It is hard to believe, but the 2008 Major League Baseball season is already in its third month.
As the sport says goodbye to May, though, it is time to look at a few of the best individual performances from an interesting month of baseball.
Lance Berkman: The Houston Astros struggled through a disappointing April, but are now sitting two games above .500, right back in the National League Central race. Following a monster offensive performance in the month of May, Berkman--emerging as an early candidate for MVP--is perhaps the ultimate reason why. The switch-hitting first baseman posted an incredible 1.409 OPS in arguably the best offensive stretch of his big-league career. Quite remarkably , that number is nearly five times higher than the May OPS total belonging to Kansas City infielder Tony Pena Jr., who is on his way to turning in one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball history. Overall, Berkman posted a line of .471/.553/.856 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs in 104 May at-bats.
Chipper Jones: June has arrived, and Jones is still batting above .400--.405 through Sunday, to be exact. While it is still a bit premature to bring up the comparisons to Ted Williams just yet, there is no denying that the 38-year-old third baseman is locked in at the plate right now for the Atlanta Braves. Jones carried over his torrid April production into May, as he continued to swing the bat with authority, hitting .417/.537/ .615 with four home runs and the fourth-highest OPS (1.152) in the game. While the odds are against him in his quest for .400 and he is always at risk of injury, the veteran switch-hitter is the easy favorite at this point to win the National League batting title. Perhaps the most telling statistic, he collected a base hit in 44 of his first 50 games to start the season. Although his 11-game hitting streak came to an end in the Braves' loss at the hands of Jay Bruce and the Cincinnati Reds on the month's final day, look for Jones to lead the Braves' offense the rest of the summer.
Dan Uggla: While division rival second baseman Chase Utley became the majors' first player to reach the 20-home run plateau on Sunday, it was Uggla who led the majors in homers in the month of May. He hit 12 home runs in 98 at-bats to help his Florida Marlins stay in the thick of the National League East race with Utley and the Phillies. Although he also struck out 33 times in the month, the 28-year-old second baseman batted .347/.425/.827, establishing himself as one of the premier offensive second sackers in the league. His 1.251 OPS, in fact, ranked second, sitting behind Berkman's remarkable total, in all of baseball.
There are many other players looking to maintain their strong May performances the rest of the summer as well, including Ryan Ludwick of the St. Louis Cardinals. As we sit here on June 1, Ludwick, who enjoyed perhaps the strongest month of his professional baseball career, is already closing in on matching his career-best home run mark. After blasting nine balls into the seats in 87 May at-bats, he now has 13 homers, one short of his previous high. Six players, including Uggla, reached double digits in home runs for the month (listed with their hitting statistics in May): Ryan Braun, .347/ 425/827; Alfonso Soriano, .345/.386/.672; Adrian Gonzalez, .288/.349/.619; Adam Dunn, .284/.429/.691; Ryan Howard, .238/ .344/.590.
Albert Pujols, who fell one home run short of joining that list, was a force for the Cardinals in May as well, posting the third-highest OPS (1.160) in the majors in the season's second month. Josh Hamilton performed well in May, too, as he continues to establish himself as one of the most exciting young hitters in baseball and a MVP candidate in the American League. The Texas Rangers center fielder, whose career was derailed by a plethora of off-the-field issues, finished the month with 37 hits, six doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 29 RBIs. He posted a line of .322/.360/.617, and is perhaps the biggest reason for the Rangers' recent turnaround.
Scott Kazmir: Kazmir's return from the disabled list has solidified the Tampa Bay Rays' starting rotation as one of the best in baseball. After a rough start in Boston on May 4, the 23-year-old lefty piled together five consecutive wins--tied for first in the majors over that time span--to close out the month. In that stretch, Kazmir, 5-1, 1.22 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, has been absolutely dominant, allowing only two earned runs in 33.0 innings. He has limited opponents to a .172 batting average while posting a 38-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season as he continues to anchor the Rays, who finished the month with 19 wins in 30 games and currently boast the best record in the American League.
Aaron Laffey: Laffey and the rest of the Cleveland Indians' pitching staff have carried a floundering offense that ranks among the majors' worst (.676 OPS as a team) all season. Since getting called up from Triple-A Buffalo on April 29, the 23-year-old southpaw has pitched beautifully, registering a 1.59 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 39.2 innings pitched. In five starts in the month of May, he collected three wins while posting a 0.79 ERA.
Todd Wellemeyer: Give St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan a lot of credit, as he once again appears to have resurrected the career of a forgotten pitcher in Wellemeyer, who has been a key component of the Cardinals' starting rotation in 2008. The former standout at Eastern High School in Louisville is off to his best start at this level, having posted a 6-1 record in 12 starts. In fact, Wellemeyer, a perfect 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA in the month of May, is a major reason why the Cardinals are still in the thick of the Central race. Perhaps one of baseball's biggest surprises, he has already doubled his win total from last season, when St. Louis, looking to add depth to its starting rotation, acquired the 29-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. The reliever-turned-starter is flourishing in his new city, and ranks among league leaders with a 3.16 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.
From Mike Mussina to nearly every starting pitcher on the Toronto Blue Jays--even former Tampa Bay bat boy Jesse Litsch, who ended the month with a 4-0 record and 2.08 ERA and is emerging as one of the most capable fifth starters in the American League--Jorge Campillo to Jose Contreras, there were many other pitchers who will look to carry over their strong May performances into June as well.
Note: This is not a ranking of the month's top performances, but a brief recap of the ones that stuck out to me.