In no particular order of importance, here are some thoughts and some statistics rattling through my alleged brain at the end of the first quarter of the season:
• The Nats: I’ve been to a half dozen, or maybe more, Washington National’s games because, alas, I don’t live in Boston and the Sox are not coming to DC. A few observations:
1. Nats’ pitching has kept them atop or near the top of the Division all season. They lead the other 29 major league teams with an ERA of 2.94 (the only team to be under 3.00 in ERA.).
2. Young ‘phenom’ Bryce Harper is exciting to watch and may be the ‘real deal.’ I have been wary of the hype surrounding him over the last year or two, but in every game I attended, he did at least two things that had potential impact on each game. He seems to be learning from the veterans on the team, unfortunately, that means players like Jason Werth. Still, he’s 19, and we know what that means.
3. The Nats will not continue to play at the .600 pace (and thus winning 97 games) they have so far. While their pitching has been outstanding, I don’t think it will hold up for an entire season. They’re currently hitting .243 as a team, 26th out of 30 in the majors and 14th of 16th in their league. If their pitching slips, their current hitting will not make up for that loss. Their fielding is at best average, putting them at 16th out of 30 in the majors and 8th out of 16 in the National League.
4. But they will do better than last year (80-81), increasing their wins by 10 games and perhaps ending the season in contention for their Division. If they can maintain their current rate Runs Scored (140) – Runs Allowed (126), for a Differential of + 14, they should be in the hunt.
5. It’s fun to spend an afternoon or evening at the park without fear of doing bodily harm to oneself on every swing, hit, miscue, run scored, etc. (which is how I feel at Fenway).
** The Red Sox will do significantly better than their current W-L percentage of .474 and last place in the AL East. I suspect they will not win the Division, but maybe (hopefully?) they’ll scrape through into the playoffs. Why?
1. Their pitching is better than their current ERA of 4.63. They’ve won the last six of seven games because their pitchers, finally, did what they are capable of doing. Presently, the Sox are 28/30 in the majors in pitching and 13/14 in the American League. Their bullpen has been outstanding when given the opportunity to protect a lead.
2. Their batting is strong, even without Ellsbury, who will return before the All-Star game. Currently they are 4/30 in the majors and 2/14 in the American League with a BA of .273 and with 205 runs scored.
3. They lead all teams in fielding a fielding percentage of .989 and are tied for the fewest errors, 16.
4. So, surprise. It’s about the pitching. Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Bard, and Dubront and a strong bullpen.
5. I’m neither a fan of nor a hater of Bobby Valentine. I think he has wonderful baseball ‘smarts,’ and will help as much as hurt the team.
**The Yankees, the team I love to hate is in trouble, I think:
1. Other than Jeter, who’s gotten off to a fantastic start and Cano, they aren’t hitting and have a team average of .266, not terrible (8/30 in the majors and 5/14 in the American League). A-Rod, Swisher, Teixeria (.228), and Granderson are all barely hitting .250. I suspect at least one or two of these four will improve.
2. The hitting isn’t the only thing that’s hurting them. It’s the pitching that’s suspect – ERA 4.3, 23/30 in the majors and 10/14 in the American League. And without Rivera to shut down other teams, their bullpen has taken a huge hit.
3. Fielding-wise they’re OK, .988, good enough for 2nd in both the majors and the American League.
4. I’m not sure what will turn they’re season around, but they may have trouble winning more than 90 games this year (they’re currently on schedule to win about 85.
1. Often the (lowly) O’s start off OK, only to revert to form and the most they do is spoil things for the other teams. This year, however, that good starting is continuing.
2. Why? Good pitching (ERA 3.41, 2/14 in the American League, and decent hitting (BA .251, 3/14).
3. The statistic that stands out is the differential in Runs Scored – Runs Allowed. They’ve scored 182 and allowed 164, which gives them a + 18. The Soxs have scored 205 and given up 192 for a differential of +13. And then there’s the Yankees, who have scored 178 and given up 171, a differential of only +7.
4. Can the O’s stay atop the Division? My friend Nelson R (and no doubt Chris E) is hoping. I am suspect.
Finally, I am working on a post about John Sexton’s (NYU President) course “Baseball as a Road to God.” In preparing for this future post, I just finished Robert Carver’s 1968 novel The Universal Baseball Association which Sexton seems to believe is one of the best books about baseball (and meaning in our lives, religion, and God). I didn’t know of the book (it’s on his syllabus in his course) and would curious about what anyone who has read it has to say about about it.