- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

POINT/COUNTERPOINT

Each week, Nationals beat writers Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling debate an issue in major league baseball. This week’s question: Two months into the season, which team is the biggest surprise in baseball?

BEN GOESSLING: Plenty of worthy candidates here, but for me, it would have to be the Rangers. I would have had a hard time believing that going into Sunday a team with a) this little depth in their rotation and b) this little production from its best player (Josh Hamilton) would have the best record in the American League. They’re getting contributions from all sorts of unlikely sources, and they’re 4 1/2 games in front of the Angels, who were expected to win the AL West comfortably.

MARK ZUCKERMAN: I’m with you on the Rangers, who I certainly didn’t expect to sit comfortably atop the division in June, but here’s perhaps an even bigger surprise: the Padres. I know they’re only at .500 going into Monday, but that’s a huge accomplishment for a team that looked like the majors’ worst entering the season. They slashed payroll, are trying desperately to trade away Jake Peavy and have a roster full of no-names, yet recently had a 10-game winning streak and could be a factor in the NL wild-card race.

BG: The Padres certainly have been an interesting case, considering how streaky they’ve been and how awful they were last year. They’re only two years removed from losing that one-game playoff to the Rockies, but Colorado certainly hasn’t been able to recreate that success. I still am more impressed with what the Rangers have been able to do in running out in front of the Angels. But the Padres are a big surprise, as are the Brewers and Tigers. I wonder, though, whether any of these teams will be in playoff shape come August.

MZ: Oh, I believe the Tigers will be there come August. I know they had plenty of doubters (including me) entering the season, but let’s not forget how talented that team is. Miguel Cabrera. Magglio Ordonez. Curtis Granderson. A rotation that includes Justin Verlander, soon-to-be-stud Rick Porcello and a re-emerging Dontrelle Willis. In a wide-open AL Central, I think Detroit has just as good a chance of finishing on top as anyone.

BG: There’s no denying their talent, but they’re still trying to replace veterans and fortify the bullpen. Like a lot of these teams, the Tigers have some issues. But I guess that’s what makes it fun.

MLB POWER POLL

1. DODGERS 35-17 Even without Manny, they’ve stretched NL West lead to 8 1/2.

2. YANKEES 29-21 They have won 14 out of 17, making slow start a memory.

3. RED SOX 29-22 Hard to imagine offense would be an issue, but it has been lately.

4. BREWERS 30-20 Putting together one of the game’s most efficient bullpens.

5. RANGERS 30-20 Torrid May has them 4 1/2 games in front to start June.

6. TIGERS 28-21 Uneven lineup will struggle at times, but it might be enough.

7. CARDINALS 29-21 Other than Pujols, nobody’s hitting. Can they keep it up?

8. BLUE JAYS 29-24 They’re cooling off but might have fixtures in Hill and Lind.

9. PHILLIES 28-20 Who doesn’t look better after playing the Nationals for three games?

10. METS 28-21 See above. An added bonus: They get the Nationals this weekend!

Records and stats through Sunday

AWARD WATCH

Looking at the front-runners for baseball’s season awards. This week: AL Rookie of the Year.

Rick Porcello, Tigers

With a 6-3 record and a 3.48 ERA through Sunday, Porcello hasn’t just showed why the Tigers gave him a $3.5 million bonus in 2007. He already has become one of the fixtures of their rotation. His WHIP is an impressive 1.2, largely because he’s only walked 16 batters in 51 2/3 innings.

Others to watch: Elvis Andrus, Rangers; Scott Richmond, Blue Jays; Jeff Larish, Tigers

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