Greinke, Willis Help MLB With Need for Hollywood Storylines

Duane WinnCorrespondent IMay 20, 2009

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 27 :  Pitcher Dontrelle Willis of the Detroit Tigers pitches in relief against the Toronto Blue Jays February 27, 2009 at Dunedin Stadium in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Last year, Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers provided MLB with one of its best feel-good storylines in recent history.

Hamilton had the world at his feet in 1999. He had been selected first overall in the 1999 Major League Baseball Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. However, he was never able to display his blue-chip talent due to to injuries and chemical addiction.

Hamilton resurfaced in 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds where he hit .292 with 19 homers and 47 RBI in less than 300 at-bats. In 2008, Hamilton finally showcased his remarkable abilities for the Rangers—batting .304, belting 32 homers, and driving in 130 runs.

This year, the MLB season got off to a rocky start with the untimely passing of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, coupled with the death of beloved Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas.

Subsequent controversies involving Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez and their involvement with steroids haven't brightened the Major League scene, either.

There's little doubt that MLB could use a little cheering up.

Fortunately, there are some MLB players and teams this season, just like any other season, that are begging for a story leading to a rousing conclusion that may very well spirit away baseball blues in a few short months.

Will Dontrelle Willis ever recapture his brilliant early career form—or will his comeback to the Major Leagues be short-lived?

Willis was placed on the disabled list before the season's start so he could deal with an anxiety disorder. He lasted four-and-two-thirds innings in his season debut May 13 against the Minnesota Twins, surrendering eight hits, two walks, and four runs.

Willis was even better in his next outing on Tuesday against the red-hot Rangers, pitching scoreless, one-hit ball over six-and-one-third innings. Perhaps it's a sign that Willis still has the goods to help the Detroit Tigers.

Willis can take heart in the template struck by Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals.

Greinke left the Royals before the start of spring training in 2006. He was diagnosed with a social-anxiety disorder and depression soon therearfter.

Greinke has apparently conquered his demons. Baseball is fun again for Greinke, and a living hell for his opponents.

Greinke made history earlier this season when he won his first six starts while maintaining an ERA of 0.40 or lower. Only Walter Johnson and Fernando Valenzuela accomplished the feat before him.

Greinke's teammate, Sidney Ponson, and Cleveland's Carl Pavano, are both facing make-or-break campaigns.

Ponson won a career high 17 games for Baltimore and San Francisco in 2003 while maintaining a career low 3.75 ERA. Since this time, Ponson has won just 35 games and lost 45.

The Royals picked him off the scrap heap, hoping he'd be able to eat some innings and lend some experience to the team's youthful pitching staff. In eight games, the enigmatic Ponson has lost four of five decisions and his ERA stands at 6.16, stats which have relegated him to the bullpen.

Pavano has endured as many setbacks as Ponson, although his troubles haven't been self-inflicted.

Pavano had spent most of the previous four seasons on the disabled list with shoulder and elbow problems, making 26 starts and missing the entire 2006 season.

Cleveland took a chance on him, signing him to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million. To say the least, he's been a pleasant surprise in a season packed with bitter disappointments for the Tribe.

Pavano was rocked in his first two starts against the Royals and the Rangers, but he's rebounded with three quality starts in his last six mound appearances, lowering his ERA from 16.71 to 6.33 in just over a month.

San Francisco's Barry Zito finally appears to be recapturing the form which made him one of the most coveted free agents in baseball.

San Francisco captured the Zito Sweepstakes, signing him in December 2006 to a record $126 million deal for seven years.

At the time, Zito's signing looked like a solid investment. After all, Zito had posted a 102-63 mark for Oakland from 2000-06. In 2002, he earned the AL Cy Young Award.

Zito's first two years with the Giants likely made his new employer wish for a bailout.

Zito posted a 21-30 record in his first two years with the Giants. He walked nearly as many as he struck out and his ERA hovered near the 5.00 mark.

In 2009, Zito has lost three of four decisions, but his 3.89 ERA in seven starts is heartening, as is his 2:1 strikeout/walk ratio.

The Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers are the biggest surprises in the American League, which naturally leads most of us to wonder if they are for real.

Since 2002, the Blue Jays have gotten off to fast starts in both 2003 and 2006, but they were only in playoff contention in 2006. That's the year they finished second to the Yankees.

This year's start is likely no fluke.

Since Cito Gaston—who guided Toronto to two world championships in 1992 and 1993—took over as manager in June 2008, the Blue Jays have been breezing along at a .600 winning clip over the course of nearly 130 games. It's proof positive that Gaston's presence in the club makes all the difference—a winning difference.

Down south, it's been 10 years since Texas appeared in the playoffs and they've only  enjoyed one winning season during this period. Therefore, their 23-14 start is a source of great excitement for Rangers' fans.

While the Rangers always have been able to bash the ball with the best of 'em, they've shored up their defense and their starting rotation, (particularly Kevin Millwood, Matt Harrison and Scott Feldman), have been particularly effective.

There are 120 games or so left in the season, plenty of time for these storylines to work themselves out and for new ones to unfold.



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