Cincinnati has opened a 3-game lead thanks to the best pitching in the AL. The rotation has been solid, with 4 of 5 starters posting ERA's under 4. But the bullpen has been lights-out: LR Cesar Velazquez - 1.80 ERA, closer Edgar Perez - 11 for 11 saves and 2.53 ERA, Wilton Ashley - 0.44 ERA! Everyone else is under .500 - defending champ Augusta's pitching has completely exploded (6.19 ERA). Among the rookies, Cincy's DH Martin Munro stands out - .310/7/26.
Shaping up as a brutally competitive race, with all 4 teams at .538 or better. Cleveland's pitching has fallen off (relatively) to 6th in ERA - that's one factor keeping things close. East players occupy the top 6 spots in OPS: William Pierce and D.C.'s Victor Morales lead at 1.118, Cleveland's Jacque Fitzgerald (1.070), D.C.'s Eric Brantley (1.027), and Pittsburgh's FA's Brogna (.990) and Cota (.976). Little Rock's pitching (3.55 ERA) is keeping them in the race again. D.C. boasts both rookie standouts so far - SP Rob Workman (5-1, 2.93) and DH Hooks Allen (.309/5/35) - but keep an eye on the Alleghenys' D'Angelo Cerda (1-0, 3.15 in just 3 starts so far).
Jackson has parlayed excellent pitching (McCorley - 4-0, 2.03; Diaz - 11 of 11 saves, 3.21) and adequate hitting (Manzanillo - .358/10/36) to open up a 6-game lead. Richmond's Charlie Cosby (7-1, 1.91) is off to a Cy Young start...Little Rock's Vin Amaro (6-1, 2.70) isn't far behind. Nashville's Ray Henley is looking like an even jucier trade chip, with a .934 OPS. No rookie performances jumping out yet.
What has happened to Tucson? For starters, they've fallen from 2nd last year to 8th in offense, with an OPS that's down nearly 100 points. Brad Anderson and Carlos Escuela have had particularly nasty starts and need to kick it in. And the pitching has faltered, ranking 15th in the league. That's left the division wide-open, and Boise has taken a 3 game-lead. Among the division's hitters, only Jose Vargas (.911) ranks in the top 25 in OPS; Portland's Rudy Knorr (2.76)and Nick Rando (3.40), Tucson's Rudy Merritt (3.33), and Boise's Darryl Kent (3.40) and P.T. Navarro (3.77) are among the league's ERA leaders.