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BIG BANG THEORIES
Three weeks may be too soon into the season to define a trend, but not to hatch conspiracy theories. People are buzzing about a noticeable explosion of offense. Through Sunday, home runs were up 8% and runs 7% from last year's full-season figures. Surprising names such as the Tigers' Chris Shelton and the Devil Rays' Ty Wigginton (right) were atop the homer leader boards, and the 2.44 homers per game this year exceeds the record rate set in 2001 (2.25), the height of the Steroid Era.
"Everybody wants to talk about the hitters being juiced," Astros first baseman Lance Berkman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week. "Nobody really thinks about the pitchers [stopping steroid use]." Another theory, which surfaces whenever offense increases, is that the ball is livelier. One of those theorists, an AL manager, says that fly balls are carrying farther and even pop-ups are going higher. Muses one AL executive, "You don't think [ MLB] would juice the ball so the Steroid Era numbers don't look so [anomalous]?" The sample size is too small to draw any definitive conclusions--except, sadly, that there are a lot of cynics out there.
FIVE OF A KIND
Last week Pedro Martinez (201--84) became the 106th pitcher to win 200 games. Next are Curt Schilling (196--131) and Kenny Rogers (193--131), who have nearly identical won-lost records. However, Rogers (left) has never won 20 games (Schilling has done so three times), and his 4.21 ERA (Schilling's is 3.40) would put him in the company of Earl Whitehill (4.36), Jamie Moyer (4.16), David Wells (4.06) and George Uhle (4.00) as the only 200-game winners with ERAs of 4.00 or higher.
?Credit Red Sox manager Terry Francona for refusing to be a slave to convention: He brought his closer, Jonathan Papelbon, into a tie game on the road last Friday. Boston lost to the Blue Jays in 12 innings, but Francona made the right move by getting his best relief arm into the game in the eighth inning rather than saving him for a lead that never came.
?How much better is the AL than the NL? One AL team ran a statistical analysis that put the difference at 10 wins, meaning a .500 team in the AL would win 91 games in the NL.
?Here's one rival G.M.'s early observation on Barry Bonds (right), who was homerless in 30 at bats before hitting his first of the year, in Colorado last Saturday: "There's a lack of fluidity to his swing. The two quickest bats of this era have been [Gary] Sheffield and Bonds. I don't see that. I don't see that explosion and the swiftness through the zone. He's a little stiff, mechanical, from the waist down because of the knee."