Many struggling, but not Arizona

May 6, 2008 7:00 PM

The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | Most teams have played a shade over 30 games, representing a fifth of the regular season.

Most starting pitchers have had five or six outings from which an early season assessment of their performances can be gauged. Judgments can be made as to which teams and pitchers are poised for continued success or have given signs that their seasons will provide more disappointment than pleasure.

Arizona continues to fashion the best record in all of baseball and the 21-10 start leads the National League West, four games ahead of surging Los Angeles. The Dodgers just had an eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday in Colorado.

Even after that streak, the Dodgers are still just 17-14. Yet things are encouraging for manager Joe Torre despite the continued slump of ex-Atlanta Braves outfielder Andruw Jones. His struggles, which date back to all of last season, remain a puzzle for an athlete with as much natural talent as any player of this generation.

Only three other teams in all of baseball are winning at least 60 percent of their games. St Louis leads the NL Central with a 20-12 record, while both Boston (AL East leaders) and the AL West leading Los Angeles Angels are both 20-13.

It’s still early but several teams are struggling mightily and find themselves nearly 10 games out of their respective division leads. Not surprisingly, two such teams are in the NL West as both San Diego and Colorado have yet to hit their strides. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have also fallen badly behind in the NL Central.

Overall scoring is almost identical to that of a season ago. Through the end of April, 9.11 total runs per game were being scored as compared to 9.09 through April of 2007. Scoring can be expected to increase in the coming months as by the end of 2007 average runs per game was up to 9.60.

Through this past Sunday home teams have won just over 55 percent of all games while unders have greatly outpaced overs 242-209 (with 20 pushes). Ignoring the pushes, that translates to roughly just 46 percent of all decisions going over with 54 percent staying under.

Through Sunday there were five starting pitchers whose teams have yet to lose when they take the mound. The teams playing behind Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, Arizona’s Brandon Webb, the Angels’ Joe Saunders, Cleveland’s Cliff Lee and the Yankees’ Chien-Ming Wang are a perfect 32-0 in their starts.

All five hurlers have ERA’s no higher than Wang’s 3.00. Wang also has the highest WHIP among the five, a very solid 1.13 (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched).

At the other end of the spectrum there are three pitchers who have started at least four games whose teams are winless in those starts.

The Giants are 0-6 in lefty Barry Zito’s starts and Zito has been sent to the bullpen to work out his problems. Pittsburgh was 0-5 in Matt Morris’ starts before releasing the veteran last week. And Texas is 0-6 in starts by Jason Jennings whose problems may have been related to a nerve injury that has landed him on the DL.

 Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend:

D’backs at Cubs: Both teams played well in April and might meet again in the playoffs. Arizona is perhaps the most balanced team in baseball even with much youth in the lineup. The Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano is pitching as well as he has at any time in his career. Ryan Dempster has also fared well in his conversion back from reliever to starter. The Cubs’ other three starters have been barely average.

For the Diamondbacks, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren have been exceptionally solid while the rest of the rotation has also been just average. Every Arizona starter has been backed with an average of at least five runs of support in their starts.

Preferred plays:

• Zambrano or Dempster or Arizona’s Webb or Haren as underdogs.

• Arizona or Chicago as an underdog of +125 or more in starts not involving those four.

Under 8 or higher with Zambrano against Webb or Haren.

Over 9 or lower in starts not involving Zambrano, Haren or Webb.

Rockies at Padres: Both teams have been major disappointments over the first five weeks of the season. San Diego was expected to have troubles at the plate but those would be overcome by strong pitching. Only Jake Peavy among the five Padres starters has performed at his expected level.

Colorado’s success is predicated on its potent offense, but the Rockies have not been hitting as expected and are averaging under five runs per game at home. The only starter to pitch well has been Aaron Cook.

Preferred plays:

Under 8 or higher in any matchup.

• Colorado as an underdog in a start by Cook.

• Colorado -125 or more if Cook starts against anyone other than Peavy.

Under 7 or higher if Cook faces Peavy.

• Colorado or San Diego at +130 or higher in starts not involving Cook or Peavy.

Yanks at Tigers: Detroit swept a three-game series at Yankee Stadium for the first time in more than four decades a week ago. The Tigers then followed up that success by losing three in a row at Minnesota. New York rebounded to sweep Seattle at home in their next three games.

Detroit has started to hit the ball better over the past two weeks, but the pitching and defense remain very shaky. The Yankees have gotten better than expected pitching from the top of their rotation, but the bottom two spots have failed to deliver. Phillip Hughes has now been sidelines by injury while Ian Kennedy has been demoted to the minors.

Preferred plays:

• New York as underdogs in starts by Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina or Andy Pettitte except against Armando Galarraga.

• Galarraga at -125 or less.

Under 9 or higher if Wang, Mussina or Pettitte oppose Galarraga or Justin Verlander.

Blue Jays at Indians: This is a four-game series that ends on Monday and figures to feature some strong solid pitching. Both staffs have been brilliant in the early going. Toronto may have the best overall starting rotation in the majors.

Cleveland ace CC Sabathia appears to have settled down nicely after a rough first few starts. Lefty Cliff Lee has posted arguably the best stats of any starter in the game through April. Toronto has struggled mightily on offense all season while the Tribe has been inconsistent.

Preferred plays:

• Any underdog in the series of +120 or higher.

Under 9 or higher in the series for any matchup.