Tucson improved by a Belle-best 31 games last year and ran away with the AL West. Portland improved by 16 games while rebuilding, and Boise and San Diego both dropped 8 off their Season 12 totals.
Boise: While just about every team's scoring is down, the Posse seems to be in a particularly bad collective slump (7th in runs last year, 13th this year). LF Gil Chang (.296/10/31) and CF Rick Clontz (.295/4/35) are the only starters measuring up to last year's numbers. Robinson Bird (30 HR's last year, 3 this year), Bucky Gordon (41 HR's last year, 7 this year), Pep Stevenson (29 HR's last year, 3 this year) and Chin-Hui Song (29 HR's last year, 5 this year) are experiencing major power outages and need to turn it around. Trend (-)
San Diego: The Surf Babies were last in runs last season, and remain there in a rebuilding year. They're starting a number of rookies, some of whom probably came up too early, and they're all struggling. Add in down seasons from vets Abdul Gload, Diego Coronado, and Luis Piedra, and you've got a real scoring shortage. Trend (-)
Tucson: Another team that's backed up, falling from 2nd in runs last year to 7th this season. The power numbers are actually holding up (4th in HR's) - Vargas, Leach, Escuela, Paniagua and Anderson all have 10+ longballs; but they've dropped from 4th all the way to 11th in OBP. Too late for a turnaround? Not in the AL West. Trend (-)
Portland: As of this writing the Bar & Grillers have taken over the Al West lead, but not because of their offense - 14th in runs, 15th in OBP, 14th in slugging. There are bright spots: 1B Brant Cooney is following up last year's monster with a sold campaign (.296/15/53), rookie LF Groucho Priest (.291/7/22) has been a pleasant surprise, and RF Miguel Camacho (.262/12/39) has been an unexpected power source. If Suzuki and Katou can get on track the Grillers might run away with the West. Trend (even)
Boise: More evidence of the dawn of the "dead ball era": the Posse's team ERA is lowet by .73 runs per game this year, and they've moved up 1 spot in the pitching rankings. P.T. Navarro (6-2, 2.81) leads the staff, and he's getting excellent bullpen support from Eric Dickerson (2.31), Dennis Delaney (2.70) and Barney Jacquez (2.80). Orber Carrasco (3-8 5.32) is struggling: they need him to find it if they're going to stay in the race. Trend (+)
San Diego: 9th in ERA last year, a little above the league average, the Surfers have dropped to 10th. The good news: Kyle Neal, Sal Speier, and Horacio Valdes have thrown a ton of quality relief innings (all with ERA's under 2.60); and starters Andres Padilla (5-4, 2.91), Fernando Nieto (4-4, 4.15), and Mike Bass (4-5, 4.23) have been solid. There's help on the farm in Javier Benitez and Desi Zurburan; let's hope the Babies don't get too impatient with them. Trend (+)
Tucson: The Sidewinders' staff has completely imploded. In a season where scoring is down 7%, Tucson's ERA has gone from 5.19 to 8.00...EIGHT! Last year's 21-game loser, Rudy Merritt, has been their best pitcher (3-7, 4.06) and the only one worthy of mention. About the best we can say at this point is there's no way these guys can be this bad in the second half. Trend (-)
Portland: The Grillers' rise in the standings is directly related to their improved pitching. Portland is this year's poster child for savvy free agent spending: Rudy Knorr (6-5, 3.53) is a modest $5.8MM, Vance Scutaro (6-4, 3.86) an even less extravagent $5.2MM, and Jacob Martin (a hard-luck 2-9, 3.97) is still a bargain at $6.75MM. Trend (+)
1. I'll say Portland takes the division by a nose
2. Boise a close second
3. Can't believe Tucson stays this bad...they rally for 3rd
4. The team I picked to win the division last year (SD)...well, at least they're rebuilding in earnest now.
5. Rookie Watch: Portland's Groucho Priest
6. Vets on the move: It's probably San Diego's last chance to get something for Luis Piedra and Abdul Gload