Being weak on one side of the field hasn't doomed teams like the Nationals and Braves.
The 2012 Texas Rangers are the archetype of a winning team. They’ve scored the most runs in the American League, even away from their hitter-friendly home park. They’ve allowed the fewest runs in the American League, even in their hitter-friendly home park. No one can score against them, and no one can keep them from scoring. Whether they’re in the field or at the plate, they look like a first-place team.
Even among the league’s leading clubs, though, the well-rounded Rangers—and the Cardinals, who boast an even better run differential—are the exception. Most first-place teams are flawed.
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Which NL starters are off to a worse start than the Angels' not-yet-sluggy first baseman?
On Wednesday, I examined a half-dozen American League hitters who are off to chillier starts than even Albert Pujols in an attempt to shine a light on a handful of developing stories centered around underperforming players. Of course, none of those hitters has the track record or the job security of the Angels' newest marquee attraction; neither do seven billion other people on Earth. In other words, they're a wee bit more likely to find themselves riding the pine or worse if they continue to flounder, and at the very least, their small-sample struggles—and for this the threshold is 70 plate appearances, not long enough for any key hitter statistic to stabilize—are worth your attention.
Bryce Harper's presence and early contributions gives the Nationals a happy glimpse into the future.
The Weekend Takeaway
During a weekend series highlighted by Matt Kemp’s 10th-inning walk-off homer in Saturday’s 4-3 Dodgers victory, the Nationals got a glimpse into their future—a future that likely will not include many more sweeps at the hands of the Dodgers.
Top prospect Bryce Harper arrived with a bang on Saturday, and while Kemp ultimately stole the show, the 19-year-old phenom immediately displayed the tools that will soon make him a superstar. Harper rocketed a high Chad Billingsley fastball over Kemp’s head to straightaway center for a double, fired an 80-grade bullet home from left field, and drove in the go-ahead run with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly that would have won the game if not for a Henry Rodriguez meltdown in the bottom half of the frame.
The Nationals rotation throws harder than any staff in baseball has over the past few seasons, and that just might win them the NL East.
The Washington Nationals haven’t hit very well this season: their .252 TAv ranks ninth in the National League. They haven’t run very well, either: they rank third from last in the big leagues in Baserunning Runs (-2.2). Nonetheless, the Nats have an 11-4 record, good for first place in the National League East and the third-best record in baseball, behind only the 11-2 Rangers and the 11-3 Dodgers. In a tight division like the NL East, a quick start can improve a team’s playoff odds significantly. The Nats’ chances of making the playoffs have risen from 7.9 percent before their first game to 19.2 percent today.
How have the Nats succeeded, if not by outslugging their opponents or regularly taking the extra base? The source of the team’s success has been defense and pitching—starting pitching, in particular. Before Edwin Jackson allowed five runs in five innings against the Astros on Thursday night, no Nats starter had allowed more than four runs in an outing. Through the team’s first 13 games, the starting rotation produced nine quality starts with a 1.65 ERA and a 2.20 RA, by far the best marks in baseball.
Is the Nationals' great right-handed hope Stephen Strasburg really limited to 160 innings this season? To find out, BP goes straight to the source.
It’s Opening Day at the Friendly Confines, and another six-month party is on in Wrigleyville. Bill Murray is on hand to throw out the first pitch, but he's an improv guy, so he instead lights out around the bases and slides theatrically into home plate while flipping the ball to Kerry Wood. Beer, brats, and celebrities hamming it up—another Cubs season is here.
One guy is all business. Washington wunderkind Stephen Strasburg is getting ready for his first season opener at the big-league level. It’s been a long time coming. If you want to see a concrete sign that the Nationals have turned the corner as a franchise, there it is toeing the rubber on the mound at Wrigley Field, six-foot-four, a right arm like Zeus, only with a wider repertoire and better command.
Jason Heyward takes a step forward, while Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez are looking to get the ball rolling with their new clubs.
The Wednesday Takeaway
The Braves are counting on bounce-back campaigns from their corner outfielders and contributions from their high-ceiling pitching prospects as they look to return to the top of the NL East standings for the first time since 2005. If Wednesday night’s 6-3 victory over the Astros is any indication, they may get them.
Starter Randall Delgado earned the win for Atlanta, tossing five innings of two-run ball and striking out six. But the bigger story was right fielder Jason Heyward, who made his presence felt throughout the game and might be ready to resume his rise to stardom.
Stephen Strasburg's pitch count sails into uncharted territory during a matchup against the Mets on Wednesday.
In this age of pitch counts and innings caps, every starting pitcher has a limited number of bullets. Even among the hardiest hurlers, nine years have passed since a starter topped 260 innings, and eight since one went past 140 pitches in a game without having either a no-hitter on the line (Edwin Jackson) or simply being Livan Hernandez. These days, it's a rarity for any hurler to come within 10 percent of those marks in a game or a season, and not surprisingly, the more fragile sorts pull up far short. So nobody came out to Citi Field on Wednesday afternoon expecting the matchup between the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg and the Mets' Johan Santana would yield complete game efforts or deep pitch counts, particularly with both pitchers working their way back from 2011 seasons largely lost to injuries. But in their second starts of the season, on a gray day with game-time temperature at a brisk 53 degrees, the two opposing managers tested their aces' limits, and both held up after firing all of their bullets, keeping their opposite offenses to a combined one run through 5 ½ innings before the bullpens took over.
Which player do scouts feel is the best unknown major leaguer?
The question was posed to a dozen front-office types and scouts during the final days of spring training: Who is the best player in baseball that nobody knows about? The winner of the highly informal poll was a bit of a surprise, especially since he entered this season having played in just 43 major-league games. Yet there is a strong feeling that Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie won't be a secret much longer.