The Week Ahead: Encore challenge for Humber
Rangers, Dodgers, Nats look to continue divisional dominance
The past week belonged to one man and to the history books.
When Philip Humber struck out Brendan Ryan on a sun-splashed Saturday at Safeco Field in Seattle to finish off the 21st perfect game in Major League history, he made a definitive contribution to the lore of the game. He also managed to overshadow storylines from the other 29 clubs across the country.
"My wife's nine months pregnant, and I was just making sure she didn't give birth while I was pitching," Humber said in the aftermath. "I've got, last I looked, like 50 text messages, and I don't know how many missed calls. I'll spend the next couple days getting back to people."
He'd better not do that for too long, because after the sun went down Saturday, more games were played Sunday, and the 162-game grind goes on, with another week beginning Monday.
So what should we look for in the coming seven-day big league slate?
Well, for one, what will Humber do for an encore?
It would be silly to expect him to come anywhere close to going 27-up, 27-down again, or to even insinuate that it's possible for him to become the second pitcher in MLB history to toss back-to-back no-hitters, the first being Johnny Vander Meer, who did the unthinkable in 1938. But right now, he's got a chance to do it, and that's not all. Humber's perfecto and a Sunday win over the Mariners gave his team a big lift in the American League Central, where the White Sox sit a mere half-game behind first-place Detroit.
So when Humber takes the hill for his next scheduled start, which figures to be Thursday at home against the Red Sox, it's only natural that he'll be the biggest story in ball once again, at least for the night.
If last week proved anything other than the fact that Humber was a real find for the White Sox and that Chicago pitching coach Don Cooper is pretty good at what he does, it also provided evidence that the Texas Rangers have to be considered the favorite to win the World Series right now.
They beat Detroit in 11 innings on Sunday, have won nine of their last 10 on the road, and are back home in Arlington this week for three games against the Yankees and three against the Rays. It's a chance to show what they can do against two other AL heavyweights, and it's a chance for Texas to pad its already sizable lead in the AL West.
But the big question for the next seven days (and everything's big in Texas): How injured is third baseman Adrian Beltre and will he be able to return quickly? Beltre left Saturday's game with a strained left hamstring -- the same hamstring that cost him five weeks late last year -- and was to undergo an MRI on Monday. He is doubtful for the Yankees series.
"I don't think it will be a big deal," Beltre said. "It will be a couple of days. ... I knew last year when it happened, it wasn't good. This is different."
Still, one wonders if this slight derailment will be enough to slow down the chugging Texas train.
On the other side of the tracks -- and the exact opposite end of the AL West standings -- sit the Angels. The naysayers have been pointing to the inconsistency of their starting pitching, their bullpen woes and the fact that Albert Pujols hasn't hit a home run as the causes of their slow start. The same naysayers are also wondering if all the preseason hype has already caved in. The realists look at the Angels' roster and figure it's only a matter of time before they put it all together.
One thing to remember: Ten years ago, the Angels started off 6-14 and ended up winning the World Series. Entering this week, they're 6-10, so they'd have to lose four in a row to equal what ended up being their worst start ... en route to their best finish.
Up the freeway in Los Angeles proper, the focus is on the red-hot Dodgers and their center fielder on a mission, Matt Kemp. Can Kemp, and his team, stay so impossibly hot? Well, a Sunday shellacking at the hands of the Astros might have slowed them down a bit, but they enter the week with a 12-4 record that's good for first place in the National League West. At the controls is Kemp, who is batting .450 with nine homers and 22 RBIs. His team has a chance to get more positive vibes rolling with six home games this week against Atlanta and Washington.
Speaking of Washington, can the Nationals keep it up, too? They've ridden dominant pitching to the top of the NL East. Now they'll venture West for a crack at the Padres and Dodgers while on a roll that's brought them 10 wins in their past 12 games, even without one of their best hitters in Michael Morse.
"We know we are pretty good," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said recently. "[We've] just got to prove it."
So it goes for everyone in this still-early season, even as we roll into the last week of April.
In addition to the aforementioned, we'll be wondering if this is the week Tim Lincecum finally gets it right for the Giants, if Boston can climb out of the AL East cellar and avoid more managerial drama, and if Toronto can take its current position as an AL East contender and improve upon it.
After all, any given moment on a baseball field can bring about something completely unexpected or even miraculous.
Just ask Philip Humber.