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May Baseball: Questions Answered

   by Bryan Leonard - 05/29/2008

It's always a good time to ask: Why? That's a basic element of professional handicapping. If a sports team is playing good defense, or winning, or hitting the heck out of the baseball, ask why? More important, see if you can find out the reasons why certain things are occurring. Let's ask why for several surprises early in the baseball season.

Why are the Tigers in last place? This is a team that won the AL pennant in 2006 and loaded up this offseason, trading for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. The offense is actually clicking, ranked third in the AL in runs scored. When they are on, they are tough to beat, as we saw in a 12-8 win over Seattle and a 19-3 destruction of the Twins. Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordonez equaled a career-high six RBIs Saturday against the Twins at Comerica Park -- by the fourth inning.

So what’s the problem? How about a bullpen that, for the second straight season, has been decimated by injuries. The staff ERA is dead last in the AL. The infield defense has been shaky, ranked 4th in errors made. For now, Dontrelle Willis is back, but will pitch in the Tigers bullpen. In Friday's 9-4 loss to the Twins, Willis, recently received an inning of work. He gave up a run, hit, walked two -- one intentional -- and had a balk. Bad pitching and defense makes putting together any kind of hot streak difficult. You can’t really on offense to carry the load.

Why do the Rockies have a losing home mark? For years, Colorado has been a very good team at home in Coors Field, but terrible on the road. The defending NL champs have been poor both home and away. This is an example of a team making moves and just about everything going wrong. They rolled the dice on pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales and had Kip Wells and Josh Towers as Plan B alternatives. They’ve lost on all of them thus far.

The big bats, Matt Holliday, Todd Helton, Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe, haven’t been hitting, especially in the clutch. Hawpe and Helton, the two lefties, have been huge disappointments. They went 21-1 to make that improbable run to the World Series last year. Does these team have the capability of making some kind of second half surge? Probably not, as they simply don't have enough pitching to get it done. They opened the season with a $70-million-plus payroll, but a fire sale in July is likely, so if you’re a GM, figure out who you want from this team as many will be available.

Why did the NY Yankees start 31-14 under the total? This one has correlating answers. Normally we think of the Yankees as an over team, with mediocre pitching and their huge payroll built largely around their tremendous offense. Yet, they offense simply hasn’t hit, with injuries to such starts as Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. Also, oddsmakers know that the public thinks of NY as an over team and has overvalued them.

The pitching and runs scored are in the middle of the pack in the AL. They are so short on quality starting pitching that a starter like Chien-Ming Wang needs to be healthy and effective. Note that Wang's last start was pushed back a day after he strained his right calf in his previous appearance, against the Mets - in which he surrendered seven runs.

Wang insisted his right calf wasn't an issue, but he had no explanation for his uncharacteristic lack of control of late. The right-hander walked a season-high four batters against Seattle, a big factor in his second straight shoddy start for the Yankees. Wang allowed five earned runs over 61/3 innings in the Yanks' 6-5 comeback victory over the Mariners. 'The ball was all over the place, I had no control,' Wang said.

Why are the defending champs so good at home and lousy on the road? This one is tough to figure. Boston started 21-5 at home, but 10-17 on the road. After winning 8 in a row at home, they went to Oakland and got swept. The pitching is deep, the bullpen is fine and the offense is terrific, tops in the AL in runs scored. The only explanation if they average 6 runs per game at home, but 4.2 away. But they have the talent, defense, offense and pitching depth to be much better on the road.

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