The West Coast offense
Where is it? A's, Giants and Padres rank among baseball's most run-starved squads
Shhhh. Silence your cell phone. Turn off your MP3 player and remove your earbuds. Hold your breath, sit absolutely still and be as quiet as a broadcaster before a putt at The Masters. And now listen very, very carefully.
There! Did you hear it? That ever-so-slight "thwap" sound, like a newspaper hitting your doorstep? It's hard to say for sure, but that just might have been a sacrifice fly slapped to medium-center. Which is what baseball teams here on the West Coast now refer to as a big rally.
As you may have heard by now, scoring is down throughout baseball. And nowhere is this more true than out here in the West, where bats are as quiet as footsteps on a sandy beach. Four of the bottom six teams in the majors in scoring ( San Francisco and Oakland T-28th, San Diego 27th, Seattle 25th) are on the West Coast. Throw in the Dodgers and five of the six teams in California or Washington are in the bottom eight. Missouri teams are averaging about a run and half more per game than California teams.
RUNS SCORED (MAJORS)
Credit great pitching (Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Kershaw). Attribute it to pitcher-friendly ballparks (Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles). Blame it on anemic hitters (Jack Cust). Chalk it up to all of the above. However you want to explain it, runs are as precious as water rights in the Pacific time zone.
"I just know that the games that we play against our division foes, because of our pitching and our ballpark, the runs are at a premium," Padres manager Bud Black said. "Here, San Francisco, Dodger Stadium -- these ballparks slant slightly toward the pitcher. Combine that with the pitching staffs and runs are likely going to be hard to score."
Black knows this full well. Adrian Gonzalez hit 31 home runs with 101 RBIs last season, the only Padre with more than 13 home runs or 58 RBIs. With Gonzalez in Boston, the Padres have been shut out eight times this season. They are on pace to be shut out 34 times, which would break the all-time record.
Padres starter Dustin Moseley is the leading candidate for the uncoveted Felix Hernandez Award, given annually to the best pitcher with the worst run support in the majors. In Moseley's first seven starts, he went at least six innings in each, allowed no more than three runs, had a 2.47 ERA and won exactly one game. That's because the Padres were shut out in four of the games and failed to score a run when Moseley was still pitching in five of them. Teammate Tim Stauffer, meanwhile, has a 3.47 ERA and no victories.
The Padres host the Mariners when interleague play starts next week, and it may be the first three-game series in baseball history in which no team scores a run. Last year the Mariners scored fewer runs than they did in 1994, when they didn't play the final two months of the season. While they're scoring a few more runs this season (3.5 per game compared to 3.2 last year), they've scored three runs or less in more games (24) than they had at this point last season (22). Designated hitter Cust has no home runs, nor does any other DH on the team.
The days of playing sloppy baseball and knowing you might be OK because you'll hit three home runs in the last three innings are gone.” -- Mariners manager Eric Wedge
Remember the Giants' reputation as a low-scoring team that tortured fans with their ever-so-close wins? Well, they're averaging nearly a run less per game this season. Lincecum, who won the Cy Young with just 15 victories due to poor support in 2009, has a 2.11 ERA but just three wins for the defending world champs, who have scored two or fewer runs in half his starts.
Even the Angels, who are tied for ninth in the American League in runs, have hit just seven home runs at home compared to 26 in one more road game. If that pace doesn't change, Charlie Sheen surely would get skunked again if he bought out another entire outfield section hoping for a home run.
"We're seeing great young pitching coming into the league, and we're seeing established stars continue their performances," Black said. "The way the game has become, everyone realizes how important pitching is. And the defensive part of the games is being talked about more and stressed more. Good defenders are being taken when it comes down to a decision over an offensive player who might be a liability in the field. You're not seeing the offensive player who is limited defensively getting the playing time he might have gotten a decade ago or five years ago."
"It's a throwback," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "The team that makes that one play or gets that one hit, a lot of times they'll be the team that wins. The days of playing sloppy baseball and knowing you might be OK because you'll hit three home runs in the last three innings are gone. It's a purer brand of baseball, and I like it."
(Wedge might like it even better if his team actually played good defense.)
Make no mistake. While low-scoring games are a nationwide trend -- the Twins, without Joe Mauer and with Justin Morneau struggling to regain his form, are last in scoring (19 fewer than the Giants and the A's) -- it's just that, as usual, California and the West are leading the trend. There is one benefit to this drop in scoring, though. With so many teams pitching so well and hitting so little, game times are bound to drop as well.
"If that's the case, the commissioner's office will like it," Black said.
Of course, that's assuming games don't go into extra innings. And we'll head to the 17th with the score still 0-0
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Follow Jim Caple on Twitter: @jimcaple