The San Diego Padres invade RFK, tonight through Sunday, and these Friars are tangled up in a bizarro divisional race if there ever was one. As critically-acclaimed Gaslamp Ball notes, "[t]he NL West is tighter than a drum being played for a nun by a superglued clam's butt." Okay, if you want to be technical about it . . .
A game-and-a-half separates the top four contenders in the NL West, and a fifth, Arizona, lurks five back despite losing something like 71 of its last 72 games. The Padres have ridden a two-game winning streak to the top spot (well, combined with the Dogers' one-game losing streak), a perch of precisely one-half game above the Rockies. Los Angeles and San Francisco trail by a game and game-and-a-half, respectively. Come to think of it, a game-and-a-half also separates four teams in the NL East. However, those four teams lie about a million twains beneath the Mets, and therein lies the contrast: NL West---interesting; NL East---opposite of interesting. The Nats have a chance at finishing second, which I suppose is marginally interesting, if you're in the mood to be interested by anything---say, immigration law or Tom Berenger's last decade.
At first blush, the Pads appear to be your classic good pitch (first in the NL), no hit (next-to-last, though the Cubs barely count) kind of team. I'd imagine more than a germ of truth supports that, but don't forget that they play half their games in Petco Park, which was an even better pitchers' park than RFK last season and somehow inspired like a 1.17 million comment thread over at Baseball Primer a couple years ago. Quite a powerful force.
San Diego starts Woody Williams (3-1, 3.04 ERA; 1.20 WHIP; 30/12 K/BB), whose secret to success this season might have something to do with being undead. Honestly, I looked at the pitching match-up (versus Ramon Ortiz, no world-beater himself) and could've sworn that Williams didn't pitch last season. And that's true, from a certain point of view. (He went 9-12, 4.85 last season, in Petco.)
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OMG provides a fascinating, throw-cold-water-all-over-our-giddiness type of post today, the gist of which is that Mr. Clutch, Ryan Zimmerman, is more like Mr. Clutch Opportunity. Writes Harper:
What?s up is one of the weirdest things I?ve found out this year. Ryan has 109 at bats with runners in scoring position. The next closest National, Royce Clayton, has 69 at bats with RISP. That?s 40 more at bats for Ryan or roughly 60% more at bats with runners in scoring position than any other National. Doesn?t that seem rather strange?
Not only that, Ryan leads the major leagues in the number of at bats with RISP. Leads the majors! On a team that?s 22nd in OBP, 22nd in SLG, and 26th in average. Anyone within 10 at abats of Ryan is at least on a team with an offense in the top half of the league.
My only guess is that the combo of Nick(.422 OBP), Alfonso(.342), and Vidro (.369) has led to a lot of men on base, but there has to be teams with a better trio than that, right? Maybe there is no team with the combination of players who can get on base AND a completely useless 4th/5th hitter like Jose Guillen, who couldn?t drive someone home if someone put him behind the wheel at the end of a driveway and asked Jose to pull in.
Opportunity obviously plays a huge role. Remember the season in which Joe Carter drove in 100 runs despite slugging under .400? Hell, remember the season when Tony Batista came one RBI from doing the same?
But, even in the absence of evidence players in particular are "clutch," their "clutch hits" are often memorable---and thank goodness for that. Zimmerman's made being a Nats fan fun in recent weeks, when it could've been moribund. Or, more aptly, more so.