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Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Updated: May 1, 1:48 AM ET
Some teams ready for April to fade away

ESPN.com

AP Photo/Gail Burton

The Angels had a hard first month of the season, but look for them to turn it around in May.

OVERCOMING A ROUGH APRIL

By Chris Singleton, ESPN

Several teams with big preseason expectations have had a disappointing April. The Angels, Rays and Mets were all hoping to start strong and find themselves in the postseason picture. It's early, and certainly nothing has been decided, but I feel as though one of those teams has a leg up.

To me, the Angels have the biggest reason for optimism. That's partly because the AL West isn't as tough as the AL East or the NL East. There is more room for them to overcome a slow start. Also, the Angels have been dealing with the loss of Vladimir Guerrero to a torn right pectoral muscle. The one plus is they've had healthy competition for playing time in the outfield among guys such as Gary Matthews Jr., Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu. All those guys want to play and perform, so that's a good thing for the team. The Angels also are missing John Lackey (strained right forearm) and Ervin Santana (sprained right elbow), but both could return sometime in May. That obviously will help their starting rotation and should give them a significant boost.

What they experienced with the death of Nick Adenhart early in the season also has to be considered a factor in their early struggles. It's going to take some time to recover from that and get back to top form. The focus on baseball can get lost when you are dealing with issues of life and death. Once they can process all they've been through, I think they'll be a stronger team -- one that can put it all together, get on a roll this summer and win the division.

Despite a slow start from Tampa Bay, I still expect the Rays to threaten for a playoff spot. They are a talented bunch, and they still haven't reached their individual ceilings. Guys such as B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford all have room to improve, and the team is expecting even bigger things from them this year. Tampa Bay's pitching was so strong and consistent last year, but it's been shaky so far this year. Still, I think the Rays will settle in over time.

The Rays had all that success last year but still don't face the same kind of pressure that Boston and New York face. The expectations just aren't the same. Look at where the Rays came from. I think as long as they are competing for a playoff spot late into the season, the fans will be happy. If they were to miss the postseason by a game or two, it wouldn't be the travesty that it would seem to be for the Mets or Yankees, especially considering the past couple of years in New York. If the Rays are a solid, winning team, then folks, for the most part, will be satisfied.

The Mets are under the most pressure. It's been voiced by Jerry Manuel that their starting rotation, outside of Johan Santana, needs to give them more. It's wild. Last year, it was the bullpen that caused problems (and it did again Wednesday in a Santana start). That said, the team went out and addressed the bullpen this offseason and now the starters are struggling. If an injury kept Santana out for any significant period of time, that would devastate the Mets' chances. You just can't have your season hinge on only one guy. They are going to need guys such as Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez to step up. Perez could be out of the rotation altogether if he doesn't get things together soon. They didn't expect this from him, especially after the way he finished last season. The Mets could be in the market for a pitcher at the trade deadline if they stay competitive, but what they really need is for someone already on the staff to contribute, whether it's Pelfrey, Perez or John Maine. If they don't, just adding one pitcher might not be enough for this team.

There are still five months to go, so nothing is set in stone, but teams need to be careful not to dig holes too deep to climb out of.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 28 | April 27 | April 26 | April 23 | April 22

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
J. Cantu, Fla6NYMSantanaTop 1: 0-1, 2 Outs. None on.
T. Hunter, LAA8BalUeharaTop 7: 1-1, 0 Outs. None on.
K. Morales, LAA3BalUeharaTop 7: 0-2, 0 Outs. None on.
A. Pierzynski, CWS2SeaBedardBot 2: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
F. Tatis, NYM1FlaJohnsonBot 6: 0-1, 0 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Wednesday's homers

ON DECK: THURSDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Red Sox at Rays

Matt Garza has been roughed up in his past two starts, giving up 11 runs and issuing nine walks over 11 1/3 innings. He lost both outings. He did, however, beat the Red Sox in his first start of the year, on April 9, by allowing one run over seven innings.

Padres at Dodgers

Dodgers starter James McDonald might want to be especially careful with Adrian Gonzalez, who comes in on an 11-game hitting streak. Gonzalez also went deep twice Wednesday in a 7-5 loss to the Rockies.

Marlins at Cubs

The Cubs limp home after a 10-0 loss to the Diamondbacks on Wednesday. It was Chicago's sixth loss in eight games. Sean Marshall will finally pitch against someone other than Cardinals and Brewers. Of his four appearances this year, two have been against St. Louis and two against Milwaukee.

For the rest of Thursday's schedule, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: THURSDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Buster Olney, Eduardo Perez, Eric Young

12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Eduardo Perez, Eric Young

BBTN MINUTE: APRIL REVIEW

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he takes a look Zack Greinke, who improved to 5-0 with a win against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. This isn't the first time he has gotten off to a hot start:

Zack Greinke (first five starts)
2008 2009
W-L 3-0 5-0
ERA 1.25 0.50
K's per 9 innings 4.8 11.0

WEB GEMS

WEDNESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Yovani GallardoYovani Gallardo had a dream day. He tossed eight shutout innings against the Pirates, with 11 strikeouts and only one walk and two hits in the 1-0 win. How'd that one run score? Oh, on a home run … by Gallardo in the seventh inning.
Edinson VolquezEdinson Volquez didn't hit a home run, but he had a pretty good night on the mound, too. The Reds righty also tossed eight shutout innings, but he permitted just one hit and one walk in a 3-0 win against the Astros.
WORST
Carlos Marmol• Cubs starter Ryan Dempster was bad in a 10-0 loss against the Diamondbacks. He gave up six hits and five runs in six innings. Carlos Marmol was far worse. He gave up four runs without giving up a hit. He walked four, two coming with the bases loaded.
Mark TeixeiraMark Teixeira did walk twice in an 8-6 win against the Tigers, but he also went 0-for-3 to drop his average on the season to .197. The Yankees' first baseman has just one hit in his past five games, going 1-for-16 in that stretch.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Red Sox ace Josh Beckett started the season by allowing one earned run over seven innings with 10 strikeouts and three walks in a victory over Tampa Bay. Since then, Beckett has allowed 15 earned runs over his past 17 innings with 13 strikeouts and 10 walks. What's been Beckett's problem in his past three starts?

It's been his fastball, which was very effective on Opening Day but has been extremely hittable since then, even with no drop in velocity. As the right-handed hurler takes the mound against the Rays on Thursday at Tropicana Field, he must be hoping his fastball will come back to life against a familiar opponent.

Hitters vs. Josh Beckett's fastball
Opening Day Past 3 starts
H-AB 2-17 20-49
Extra-base hits 1 5
Fastballs swung on 34 90
Misses 9 9
Strike pct. 68.2 57.7

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF WEDNESDAY'S GAMES

AJ Mass examines the eight games on Thursday's slate.

Fantasy Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Thursday. Daily Notes