July 2, 2004
Best Matchups (Best combined record with both teams being over .500): Chicago White Sox @ Chicago Cubs
The White Sox lead the American League in scoring. While this is no guarantee that they will win the pennant or even the division, they have done so all five of the previous occasions that they managed to lead the league in runs per game. Three times they have won a pennant or division without being on top of the league in RPG. On all three occasions--1906, 1959 and 1993--pulled this off by allowing the fewest runs per game.
If manager Ozzie Guillen can keep in mind that he has a scoring juggernaut on his hands, and not get too caught up in small ball foolishness, they could be able to hold on to the top spot in spite of the presence of Boston and New York in their rear view mirror. Cleveland is also within striking distance.
Here's a look at how many times each of the 14 American League teams has led the loop in scoring (figured on runs per game as opposed to total runs) since inception in 1901.
Current locale/previous locale: (number of times with most RPG/seasons played)
New York Yankees/Baltimore: (27/104)
How bloody predictable that the Yankees would be at the top of this list? Six of these seasons did not result in a first-place finish: 1985, 1954, 1945, 1930-31 and 1918. '85 is the work of Rickey Henderson with an able assist from Don Mattingly.
You are forgiven if you don't remember that right before the Tigers went on their decade-long swoon they had the most potent offense in the league.
Those first seven accumulations led to no pennants. Neither did the next three, but they did win divisions in those years.
Chicago White Sox: (6/104)
One scoring title in 60 years playing in Washington can be attributed to two things: they fielded some pretty bad teams and their home park was always very friendly to pitchers. The one time they did manage to get to the top of the heap it took a war to get them there. They were actually outscored by the Yankees in '43 but played two fewer games and, therefore, meet the criterion as the top team for this bit.
Oakland/Kansas City/Philadelphia: (6/104)
Baltimore/St. Louis/Milwaukee: (5/104)
Toronto: (1/28) 1990
Anaheim/California/Los Angeles: (1/44) 1979
Texas/Washington: (1/44) 1991
If you were told the Rangers had one scoring championship and had to guess the year, it probably wouldn't be '91--three years before they moved to the Ballpark at Arlington and long before the Big Brickpile truly became a hitting haven.
Tampa Bay: (0/7)
Kansas City: (0/36)
What is the closest the Royals have come to leading the league in runs per game? In 1973, they almost bettered the A's, who themselves were landing their one RPG title of the past 90 years. Oakland was at 4.68 that year while the Royals came in at 4.66. Their closest finish of recent vintage came last year when they landed in fourth, their best showing since 1982. In all, they've logged the one second, three thirds and four fourths. They've finished 10th or worse 16 times with 2004 seeming to be a likely 17th.
Best Matchups (Best combined record with both teams being over .500): Oakland @ San Francisco
The Giants have won four of the last five games Barry Bonds has not started. Overall, they are 5-9 with him not in the opening lineup. (Conversely, they are 9-6 without Neifi Perez in the starting lineup.)
How rare is it for Barry Bonds to get credited for five at bats in a game? It's only happened three times so far in 2004.
He only had three such five at-bat games in 2003 and just one in 2002, the year he set the major league record for walks with 198--the mark that doesn't stand a chance this year. He's only gotten four at bats 10 times in 2004.
Worst Matchup (Worst combined record with both teams being below .500): Toronto @ Montreal
I was at Citizen's Bank Ballpark (the sure-to-be-temporarily-named new home of the Philadelphia Phillies) on Tuesday night and saw these very same Expos drop a 17-7 decision to the Phils. The Anorexpos had gotten to within 8-7 in the fifth before the Phils pulled away. The next night, Montreal scored six to win 6-3, meaning they scored 6-7-6 in the first three games of the series against Philadelphia but only had one win to show for it. That's got to be very frustrating for a team that has had trouble scoring all year. That actually marks the first time in 2004 they managed to score at least six runs in three consecutive games. Just for fun, I plugged that 6-7-6 sequence into the first three games of every series they played so far to see what their record would be if they could have managed to repeat the feat every time out. Not surprisingly, they would be 55-22. What does this prove? Nothing, except it feeds into the perception that bad teams score a lot when their pitching goes south and fail to score when their pitching is on the job.
On another note, I had amazing seats for that game--sixth row behind the third-base dugout. I don't consider myself worthy of such an incredible view, but that's a different matter. I bring this up to contrast it with the next night when I was down in the left-field corner for the Red Sox/Yankees game in the Bronx. This is not meant to be a complaint because I consider myself fortunate just to be in the building for a game between those two teams, but something happened to remind me that there are two kinds of actions on a ballfield: those that play well on television and those that play well in person. The Red Sox attempted the old hidden-ball trick. I missed it because the foul pole completely obscured my view of first base. I was immediately reminded of something Steve Martin used to do when performing live back when he was the most popular stand-up comedian on the planet. At that point, he was playing arenas. He would make a big show of dedicating a magic trick to the people in the cheap seats and then he would introduce the "disappearing dime trick." Well, for most people in a stadium with 50,000-plus in it, the hidden-ball gambit is the equivalent to that disappearing dime trick.
Biggest Mismatchups (Largest disparity in records with one team over .500 and the other under .500): Seattle @ St. Louis
What follows is a list of the players who have drawn 10 walks or fewer with the most at-bats per number of walks. I don't know if that quite sounds the way I wanted it to, but what I meant will become apparent when you look at the list. The number next to the player's name is his at bat total through Wednesday.
Explain to me again why Everett is doing so well in the All-Star balloting.
Of all people, middle infielders with little or no power could benefit from getting on base more via walks, yet look at this crew. This is why it's hard to get too excited about Wilson. Yes, he's improved as a hitter, but without a solid on-base foundation, that new batting average thing of his is a house of cards.
Did I really push this guy for Rookie of the Year?
Now that's a leadoff man.
A number of other Angels just missed the cut throughout this list.
A number of Rockies show up on this list or just barely missed making it. Now there's something to ponder: if you're playing in the best hitters' park in history, wouldn't you be champing at the bit to get your hacks in?
Or, how not to impress a team with a plate discipline doctrine like Boston's.
Biggest Mismatchups (Largest disparity in records with one team over .500 and the other under .500): Minnesota @ Arizona
This is the time I make a confession and beg forgiveness. I come to you with hat in hand, although I don't really own a hat, so that leads to another confession: I stole the hat in my hand so that I might come to you with hat in hand. In any case, back to my original confession: I picked the Diamondbacks to win the National League West. What was I thinking? I don't even remember. I think I was trying to be "different." Most folks were picking the Giants with a few renegades going for broke on a Padres upswing. Another tiny minority had the Dodgers. I guess I took all this in and decided I needed to be iconoclastic. Where did it get me? Coming to you with a stolen hat looking for absolution--that's where.
Why should the Diamondbacks trade Randy Johnson? Because George Steinbrenner wants them to? What is this madness that has beset baseball wherein a team goes south for a year and is suddenly expected to offload every manjack on the team who has the talent to stick his head above replacement level? Arizona plays in a division built on a sandy loam. The Diamondbacks could very easily reload in the offseason and come back and cop this thing in 2005. Having Randy Johnson still in the fold would certainly help in that regard. In modern baseball it seems, we have come to expect that both babies and bathwater must both be drained to the sea.