0-3 to the hated Yankees, to finally witnessing the shredding of a bloated payroll and the purging of egos that led to a 96-loss season in 2012, set the stage for a 2013 of low expectations, and finally, ticket sales went down. Here’s to you Boston, my hat is off to you for supporting your team through thick and thin.
From one coast to the other, fireworks went off at Petco Park in San Diego during the recent series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. Not quite the makings of a classic rivalry, tensions came to a head quickly as Dodger free-agent pitcher Zach Greinke beaned Padre outfielder Carlos Quentin, and the benches erupted. By the time law and order had been restored, multiple players had been ejected, including an irate Matt Kemp and Jerry Hairston, Jr. along with Quentin, while the Dodgers’ $150 million dollar investment in Greinke was left with a broken left collarbone from the altercation. Greinke is now out 8-10 weeks following surgery to repair the broken bone, and Quentin was suspended 8 games for his actions-tying the longest in MLB history for such actions. Spoiler Alert! The Padres open up a series Monday night in L.A. sans Quentin, but Dodger fans will no soon forget what happened to their ace last week.
If things weren’t bad enough in Los Angeles following the injury to Zach Greinke, the team on the other side of town has plenty of problems of their own. The Angels a week ago Sunday, lost their ace, Jered Weaver to a fractured left elbow, but as a team, they have yet to show up. The Halos are in full panic mode as manager Mike Scioscia held a closed-door team meeting following another disturbing loss at the hands of the freshly minted American League Houston Astros. How did the team respond? With another loss, pushing their record at one point this past week to 2-8, tied for the worst start in franchise history. Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton looked more like a group of middle-aged men at a fantasy camp than they did as three of the most feared sluggers in all of baseball. Finally getting home runs from both Trout and Hamilton, the Angels took the series finale from Houston on Sunday, winning 4-1.
By now, everyone that follows baseball is well aware that the Toronto Blue Jays’ season has not played out quite as well as they had hoped. Inconsistent pitching and a lack of potent hitting left the Blue Jays struggling to put together any type of winning streak. Struggles from Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey were compounded even more when the leader atop the batting order, all-star shortstop Jose Reyes suffered a severely sprained left ankle while attempting to slide into second base. Reyes has been ruled out until the all-star break, and along with nagging injuries to Jose Bautista, the season could get very ugly in a hurry if the Blue Jays don’t have answer for their early season problems.
Saturday witnessed Tigers‘ ace Justin Verlander slam the door not only on the Oakland A’s, but stopping a nine-game winning streak as well. The A’s came back the previous night as third baseman Josh Donaldson had the first walk-off hit of his young career, extending the winning streak in extra frames. Verlander was having none of it, and proved his worth of the new contract extension that will keep him in Detroit for most likely, the remainder of his career.
The marquee matchup of the week, concluded with more of a thud than it did provide excite. Early MVP-candidate Justin Upton blasted his league-leading 7th home run of the season, as the hottest team in baseball, the Atlanta Braves marched into the nation’s capital and summarily gutted the now-rival Washington Nationals. A microcosm of the series came in the first two innings of Sunday’s finale, as Upton and his fellow Bravos, jumped on Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez for 7 earned runs in the first 1 1/3 innings he toed the rubber. The rout was on from there, and the Braves never looked back, easily coasting to a 9-0 win. The Braves are the team to beat not only in the National League East, but all of baseball. Sitting at 10-1, their fast start could very well put them on the march to a World Series title, having already opened up a 3 1/2 game lead within their own division. The sweep of the rival Nationals put four full games between the two teams, and mentally has built a roadblock for the Nats to think about until their next meeting.
The Braves took a calculated risk when they traded for Justin Upton. He was coming off arguably the worst season of his career, and many were beginning to wonder if 2012 was the norm rather than an aberration. Upton was a top candidate for the NL MVP less than two years ago, but after struggling through much of 2012 with poor hitting and the appearance of not caring too much about improving, it was time for a change of scenery. Teamed with older brother B.J., Atlanta is exactly what the junior Upton brother needed, as he is hitting .348, with 7 home runs, 11 runs batted in, and has even stolen 2 bases while playing gold glove-caliber outfield. With the Uptons, the Braves can continue moving ahead in the post-Chipper Jones era, and through 11 games, it looks like smooth sailing.