Hot Aprils and other Brushfires (05/01/00)
If your favorite team is in the cellar or your favorite player is looking up at the Mendoza line, don't despair. We've only completed one month. Does that mean they'll recover and storm through the last 5 months to meet your expectations? Not necessarily. Just that they might have been victimized by a schedule imbalance.
For example, the Phillies have had to face Randy Johnson (twice), Rick Reed, Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds, Dustin Hermansen, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood, Alex Fernandez, Andy Benes and Daryl Kile. All but Reed and Hermanson are former 18-game winners. Any wonder why Scott Rolen is hitting .258 and the Phillies are 10 games under .500?
The Padres' opposition in the month of April included all 4 of the NL playoff teams from last year and the three teams most people picked to surprise this year: Montreal, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Their combined April record is 99-71. Throw in that 60% of those games were on the road and it's a wonder they finished April just 3 games under .500.
Likewise, would the Cardinals be where they are had they not played 16 of their first 25 games against Milwaukee, Chicago and Colorado? Probably not. You can also bet that Jim Edmonds' and Andres Galarraga's home run binge will slow down once they start facing the likes of Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson.
What about the bad performances that aren't linked to the schedule, like the woeful performances of the Astro's pitching staff or Mike Hampton?
Enron Field is pretty clearly a hitter's park. The dimensions in center (436' straight away) won't keep hitters from pulling bombs down the short porch in left. However, it's not yet summer in Houston. Things will probably change once June rolls around. Why? Because summer in Houston is hot. Africa hot. And really humid. Like a terrarium on a stove. And if the humidity doesn't slow down the balls from flying out (things don't travel as fast or as far in heavier air), the mosquitos will. OK, so mosquitos don't fly at the same altitude as a fly ball, but have you ever tried to hit with a swarm of mosquitos or gnats flying around your head? It's tough to hit a nasty curve with a gnat in your eye or a mosquito up your nose. At some point this summer, the offense will simmer down in Houston to at least non-Coors levels.
What about Hampton? Hampton should recover some, but he's never been a guy with great control or great stuff. Looking at his history, he's always averaged about 3 walks a game. The key to his game has been never giving in to the hitters, never giving them something they can handle. If they lay off the stuff he misses with, he walks them. So, either one of two things is happening right now: either he's missing more than he usually does, or word has gotten around to lay off his stuff in certain counts and make him throw strikes. Either way, there's no guarantee that he's gonna suddenly turn things around and pitch as well as he did last year. He's better than he's shown so far, but how much remains to be seen.
Can Pokey Reese continue to be among the league leaders in batting average? Considering his career major league batting average is .258 and his career minor league average is .245 and there's been no change in the way he's used, I'd say there's a better chance that Kelly Stinnett or Kevin Elster will lead the league in homers. If he's still there in mid-July, then it's time to reconsider career stats and their value altogether.
Just remember, everyone gets hot (or goes cold) for a month once in a while. It's just a little easier to spot when it occurs during the first month of the season. And just like spring training, April is not necessarily an indicator of what to expect for the next 5 months. It's a long season and a lot can happen in 162 games.