The First Ten Games
Someone once said you can tell a lot about how a season will go by the first ten games of the season. I'm not sure how true it is since the Angels were dreadful out of the gate last season and the A's have gotten off to slow starts in each of the past two, but just in case there is some truth, this is what we know from this year's first two weeks:
The Braves are in trouble. BIG trouble. Their starting pitching hasn't been terrible, but it hasn't been good either. In fact, if one looks past the artificially low ERAs and looks at the number of baserunners they are allowing and the number of strikeouts they're getting, this staff has potential to get pretty bad. The Phillies have looked good out of the gate, as have the Expos. Kevin Millwood's injury doesn't look serious but one never knows how groin pulls will effect a power pitcher or how long it may linger. As for the Expos they've had a rough schedule to open the season, but may have found a solid candidate to be their closer in Rocky Biddle. He'll be more of a Danny Graves groundball-type closer than the traditional fireballer, but could be very effective in the role if he wins Frank Robinson's confidence. The Mets record is deceptive as they have been outscored by a substantial margin. While this is in part due to the absence of Mike Piazza due to his suspension, that doesn't explain why they are the league worst in drawing walks. Florida's offense has been surprisingly strong at the outset, but their bullpen will make it a year-long struggle to reach .500
Although the Pirates lead in the standings, it's the Cubs who look like the class of the division. They're starting pitching has been superb and their offense has been hitting on all cylinders. One hopes that Dusty Baker won't run his young starters into the ground the way he did so many in San Francisco, because this is a team that could go deep into the playoffs if he doesn't wreck his treasury of arms. The Pirates still don't score enough runs to contend in the division, but should finish a strong 4th. Both St. Louis and Houston have good offenses that have yet to get going. The questions surrounding the quality of the Cards' starting pitching depth seem to have been answered positively. Houston still has some questions but Wade Miller should be able to turn around a slow start and Kirk Saarloos will be a plus once the Astros stop deceiving themselves with Brian Moehler. The Reds were hoping to hammer their way into 4th, but with the injury to Ken Griffey and facing a division of good offenses with a pretty lousy starting staff, that is only a dream now. The Brewers are as bad as they seem; the only question for them is will they win their 10th game of the season before June.
Many are wondering how good the Giants are with this fast start. They're good, yes, but they've also been playing the worst team in the NL and a team so decimated by injuries that they might be the second worst team in the NL. That's a great recipe for going undefeated the first week of the season. The Diamondbacks, by contrast, look much worse than expected. The starting pitching depth has been better than it's collective ERA, but it's quite possible that this team could have a lousy offense. Other than Junior Spivey and Luis Gonzales, this team doesn't have one good hitter who isn't on the downside of his career. And Gonzales may be as well. Unless they get an infusion somewhere, this team looks like a good bet to finish a distant 3rd or even 4th in the division. The Dodgers starting pitching has been very good and the offense has possibilities of being fairly competitive, despite having a couple of players who can't seem to reach base. The Rockies record looks for real and if their young starters can find consistency, they could push above .500 this season into 3rd place in the division. Despite all their injuries, the Padres have been pretty game out of the gate, led by their starting pitching. Peavy and Lawrence have looked terrific and Eaton is coming along nicely. Of some concern is the ineffectiveness of Oliver Perez and the hole that is their 5th spot. The surprise is that their offense might be much better than expected as long as Rondell White can stay healthy.
Not surprisingly, the Yankees got out of the gate quickly. Their regular starters are the most talented in the East and their main concerns - age and depth - won't start to reveal themselves until the season is well under way. The Red Sox closer-by-committee approach appears doomed to failure, for several reasons. First and foremost is that two of the guys they are depending on - Alan Embree and Ramiro Mendoza - appear to have lost significant velocity since last season and are not likely to be as effective as once hoped. The second reason is that as soon as the Red Sox find one guy who is hot, whether it is Chad Fox or Brandon Lyon or whoever, that Grady Little will likely continue to use him in that role for as long as possible. It's simply a matter of risk aversion - if Little picks and chooses "closers" based on match-ups, he is the one responsible for losses/blown saves; if he elects to go with one guy for the save opportunities, it's no longer his burden, it's the "closer's". After a disastrous opening series with the Yanks, Toronto has come on strong. Halladay and Lidle have performed as expected. Hendrickson has been a bit disappointing, but Tanyon Sturtze has been a revelation. It just goes to show how much a pitcher's confidence in his teammates can affect his performance. Pinella has the D-Rays believing they can crawl out of the cellar finally, but the starting pitching has been too ineffective to expect any such turnaround this year. Baltimore has been surprisingly bad in all phases, but that will stabilize enough for them to be occasionally competitive.
The Royals charge out of the gate is mildly surprising, since part of their streak came at the expense of the White Sox, who were expected to contend for the division. No doubt Kansas City has some talent on their team, but they've been getting a few breaks - like facing two largely inexperienced line-ups in Cleveland and Detroit - and their lack of depth has yet to be exposed. It will be. The Twins struggles can be traced to playing two good teams that are hot - Toronto and New York. Once they start playing their division rivals, they will surge to the top of the Central standings. One thing they surely must recognize soon is how much better they would be with Johan Santana in the rotation. The White Sox offense has been stuck in neutral so far, which is incredibly surprising since they opened the season against the expected cellar dwellers of the division. Almost as much of a concern is their starting rotation after Buehrle, Colon and Loaiza; Jon Garland has been dreadful and Danny Wright may take some time to return. Josh Stewart's one start came against the anemic Tigers so it still remains to be seen if he can pitch in the majors. Cleveland has struggled out of the gate, but it's not because of their pitching, which was expected to be their prime weakness. The inexperience of the offense has been telling, but they have enough talent to go on run-scoring binges from time to time. The Tigers are actually look worse than expected, and may challenge the 1962 Mets for futility (40-120) and have an outside shot at the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134).
There haven't been any surprises in the West during the first two weeks. The Rangers still need more starting pitching, although Colby Lewis' early performances have been encouraging. The bullpen is much more stable, which should help. The additions of Erubial Durazo, Ted Lilly and Keith Foulke have sparked Oakland to it's best start since the early 90's. That along with the added dimension of speed from Mark Ellis and Chris Singleton should give this team a much better chance to get beyond the first round of the playoffs. The A's should run away with this division. The Angels are finding out just how hard it is to maintain an offense that is almost entirely dependent on timely hitting. They still have a solid club, but to expect as many as 90 wins is a stretch. What is most alarming about the Mariner's start is the fact that they have surrendered the second most home runs in the AL so far. While that is in part due to the teams they've played - Oakland and Texas primarily - there's not much reason to expect that trend won't continue since they play those two teams extensively. They'll need much better performances from their starting pitching if they hope to contend for a wild card. Even so, their offense looks pretty ordinary.