Memorial Day Gut-check

Ignore it until 50 games.

When hitters don’t hit and pitchers don’t pitch, sooner or
later their jobs are in jeopardy, but it’s an old baseball axiom that the
earliest time you can make a sensible prediction about how the season will turn
out is after 50 games.

Well, we’ve reached 50 games and here are some of the trends
most people didn’t see coming before the season started, with a verdict on
whether those trends are for real :

1.)  Ubaldo Jimenez leading the League in wins
and ERA

Thumbnail image for ubaldo-jimenez.jpg

10 wins, an insanely-low ERA of 0.78 and a no-hitter to his name. All
this for a man who plays in notoriously pitcher-unfriendly Coors Field in

VERDICT: Give him the Cy Young

This isn’t a rookie whose stuff is surprising everyone and is about to
get found out. He’s in his fifth year, has wicked movement on his pitches and
isn’t afraid of pitching in the strike zone.

      2.)  San Diego Padres leading the NL West

The Dodgers were supposed to scrap this one out with the Giants, closely
followed by the Rockies and dark-horse Diamondbacks, but the unfancied Padres
are showing no signs of letting up. Their pitching leads the National League in

VERDICT: you’re kidding,

The Padres can’t hit. At all. So with their pitchers having to be nearly
perfect every time out, as soon as they hit a rough patch the Padres will stop
winning. All it will take is a couple of stretches like that and the
Dodgers…and maybe everyone else…will roll right by them.

3.)  No-one wants to win the AL West

Oakland – with good pitching and no hitting, are only three games over
.500 with 10 more runs conceded than they have scored – that much surprises
nobody. That they lead the Mariners, Angels and Rangers in the standings is a

VERDICT: Major League rules
dictate that someone has to win the AL West, and it may as well be the
Athletics as anyone else. When the Angels’ Kendry Morales broke his ankle
celebrating a walk-off homer, their thin lineup lost a leading MVP candidate.
The Rangers have Vladimir Guerrero…and not much else. The Mariners have two
studs in the rotation but were clearly high when they thought Milton Bradley
was going to break the habit of a lifetime and be a consistent hitter from the
cleanup spot.


4.)  Everything about the Cubs

– They were supposed to contend:

Wrong – they’re six games out of first and five games under .500.

– Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez would carry the offense:

Wrong – Ramirez couldn’t hit worse if he was trying to hit marbles coming
out of a particle accelerator and Lee hasn’t looked comfortable at the plate
all season.

– Mariners cast-off Carlos Silva would be a dead weight in the rotation:

Wrong – he leads them in wins and ERA.

– Carlos Zambrano would return to his dominant self:

Wrong – loss of velocity and command saw a temporary exile to the bullpen
where he…um…lacked velocity and command.

– Alfonso Soriano was finished as a top-level hitter:

Wrong – he leads the team in HR’s and RBI’s.

VERDICT: nothing has ever made
sense about the Cubs. Why would it start now?

5.)  Cincinnati Reds leading the NL Central

Show me someone who thought this
would happen and I’ll show you a Reds fan, because no-one else in the baseball
universe thought they would even threaten
the Cardinals. But there they are, with allegedly washed-up Scott Rolen second
in the NL in home runs with 13, and pitcher Mike Leake, who leads the team in
ERA with a superb 2.45, having skipped the minor leagues entirely to make his
debut straight from college.

VERDICT: shooting for the Wild Card

The Reds lead the league in five
offensive categories and should have enough pitching to challenge, but as soon
as the Cardinals’ Pujols and Holliday start hitting at the same time, their
superior pitching will win them the division.

Meanwhile the Rays leading the AL East isn’t a surprise to
anyone who has seen that team develop over the last few years and – lest we
forget – they made it to the World Series two years ago.

Boston threatened to make things interesting by not pitching
or hitting for the whole of April but they seem to have recovered their mojo.


However, if you want to wring your hands with glee at the
possible demise of a pre-season favourite, look no further than the Phillies,
whose league-leading offense of a year ago has been shut out 5 times in the
last 13 games and scored the grand total of 10 runs in that span. It’s not a
season-long trend but it has them two games behind a Braves squad that is
pitching like Braves squads always do – i.e. at or around the best in the
league, with a lineup that suddenly looks stacked, behind bargain pickup Troy
Glaus, Brian McCann and the terrifyingly gifted rookie slugger, Jason Heyward.

All of which comes with the caveat of a final prediction:
what has happened over the first 50 games of the season will almost certain
bear no resemblance to how the season plays out.

Oh well.  


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