Yesterday I heard Peter Pascarelli proclaim that Derrek Lee was "finally" heating up after he hit four homers in three games over the weekend, as the Cubs swept the Indians. The fact is, D-Lee has been hot for six weeks. He had a terrible April, but since May 1 he has been gangbusters, hitting .341 with a 1037 OPS and 10 HR in 35 games. He looks a lot like he did in 2005, when he hit .335 with 46 HR and looked like he was about to become a superstar. Maybe he would've too, if he hadn't broken his wrist in April 2006, an injury which has seemingly sapped his power ever since. Despite his slow start, Lee is on pace for 27 dingers, which would be his most since '05.
Derrek is not the only Lee who has been the victim of misconceptions about his play so far this season. If would be easy to look at Cliff Lee's record (4-6) and assume that the surprise 2008 Cy Young winner has fallen back to earth. But, actually, that's hardly the case. His 2.94 ERA is good for 7th in the American League. If you take away two particularly bad starts at the beginning of the season, the story is even better. Since April 16, Lee's ERA is 2.20, which matches Zack Greinke for the best in baseball over that span. On four occasions he's gone eight innings, allowing two earned runs or less, and still ended up with a loss or a no-decision. On Friday he left the game leading 7-3 after seven innings, but his bullpen yielded four runs in two innings (including one of those D-Lee homers) to cost him a win. Hard to fault him for such performances. He's allowed four earned runs (or more) only once in his last thirteen starts. Lee remains a legit Ace, he's just getting the "Matt Cain treatment" from the Indians offense this season.
Speaking of poor run support, I'd like to draw your attention to Ryan Dempster. Like Lee, he went from barely making the rotation to Cy Young contender in 2008, spurring talk that he might be something of a fluke. And, like both Lees, he had relatively slow start, posting a 5.40 ERA in April. However, since the beginning of May Dempster has a 3.09 ERA in ten starts, but only three victories. The Cubs have scored three runs or less in each of his last four starts. That makes it hard on a pitcher.
My point here is that too often we presume that a cold start spells doom for a season and we stop paying attention to a player's progress, especially if that player is playing for a team that is underachieving. Big Papi's resurgence is getting a lot of play or Sportscenter, but not so for the Lees, Dempster, Brandon Phillips, or the Upton brothers. Don't put too much faith in the impressions of commentators (the other night Indians broadcasters were laying into Lee who was in the midst of a 19-game hitting streak, but applauding Alfonso Soriano, who has a 471 OPS in the last month of games) who seem to suffer from severe amnesia in the weeks just before the All-Star break.