Three up, three down: Braun pacing surging Crew
UP: Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun has answered the doubters. Remember that 1-for-16 stumble to open the season? Nobody in Milwaukee does. The Brewers went into Monday on a nine-game winning streak, and Braun has been, well, Braun. He's hitting .429 in the last seven games, with three home runs and 10 RBIs.
Center fielder Carlos Gomez has been the perfect counter punch to Braun. He's hitting .415 with three home runs during the nine-game winning streak that began with three-game sweeps in Boston and Philadelphia before a weekend return to Miller Park, where Pittsburgh was the Crew's latest broom victim.
Don't overlook a pitching staff that has a Major League-leading 1.80 ERA and has been a driving force in the Brewers outscoring the opposition, 53-23, during the surge. The challenge will continue for Milwaukee, which may have nine of its next 13 at home, but the first three of those games are against St. Louis starting Monday. That is followed by a four-game visit to Pittsburgh.
DOWN: Tampa Bay Rays
Yes, the Rays are tied for the American League East lead with the Yankees, and they host New York in a four-game series this weekend. No, all is not well with Tampa Bay. When Spring Training opened, Jake Odorizzi, Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard were the candidates for the fifth spot in the Rays' rotation. Now they are all members of the rotation.
The Rays opened the season with Jeremy Hellickson on the disabled list after offseason surgery to remove loose bodies from his right elbow. In the last week, fellow starters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have joined Hellickson on the DL. Moore was sidelined on Tuesday with a partial tear in a ligament in his left elbow, and he's awaiting feedback from doctors on the extent of the injury. Then on Sunday, the day after he worked seven shutout innings against Cincinnati, Cobb was added to the DL with a strained left oblique. Cobb could be back in mid-to-late May. Moore's timetable will depend on the review of his MRIs.
The Rays will need their strong arms to make a case in the AL East. This is a team that has scored two or fewer runs in six of its 13 games, but because of the pitching staff, Tampa Bay has won three of those six low-scoring games.
UP: Los Angeles Dodgers
No surprise. The Dodgers are on a roll. And it doesn't matter where they are playing. Coming off a sweep of Arizona, in which they outscored the D-backs, 29-11, Los Angeles is back on top of the National League West and enjoying life on the road (7-1).
The pitching staff has been dominant. Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren are all 2-0 on the road, and Ryu has turned in 19 shutout innings in his three starts. Adrian Gonzalez has driven the offense (three home runs, 12 RBIs in eight road games), but the big news has been the emergence of Dee Gordon at second base.
Gordon was unable to take charge at shortstop, but he was given a shot at second in the spring because the club didn't feel Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero was ready to make the move directly to the big leagues. Gordon has transitioned well in the field and at the plate, hitting .400 so far.
DOWN: Kansas City Royals
A key to the Royals anticipating a breakout season was the feeling that the homegrown offensive nucleus of Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer was ready to break out offensively. There are 151 games remaining in Kansas City's season. The early returns, however, have been concerning. The three are hitting a combined .172 with seven RBIs and no home runs.
The Twins' weekend sweep of the Royals in Minnesota underscores the concerns. Kansas City was outscored, 21-5, and a hopeful moment when the Royals scored three runs in the eighth on Sunday to take a 3-2 lead turned into another disappointment. The Twins score twice on a potential inning-ending double-play ball in the bottom of the eighth when Wade Davis fielded a bases-loaded comebacker and threw wildly to home plate in a bid to start the double play. And the game ended when Moustakas, standing in the batter's box watching a popup he hit, was called out for interference when catcher Kurt Suzuki tripped over Moustakas in his bid to catch the ball.
Now the Royals head to Houston for a three-game series beginning on Tuesday while looking for their first win of the season on the road, where they have been outscored, 27-9, in five losses.
UP: Oakland A's
The A's are a working man's dream: blue-collar players without any real distinction, except they all play a part in the team winning. Oakland took two out of three from Seattle each of the past two weekends, with both losses coming in games Felix Hernandez pitched.
Now Oakland heads to Anaheim for a three-game series beginning on Monday, looking to build off a 5-1 road trip that began with a sweep in Minnesota. The A's hit only .239 on the trip, but they outscored the Twins and Mariners by a 31-15 margin.
Oakland has balance. The A's lead the AL with a 2.17 ERA and feature an opportunistic offense that ranks 11th in the league with a .234 batting average, but is sixth with 51 runs scored.
DOWN: Miami Marlins
So much for that 5-1 start. The Marlins lost the final game of a season-opening homestand against San Diego and have since been swept in three-game visits to Washington and Philadelphia, in which they were outscored, 37-18. Even Jose Fernandez got beat, allowing six runs in four innings at Philadelphia after allowing only 10 baserunners and one run in 12 2/3 innings of wins over Colorado and San Diego.
Can the Marlins turn things around in their return home? They will get a quick test, as Washington is coming to town for three games this week. Can Miami regain its comfort level at home? The Fish did hit .294, score 42 runs and compile a 2.43 ERA in their season-opening homestand -- compared to hitting .233, scoring just 18 runs and compiling a 6.16 ERA in the just-completed six-game road trip.