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More or less, anyway. What do we know at this point? Let's have a look around the majors.

Hang on... not all six divisions. Let's look today at the NL West. What's going on out there?

Last year, as you might remember, the Padres barely finished above .500, and the division was the subject of universal Derision and Mockery. In 2006, be it noted, not a single NL West team has a losing record. I'll bet none of you have even noticed.

I did pronounce before the season started, and with the utmost confidence, that San Diego would blow away the rest of the division and win easily. The reasoning behind this was that last year the Diamondbacks were exceptionally lucky and the Padres were exceptionally unlucky. I figured that would even out this year. As for the other teams, forget 'em - the 2005 Dodgers were likewise ravaged by injury, but they also seem to have been taken over by Dumb Guys; the Giants are a sideshow circus; the Rockies are coming but 2006 is too soon.

It's taken some time, but the Padres have shrugged off their 8-15 start and climbed to the top of the heap. They have the second best ERA in the league, which is not too surprising - what is surprising is that ace Jake Peavy has the fifth-best ERA of the five starting pitchers, and Peavy is hardly pitching poorly:
NAME              G  GS  W  L Sv QS  Hld   IP   H   ER   R  HR  BB  SO  K/9   P/GS  WHIP   ERA
Woody Williams 8 7 3 1 0 4 0 41.1 37 15 15 5 12 26 5.66 90.6 1.19 3.27
Chan Ho Park 9 7 2 1 0 4 0 52.1 51 19 23 4 13 40 6.88 105.9 1.22 3.27
Chris Young 8 8 3 2 0 6 0 49.1 38 19 20 7 19 37 6.75 101.0 1.16 3.47
Clay Hensley 12 6 2 2 0 3 1 41.1 32 17 17 3 20 24 5.23 81.8 1.26 3.70
Jake Peavy 9 9 3 4 0 6 0 57.1 52 24 24 7 14 50 7.85 103.9 1.15 3.77
Their offense is a little below middle of the pack - Vinny Castilla (DUH!), Mike Cameron, and Adrian Gonzalez aren't helping much. But Brian Giles seems to be heating up, Dave Roberts has been getting on base, and Khalil Greene has been hitting homers and driving in runs.

Arizona is still hanging around, much to my surprise. The one thing the 2005 team did well was hit home runs - logically, one would expect that sending Troy Glaus to the other league and Tony Clark to the bench seemed an unlikely way to improve the team. But the D'Backs are still scoring runs - this year with a solid and balanced attack. They're getting people on base and driving them in. Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez are nowhere what they were five years ago, but they're still productive hitters. The younger guys, Chad Tracy and rookie Conor Jackson, have been very good as well. Everybody in the lineup, with the exception of Orlando Hudson, is contributing to the offense. The pitching, however, has been pretty ugly. Brandon Webb is pitching like a Cy Young candidate; Miguel Batista like an average guy. The other starters have been awful.

The Rockies were actually an interesting looking team over the second half of 2005, and they picked up more or less where they left off. What's shocking - shocking, I tell you - is that 2006 Rockies are winning with pitching. Their staff, led by Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, has the fifth best ERA in the league. It seems unlikely that they can continue like this. The offense has been a disappointment - the three-H club (Helton, Hawpe, and Holliday) has been fabulous, but Clint Barmes has been as bad with the stick as Aaron Hill.

The Giants are good at scoring runs, even if their left fielder is a pale shadow of his former self. Unfortunately, they're not so good at keeping the other guy from scoring. Brad Hennessey has been the best pitcher on the team, and has probably forced Felipe Alou to start giving him some regular work in the rotation. Jason Schmidt has been fine. The other guys run the gamut from Mediocre to Awful. The good news is that Omar Vizquel and Randy Winn have turned into on-base machines in their old age, which means that Pedro Feliz and Moises Alou have been getting lots of RBI opportunities, and have been cashing them in. Bonds hasn't been Bonds, but he's still been useful, as has Steve Finley. The bad news is that with the exception of Feliz all of these guys are elderly and elderly players break down.

The good news in Los Angeles is that J.D. Drew has been healthy. The better news is that Nomar Garciaparra is hitting like a man trying to restore his Hall of Fame credentials. The bad news is that Dodger Stadium, so far, has turned Rafael Furcal into Cezar Iztruis - Furcal is hitting .227 with just 7 extra base hits. He is drawing lots of walks at least, and has scored 31 runs in 39 games. The Dodgers have had three effective starters (Penny, Tomko, and Lowe) and two guys who've been... well, not so good (Seo and Perez). The Dodgers are one of just three ML teams to lose 10 or more games by a single run (they're 6-10) - in this context, it should surprise no one to learn that a) the bullpen hasn't been particularly good; b) Grady Little makes the pitching changes.

One-run games! Remember that subject? I seem to remember discussing it a bit. As we all remember, and as some of us obsessed over, the 2005 Blue Jays went 16-31 in one-run games. This year's edition has neatly eliminated that weakness by the novel and expedient approach of simply eliminating the one-run games. Toronto has played in just four games decided by a single run, easiest the lowest figure in the majors. The Jays split those four games.

The luckiest teams so far? (For luck, I firmly believe, is about the only factor that can't be eliminated as a consistent part of success or failure in these types of games.) In the NL, Cincinnati and Houston have both gone 10-3 in one-run games. In the AL, the only reason the Orioles can still pretend to look respectable is their 8-4 mark in one-run games. The worst team in the majors in these games has been Pittsburgh (4-11). The Pirates are pretty lousy in every type of game you could possibly play anyway - they're what we call a lousy team. But Atlanta isn't a lousy team, and they've gone 6-11 in one-run games. If that evens out before the year is over.... well, just keep your eye on the rear-view, Mets fans.

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Mike Green - Saturday, May 20 2006 @ 12:07 PM EDT (#147274) #
Remember that "You Be the Manager" thread of several months ago where we talked about pinch-hitting against Mariano Rivera, and Chuck brought up the interesting point that Rivera's cutter has made him more effective against lefties than against righties.  Last night's Subway Series game might have given us an indication about how Rivera and Torre feel about it.  The situation: 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth.  Rivera on the mound.  With one out, Lo Duca doubles, and the Mets have Beltran, Delgado, Wright and Nady to follow.  Rivera strikes out Beltran, and then intentionally walks Delgado to face Wright. Wright singles over Damon's head in center to end the game.  The lesson for Sandman: don't disrespect David Wright or he will make you pay, youth and all.  Obviously, Rivera's effectiveness against lefties was a less important factor than experience when the decision to walk Delgado was made (Wright and Delgado are pretty much even as hitters).
Chuck - Saturday, May 20 2006 @ 12:47 PM EDT (#147276) #
What's shocking - shocking, I tell you - is that 2006 Rockies are winning with pitching.

The Rockies are a team I just never see, except when they play Toronto (being natural rivals and all). I wasn't even positive they existed until I saw them on TV last night. Even now I'm not entirely convinced the ballgame wasn't some CGI trickery.

The effect of the thin air in Denver has had an interesting effect on both management's efforts to field an appropriate team (and figuring out just what exactly that means) and on the fans' understanding of the context of Coors-inflated numbers (setting aside that the park is playing like a pitcher's park thus far in 2006).

Early on, before the park's effects were widely understood, non-stars like Bichette, Castilla and Galaragga were putting up huge numbers and not being adequately scrutinized outside of sabermetric circles. Then a backlash started and when Larry Walker, a non-impostor hitting star, won his MVP, no small of controversy ensued.

By now, the backlash is so profound that Todd Helton, now on the downside of a stellar career, is virtually unknown to the average baseball fan. Those aware of him don't know quite what to make of his career OPS of 1000, so it seems better to simply ignore it altogether. In our unfair universe, Helton now deserves much of the ink misguidedly spilled over the illusory exploits of mid-90's Blake Street Bombers.

And this gets me to Magpie's comment. Looking at my 2006 copy of BP, I see that in the history of the team, only in 2001 was their offense better than average (a .262 EqA vs. the predefined average of .260). The three years that they were a smidge better than a .500 team, it was their pitching, more than their hitting, that was responsible. And perhaps 2006 will see more of the same.
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