We’re basically ten percent into the season, and the standings at this point look plenty interesting. There is a standings page here at Midnight Baseball, besides standings you’ll find projections that modify themselves after I input the results of each game. Since that page sometimes takes a few seconds to load and I want to keep you reading this, I’ll reproduce just the current standings here.
The AL West is by win-loss record perfectly symmetrical, centered around third-place Seattle. The A’s keep humming along, nagged only by some shoddy bullpen work at the end of games. All three closers have blown a save in their brief tenures, and in games against division rivals no less. The problem could get sorted out tomorrow and still prove fatal if the race ultimately comes down to one or two games. The rotation is shining even without former leading man Jarrod Parker and the sturdy A.J. Griffin. Scott Kazmir looks like the best left-hander in the division, having rediscovered the mechanics or something that enabled his mid-90s hot stuff. He’s stronger this year than he was last. And in the line of pleasant surprises we have 30-year-old journeyman Jesse Chavez, the world’s craftiest homunculus. The A’s keep runs off the board and their lineup, in all its iterations, scores pretty damn well, too.
Texas has overcome a startling power shortage and a significant number of injuries to their infield and pitching staff. When I say overcome I point to the winning record alongside the negative run differential. The Rangers should be scoring on the level of the A’s, not the Mariners, but their pitching has kept them in enough close games. Yesterday’s duel between staff ace Yu Darvish against the Mariners’ King Felix is the freshest bit of evidence. That lineup will wake soon. Adrian Beltre is due to return shortly, but Kevin Kouzmanoff might remain if he keeps acting frisky in the batters’ box. Manager Ron Washington loves to put aged flesh out on the field, having so much of it himself. Mitch Moreland is not above any platoon. Having weathered this start, the Rangers face no pressure, and they stand to improve.
Seattle had a hot start that slowed down, but they have many causes for optimism, namely Roenis Elias, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. The Mariners banked on a young staff complementing proven assets Hisashi Iwakuma and King Felix Hernandez; they did not pursue any of the high- or mid-level free agents available this winter. Well, despite some injury concerns, Paxton looks readier for the majors than I thought, and Elias came out of nowhere. The Mariners just need to hold on until Iwakuma and Walker can make their first starts, then they’ll be poised to ride out the year on a formidable front four. The offense so far looks credible.
The offense in Los Angeles is more than that. Trout-Pujols-Hamilton had the makings of serious bidness before Josh Hamilton became the last major league player to slide into first base ever. (Honestly, if his thumb injury doesn’t stop everyone else from attempting that counterproductive maneuver, we’ve obviously learned nothing as a species. The only time it is acceptable is if the first baseman is up the line trying to swipe a tag on the runner’s upper body. Then you get down to avoid the tag, but you never get down to accelerate horizontally.) He’ll come back with about two-thirds of the season remaining, however, and this offense runs well without him. The pitching is their concern, chiefly the bullpen, where no one has established any reliability. Even so, they’ve gone 2-2 in extra-inning games. It’s not all bad.
The Astros have some nice things going for them, but they are irrelevant to the standings, outside of the benefit they provide to the rest of the division. No team in the American League will compete with Houston’s futility, so the four teams who play them most should have an advantage over all the other teams. Because of that the AL West could very well send three teams to the postseason.
Click that to see it better, and I’ll explain what it means. As each game is completed, the modified projections for a team’s runs scored and runs allowed are recalibrated. I wrote a simple enough formula and now I’m letting it do the rest, taking a snapshot of its changes with each day. (I didn’t start recording the changes until April 9, hence the beginning on the graph.) Before the season I predicted the Diamondbacks would have average run prevention; so far they’ve been abysmal, and as a result their projections have changed pretty drastically in a short time. They should bounce back at some point in the near future, but the graph helps you visualize their distance from second place. They’ll have to get up over the Giants to make the playoffs. No team can really lose the playoffs in April, but if things continue in this fashion for the Diamondbacks, I’ll be ready to discount them on May 1st. At midnight!
Things are getting dramatic, so let’s calm ourselves with instrumentals and the analysis of middling teams. The Rockies and Padres show plenty of signs of promise, to be sure. Andrew Cashner is a ray of sunshine disguised as a razorless scourge on the mound. Good luck beating him, foes of San Diego. Injuries to Josh Johnson, Cory Luebke and Joe Weiland have not stopped them from producing a decent rotation. Decent won’t be good enough to win the division, not with that punchless offense, but Ian Kennedy is trade bait extraordinaire and Tyson Ross shows promise.
In Colorado there’s the opposite problem: plenty of hitting, not enough pitching, they also play in a ballpark that reflects their own strengths. I won’t belabor the point except to say that the bullpen, expected to be a strength, has floundered. Rex Brothers, the best arm in that bullpen, or so I thought before the season, has walked 11.12 batters per nine innings. Yeesh. On the other end of things, props to Adam Ottavino, a fellow relief man, he of zero walks and 14.73 strikeouts per nine.
Leaving San Francisco and Los Angeles. They were in all honesty the principal motivation behind this post, but now I feel like I have you wanting more. And, after all, the two teams finish their three-game series today, resulting in either a tie atop the division or a two game lead for the Gigantes. With that in mind, stay tuned for a more thorough comparison of the Giants and the Dodgers after that game is finished. Let’s reconvene in twelve or so hours.