Pitchers having a field day - The Buffalo News

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Pitchers having a field day

Where’s Harry Caray when we need him?

The venerable late voice of the Cubs closed every Wrigley Field rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with a howling clarion call of “Let’s get some runs!” It sure could apply everywhere this season.

When the schedule resumes Friday night, teams will be trying to buck a trend of decreasing offense the likes of which we really haven’t seen since 1968. That was The Year of the Pitcher, where teams combined to bat just .237, Denny McLain won 31 games for the Tigers, St. Louis’ Bob Gibson had a 1.12 earned-run average and baseball finally cried uncle by lowering the mound after it was over.

With balls – and clearly players’ bodies – no longer juiced as they were in the 90s and early 2000s, power arms have taken over from power bats as the game’s star attractions.

Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers is 11-2 with a 1.78 ERA and 126 strikeouts in just 96 innings. Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals is 12-4, 1.83, Felix Hernandez of the Mariners is 11-2, 2.12 with 154 Ks in 144 innings. Before he was injured, Masihuro Tanaka of the Yankees was 12-4, 2.51 and had 135 strikeouts against just 19 walks.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, MLB offenses are averaging 8.3 runs per game this season, their lowest total since 1992, and are batting a combined .252. That’s the lowest mark since teams combined to hit just .244 in 1972, the year before the creation of the designated hitter.

And strikeouts are at an all-time record pace of 15.4 per game – with every team except Kansas City on pace to throw more than 1,000 whiffs. Forty pitchers have already fanned at least 100 batters. That’s a lot of dead air.

Steroids are a big factor that everyone knows about. Less understood by fans is how the banning of amphetamines is impacting players, who are forced to endure late-night travel to the next city or day games after night games. And a real revelation this year has been the defensive shift.

Under manager Joe Maddon, the Rays have started a trend of huge scouting and major shifts based on hitters. Many teams are now joining the trend, and it’s proven to be cutting down offense.

“The equation is analytics plus shifting minus PEDs equals parity,” the erudite Maddon said to amused reporters after a recent game in Detroit. “Everybody is using the same sheet of music now.”

The A’s are the only team to compose a sweet song on offense, keeping pace to score more than 800 runs this season. But in 2000, 17 teams scored more than 800. In 1999, the Indians scored 1,009 and became the first team to crack 1000 in 49 years.

Three of the four biggest run differentials in the game are in the AL West, where the A’s are plus-145, the Angels are plus-89 and the Mariners are plus-57. The Nationals (plus-61) are the only other team even above plus-50.

There are 12 teams batting under .250, and the Padres have been by far the worst of the lot. They are last in the National League in batting (.214), on-base percentage (.274), slugging percentage (.336) and OPS (.610). They’re averaging 2.9 runs per game, scoring 81 fewer than any other team, and have been shut out 14 times.

The Padres somehow managed to go 10-17 in June despite batting just .171 – the lowest batting average in a full calendar month in the Live Ball Era.

It’s left them one of the few teams clearly out of the race and expected sellers at the trade deadline. The same can be said for the likes of the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cubs, Phillies, Astros and Rangers.

Here’s some quick thoughts on some other teams’ outlooks for the second half:

Blue Jays: They have to get healthy. And they have to add a bat, either Chase Headley of the Padres or Martin Prado of the Diamondbacks are atop the rumor mills. Not too many years where the Yankees or Red Sox are both down. A rare window of opportunity.

Rays: They were 24-42 and seemingly toast but have gone 20-11 since. Still eight games out of the wild-card and 9½ out in the AL East, if they decide to keep David Price, they’re very dangerous.

Yankees: It’s hard to see them surviving with a decimated pitching rotation, especially if Tanaka doesn’t come back. They would almost have to go get either Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels if it looks like Tanaka is headed for surgery. Their schedule is home friendly, with 41 of the final 68 games in the Bronx. But maybe that’s no godsend, given their 18-23 home record and a 29-24 mark on the road.

The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour: It hits Toronto for the final time Aug. 29-31. What figures to be an emotional Yankee Stadium farewell will be Sept. 25 against the Orioles, with his career finale (barring playoffs) coming Sept. 28 in Fenway Park against the Red Sox.

Orioles: Right now, they’re in first place by default thanks to the injuries of the Blue Jays and Yankees, the terrible start of the Rays and the Red Sox post-Series malaise. And although they seem best suited to stay there, they have a horrific schedule that includes the next 26 games against team above .500 – including the first 10 against the A’s, Angels and Mariners.

The Birds’ last seven games of the season? Sept. 22-25 in the Bronx and Sept. 26-28 in Toronto.

NL Central: Which thumb injury will prove more devastating – Yadier Molina’s in St. Louis or Brandon Phillips’ in Cincinnati? The Pirates have been the best team for the last two months, and it’s a huge question if the Brewers can keep holding on.

Tigers/Nationals/Dodgers: All entered with huge expectations and had major struggles in the first half. All hit the break atop their divisions. All are primed for a deep October.

Giants: Remember, they have proven to be even-year wonders as they won the World Series in 2010 and 2012 and looked to be a prime contender this year. On June 8, they were 42-21 and cruising with a 9½-game lead in the NL West that was the biggest in baseball. They were 22-9 at home and 20-12 on the road.

Since then, they’ve gone 11-22 – including just 6-16 at home and have blown their entire lead. So maybe starting the second half with 17 of their first 23 on the road isn’t such a bad idea. They need to stay healthy, a problem of late, and get the kind of starting pitching they had in the first third of the season.

email mharrington@buffnews.com

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