By now the world already knows about Barry Bonds and number 715, so let me give one stat you might NOT know about Bonds: hard to believe, but besides his historic 73 HR season in '01, Barry Bonds has never hit more than 50 HR in a single season.
Completely mirroring the previous post, the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves just finished up a game in Wrigley Field. The Cubs had a 4-1 lead heading into the 7th inning and Carlos Zambrano was working on a no-hitter (despite 6 walks). Suddenly, the gloom that has been the Cubs season fell upon Wrigley. Jacque Jones lost a flyball in the sun, ruining Zambrano's no-hit bid after 6 2/3 innings.
With the Cubs still leading 5-3 heading into the ninth AND with the Braves managing only 3 hits so far AND with the #8 and #9 hitters due up (who would eventually be Pete Orr [utility fielder] and Brayan Pena [third string catcher]), surely the Cubs had an overdue victory awaiting them. Alas, like Detroit and Kansas City, fates were quickly reversed. You can visit ESPN.com for the complete breakdown, but all you need to know is that the winning run scored on a TWO-RUN scoring sacrifice fly, thanks to TWO errors from second baseman Neifi Perez. Yes, Neifi Perez, who allegedly is only on the roster because of his defensive ability (and his multiple year contract). When it seems like the Cubs just can't seem to win and the Braves just can't seem to lose (in the regular season), look back to this game: it's a microcosm of the last 2 decades.
Yesterday the Detroit Tigers spotted the Kansas City Royals 6 runs in the first inning. Detroit still came back to win easily, 13-8. Guess which team has the best record in baseball and which one has the worst?
Yesterday I mentioned that the Tigers were for real. The rest of the AL is playing out as it should for the most part, but the NL has some early surprises. From past posts, you already know that I don't believe the Reds are for real: their pitching will be their ultimate demise. The Rockies are playing well, but it's not like they are playing .666 ball. Finishing several games over .500 certainly wouldn't be out of the question.
The tough call is the Diamondbacks. Are they for real? If "real" means winning the division and losing in the first round of the playoffs, then I say yes. My pick in the NL West was the Giants, so I still have to stick with San Fran, but I did pick Arizona to come in a close second. If San Fran can't get it together, I believe the D-Backs have enough to get it done. Brandon Webb is a true staff ace, and the rest of the starting staff does just enough to support this high run-producing team (240 runs vs. 199 for D-Backs opponents). Craig Counsell is an unorthodox yet stable leadoff hitter, and the rest of the lineup is built more on run production than just hitting homers (104 doubles vs. 40 HR to date). Valverde rounds out the bullpen nicely, providing Arizona with a decent closer.
As a whole, the Diamondbacks roster provides a good formula for steadiness throughout a season, but the lack of superstars will cost them in the playoffs if they get there.
It's hard to call a team a fluke when, as of May 22, they have NINE shutouts! That team would be the Detroit Tigers, and the pitching is for real. Keeping up the pace and finishing with 33 shutouts is highly unlikely, but a first place finish is beginning to look like a real possibility. Detroit has already weathered the loss of their closer (Todd Jones) and has held off a consistently strong White Sox club. With Jones back, a solid young rotation, and a versatile lineup, Detroit should be in it for the long haul.
Don't look now, but the Atlanta Braves, seemingly on their way south in the standings on May 6th as they fell to 12-18, are suddenly over .500 (21-20) and just 3 1/2 games behind division leader New York. Atlanta is getting healthier, with Chipper Jones and Marcus Giles back to 100% after some nagging injuries. The Mets, meanwhile, are suddenly lacking in starting pitching after losing Victor Zambrano for the year. Martinez, Glavine, and Trachsel will have to endure the brunt of the work. Luckily for the pitching staff, the Mets lineup is still as dangerous as any in the National League.
A big fan of TCO has expressed to me many times over the years his disdain about announcers using the term "velocity" when referring to a pitcher's speed. My first thought is always "I need to start handing around dumber friends so I can win at poker once in a while," but I finally put my trivial mind aside and looked it up. Sure enough, velocity is the measure of speed AND direction.
While it's not necessarily incorrect in that a pitch has a velocity (it DOES incur a speed and a direction), the announcers are technically wrong in that they should mention the direction as well as the speed if they are going to say "Billy Wagner's velocity on that last pitch was 98mph."
I don't think you are going to hear Ken "Hawk" Harrelson describe White Sox closer Bobby Jenks by rattling off "Jenks lit up the radar gun with a fastball. The velocity on that was 98 miles per hour, northwest!" In the meantime, we'll have to live with the announcers we have and all their faults, both mental and "physical." Get it? Physical? Physics? Physical?
San Diego suddenly finds itself 5 games over .500 and in first place, thanks to a generous early schedule including 7 games against the Chicago Cubs, still waiting for pitching help to arrive. Nevertheless, you still must take advantage of lucky situations and the Padres have done that, beating Chicago all 7 times and winning 13 of its last 14 games. The same team I doubted just 2 1/2 weeks ago is getting solid starting pitching (even from Chan Ho Park!) and proving me wrong.
The Cleveland Indians are doing what the Chicago White Sox did in 2003 - they are losing to bad teams early, making their summer all the more difficult. The lowly Royals just finished a sweep of the Tribe, making Cleveland's task doubly difficult. Not only do they have to chase Chicago (and Detroit), but they have to do it with a slightly more difficult schedule remaining.
Fantasy tip from The Commish: trade Jim Thome NOW! Thome just hit his 14th HR last night (May 9th!). Sure, he could finish the year with solid numbers, maybe even a 50 HR season. It's unlikely that his batting average will continue to hover well above .300 and interleague play will take away many ABs from the everyday DH. Thome's value will never be higher than it is right now, so trade him for another corner infielder and reap the rewards later. In fact, find Richie Sexson's owner and offer him Thome for Sexson AND another solid player. You'll be happy you did.
It wasn't exactly "Lima Time" yesterday, as Jose Lima gave up 5 runs over 5 innings to the Atlanta Braves, preventing the Mets from sweeping the series. Another pitcher I have often criticized who deserves some credit is Chan Ho Park. Since coming back to the NL, Park has looked, well, average, which is saying a lot. He shut off the Cubs over 9 innings over the weekend and looks much more comfortable away from Arlington, Texas.
Park is not alone in his AL struggles, and it makes you wonder what the careers of certain pitchers would look like is they were in the other league. Would Tom Glavine be chasing 300 wins? Would Clemens' ERA be a half run lower, making him even more dominant? How would Hershiser have performed away from Dodger Stadium? E-mail me with some other pitchers you think were better than advertised or overrated because of the league in which they pitched.
How do you know when things are just going your way? When even Pablo Ozuna is hitting a 9th inning, 2-out home run (his first in the majors) to tie the game and later stretching a single into a double in the 11th so that he can score the winning run on a single one batter later. The White Sox are running on all cylinders for over a year now and look to be for real.
If you are trying to make deals in your fantasy league and are sick and tired of owners sending you ridiculous deals, direct them to the latest Fantasy Focus. The 3 main rules of etiquette are explained to make your league a more trade-friendly group.
In the AL, the West is still up for grabs and may stay that way the whole season. I don't think any one team is incredibly worse than the others. With Harden out for Oakland until at least June and Loaiza failing to find the plate so far, the A's have become beatable. Texas still has its own pitching issues, Seattle is playing hard but probably has the least amount of talent in the division, and LA is mired in the middle of it all, trying to figure out a way to protect Guerrero in the lineup.
In the East, Boston, New York, and Toroton should contend throughout, but expect to see Baltimore fall by the wayside as the season rolls along.
Of note is the Central: the White Sox are dominating, as was expected, but the Tigers find themselves 8 games over .500 already. Don't anticipate a 95-win season from Detroit, but staying in 2nd place is a possibility if Cleveland can't get its act together. Losing Millwood and some key components to middle relief is taking its toll on the Indians. Sabathia's return from injury should help, but Detroit might have enough weapons to keep things interesting into late summer.
If you picked Cincinnati to finish last (like I did), don't be too worried about their 17-8 start. It's a long season, and when mid-summer approaches at the GAB, Cincy's pitching woes will be exposed, settling them into a .500 record and declining the rest of the way.
Two teams that should start worrying a little, however, is Atlanta and San Diego. Despite making the playoffs last year, the Padres were never more than mediocre, and with Peavy struggling, losing Otsuka to Texas, and aging the team with the signings of Piazza and Cameron, it will be difficult for the Padres to gain any ground quickly in the West. Luckily for San Diego, no one in that division is capable of anything more than 90 wins, so they can take their time righting the ship.
In Atlanta, a 6-game deficit on May 1st is certainly not insurmountable, but knowing it's the more talented Mets in first place makes it more difficult to catch up. The Braves need improvement in all areas and could use a little luck in the injury department, having already lost most of the starting infield to various minor injuries. New York will have its share of ups and downs, but with the talented lineup and Wagner around to finish off games, the slumps shouldn't last long. That means Atlanta (and Philly, my Wild Card pick) better shape up soon before things get out of hand.
Tomorrow I'll look at the early goings in the AL.