We're about a fifth of the way into the season and some trends - both surprising and not - are starting to take shape.
Can the Gangstaz possibly be for real? With more or less the same squad as last season (who arguably OVER-achieved by winning 78 games), Detroit is sailing along at a .645 clip. Tony Carrara (1.000+ OPS), Pedro Sierra (1.000+ OPS) and Teddy Nelson (5-0, 1.25 ERA) are undoubtedly under some kind of performance-enhancing substance investigation. Can Columbus possibly be this bad? After 90 wins last season the Criminals have stumbled out to an 12-19 start. The culprit? Cold bats. After scoring 5.76 runs per game last year, they're dead last at 3.73 rpg this year.
For the first time since the Clinton administration, somebody other than Cleveland leads the east. Defending WS Champ Pittsburgh has Belle's best record at 23-9 -
1B Gene Cuddyer and RF Joaquin Alvarez lead the AL in homers (12); Kaz Lim is thriving in his new closer role (6-for-6 saves and 0.00 ERA). D.C. and Cleveland aren't rolling over - we could see 3 playoff teams from the East this year.
Looks like a dogfight shaping up, with El Paso, Richmond and Little Rock a game apart and traditional (11 of the last 13 division titles) champ Jackson just 5 back. On the stat front, El Paso's Trenidad Guerrero is hitting .411 and Richmond's Daniel Gallagher checks in with a 1.034 OPS. Could we see a 3 or 4-way race go down to the last week?
3-time defending champ Salem leads but the big story is the emergence of San Diego and its league-leading pitching staff (3,47 ERA) as a contender. Free agent Jimmie Feliz (3-0, 1.41) and second-year man Javier Benitez (3-0, 1.52) are thriving in Petco's voluminous dimensions, and they're getting plenty of help from the relief corps. Salem's Elroy Gant is among the league leaders in just about every offensive category, but the key to their playoff hopes in continued good pitching: the Goonies were 2nd in team ERA last year and are slightly improved (3.85) so far this season.