Week 1: A Brewers-Tigers World Series?

Five or six games is a small sample size from which to draw any conclusions. Still, the long-suffering fans of the Brewers and the Tigers won't be bothered about that right now!

Not many baseball fans would have been surprised to see two Central division teams leading the way at this point. If the Cardinals and the White Sox were currently sitting atop of their divisions we may be tempted to have pencilled in their play-off spots already. Few will be so rash in predicting the fortunes of Milwaukee and Detroit, and that's understandable. Plenty of teams are stronger “on paper” and over a 162 game schedule you would expect them to show this. The Tigers were able to jump on the Royals in their first two games. But they have now won three straight against Texas (outscoring them 22 to 8 ) and all of their five victories have come on the road. Whilst that doesn't mean the Tigers should now be considered favourites to win the division, their great start shouldn't be written off as a team “getting lucky” either.

The Brewers are slightly less of a surprise. After years of losing records, the Brewers made it to .500 last season and are developing an exciting core of young players (similar to the Indians in the AL). I watched their 5-4 victory over the D-Backs last night and it was a cracking game. Everyone in Milwaukee, from the players to the fans, feels that they are turning a corner and are really enjoying their baseball right now. That spirit can be very infectious. When they were 4-2 down going into the bottom of the sixth, they looked like a team who knew that they would come back and win. Like the Tigers, the Brewers got off to a flyer against a poor opponent (the now 0 and 6 Pirates), and we shall wait and see whether their spirit travels with them away from Miller Park. They couldn't have asked for a better first game on the road though. On Monday they take on the Cardinals at the grand opening of the new Busch stadium. Who would bet against the Brew Crew marching in and spoiling the party?!

Although many are cautious about teams that start off hot, common sense can often fly out of the window when teams or players stutter out of the gate. George Steinbrenner is unlikely to be philosophical about seeing his Yankees languishing at the bottom of the AL East with a 1 and 4 record (which of course makes it all the more funnier for the rest of us!). A poor start last season didn't stop them winning 95 games though. As for the White Sox, any complacency should have been put to rest following four straight defeats (the latest two against the Royals). I'm not sure whether dishing out a three year $29 million contract to 34 year old Jose Contreras was a consequence of cockiness or stupidity, but either way the baseball gods have shown their disgust, and rightfully so.

As for players, young guys and veterans alike can quickly be written off as either a never-will-be or a has-been. Prince Fielder went 0 for 11 with seven strike outs to start his first full season. A blooped game winning single against the Pirates on Wednesday got him going and last night he got three hits against Arizona, hitting the ball hard each time and going deep for the first time this season. Barry Zito also made a rather inauspicious start to his season. In just one and a third innings against the Yankees he gave up seven runs, leaving him with a 47.25 ERA. Last night however, he pitched six strong innings against the Mariners giving up only one hit as the A's shutout Seattle for the second straight game (Smokin' Joe Blanton out-duelling King Felix on Friday is already etched in stone as one of my favourite A's moments for the 2006 season!).

Just as you hope players can turn around a slow start, every year you end up rooting for a guy who gets off to an astonishing start. That well-known slugger Chris Shelton leads all of MLB in his wake after five games with five homers, batting .700/.727/1.750. I'm not the sort of person who likes to rain on a parade, but I'm guessing he might cool off a little over the next week. Not as though that really matters. We can all slip back into reality and accept that “normal order” will be restored soon enough. But one of the many things that makes the first few weeks of the baseball season so much fun is seeing teams and players stepping up and enjoying a week or two in the sun. Never mind Barry's (allegedly) chemically (allegedly) assisted (allegedly) chase of the Babe and Hank Aaron. Shelton's on pace to smack 162 big 'uns this year, and 810 in just five seasons. I wouldn't bet my house on him doing it (to say the least), but it's a nice thought to end on.

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