This Week's Diamond Digits has a heavy American League tilt, as we look at baseball's best pitcher who resides in Kansas City, a second-year player with a Lou Gehrig record in his sights, a pinstriped pair making history and a couple of Rangers who've been down on their luck.
ERA for the best pitcher in all of baseball right now, Royals starter Zack Greinke.
Through the weekend, Greinke had won all four of his starts and had yet to allow an earned run while striking out 36 and walking only six in 29 innings. He provided a preview of what was to come at the end of '08 by shutting down the Mariners and Tigers with two scoreless seven-inning performances to close out the year. Over the last half century only two pitchers -- Greinke and Dodgers legend Fernando Valenzuela (33 innings without an earned run to begin 1985) -- started a season with as long a shutout streak. Including last season's final two games, Greinke also tied two other Dodgers legends, Don Drysdale (May 14 to June 4, 1968) and Orel Hershiser (September 5 to September 28, 1988) for longest stretch of games pitched (six) of at least five innings and no earned runs at any point in the season. Watch for him on Wednesday against the Jays as he goes for his seventh no-earned-runs start in a row.
Career grand slams for White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, following his fifth-inning blast off of Shawn Camp in Saturday's 10-2 home win against Toronto.
Ramirez's fifth career granny was his first home run of the season and 22nd of his career. Therefore, 22.7 percent of his home runs have been of the maximum output variety -- an astonishingly high rate. Alexei's already a quarter of the way to Manny Ramirez (no relation), who leads all active players with 20 career grand slams, three behind all-time leader, Lou Gehrig. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, with just 154 games of experience, Ramirez is the second-fastest player to reach five career grand slams, trailing only Detroit's Rudy York,who got to five in just 139 games from 1934-39.
In 20 at-bats with the bases loaded, Ramirez has batted .450, slugged 1.200 and driven in 30 runs. Since the start of last season, his five grand slams are the most (by two) of any major leaguer. To put this into further perspective, these are just a few of the established power-hitting superstars who have fewer career grand slams than Ramirez: David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Matt Holliday, Mark Teixeira, Justin Morneau, Alfonso Soriano and Chase Utley. Among his young contemporaries, Ramirez's five salamis are more than the career totals of Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, Carlos Quentin and Hanley Ramirez (again, no relation) combined (four).
Hit this season for Texas' David Murphy, breaking his season-long schneid on Sunday with a home run.
Murphy had gone to the plate 30 times without reaching via a base knock, but finally in the fifth inning, the previous .286 career hitter had dropped his lifetime average to .275 in just three weeks. He was perilously close to the Rangers' team record for most at-bats without a hit to start a season, set by Ted Kubiak, a career .231 hitter who went 25 hitless at-bats for manager Ted Williams in 1972.
It wasn't a happy weekend for the Yankees at Fenway Park, as the Bombers dropped three straight games to the arch-enemy Red Sox. Two of the players who had an especially hard time of it were Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera; Pettitte for allowing an embarrassing steal of home by Jacoby Ellsbury on Sunday night, and Rivera for blowing a save on a two-out, two-run game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth on Friday to Jason Bay. However, the week wasn't all bad news for the longtime teammates. Rivera saved Pettitte's victory against the A's on Tuesday, tying them for the most win-save combinations since the current saves criteria went into effect in 1969. The next win Rivera closes out for Pettitte will make them responsible for 58 shared victories, which will be one more than Oakland's Dennis Eckersley completed for Bob Welch from 1988 through 1994. Rivera also shares third place on the list, collaborating with the recently retired Mike Mussina for 49 victories.
Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers
Braun got off to a slow start for the stuttering Brewers, but he turned it on last week by leading the majors in batting average (.565) and on-base percentage (.655), and placing second to Cincinnati's Jay Bruce in slugging (1.091 to .957), all while quadrupling his season's homer output from one to four. Braun enjoyed a 5-for-5 show at Philadelphia and a 4-for-6 at Houston.
Honorable mention: Greinke, Bruce, Carlos Beltran, Rich Harden, Albert Pujols and Mike Lowell.
Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
The Andrus experiment in Arlington took a downturn as the rookie looked overmatched both at the plate (2-17, one run scored) and in the field (four errors). His backup (and mentor) Omar Vizquel had as many hits in just four at-bats than Andrus collected all week.
Dishonorable mention: Troy Tulowitzki, Clayton Kershaw, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Aviles and Jody Gerut.