COLIN: We are now fifteen or so games into the season and can you believe it? The Red Sox have solved their pitching woes!
Alright, so maybe that hasn’t happened exactly. In fact, Sox reliever Mark Melancon could use a drink. His 6.00 would hardly be acceptable as an ERA. Instead, that number represents his WHIP—the real ERA being close to what I shot in nine holes last weekend.
Yeah, yeah it’s no surprise that the Red Sox can’t pitch, but there are plenty of other stories around baseball that have us asking, “is this real?”
How about a dose of reality for you, Tim Lincecum? It must have hurt to see your teammates Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner ink extensions over the last couple of weeks. I’m sure your contract was just left in the printer. On top of that, you proceed to get roughed up against your first three opponents, including the punchless Phillies. So not only are you not loved, but you also can’t get a fastball by Laynce Nix. Ouch.
If there is a team that’s due for a reality check, it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before being served an ice-cold brew in Milwaukee, the Dodgers sat at an unbelievable 9-1 record and could do very little wrong. The starting rotation sported a cool 2.86 ERA and Matt Kemp led the National League in just about every offensive category this side of Paul DePodesta. Along the way, the Dodgers’ formula has included embattled sluggers (Andre Ethier and James Loney), pitching revivals (Chad Billingsly and Chris Capuano) and three sons of former players (Dee Gordon, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Tony Gwynn Jr.). Sure Clayton Kershaw still anchors the staff, but I don’t see the pitching holding down the fort much longer. The 2001 Mariners shouldn’t have to sweat this one out.
I understand that only a small percentage of the season has passed, but I excite too easily. Exactly how much can we draw from early, early season performances? How clear is the Magic 8-ball at this point? I’ve only just dusted the surface, so I foresee a change in Natitude to this discussion. All signs point to yes?
DAN: I don’t understand your weird venom towards Timmy. Isn’t everyone rooting for him to at least become a regular ace, since his Freak levels seem unattainable at this point? Jonah Keri described how that could happen, and I thought everyone was on board. Explain your saltiness!
So you don’t believe in the Dodgers; do you believe in my Nationals? Obviously I’m biased as a native of our nation’s capital, but my Natitude is ignited. I’m a believer. Now I’m not saying the World Series is a legitimate possibility this season, or that the franchise is firmly where they want to be, but this team is going to contend this year.
At first glance, one would say their 6-2 record in one-run games is unsustainable, but this team is built in such a manner to overachieve in tight contests. The back of the bullpen is lights out — especially once Drew Storen returns — and the defense is wildly improved from previous National lineups. The days of Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, and Dmitri Young tooling around with gloves made of steel and sporting UZRs in the -30s are over. This team doesn’t give you extra outs: they currently rank fifth in Baseball Prospectus’s Defensive Efficiency ratings. Offensively, beat writer Mark Zuckerman detailed how the team approaches late-and-close situations at the plate, and how they have had success in the clutch. So while I don’t think a .750 winning percentage in one-run games is sustainable, they look like a team that can overcome randomness and thrive in close games.
That still might not be enough, though. The division is obviously brutal and the lineup is still a work in progress. The starting pitching has been outrageous so far with a 2.06 FIP; maybe that goes south when Stephen Strasburg hits his innings limit, the league sees them for a second or third time, and the weather heats up.
Tell me why I shouldn’t be pushing all my emotional chips into the center of the table. Or don’t, because I’m already all-in and your naysaying will probably make me hate you.
COLIN: The Nationals have impressed, but let’s not forget that the Marlins still have this. I am sticking with my pick that the Fish edge out the Nats for the final wildcard spot. It’s been a rough go so far in Miami, though I spoke to one advance scout (no Kurkjian) and he expects that Hanley will start trying around mid-May.
Despite that prediction, I do like what’s going on in DC. The starting pitching has performed very well and should project nicely into the future. I still have questions about Strasburg’s durability, Zimmermann’s capability and Gio’s sustainability, but there is no doubt fans should be taking notice. This could be one of the premiere rotations in baseball at some point.
Offensively, the Nationals’ lineup is a tough one to figure out. Other than Ryan Zimmerman, it’s hard to tell whether any of these guys are here to stay. Adam LaRoche has been a pleasant surprise, though I’m sure you would be happy there with anything above replacement. His 9.4 total WAR in eight seasons has to make him one of the worst regular players in baseball heading into 2012. Overall, the offense has a brutal .298 wOBA, good for 22nd in the bigs. Even worse is their 26th-best team oWAR of 1.3, a full win behind that vaunted Twins lineup (hate me yet?). I do like their 9.8% walk-rate (hey, I’m trying).
I’ll admit that I was not a believer of what the Nats were building towards in 2011. Now I’d be surprised if they weren’t in the wild card mix this September. The pitching alone suggests an 85+ win season. Beyond that, I don’t think much should be expected unless there is a serious change of course for the likes of Desmond, Espinosa and Bernardina. It must be nice to know that Washington has arrived, regardless.
Enough with the Nats, how has there been no mention of Jamie Moyer yet? I’d say his story qualifies as a surprise. He’s pitched effectively in all three of his starts against the Astros, Giants and Padres. At 49 years of age, it’s pretty darn amazing to shut down a Major League lineup. So when he does that, I will be officially impressed.
Oh and the saltiness towards Timmy? It’s called fantasy baseball, duh. Would it kill him to strand a runner once in a while? Jeez!
DAN: Moyer starts tonight in Pittsburgh, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer to be impressed. I don’t care how weak Moyer’s opponents have been; I love this story. A 2.55 ERA from a guy older than The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is outrageous.
While some early season overachievers will certainly regress to the mean — I don’t want to mention any names but it rhymes with Fance Fynn — everyone should be on the Texas Rangers bandwagon so far. We always knew they could mash, but their run prevention has been outrageous so far. The team’s FIP is a tidy 3.01, even after accounting for Yu Darvish, the only starting pitcher in baseball that treats the strike zone like it’s made out of lava. The starting rotation doesn’t sport any household names, but the breakout trio of young guns (Harrison, Holland and Feliz) makes CJ Wilson’s departure palatable.
The Rangers have allowed only 6.4% of fly balls to leave the yard, which is second-lowest in the league. That’s going to change: in that park, in that weather, and in that league, that is an unsustainable mark. When opponents start putting runs on the board through the longball, the Rangers will be able to answer with their own bats; we know that. But if their starters can limit that airborne havoc, this will remain the best team in baseball.