By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Sports Editor
Despite going 0-5 Thursday night, Kosuke Fukudome is still hitting .345 on the season going into tonight’s game against Houston’s Roy Oswalt. Oswalt is 0-2 in the early going. In Fukudome’s favor is the .333 average and .862 OPS (on-base plus slugging) that Oswalt has relinquished against left-handed hitters this year.
However, with Fuku’s status as a $12 million platoon player, he’ll need to get all of his hits tonight since he’ll be riding pine for a majority of this week. Starting tomorrow, the Cubs are facing Wandy Rodriguez, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana and Randy Wolf—all but Pelfrey are lefties.
Houston, by the way, has looked awful thus far only managing 13 total runs through 10 games which equals a minus-31 run differential while also sporting one of the worst staff ERA’s in the National League.
No one exemplifies Houston’s struggles more than Kazuo Matsui who has only been able to see first base when taking the field on defense. Since April 5, dude hasn’t gotten a hit and was replaced by Jeff Keppinger in the starting lineup recently. Furthermore, he hasn’t stolen a base, registered an RBI or drawn a walk all season. With Houston’s putrid 1-9 start, Kaz might find himself without a team unless he starts hitting like he was in Spring training.
Wow, here’s a novel idea, when Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins get on base, the Mariners have a much better shot at winning than when they don’t. In Seattle’s four wins this year, Suzuki and Figgins have a combined .406 OBP (on-base percentage). In its six losses, the leadoff duo is 200 points lower at .207 OBP.
And, what happened to that aggressiveness we saw on the basepaths in the first few games? Neither has registered a stolen base since opening day. May can’t get here soon enough for Ichiro, who will have to have an epic month to get his average back to where it normally is heading into June.
The other Suzuki, Kurt, of the Oakland Athletics, has run into a Kaz Matsui-like dry spell after opening the season soaking up hits. Despite his .189 average, the encouraging thing about his plate approach this year is the five walks he’s managed putting him on pace to nearly double his career high of 44 in 2008. He had 28 last year.
Of course, Suzuki’s main contribution to the team is not when he’s at the plate, but rather when he’s sitting behind it—and there has been no better starting catcher in all of baseball at guiding his pitching staff to excellence.
Suzuki leads the MLB in innings caught and his 2.65 CERA (catcher earned run average) is the best mark among starting catchers. As one would expect, the Oakland pitching staff leads the MLB with a 2.69 ERA, eight quality starts and is tied for first in wins with six.
While he’s already made two errors after registering five all of last season, he is throwing out runners at a career best .375 percent clip.
Hideki Okajima’s 2.70 ERA and three holds in three innings look good enough, but then you see that 2.10 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) and you begin to realize the emperor’s wearing no clothes. Hits, to a certain degree, can’t be helped. Too many variables like weather, the quality of the defenders, and plain old luck can play a part in giving up hits. But walks? Walks are all on the pitcher, and Okajima’s given up three already.
One guy whose numbers are legit is Takashi Saito who has made five appearances, struck out eight and notched one hold. He’s given up one hit and one walk and zero runs. Man do I miss him on the Dodgers…
In fact, Kuroda’s been so good, Billy Wagner might not have a closing job shortly, seeing as how he’s already blown a save.
As for the Dodgers, the fears coming into this season are being realized. While Clayton Kershaw was solid in his last start on opening day, he hasn’t gone six full innings yet. In fact, no Dodgers starter has topped six innings outside of Hiroki Kuroda.
Kuroda was lights out in his first start, quite a bit shakier in his second outing, but has 15 solid innings in two games under his belt along with a sparkling 1.20 ERA and a team-high 14 Ks. He’s pitching like the Dodgers’ staff ace, which gives me mixed emotions. On one hand, I’m happy that he is on top of his game and the Dodgers have won both times he’s started. On the other hand, can a team really win a World Series with Kuroda as its best pitcher?
In contrast, I firmly believe that a team could win the World Series if its third starter is Kenshin Kawakami. And Kawakami is currently fifth on the Braves depth chart! While Jair Jurrjens has struggled with his control, Tommy Hanson is every bit the stud in the making Braves brass envisioned him to be, and Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are very solid number two pitchers at this point in their respective careers.
Of course, that lineup, currently in the bottom third in runs scored in the NL, is going to have to start producing.
Finally, we have the Mets, who for once, can’t complain about the Japanese players they’ve signed in the offseason. Both Ryota Igarashi and Hisanori Takahashi have been solid, if not spectacular.
While he’s not striking out batters like he did a few years ago in Japan, Igarashi has only given up one hit in four innings of very tight work. And for a guy who had all sorts of questions swirling around him if he would even make the club coming into this season, Takahashi has been a pleasant surprise.
Of course, the Mets can perhaps blame Jason Bay their other major offseason acquisition. It’s never a good thing when Jeff Francoeur is leading your team in batting average, home runs, RBI, hits and OPS. Especially when he has three times as many homeruns, doubles, RBI and total bases as the guy (Bay) you just gave a $66 million contract.
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Jordan Ikeda is the sports editor of the Rafu Shimpo. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo.