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April Brings Many Surprises in Baseball

By Yong-yi Zhu

SPORTS COLUMNIST

April brought us some pleasant surprises and interesting turn-arounds in the world of baseball. In fact, it has even had major turn-arounds of turn-arounds.

For one, take the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Red Sox have finally stripped the Yankees of their temporary stranglehold of first place in the American League East. The Sox seemed invincible at one point, sweeping the Yankees in their own home. The Sox pitching has also given up fewer runs than any other American League team. On top of that, they were getting hits at very opportune times. Hey, as long as you score more than your opponent, it doesn’t matter how many runs you score, right?

However, as of late, they can’t seem to get anything going. The big four -- Martinez, Schilling, Lowe, and Wakefield -- have each taken a loss during the five-game skid, and their offense has been sluggish. They’ve given up leads early and have only managed to scrounge up a couple of runs late in the game.

Suddenly, the inferiority complex that the Boston Red Sox have had ever since Babe Ruth is surfacing again. Pedro Martinez’s decision to become a free agent and leave the Sox in an unstable state isn’t doing anyone in Beantown any favors, and being swept by Texas is not a great way to spend a weekend, either.

Speaking of Texas, all they have done this year has been to produce the most wins in baseball. Some call it the “Alex Rodriguez syndrome” while others simply say that the Ranger pitching has performed up to par. For some odd reason, whenever A-Rod leaves a city, that team’s record shoots up the following season. Just look at the Mariners who won 116 games after A-Rod left. But then you look at some more realistic factors and the success actually starts to make sense. Kenny Rogers and Chan Ho Park are good pitchers. Granted, they are not terribly consistent, but when they’re good, they’re good. In addition, we’ve always dreaded that Texas offense. They have so many talented young players that I think they will be a force to reckon with in the very near future. (Very near might mean this year.)

The heart of their order really can offer problems for teams. With Michael Young and Alfonso Soriano batting right, Dave Delucci and Hank Blalock batting left, and Mark Teixeira switching hitting, there’s trouble no matter which pitcher is on the mound. Plus, these guys have an average age of well below 30. The possibilities for where this team could be in two years are about as cringe-inducing as thinking about the Yankee lineup now.

Oh yes, the Yankees. They have cured their hitting woes since they last met Boston. All the Bombers had to do was to plow through Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. (What a cure for hitting, eh?) Maybe they just woke up from their winter sleep and realized that spring was finally here. Since that awakening, the Yankees have scored big, getting an average of 7.5 runs per game over that seven game winning streak. The return of Jon Lieber also gives them a lift where they really need one. Do they have all the pieces in place? We know for one that Derek Jeter can still find his bat, as difficult as it may have seemed.

But there are so many different story lines that have emerged from this one little month. It took the Detroit Tigers all the way until the end of May last year to win as many games as they have now. The same goes for San Diego, who might actually have a shot at winning the National League West. The NL Central is as backed up as it was a year ago, with nobody below .500. And the Florida Marlins have taken the early lead in a weak division and will try to stop Atlanta for the first time in 13 seasons.

It’s been a crazy month, April. But one thing is for sure, this is only the beginning of May. The wait until October is still quite a ways away. Will Texas keep up with Anaheim in the AL West? Will Boston and New York have their private duels again? Or will Baltimore have something to say about the American League East crown? What will the crazy NL bring? All I know is that summer is here, and summer will be great.