There are 10 major league baseball teams that have between 25 and 26 wins at the beginning of week nine. Five more have at least 23 wins. To quote a great physicist, which by the way has nothing to do with this column, these teams are neither divine, nor diabolic.

But the reality of these numbers are divine.

In a league criticized as much as it is for its lack of salary discipline, to have 50 percent of the league in contention a quarter of the way through the season is an absolute anomaly.

Sparky Lyle, the great manager of the middle to late 20th century, once said that the true judge of a team comes only after they have played 40 games.

Well, here we are, and look at the major league standings.

Once you do that you realize that I have left out one team.

One absolutely divine team.

The Tampa Bay Rays.

They have won six more games than any other club; and with 32, stand at 20 games over .500.

And that’s where we begin.



Tampa Bay (32-12)

I begin with pitching because as all people who have been around the game enough know, when you get good pitching (hence the Rays of Tampa Bay), your hitting will eventually win you enough games. If you have poor pitching, it doesn’t matter how talented your lineup is.

(For good pitching and no hitting, see the Giants of San Francisco, for good hitting and no pitching, see the Brewers of Milwaukee.)

One of the main reasons that the Rays were picked this offseason as one of the top teams in baseball was because of their pitching staff.

James Shields, who burst onto the scene in 2007, is now 5-1 with a 3.08 ERA. Matt Garza, who burst onto the scene in 2008, is 5-2 with a 2.37 ERA. The 2008 postseason phenom, David Price, who stormed onto baseball lore with his abrupt, late arrival that year, is now 7-1 with a 2.41 ERA. Last year’s rookie sensation, Jeff Niemann is 4-0 with a 2.54 ERA. This year has brought the arrival of Wade Davis, who is 4-3 and posted an ERA of 3.35.

Every one of them has made every one of their scheduled starts.

The Rays’ overall team ERA is 2.83.

Simply put—they give up less than three runs every game they play.

Their team runs per game is 5.45.

Simply put—they score almost six runs in every game that they play.

What’s funny is that, while they are getting good performances from Carl Crawford (.324, 3, 21), Evan Longoria (.319, 9, 38), and Ben Zobrist (.309, 2, 23), the rest of the full-time starters aren’t exactly blowing up the competition.

Jason Bartlett, who hit .320 last year, is now hitting .246. B.J. Upton, who has teased us for years, is hitting .213. The incumbent Carlos Pena, is hitting a robust .187. Pat Burrell (.202) was just released and replaced by ex-Texas Ranger, Hank Blalock, who has spent the year at the Rays Triple-A affiliate.

The catching battle between Dioner Navarro (.188) and John Jaso (.349) is getting more and more interesting as the veteran is seemingly being outplayed by the unlikely rookie.

Faced with this rash of reality, the theory that pitching wins, holds true. Although, in the end, to keep up in the AL East (which currently boasts four of the 15 deadly teams), they are going to need to see improvement from those players who have disappointed so far.

While the divine is always wonderful to focus on, those who are capable of becoming so, are honestly, more interesting. Here are the teams who are deadly.



New York AL (26-17)

Injuries seem to have derailed this mighty giant at this point in the season and while they still have the second-best record in the American League, they just lost four out of their last five games to Tampa and New York. The true test of this team is if they can stay healthy when it’s important.

Philadelphia (26-17)

While Roy Halladay may have lost in a bad way to the visiting Boston Red Sox, the team has been getting excellent reviews on their other newest signing (Ryan Howard) and their soon-to-be free agent (Jason Werth). Like the Yankees, this team is built for the postseason (and don’t be surprised if they add another key pitcher, as they did last year with Pedro Martinez), but unlike the Yankees, they aren’t as old.

Minnesota (26-18)

Target Field seems just like home to the Twins as they boast the third-best record in the American League. You can thank part of that to the resurgence of Francisco Liriano and the expected production of the M&M boys (Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer). Both are consistently at the top of the leader board in average this year. Don’t expect either to fall from it.

San Diego (26-18)

Possibly the greatest surprise of the year, the Padres have relied heavily on fantastic pitching in a fantastic pitching park (and actually have done so since the second half of last year). The names may not be household ones just yet, but they are just as effective as the C.C. Sabathia’s and Cliff Lee’s of the world are. Throw in one of the better overall first baseman in the game today (Adrian Gonzalez ) and an abundance of young, professional role players; don’t be surprised when this team is among the final few National League teams standing.

St. Louis (26-19)

The team that plays in the best city in baseball regained first place of the NL Central on Sunday. A week ago, the division seemed all but wrapped up (more on that in a minute), but now that it’s close, you’ve got to like the choice of the top two hitters (Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday) and the top two pitchers (Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter). Then again, they did last year and one of the four blew the entire playoffs with one play (yeah, that’s harsh).

Toronto (26-20)

Timely pitching and hitting leads the cause for this team’s current record. It has been surprising that they’ve stuck around this long, and the summer will be the true test for this team (especially one that lost Roy Halladay).  A couple names to keep note of are Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Alex Gonzalez. If these three can keep up their offensive onslaught, then this team may put up a fight in the AL East.

Detroit (25-19)

The starting pitching, which was a strength in the first half of last year, hasn’t really performed up to par this time around. And while Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello seem to be trustworthy hurlers every time out, it is the bullpen that has impressed. Lead by Jose Valverde, a.k.a. Papa Grande, the hard-throwing cats include Ryan Perry, Joel Zumaya, and Phil Coke. One thing to watch is their innings. They have compiled a lot early on and the test will be how effective they are down the stretch.

Los Angeles NL (25-19)

The Dodgers have burst onto the scene over the last two weeks and are 12-2 during that span. Thanks to the run, they’ve bolted into second place in the NL West and have one of the better records in the game. Once again, this is thanks to exceptional pitching and Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsly, and John Ely (yes, even as a rookie) are going to be expected to keep it up this summer if they want to continue to contend.

Cincinnati (25-19)

Another surprise team, the Reds have relied on pitching from Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake as well as a nice home record. To truly contend, they are going to need to make an addition from the trade market or hope that Edinson Volquez can come back strong. They have had a nice resurgence from Scott Rolen as an offensive note.

Texas (25-20)

As expected, the Rangers are contending and they are doing so with a combination of pitching and hitting. As usual, the hitting is the strength, and to really contend this postseason they are going to need one or two of their pitchers to step up or add one (perhaps a Roy Oswalt?) to be seriously considered.

Boston (24-21)

After a month of disappointment, it seems that David Ortiz has returned and what do you know, poof, the team has enjoyed similar success. This of course, could have something to do with Daisuke Matsuzaka’s return as well. Regardless, this team has enough pitching to contend, but in a division where the Rays and Yankees lead everyone else, sneaking into the postseason is a stretch….at this point.

Atlanta (23-21)

The Braves enjoy being at home where they are 13-7, but are five games under on the road. This is a very interesting team to watch this summer because they have a lot of talent on both sides of the roster. Jason Heyward continues to impress and Tommy Hanson is continuing his emergence into the pitching elite (although his ERA is a little high at this point).

Oakland (23-22)

Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. The Athletics gave up one run in three games against the Giants this weekend, and, of course, won all three. This is another team that is contending thanks to its pitching and timely offense. In a division that is wide open, they could surprise this summer.

Florida (23-22)

The Hanley Ramirez saga in question, it’s hard to root for this team when anytime they have a superstar they seem to send him out of town as soon as something negative happens. New ballpark or not, it’s going to take some convincing that this team will actually try to contend when possible.

Washington (23-22)

This team is rapidly improved over the one fielded a year ago, and the best part is, they haven’t even played with their best pitcher. It’s exciting to see the Nationals in this position because they are doing everything the right way. They don’t rush their players, they don’t panic trade. They wait, just like a baseball team is supposed to do. Can we sniff playoffs in the next year or two?



San Francisco (22-21)

The Giants are the epitome of a team that has all the pitching any club would ever think of wanting. Then, when the pitching does disappoint, its effect is greatly exaggerated. Every run the opposition scores seems like two or three, and that’s difficult to mount a comeback against. A bat is needed, desperately, and it seems that the Astros are in selling mode. Hey, they have two. A certain Carlos Lee and a certain Lance Berkman could be available soon.

Colorado (22-22)

I’ve written about this before, and I’ll say it again, do not count the Rockies out. Every year they erupt as soon as the air gets nice in Colorado and this will happen soon. This year could be tougher; this is not the division of 2005 where the crown went to the Padres, who won 82 games. The NL West could potentially have four teams with 86-plus wins and the stretch run in August and September will be extremely engaging.

New York NL (21-23)

The Mets took two out of three from the Yankees this weekend and Johan Santana looked every bit of the CY Young form that is expected of him. They need their plethora of hitters to start, well, hitting consistently and get their other pitchers to start pitching consistently, and then we can start talking about a playoff team.

Chicago NL (21-24)

For comments please see Piniella, Lou .

Los Angeles AL (21-25)

While many disappointing teams have managed to turn their production around, the Angels have not been so lucky. They’ve lost too many pitchers and have not gained enough to compete. Their lineup, while promising, does not have that key player (like Vladimir Guerrero) to lead the offense.

Arizona (20-25)

A club littered with potential, the hitting and pitching just can’t seem to get on the same level. Is Brandon Webb ever going to be healthy?

Pittsburgh (19-25)

You wonder how long Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones will be around so they can get “young players” in return.

Chicago AL (18-25)

Nothing seems to have worked for the White Sox this year, so perhaps Ozzie Guillen will be tweeting to a different tune, soon?

Kansas City (18-27)

Zack Greinke can’t seem to get a break and Ned Yost seems to have inherited a disaster. We don’t like to focus on teams that don’t care either. See Florida.

Milwaukee (17-27)

You knew when the season started that the pitching would be a problem, but this bad? Well, honestly, yes.

Cleveland (16-26)

It’s unfortunate that Grady Sizemore just can’t stay healthy because this team is really only a year or two away from contending again, it just doesn’t look that way these days.

Seattle (16-28)

Another team that has the apparent “pitching,” but in reality, they do not. Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez are certainly capable of leading a postseason team, and Doug Fister and Jason Vargas have been incredible surprises, there is absolutely no hitting. They might erupt every now and then, but all major league teams do every once in a while.

Houston (15-29)

Will Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Brett Myers, and Carlos Lee all be leaving town this summer? This is the only reason to pay attention to Houston headlines this summer.

Baltimore (14-31)

You understand why teams like Houston, Seattle, and Cleveland struggle, but the Orioles were expected to finish above Toronto this year, in a division that expected every team to finish with more wins than losses. That’s apparently not the case here.


Joshua David Worn   is an editor, journalist, and sportswriter who spends way too much of his time studying major league baseball box scores. He has been published or linked on The San Francisco Chronicle and CBS Sports, among others. He publishes The Most Interesting Column in Sports on his website, . Contact him at .


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