By NOAH TRISTER, Associated Press
A year ago at this time, Dan Uggla looked lost. The Atlanta second baseman was hitting well below .200 and had been nothing like the slugger the Braves had traded for during the offseason. Then in July, Uggla began swinging the bat better. In fact, he went on a 33-game hitting streak that lasted well into August, highlighting one of the season's most stark turnarounds. By the end of the year, Uggla had a career-high 36 home runs.
A poor start doesn't have to lead to a miserable season. Here are some candidates to bounce back before the end of 2012:
ALBERT PUJOLS, 1B, ANGELS
Pujols' numbers began to slip a bit last year, but his .243 average in his first season with Los Angeles has been a shocker. There's no reason to think the 32-year-old's swing has deserted him for good. He might not reach 32 homers, his previous low for a season, but Pujols is hitting .329 since May 12. The worst seems to be over.
TIM LINCECUM, RHP, GIANTS
The two-time Cy Young Award winner has an unsightly 5.82 ERA, but he's struck out 64 hitters in 60 1-3 innings. Lincecum has struggled to avoid the big inning, and he's walking too many hitters, but his performance isn't as bad as it's looked. Opponents are hitting .339 off Lincecum on balls in play. That's a fairly high number, especially for someone who is a bit of a groundball pitcher. Lincecum should improve as more balls start finding the gloves of his fielders.
MARK REYNOLDS, 3B, ORIOLES
Reynolds is hitting .202 with only two home runs, but Baltimore fans have been through this before with the slugging third baseman. Last year Reynolds was hitting .193 at the end of May, but he finished the year with 37 homers. Low batting averages are the norm for Reynolds, but his power should be there now that's he's back from the rib cage injury that sent him to the disabled list earlier this month.
MARK TEIXEIRA, 1B, YANKEES
Usually a slow starter anyway, Teixeira has been playing through a terrible cough all season that's sapped his strength and energy at times. In his last five games, Teixeira is 11 for 24 with four homers and nine RBIs. Just like that, the New York star is back on pace for another 30-homer season.
MAX SCHERZER, RHP, TIGERS
Scherzer might be the American League's version of Lincecum, although he doesn't have the career track record of the San Francisco ace. Scherzer has a 5.55 ERA this year, but he's striking out an impressive 11.7 hitters per nine innings. Scherzer is clearly still fooling batters with his stuff. He's also shown improved command lately and could be due for a breakout.
JOSH JOHNSON, RHP, MARLINS, and ADAM WAINWRIGHT, RHP, CARDINALS
Both pitchers came into the season off injuries to their throwing arms, and both have ERAs well over 4.00. But there are some encouraging signs. Their strikeout and walk rates are reasonably in line with what they were when these two were among the top pitchers in the National League. Wainwright has allowed only one run over 15 innings in his last two starts.
IKE DAVIS, 1B, METS
After missing most of last season with an ankle injury, Davis was diagnosed with a likely case of valley fever in spring training. Now he's hitting .170, one of the worst averages of any regular in baseball. Davis is striking out about once a game, and when he does make contact the ball seems to go right at somebody — witness his .210 average on balls in play. Davis has a long, unorthodox swing that would seem to lend itself to lengthy slumps, but it's too early to write off the 25-year-old after the promising start to his career.
JUSTIN MORNEAU, 1B, TWINS
Morneau was hitting .345 with 18 homers in July 2010 when a concussion knocked him out for the rest of that season. He hasn't been the same since, hitting .233 in 103 games while battling other injury problems in 2011 and 2012. But he's hit five homers since coming off the disabled list a couple weeks ago — a sore right wrist was keeping him out that time. At 31, Morneau should still have some productive at-bats left if he's finally healthy again.
ADRIAN GONZALEZ, 1B, RED SOX
The last-place Red Sox could use more from Gonzalez than a .267 average and four homers, but he does have 18 doubles, so there's still plenty of pop in that bat. Last year Gonzalez hit .347 at Fenway Park, but a majority of his homers came on the road. Perhaps that should be the expectation going forward.
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