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THE PIECES IN THE LARGER PUZZLE
3B New York Yankees
Hitting 73 homeruns is a long shot, but the RBI record (191) might not be. More than half ofhis at bats have come with runners on base; with Damon, Jeter and Abreu hittingin front of A-Rod, that isn't a fluke.
OF Cleveland Indians
His .253 battingaverage at week's end is misleading; he had reached base 43% of the time. Hispower (.494 slugging) has been somewhat wasted because of the funk of thebottom of the lineup.
P Chicago Cubs
His ERA is 5.77,but take away a bad inning against the Reds and one versus the Braves, and itdrops to 3.34, which is about his career norm (3.39). Expect better thingsafter he finalizes his contract extension.
OF Boston Red Sox
In the first monthhe batted .184 and slugged .293 (with one home run) in Fenway Park, where theaverage game-time temperature was 51°. As the thermometer heats up, so too willhis bat.
3B Washington Nationals
He's cut down onhis strikeout rate from his successful rookie year, and his low batting average(.236 through Sunday) is mostly the result of spraying hard-hit balls to allthe wrong places. His luck will turn.
3B Kansas City Royals
He's beenchanneling Preston Wilson, having struck out in nearly one third of his plateappearances. A more patient approach recently has restored some of thewonderboy's preseason luster.
P Detroit Tigers
His stuff isfine--he'd whiffed a batter per inning through Sunday despite his 6.55 ERA.Once he fixes his mechanics, his command will improve and Tigers fans willwonder why Todd Jones is still the closer.
P Texas Rangers
He's given up ahomer every 20 at bats in his brief, hyped career. With a small home ballparkand a tendency to panic when he's behind in the count, a big rebound from his1--4, 9.90 ERA start is unlikely.
OF Chicago White Sox
Long in decline,Erstad's value is further diminished by his manager's insistence on batting himat the top of the order, where his .313 OBP at week's end has limited RBIchances for the mashers behind him.
P Minnesota Twins
Good start (2.57ERA), good pitching coach (Rick Anderson), reasonably good value ($3.1million). But though he's throwing strikes, he's not missing bats (14 K's in 35innings). That will catch up to him.
P St. Louis Cardinals
The wins (three)and ERA (1.91) are nice, but most pitchers lose something moving from the pento the rotation, and fatigue is bound to catch up to Looper, who's neverpitched more than 86 innings.
OF Cincinnati Reds
Why should weanticipate a drop-off in his .874 OPS through Sunday? His career April OPS is200 points higher than his post-April OPS, the largest split for any playersince 1960 (minimum: 300 plate appearances).
P San Francisco Giants
He's not the worstfree-agent signing, but somewhere between his two starts to begin '07 (0--2,8.18 ERA) and three strong subsequent outings (2--1, 1.32) lies the truth: Zitois a slightly above-average pitcher.
P Atlanta Braves
Foes are hitting.281 off his low 90s fastball, but the rediscovery of his splitter has boostedhis strikeout rate nearly two a game. A slip will come, but only because hisstart (1.22 ERA) has been so strong.
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ILLUSTRATIONS BY BOB ECKSTEIN / GAME BOARD DESIGN BY STEVEN CHARNY
IN NUMERICAL ORDER FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: KATHY WILLENS/AP (RODRIGUEZ); CHUCK SOLOMON (RODRIGUEZ); TAMI CHAPPELL/REUTERS (HUDSON HEAD); MIKE EHRMANN/WIREIMAGE.COM (HUDSON BODY); FRED VUICH (SIZEMORE); TONY FIRRIOLO/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (LOOPER HEAD); JERRY LAI/US PRESSWIRE (LOOPER BODY); MARK COWAN/ICON SMI (ZAMBRANO); JOHN BIEVER (RAMIREZ); FRED VUICH (SIZEMORE); MIKE EHRMANN/WIREIMAGE.COM (HUDSON HEAD); DAVID DUROCHIK /SPORTPICS (HUDSON BODY); JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES (ZIMMERMAN HEAD); FRANK VICTORES/US PRESSWIRE (ZIMMERMAN BODY); JAY LAPRETE/ICON SMI (DUNN); BRAD MANGIN (ZITO 2);DAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICS (DUNN); ROBBIE ROGERS/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (ORTIZ HEAD); BRUCE KLUCKHOHN (ORTIZ BODY); KYLE ERICSON/AP (LOOPER HEAD); VICTOR BALDIZON/GETTY IMAGES (LOOPER BODY); DAMIAN STROHMEYER (RAMIREZ); G. NEWMAN LOWRANCE/GETTY IMAGES (GORDON); BRAD MANGIN (RODNEY); GREG FIUME/NEWSPORT (ZIMMERMAN); HEINZ KLUETMEIER (ZAMBRANO); BRUCE KLUCKHOHN (ORTIZ); PHIL ELLSWORTH (MCCARTHY 2); JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES (ERSTAD); JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES(RODNEY HEAD); DAVID E. KLUTHO (RODNEY BODY); OTTO GREULE JR/GETTY IMAGES (ERSTAD); CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (GORDON).