Even spotting his teammates 10 days at the start of the season, Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria leads the Rays in home runs and RBIs and already has become the favorite in the AL Rookie of the Year race.
Longoria, 22, also made a defining defensive play Tuesday during the Rays' sweep of Boston, diving across the foul line and throwing from his knees to end a game-tying threat.
In his first 75 games, he has 15 homers and 50 RBIs, but that is only the beginning. He has two game-winning homers, two two-homer games and two of the Rays' longest homers.
He's had a six-RBI game, a 10 total-base game and 11 plays that the team's public relations staff has labeled web gems.
"And I'm telling you, he's going to keep getting better. This is just the beginning," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, the midseason favorite for the AL manager of the year.
"As he becomes more comfortable here, understands the league better, understands pitchers better, understands positioning better ... all that stuff's going to matter."
"Love him," Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley said in the St. Petersburg Times.
"This kid is the real deal. He reminds me of an Edgar Martinez and an Alex Rodriguez. And he can play third base. He's so smooth."
LEFT IN CLEVELAND
Left-hander Cliff Lee is the fourth Cleveland pitcher to start the season 11-1, joining Johnny Allen (12-0, 1937), Gaylord Perry (11-1, 1974) and Charles Nagy (11-1, 1996) and is on pace to become the team's first 20-game winner since Perry, 21-13 in 1974.
He appears to be a leading candidate to start the All-Star game, and his record could be better - in his four no-decisions, his ERA is a combined 1.16.
Teammate C.C. Sabathia, meanwhile, leads the majors with 123 strikeouts and struck out at least 10 in three straight games before "settling" for five against the White Sox on Wednesday.
Since Cleveland is fielding offers for lefty Sabathia, however, he might not last long enough to become the first of the team's pitchers since Sam McDowell (304 in 1970) to lead the AL in strikeouts.
SEARCHING FOR A SHORTSTOP
With Rafael Furcal now out for at least eight weeks, the Dodgers could step up their pursuit of a front-line shortstop/leadoff hitter.
Nomar Garciaparra has played shortstop on his rehab assignment at Triple-A Las Vegas, but hasn't played there regularly since 2005 and manager Joe Torre has said he does not consider Garciaparra an everyday option.
With Furcal and Juan Pierre out at least four to six weeks with a sprained left knee ligament, the Dodgers have used Matt Kemp in the leadoff spot with limited success.
MULDER BACK, CARPENTER NEXT?
Two shoulder surgeries later, St. Louis' Mark Mulder returned to the majors June 30, pitching out of the bullpen twice in the Mets' series.
A starter throughout his quality career, Mulder failed to convert his first major league save opportunity Wednesday after giving up two hits, one a flare, prompting manager Tony La Russa to say, "I don't have a crystal ball, but if he's a healthy pitcher, he's a talented guy."
Chris Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner who had "Tommy John" ligament replacement surgery last July, appears on target to joining the Cardinals in August. A recent visit to Dr. James Andrews went well, and Carpenter said, "I'm trying not to get too excited."
With five straight quality starts, Jarrod Washburn has pitched well enough recently that Seattle might be able to move him and the approximately $15 million remaining on his contract through 2009.
He made a small mechanical adjustment to his delivery a few weeks ago and also has returned to a split-finger pitch, formerly a staple that he now uses in critical situations, such as when he struck out Rod Barajas with two outs Thursday.
The split, which he threw in Anaheim in 2005, causes elbow pain, so he uses it maybe a half-dozen times a game.
The Mariners probably would not need much in return for Washburn, since clearing salary is the main goal.
TELL YOU STATISTICS TO SHUT UP
Top left-hander Rich Hill has experienced a mysterious inability to throw strikes. It surfaced again in the Arizona Rookie League last week, when he gave up three walks and a hit and hit a batter while lasting only 1/3 of an inning. The Cubs are considering shutting him down for the rest of the year.
WALKING THEM OFF
Florida has eight walk-off victories this season, after doing it to the D-Backs last Sunday and the Nationals on Monday. Seven different players have provided the winning hit, and five Marlins have walk-off homers, the most in the majors and a franchise record.
After sweeping Boston for the second time at home this season, Tampa Bay has swept seven series this season. Only the White Sox (eight) have more. And the Rays are starting a stretch in which they play 25 of their next 33 games against teams that are under .500.
"The White Sox should win that division by half a dozen games or more, if you want to know the truth. They have just about everything that you need. They have power. They have a good defensive team on the field and they have a heck of a bullpen. They have good starters. Everybody looks at the Cubs. Look at the White Sox. They're a pretty good ballclub."
CHICAGO CUBS MANAGER AFTER HIS TEAM WAS SWEPT BY THE SOX
Too early for wild-card implications? Yes. But just in case, Minnesota visits Boston and Tampa Bay is at the Yankees
Writers from around the league contributed to this report.