Sure, it's largely because we're in the no-steroids era. But all this pitching can't simply be a product of the fact batters aren't on the juice anymore, right? You wonder.
There were nine perfect games from 1880 — yes, I said 1880 — until 1981. There have been five since 2009 and the number would be six had Jim Joyce made the right call on behalf of Armando Galarraga two years ago. After 1880, there had never been a season with two until 2010 (Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay). And now there's 2012 (Philip Humber and Matt Cain).
We have five no-hitters this season, including the goofy six-person gem the Mariners threw at the Dodgers, and ?14 since 2010 began. Almost every night, we're seeing these "no-hitter alerts" on ESPN's bottom line, on the MLB Network and flying around Twitter. It's not nearly that big a deal anymore.
I went to Toronto on Wednesday and saw Stephen Strasburg blow away the Blue Jays with eight strikeouts over six innings and only two runs against. And he was clearly the No. 5 pitching performance of the day behind Cain, R.A. Dickey's one-hitter, Felix Doubront's six no-hit innings and Lance Lynn's 10th win.
Perfect games used to be almost impossible to attain. When television commentator Keith Olbermann penned a blog entry on MLB.com last week, he pointed out the incredible note that the National League's second perfect game, by Providence John Montgomery Ward against the Bisons — they were in the National League back then — was on June 17, 1880. The third one, by Philadelphia's Jim Bunning against the Mets, came just over 84 years later!
Runs are at such a premium these days that ESPN.com's Jayson Stark crunched numbers and realized MLB teams are on a pace to combine for 4,000 fewer runs and hit 900 fewer home runs then they did in 2000. That's right. He said 4,000 runs and 900 homers. I looked through team ERAs in the last couple days and found not a single team finished under 4.00 in 2000. We entered Saturday with 14 sub-4.00 teams this year.
It's no secret steroids testing and the Mitchell Report has basically put an end to the great era of offense. But there's plenty more going on too.
*Rubber arms — Throwing 95 mph is getting passe. There are tons of players who can hit that on a gun and it seems like every team now has two or three guys in their bullpen doing it. Knock the starter out and get to the relief corps, a longtime credo of many managers, doesn't seem like it's the way to much success for your lineup anymore.
*Pitching is cool — More and more kids are becoming pitchers if they have exceptional talent because it's a quicker way to a big bonus in the draft and a quicker path to the big leagues. Look at all the hype around Stephen Strasburg two years ago. Parents are thinking about pitching rather than 500-foot home runs. Build up those arms, don't throw too many curveballs too young and see what happens.
*Cut fastball– Mariano Rivera has made a living off the pitch but now it's become pretty common in a lot of repertoires. Maybe you take off a couple miles an hour but now you add some run to the ball. Good luck trying to hit it.
*Offense – Entering Saturday, 11 teams have a batting average under .250, six were under .240 and the Athletics (.226) and Pirates (.225) were under .230. The Bucs have a .279 on-base percentage for the season, which would be the lowest since 1900. We're in one of these cycles where not a lot of elite hitters are being produced in colleges and high schools (Bryce Harper and Mike Trout being two notable exceptions).
*Testing for amphetamines— Players don't bounce back like they used to, especially with all the travel and things like day games after night games. They're worn out, while your average starting pitcher hasn't played in a game in five games. The results are predictable.
Cain signs for Herd
One other note on MLB's most recent perfect game: The Bisons have wish lists of autographs for professional athletes and entertainers that they try to acquire for their annual Mystery Ball Night, which is set this year for Aug. 11.
On Thursday morning, less than 12 hours after he wrapped up his gem, whose signature was on two autographed balls that showed up in the mail at the corner of Washington and Swan? Yep. Matt Cain.
The Cain balls will be among the 500 the team expects to auction away during what's become one of its most popular promotions.
Davey on Wally
Bisons manager Wally Backman said a conversation he had over the winter with Nationals skipper Davey Johnson, his manager as a player in New York, was a major reason he took the Buffalo job and didn't join Johnson's big-league staff in Washington.
When I asked Johnson about the chat last week in Toronto, he said he was convinced it was the right career path for Backman to take.
"I always said the best way to have the best resume for managing in the big leagues was managing in the system, knowing the minor-league talent. That's ideal," Johnson said. "Managing in anybody's minor leagues is good to see how players react and how everybody reacts toward your handling of talent.
"I told him with the [ownership] turmoil they were having in New York, he was better off staying right there. He's got the fame of playing in New York and playing on a winning team [the ‘86 World Series champions]. Be a big help there and show you can manage. That's why I think the best opportunity was to stay in the organization."
Why did the Blue Jays have Brett Cecil doing most of his minor-league work at Double-A New Hampshire rather than Triple-A Las Vegas? Manager John Farrell's explanation last week was that he wanted Cecil to have a "more normal environment from a pitching standpoint."
Translation: You can't judge anyone in the thin air of the Pacific Coast League.
Of course, the way pitchers are dropping in the Toronto rotation (Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison all went down in a five-day span last week), their minor leagues aren't going to have any arms left anyway.
From Omaha to UB
So is it really a fluke that Stony Brook is playing in the College ?World Series this weekend in Omaha after winning at Miami and LSU? Sure it is on paper, especially when you consider no Northeast team has made it to Omaha since Maine went in 1986.
But dig deeper. The Seawolves, whose lone big-league alum is Rangers closer Joe Nathan, will have more soon. An America East-record seven Stony Brook players were drafted this year, including outfielder Travis Jankowski — San Diego's first-round pick. Catcher Pat Cantwell was taken in the second round by the Rangers while infielders Willie Carmona (Phillies) and Maxx Tissenbaum (Blue Jays) both went in the 11th.
Speaking of the CWS, here's a memo to new University at Buffalo Athletic Director Danny White: Get a real baseball facility. Kent State is in your league and the Flashes are also in Omaha. You posted your first two Mid-American Conference tourney wins and even had a 3-0 lead on Kent State in the semifinals.
You just produced a third-round pick (catcher Tom Murphy signed a $454,000 deal with the Rockies). You have 2008 product Steve Geltz going from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Salt Lake City with the Angels. Your program has a little momentum to capitalize on. Get going. Enough of that pathetic Northtown Center diamond in Amherst.