Monday, May 26, 2008

(AP Photo)

By Jason Sinner - Columnist

How did we manage that?

I am amazed, flabbergasted, befuddled. I am stupefied, shocked, and awed. We are 30-22. Almost exactly the same winning percentage as we ended up with for the entire 2007 season. How is it possible?

Let’s go back to Friday for example. The top three hitters in our lineup were batting .204, .212, and .254. The bottom three batters .237, .241, and .178. We had a flu ridden starter on the mound who has a career 4+ era. He was up against a team that was on fire with the likes of AJ, Quentin, Dye, Thome, Crede, and Swisher in their lineup. We expected to win, and we did. We got three hits and scored two of our runs via HBP. Are you kidding me?

Let’s go back to the beginning for a minute. The story starts with Lackey and Escobar on the DL. Two guys that combined for 37 wins last year. Both of which were in the running for the Cy Young award in 2007. To lose those two players was unprecedented. Historic if you will. The only light at the end of that tunnel was that one of them would be back after about six weeks. So the team would have to at least tread water until Lackey’s return right? One would also expect that if the team were to perform well that the next two guys in the rotation would have to step up. Those next two guys were Garland and Weaver and how did they perform while Lackey was out?

Weaver 5.59era
Garland 4.30era (5.94 for the month of April)

What about the 5th spot in the rotation manned by Dustin Moseley and Nick Adenhart?

Moseley 7.30era
Adenhart 9.00era

We ended up 18-10 in April by the way. Seeing the above numbers and looking at our record, something extraordinary must have happened right? Well, it did. Everyone knows the story by now. Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana were amazing. Again, pretty shocking considering their career numbers.

The offense played a big role in the teams early season success as well, but it’s not like they tore the cover off the ball. Kotchman, Aybar, Mathis, Figgins and Hunter all had a strong first month. On the flip side of that, GA hit .231 with a .622ops, Vlad hit .272 with a .790ops, and GMJ hit .225 with a .664ops.

Now lets move on to May. Hooray, John Lackey is back! He’s here to save the world! Hold the phone. Suddenly, 3/4th of our infield is on the DL. No big deal, we have depth and tons of it. Let’s take a look at how our offensive depth has performed in the absence of several starters:

Willits, .269, .713ops
Quinlan .228, .582ops
Rivera, .167, .437ops
Rodriguez .154, .427ops
Wood, .139, .406ops
Brown, .077, .231ops
Total 41-226 (.181) 2hr, 12rbi

For the month of May overall, the team is hitting .228 with a .649ops. To be 12-11 in the month of May so far means that something has gone right. Doesn’t it? Lackey has been great in his first three starts while trying to build up his arm strength, Saunders continues to shine, and Garland has been terrific (all with sub 3.00eras for the month). Jered Weaver has looked great in his last two start and Santana has tailed off a bit, but hasn’t been terrible.

This team has scored nine more runs than they have given up which should put us at about 2-3 games above .500. We are eight. Weird. Maybe the bullpen has carried us?

Not exactly. KRod is 21/22 in save opportunities which is great, but instead of truly dominating, it has been more of a “getting the job done” type of performance. Hey, that’s fine by me. What about everyone else? I think ‘spotty’ is a good term to describe them. Shields has been real good except for when he hasn’t, and then he’s been real bad. Speier has struggled leaving Oliver as probably our most consistent late innings guy right now. Let’s not even talk about the back end of the pen. Arredondo has been a nice shot in the arm, but has all of 4 major league innings.

From top to bottom we have perhaps two players overachieving in Saunders and Santana, and a few others at or around what you would expect in Hunter, Napoli, GA, Kotchman, Garland, Weaver, Krod, Oliver and Shields. Figgy, Aybar and Howie have all done very well yet all three are missing significant playing time. Their fill-ins along with Vlad, GMJ, Speier, the back end of the pen and the rest of the bench have been well below what they should.

So how are they doing it? Some would point at the Halo’s defense which has performed at a high level all year. One thing we know for sure, is that winning starts from the top down. How does a team underachieve in terms of individual performance yet manage to overachieve in terms of the team’s overall record? How do players who struggle at the plate go out and make stellar defensive plays? How does a team overcome the loss of their top two starters and 3/4th of their starting infield?

Is it smoke and mirrors or luck or depth? A little of each of those perhaps, but a large dose of Mike Scioscia. So put aside for a moment all those little things you may disagree with: The awkward lineups, who should or shouldn’t play, who should pinch hit for whom, or whether a one guy should relieve another. Who is behind the scenes creating a clubhouse environment conducive to winning? Who somehow motivates a rookie who is hitting .150 to keep his head in the game so he can help his team defensively if he can’t with the bat? Who is truly responsible for getting considerably more wins than the numbers indicate we should have? There is only one conclusion. We have the best manager in baseball.

Love to hear what you think!


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