A Day (Looking) at the Races
On the eve of Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to reflect on the first two months of the 2005 season by reviewing each of the division races in the American and National Leagues.
Four teams are in the thick of things in what has been a New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox exclusive party for seven years. After starting 11-19, the Bronx Bombers have come roaring back and won 15 of their last 17. I guess Joe Torre's job is safe after all. It looks like Mel Stottlemyre might even survive the year, too.
Kevin Brown has won four in a row. Good things happen when you don't give up home runs and Brownie hasn't forked one up since his first start. After being written off by members of the New York press, Mariano Rivera has picked up eight saves in as many games (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, and 6 K) during the past 2 1/2 weeks and his ERA for the season is down to 1.53, which is lower than it has ever been for a full year. Needless to say, ol' Mariano can still pitch a little.
For the skeptics, please note that the Yankees are number one in the majors in Rob Neyer's Beane Count. Not only that, New York has scored more runs than any team in baseball. Looks to me like their death has been greatly exaggerated.
What can I say? The White Sox are doing everything they can to confound me. I don't know what I'm waiting for but perhaps I'll jump aboard after they win 90 games, which they just might do by the end of August. Chicago has allowed fewer runs than any team in the AL. I still think the Pale Hose are playing over their heads but the makeup of the team reminds me of the Angels in 2002 and the Marlins in 2003. Excellent pitching, good team speed, timely hitting. All they need to do now is finish like Dwyane Wade.
The Twins are hangin' tough, and I wouldn't rule them out. I can't believe the pitching staff has allowed only 73 walks thus far. That's like 1 1/2 per game. They are on pace to challenge the major league record for the fewest walks in a season. In fact, there hasn't been a team even remotely close in the last 70 years.
Although Cleveland is 21-25 and 11 games back, it should be noted that the Indians rank fourth in MLB in the Beane Count. The team is having a tough time scoring runs, but I bet they end up at .500 or better come October. I just don't think the Indians are as bad as the home attendance would suggest.
The Angels are tied for first but you sure wouldn't know it by looking at anything other than the team's pitching stats. The team is dead last in walks (107, 13 below the next worst club) and on-base percentage (.296). As far as I can tell, no team has won a pennant with an OBP under .300 since the Cardinals in 1968 and I'm not sure that should even count because baseball was a different game that year.
Texas, meanwhile, has hit more home runs (68) than any other team in the majors. I know, The Ballpark is known for yielding four baggers. Yet, get this, the pitching staff has allowed fewer HR (32) than any other team in the AL. A better than 2:1 ratio is incredible. The Rangers have won six in a row and figure to be the only team that can keep the Angels honest in what appears to be the weakest division in baseball.
Speaking of weak, what's up with the A's? Or maybe I should ask, why are they so far down? Pacific Gas & Electric [note: thanks to reader Mike, not East Bay Municipal Utility District as I originally wrote] must have had a power outage or something. Oakland is last in extra-base hits, including both doubles and home runs. They have lost five in a row and one can only begin to guess as to when Billy may make a few more moves to position the team to win in 2006 rather than 2005.
Florida sits atop the strongest division in the NL. I picked the Marlins to win the East before the year began so I'm not surprised at all. The pitching has been superb. The staff has allowed just 24 HR all year or about one every two games. You have to go back more than a dozen years to the Dodgers in 1992 to find a team giving up so few dingers.
All I know is that I wouldn't want to face Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, and Dontrelle Willis in the postseason. I don't think Brian Moehler will wind up with a 2.13 ERA so expect more than a bit of regression there. But if Beckett, Burnett, and Willis stay healthy down the stretch, look out folks. In the meantime, Miguel Cabrera is as tough an out as there is in the NL. I know it is early but can you say MVP?
In the meantime, I can't dismiss the other team down South. Atlanta is 16-5 at home but, like the rest of the NL East, the Braves are struggling on the road. Outstanding pitching once again. Doesn't seem to matter whose glove they throw out on the hill. Put on an Atlanta uniform and, poof, you instantly become one of the best pitchers in the league.
The Cardinals have the best record in the NL and still look like the team to beat to me. St. Louis is not only well-balanced but they appear to have an easier road to the World Series than any other contending club. Time will tell but the Redbirds may win the division by close to 20 games.
If there is another contender, it's not going to be the team from the Windy City. Sorry, Bryan, but your neighbors to the north look a lot stronger to me. Playing .500 ball without Ben Sheets for a good part of the year is pretty impressive. The team's Pythagorean record (27-19) suggests they may have been a tad unlucky thus far. Moreover, I think it only gets better from here on out for the Brewers. Bud Selig probably wishes he hadn't put that stop-loss sell order in there.
Houston. I think it is safe to say that the Astros have crash landed. 16-30. The third-worst record in baseball. I wonder if those readers who questioned the merits of trading Roger Clemens, as I suggested three weeks ago, still feel the same way now? This is a lost season as far as I am concerned. It's time to rebuild. I picked Phil Garner to be the first manager fired in our preseason survey. Given that Tony Pena resigned, do I still have a shot at winning this category?
I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that Colorado will finish in last place. Other than that, I haven't a clue as to what will happen. I picked the Giants back in March before I knew Barry Bonds was going to lead the league in knee surgeries. I then hopped on the Dodgers bandwagon when they were 20-14. I'm not particularly surprised by the Padres, but I have to admit being somewhat shocked by Arizona's showing thus far. I'm none too happy about it either. You see, I had Javier Vazquez and Brandon Webb on my fantasy team last year rather than this year. Doh! and double doh!!
If Bonds comes back before the All-Star game and plays like the Barry of old as opposed to just an old Barry, then I think the Giants could end up taking the West. I'm not really sure how given the average age of the team and all the injuries, but they've been hanging longer than Michael Jordan in the Slam Dunk contest.
Colorado, in the meantime, is last in the NL in walks "for" (128) and "against" (210). That is not a good differential. The Rockies may have learned to win at home (10-11) but Roger Miller sure didn't have Clint Hurdle's club in mind when he created his signature song.