This series features the two teams with the best
combined records of any other matchup this week. On
top of that, it sports the return of Jeff Kent to San
Francisco, a place where he most definitely did not
leave his heart, but certainly deposited a good deal of
bile. Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes
him as saying of his decision to leave the Giants for
the Astros, "If I thought the Giants were in that same
class. I'd probably still be there.'' How is that for
WWF-style pre-event hyperbole?
The Astros' Lance Berkman finally drove in a couple of
runs on Sunday after a 10-game drought to start the
season. We are, all of us, guilty of worrying too much
about what players are doing when the season begins.
It is human nature to take things at face value. Our
minds look at the calendar, see that the third week
of the season is about to begin and that one of the
better hitters in the game has yet to drive in a run.
From this we naturally draw the conclusion that
something is amiss.
Of course, it isn't. It is quite possible to go that
long without knocking in a buddy and still have a heck
of a season. In 2001, Berkman had RBI-less streaks of
10 games, nine, seven and six and still managed to
drive in 126 runs. Last year, his longest drought was
only six, but he had a whole host of four-game streaks
and one five-game RBI hiatus, yet he drove in 128.
Another very good player, one who received a lot of
attention for MVP last year, got off to a similarly
bad start. Torii Hunter did not score a run in the
Twins first 10 games. Last year, he had two six-game
run-less streaks and the year before he had one of seven
and three of six. In both years he still managed to
score over 80 runs. It happens. Don't read anything
into it just because it happened to start
the season this time around.
It's said every year because we always seem to forget
the lesson over the winter: don't even start thinking
about worrying until May 1.
Here's something old school that should be modified,
in my estimation. It's the ancient baseball tradition
of what is totaled in the line score: runs, hits and
errors. Why does this persist? Errors are no longer
anything like an important part of the game and having
them take such a prominent place in the short story
version of a game score is becoming increasingly
It has been a while since a single team averaged as
much as one error per game. Last year, the average for
both teams combined was about 1.3 per game. When this
tradition was born, I am not exactly sure, but if had
to venture a guess I would say it was in the 19th
Century when errors were very much part of the game.
In the 1880s, there were as many as 10 errors per game
between both teams. By 1890 that number had dropped to
seven and by 1900 to under five. This reduction
continued gradually to the point that, by 1950, it was
at about two per game. Now, as I mentioned, that 1950
number has fallen by a third. (This brings up a
question: while it will be impossible to ever have
error-free baseball, will we someday get to the point
where there won't be but 1,000 errors in an entire
If not errors in this sacred triumvirate, then what?
How about walks? Walks are an important part of the
game and help tell the story of why there are the
number of runs there are much better than do errors in
this day and age. In 2002, there were 6.7 walks issued
per game. Doesn't it stand to reason that those 6.7
walks affected the score more than those 1.3 errors?
Yet the tradition continues. Why? Force of habit. It's
a part of baseball that has become routine. At the end
of almost every half inning, the announcer will recap
what happened by reciting the runs, hits and errors.
That's over 40,000 such mini-recaps, about 95 percent
of which contained "no" as the numerical error count.
I say it's time we make the switch to walks or men
left on base or something that has a little more
Since the season was only a week old last week, I
relied on 2002 records to identify the matchups. This
week, I'm switching over to the 2003 records, so there
are going to be a few surprises in the early going --
like this one. By winning their first nine games, is
it already safe to say that the Royals are going to
escape the 100-loss ghetto? Not definitely, but it's a
pretty good bet. They still don't have enough to
contend and have not even guaranteed themselves a .500
season, but, in order to lose 100 games, they'd have
to go 53-99 from here on out. With 16 games left with
the Tigers, that might prove difficult.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "defeated in detail?"
It comes from military encounters and was probably
bandied about once or twice over the course of the
past couple of weeks on some of your news channels. It
basically means that the whupping was a thorough one.
I bring it up here because the Tigers haven't just
been getting defeated these last two weeks, they have
been getting it in detail. In this case, I don't mean
that they're getting blown out every time, because
they're not. I think the phrase is appropriate because
they haven't been getting any leads.
They have now played 99 innings this year and have led
for a grand total of 13 of them. Seven of those
innings came in one game, their victory over the White
Sox on Saturday. What might be even more disturbing is
that they have only been tied for eight additional
innings -- and that includes scoreless ties at the
starts of games that hold until the first team scores.
No less than five times so far, their opponents have
scored in the first inning and never looked back.
That, to me, is getting defeated in detail.
Their manager, Alan Trammell -- a man who will have to
conjure up something like 110 post-game loss clichés
this year -- says: "I'm sure people are thinking it's
the same old story, which I guess it is. But the first
thing is that we're not going to quit."
I have to ask, would there be any discernable
difference if they did?
Here's some mail:
Jim: What are the specific criteria for the awarding
of a "Hold" to a relief pitcher? Can you quote, or
point me to the MLB rule on it?
This is how I understand it, George:
A "hold" shall be awarded to any pitcher who shows up
in a clean uniform and comports himself in a manner
thought to be in keeping with the guidelines of good
sportsmanship. If, for any legitimate reason, a
pitcher finds that he cannot attend that day's game
but would still like to receive a hold, he may present
a notarized letter explaining his absence and one may
be awarded him at such time as the official scorer
sees fit to review the situation.
Speaking of letters. I get a lot from readers who
often express the following sentiment: "I sure
would like baseball a whole lot better if it had more
statistics." Well, here's another one: Hold
Percentage. This is calculated by taking the number of
Holds a pitcher has and dividing it by the number of
relief appearances he made less saves with which he
was credited. Here are the 2002 leaders in this highly
questionable category (minimum 20 holds):
Ricky Bottalico (.500 on 15 holds) and Terry Adams
(.444 on 12), both of the Phillies, would have rated
had they gotten more holds. Look for Hold Percentage
not to have a life beyond the punctuation mark at the
end of this sentence.
Here are some more fun Hold facts. You don't have to
be a good team to have a lot of them, but it helps.
Pittsburgh led the majors last year with 96, although
the next four teams made the playoffs. You also don't
have to be a bad team to have very few of them, but
again, it helps. The Yankees and Red Sox, winners of
nearly 200 games between them, finished 25th and 26th
in the majors in holds. The next four teams were
Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay,
however. A bad bullpen is the key for being at the
bottom -- obviously -- and the Red Sox, Cubs and
Royals had pretty bad ones last year. Of the five
teams with the least amount of holds, all had terrible
records in one-run games except for Detroit, which
finished 23-23 in that category last year, a huge
improvement on their record in other games.
The Indians are out of the run scoring business. That
used to be their paper route, but they've given it up
almost entirely. Well, they will have by the year 2010
if this trend continues:
Indians runs per game:
2003: 518 projected
It seems hard to believe that it was only four years
ago that they were scoring runs at twice the rate they
are now. Not that they will continue at their current
pace. Rookies Brandon Phillips and Travis Hafner will
start to pick it up and Matt Lawton has had a rough
first 30 at-bats. They should be able to get within
shouting distance of last year's run total. Having
been to the mountain top so recently, though, this
downturn must be especially jarring for Indians fans.
Ten years ago, the team had been down so long their
older fans had forgotten what success looked like and
their younger ones simply never knew it. Now, the
blueprint is fresh in their minds.
6. Mystery Matchup of the Week
? vs. ?.
One team almost moved in 1974 and their opponent once
gave indications that it was not long for its locale
by scheduling regular-season games in another city,
much like the Montreal Expos are doing this year. Who
Jim Baker writes Monday through Friday for ESPN Insider. He can be reached at email@example.com.