The most surprising team this year has been the Cincinnati Reds, who last year lost 34 of their final 52 games last season and didn’t exactly go out and add much over the winter. Their payroll is about $46 million.
But the Reds have won 10 straight games against first-place teams and are themselves a firstplace team, with the best record in the National League.
"It’s big time to come in here and sweep these guys," first baseman Sean Casey said after Cincinnati won three straight at Florida last week, giving the the team 15 wins in 19 games. "They’re one of the best teams around. But we feel like we’re one of the best, too."
This even though the projected opening day lineup has played together for all of nine outs, due to a series of injuries. But Casey went into the weekend leading the NL with a .383 average, Ken Griffey Jr. is playing as well as he has in years and closer Danny Graves set records for the fastest to 20 saves (42nd team game) and 25 saves (52nd game).
As one baseball person pointed out, the Reds truly are greater than the sum of their parts. After Friday’s loss to Montreal, Cincinnati had allowed exactly as many runs (252) as it had scored. The Reds ranked 13th in the NL in team ERA, fifth in runs scored and 11th in slugging percentage.
So give credit to manager Dave Miley, a longtime manager in the team’s farm system who took over last year when Bob Boone was fired. New general manager Dan O’Brien had to be overruled to keep Miley on and gave him only a one-year deal with an option for 2005.
The players are pushing for an extension for Miley.
"It’s just a shame," captain Barry Larkin said.
"I am surprised they haven’t done something," Casey said. "Dave Miley is the right guy. He’s the difference this year. He deserves to be here a long time."
You would think, coming off a World Series championship and now in first place, all would be hunky-dory with the Florida Marlins.
But two pitchers recently voiced their displeasure at team decisions.
A.J. Burnett’s return from reconstructive elbow surgery was pushed back a day, from Wednesday in Miami to Thursday in New York, and that did not sit well with him.
"Just because I’m not throwing 97 to 100 (mph), Larry (Beinfest, the general manager) and Dave (Samson, the team president) are wondering what’s wrong," Burnett said."They haven’t come down and watched one bullpen (session). They haven’t come down and watched one simulated start. So they haven’t any idea whether I’m ready or not.’’
Beinfest said manager Jack McKeon made the decision.
Last Sunday, Josh Beckett had a blister on his middle finger tear open. The team put him on the disabled list immediately after the game, and Beckett thought that decision should not have been made so quickly.
"I still have to come to the field for two weeks knowing I have nothing to do because we have a jackass trainer (Sean Cunningham)," Beckett said.
But it was McKeon and the front office that had the final say.
Cleveland traded outfielder Milton Bradley to Los Angeles late in spring training because it had had enough of Bradley’s volatility and disagreements with manager Eric Wedge.
The time bomb finally erupted Tuesday, when umpires tried to warn Bradley about criticizing calls from the bench. When Bradley came up to bat, umpire Terry Craft said, "I told him he had better think twice before he yells from the dugout. Then he went off on me, and I ejected him."
Bradley went ballistic, eventually hurling a bag of balls onto the field. Dodgers manager Jim Tracy maintains Bradley was provoked.
In Cleveland, outfielder Matt Lawton said, "I’ve got no comment. But it was funny. I told you guys it was just a matter of time."
• Cleveland outfielder Jody Gerut, on the hot-and-cold Indians: "I hate streaks. The bad ones for obvious reasons. The good ones because they come to an end. I like consistency. It’s easier on the ticker."
• Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker on his club’s offensive struggles in night games: "Maybe we don’t have any owls or bats on the team."
• Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen: ‘’I don’t think baseball is all about managers. If you get along with your players, you will get the best out of your players every day because the way they play reflects on you. If they play good, they reflect on the manager. If they don’t play good, it’s the manager’s fault. That’s the way baseball has always been."
• Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra is expected to make his season debut Tuesday against San Diego.
• Before San Francisco ran off a 10-game wining streak, general manager Brian Sabean was ready to shake up the roster. One report had the Giants preparing to eat the contracts of six veteran players.
• Toronto’s Roy Halladay, last year’s Cy Young Award winner, is on the disabled list with a sore shoulder but should be able to return to face the Diamondbacks on Friday.
• Aubrey Huff: Tampa Bay designated hitter has 14 RBIs in past eight games (through Friday).
• New York Yankees: But having to use the bullpen so much could cause problems later in the season.
• Johan Santana: Minnesota lefty has lost four straight starts, with a 7.66 ERA.
• Chicago Cubs: Should get Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood and Mark Grudzielanek back within the next few weeks.