A recent 9-game winning streak has vaulted the Ice into the lead over the upstart Chicago Free Swingers. Pitching keyed the streak for Ottawa: in the 9-gamer they didn't allow more than 3 runs in a game. Clay Merritt (5-2, 2.87), Johnny Hernandez (.339/11/34) and Alex Martin (.351/8/29) have been standout for the Ice, while Chicago has enjoyed hot starts by Diego Coronado (.340/9/22), Jimmie Stokes (.327/11/34) and Bailey Johnson (.331/11/30). The big question here is whether New York can get back in the race. They won 82 last year and expected to contend, signing Victor Morales to a big FA contract. Morales (.311/10/26), Ellie Roenicke (.281/19/45) and Richie Elder (.328/6/19) have done their parts, but the pitching staff has slipped to a 4.48 ERA and blown 5 of 16 save opportunities.
The East has new respectability, with 2-time defending champ Jacksonville at 26-18 and resurgent Pawtuckett 2 back at 24-20. The Jinxed are doing it with pitching - they're 2nd in the NL in ERA at 3.68 and ace Gary Ramsay is 5-3, 1.99. Big question - can their bullpen keep getting away with it? They have a Belle-high 11 1-run wins and their expected winning % is .474 (vs. an actual of .578). The Slater Paws have been more balanced, getting good offensive contributions from CF Ricardo Delgado (.308/11/32) and Derek Foster (.305/11/38), and a monster start from closer Jesus Diaz (11-for-12 saves, 1.23 ERA).
New Orleans is pulling off a rare statistical feat: all 5 SP's (Fred West - 1.69, Jesus Javier - 2.33, Tomas Cruz - 2.72, Magglio Nunez - 3.13, and Omar Chavez - 3.18) are in the top 25 (top 16, in fact) in ERA. No wonder they're leading, although Mexico City and San Juan are hanging in, 6 back at 23-22. On the stat side, other division notables include the Senators' Phillip Cooke (.371/13/36) and the Red Hot's Damaso Castillo (.355/7/36).
Vancouver has opened a cushion of 5 over Las Vegas and 6 over Oakland. The Victory are solid on all fronts - 4th in runs, 3rd in ERA, tied for 1st in Fielding %. Albert Ortiz (6-1, 1.42) leads the NL in ERA; Carlos Cairo (.318/14/34) and Troy Harris (.302/11/37) are providing the offense. The 69'ers have reversed their usual pattern - they're 3rd in runs scored but only 10th in ERA. RF Hughie Bruskie (.335/18/39) could be making an MVP bid. Oakland is starting to look a little old, but RF Wilfredo Feliz (.337/10/22, 14 steals) and closer P.T. Lincoln (12-for-12 saves, 2.00 ERA) are keeping them in contention.