Question of the day: What is the biggest surprise of the baseball season so far?
Reporters from around the Tribune family tackle the question of the day, then you get a chance to chime in and tell them why they are wrong.
Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times
The complete list of teams with a worse record than the Boston Red Sox, as of Monday afternoon: the Baltimore Orioles and Houston Astros. That's it. The Red Sox are 4-9, and they just got swept -- at home -- by the Tampa Bay Rays. No sin there; the Rays were our pick to win the American League East. And you have to count on better from star pitchers Jon Lester (0-2, 8.44) and John Lackey (1-1, 5.63). But, for the Red Sox to avoid their first losing season since 1997, they'll need more than a few offensive turnarounds. The slow start has revived the "Is David Ortiz done?" debate, and his statistics -- .158 batting average, .289 slugging percentage, 15 strikeouts in 38 at-bats--are not encouraging. But he is not alone: J.D. Drew is batting .146, Kevin Youkilis is batting .217, and catcher Victor Martinez -- whose poor defense sets up opposing teams to run wild on the Red Sox -- is batting .212, with one home run. The Red Sox should get well soon, with Texas, Baltimore and Toronto next up on the schedule, but the concerns about the Boston offense might linger through the summer.
Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune
A lot of baseball experts were going to pick the Minnesota Twins to win the AL Central but looked elsewhere when closer Joe Nathan left Florida for season-ending surgery on his elbow. Fox’s Ken Rosenthal even went so far as to pick the White Sox to not only seize the chance to win the division but also to win the World Series. Oops. The Central team that looks capable of winning the Series is the Twins, who are showing that Nathan is a replaceable part. Jon Rauch, previously considered a not-ready-for-prime-time pitcher, has gone 6-for-6 in save situations as the Twins won their first four series. Three of those saves came when he was nailing down a one-run lead. The Twins probably shouldn’t be seen as a surprise – not given a 50-percent payroll increase to bolster their standing as perennial division favorites. But no team is underestimated more regularly, and Nathan’s injury made it easy to do that in 2010.
Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun
Though I doubt anyone would be surprised that the Orioles are not doing well -- considering that they've run off a string of 12 straight losing seasons -- it's still fair to say that one of the biggest surprises of the early weeks of the season was their complete collapse out of the gate. It's almost impossible to be as bad as they were for the first two weeks, losing 11 of their first 12 games and putting up one stat that boggles the mind.
There was a point a few days ago when the Orioles were 1 for 40 with runners in scoring position and two outs. That's pretty hard to do. In fact, you could probably send 40 major league hitters to the plate blindfolded and get two hits. Combine that with a rash of blown saves, injuries to leadoff star Brian Roberts, closer Michael Gonzales and third baseman Miguel Tejada and you have the worst Orioles start since the infamous 0-21 start in 1988.
This team was supposed to be an improvement on 2009. Right now, it looks like a train wreck.
Mandy Housenick, Allentown Morning Call
Two weeks into the season, the once feared Boston starting pitching rotation is struggling, and it is baseball’s biggest surprise and single biggest reason the Red Sox are 4-9 and in fourth place in the AL East.
The starting five pitchers are 3-5 with a 5.18 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting better than .285 against them, and they have a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) higher than 1.53.
John Lackey was the latest victim, when on Monday the Rays tagged him for eight earned runs on nine hits and one walk in 3 1/3 innings. His WHIP soared to 1.63.
While the Red Sox bullpen has a more respectable 3.60 ERA, it has lost four games. All told, Boston pitchers have an era of 4.58, third worst in the American League. That’s not going to cut it.
Photo: Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury and Bill Hall get in each other's way while attempting to catch a fly ball. Credit: John Rieger, U.S. Presswire.