Three Up, Three Down
After a recent win, the Dodgers shortstop could barely contain his glee before the assembled media: "This is the best of my career. When you go up and it's going well, anything can happen. You look forward to every at-bat."
He looks forward to a huge payday, as well. Furcal is a free agent at season's end, and he's definitely making the most of his walk year. He ranks second in all of baseball in runs (34) and third in batting average (.366). But it's his .448 on-base percentage that's most impressive, especially when compared to last season's lowly .333 mark. Add that on-base percentage to a healthy .597 slugging percentage and we're looking at a 1.045 OPS. Don't mean to get too numerical, but that kind of OPS is usually reserved for the game's best middle-of-the-lineup sluggers, not a 5-foot-9 leadoff man.
The only thing that could curtail Furcal's cash haul is his recent injury history. Ankle and back ailments diminished his production in 2007, when he basically turned into a bona fide slap hitter. And the injury bug has already reared its ugly head this season. Furcal missed L.A.'s last two games with back tightness, but is expected to return Friday.
If Furcal can finish the season healthy, he should land a nice chunk of change, and nobody will be happier than his parents. Yes, they're proud of their son's success, but it goes much further than that. When Rafael cashes in, so do his parents. Just look at
Furcal's not the only player making the most of his walk year. Here are three others:
It may surprise some, but Chipper is pretty much a lock for the Hall of Fame. He owns gaudy career numbers (.309/.405/.549 with 396 homers and 1,328 RBIs in 1,926 games). He's the only switch-hitter in MLB history with a career average north of .300 and more than 300 homers. To boot, he was probably the single most important cog in Atlanta's 14-season playoff run (even though he only took part in 11).
And Chipper's not done -- far from it. He currently leads the majors with an eye-opening .419 batting average and ranks third with 10 homers.
Surprisingly, there isn't a single "Jones" in the Hall. Larry Wayne Jr. will change that one day.
On Tuesday, though, Olsen held the Brewers to just two hits over 8 2/3 innings and improved his record to 4-1 (with a 2.22 ERA). His most noticeable change on the hill is his pace; he's working must faster than in the past. This helps him maintain focus and definitely keeps his emotions in check. In the past, Olsen would huff and puff his way through tough stretches. Nowadays if he doesn't get a favorable result, he quickly moves onto the next pitch.
"His composure is a lot better than the past," Milwaukee second baseman
Outside the lines, teammates are buzzing over Olsen's increased professionalism. Now, this could just be the warm, fuzzy feelings that surround a hot start. Or it could be actual growth.
In Year 2, Verlander established himself as Detroit's ace, threw a no-hitter and collected 18 more wins.
This rapid rise led many of us to believe Verlander would firmly place himself among the game's best in Year 3. But after eight starts, he looks like another embarrassing example of our premature adulation.
At 1-6 with a 6.43 ERA, Verlander has baseball minds racing, trying to figure out what's wrong with him. Many folks point to a decrease in velocity as support for the convenient explanation: He's hurt. But Verlander and the Tigers enthusiastically deny this theory. And I believe them. It's hard to imagine Detroit allowing the future of its staff to rack up May innings on a balky arm. There's a much simpler explanation to his struggles: Verlander is nowhere near as polished as most of us were led to believe. This is especially evident when it comes to the mental side of pitching.
Verlander opened this season as the unquestioned No. 1 for an ultra-hyped World Series contender. That's a lot of responsibility for a 25-year-old, and it's getting to him. With his increase in walks and decrease in strikeouts, Verlander seems to be trying to be too perfect, instead of just airing it out like he did in the past.
"I think he's getting caught a little bit worrying too much about trying to become a pitcher, throwing 91 and 92 and saving [more velocity] if you get into a jam,"
This fixation with flawlessness could stem from the fact that his run support has greatly decreased this season. In 2006( 6.77) and 2007 (7.32), Verlander received the second- and third-best run support in all of baseball. This year he's getting a measly 2.57 runs from the underachieving Tigers offense.
Verlander still boasts the raw nastiness to someday become a top-tier ace, but he's not there yet.
Last season Byrnes finished fourth in steals with 50. This year he's on track for 19. To be fair, Byrnes has battled hamstring problems since the beginning of spring training. The hammy is healed, though, and Byrnes recently told the
But it's pretty hard to steal bases when you can't get on base. Byrnes is mired in a 5-for-46 slump over his last 11 games, dropping his average to .232. Diamondbacks faithful are begging him to bring back his mustache. (Byrnes
Kendrick hit .322 last year, but he missed a total of 67 games on the disabled list with two separate finger fractures. The second basemen got off to a hot start this season (8-for-16 with a 1.221 OPS), but a strained left hamstring put him on the shelf after 10 games. On the 15-day DL since April 14, Kendrick's return has been delayed twice.
Kendrick's line-drive swing evokes memories of
• As of Friday morning, it has been 22 innings since a Mariner last crossed home plate. And these offensive frustrations seemed to boil over Thursday night when
• Did the Rockies forget that
• When the Yankees demoted pitcher
• Does anyone in baseball constantly look more pissed off than Blue Jays hurler
• The Mets finally had a starting pitcher reach the eighth inning, as
• One quick piece of fantasy advice (heed at your own peril ...): Pick up Rockies catcher