As usual, Friday's Notebook is devoted to teams who were projected for poor seasons, rightly or wrongly. This week, we take a look at two of the pleasant surprises. In the American League that would be Toronto and the National League surprise is Washington.
<p>Toronto is running third in the AL East, behind Tampa & New York, but ahead of Boston. The Blue Jays' success has been keyed by the return to prominence of two key players. Centerfielder Vernon Wells looks to have rediscovered the form that made him one of the game's bright stars back in 2006. Wells is getting on base, hitting for power and playing his usual stellar defense, the latter a gift that never left him even when his bat went into hiding for a few years. On the mound, Shawn Marcum has shown he's successfully recovered from his the shoulder problems that have shelved him most of
the last two years. He's on a 2.78 ERA and just pitched brilliantly in his last start on Wednesday afternoon in Fenway. Elsewhere, Toronto has gotten surprising power output from a number of sources, especially catcher John Buck who has homered eight times for a slugging percentage of .610. Fred Lewis, Travis Snider and Alex Gonzalez are also putting up good production in the power area. The pitching behind Marcum is respectable.
</p><p>The biggest problem Toronto has is an inability to get on base consistently. OBP numbers beyond those of Wells are very poor, and you simply cannot sustain an offense over the long hot summer based on power alone. This was a problem Texas had last year and it foretold their complete September fade from the wild-card race. Playing in the more stringent AL East, the Jays will have a difficult time lasting anywhere close that long, and I still believe that post-All Star break they are more likely to be
competing with Baltimore for position than with Boston, Tampa or New York.
</p><p>Washington's success is a little more sustainable. They only have one potential powerhouse in their division as opposed to three and there is only player going well beyond himself. Livan Herandez is off to a start nothing short of spectacular, going 4-1 with a 1.04 ERA. Yes, it's safe to say, that will come down to earth. But if Stephen Strasburg comes up to the majors this summer and can pitch reasonably well, it would help make up for at least a little bit of the shortfall. And on the offensive side, only veteran Ivan Rodriguez looks due to decline. With a .406 OPB and .511 slugging, the aging catcher is going to taper off, but it must also be noted that those numbers aren't obscenely high either. In the meantime, the club gets the usual steady power and walk-drawing capability of Adam Dunn. And centerfielder Nyjer Morgan hasn't been bad at getting on
base (.340 OBP), but he's capable of still more. To sum it up, while I wouldn't bet on Washington to have a winning season, much less stay in real contention a whole lot longer, I also don't see a complete collapse anywhere in this team's future. A respectable 75-win season would be a huge move forward and is within their reach.
</p><p>No Notebook on Saturday. I'll be back Sunday night to recap Week 6.