BIG BANGTHEORIES

Three weeks may betoo soon into the season to define a trend, but not to hatch conspiracytheories. People are buzzing about a noticeable explosion of offense. ThroughSunday, home runs were up 8% and runs 7% from last year's full-season figures.Surprising names such as the Tigers' Chris Shelton and the Devil Rays' TyWigginton (right) were atop the homer leader boards, and the 2.44 homers pergame this year exceeds the record rate set in 2001 (2.25), the height of theSteroid Era.

"Everybodywants to talk about the hitters being juiced," Astros first baseman LanceBerkman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week. "Nobody really thinksabout the pitchers [stopping steroid use]." Another theory, which surfaceswhenever offense increases, is that the ball is livelier. One of thosetheorists, an AL manager, says that fly balls are carrying farther and evenpop-ups are going higher. Muses one AL executive, "You don't think [MLB]would juice the ball so the Steroid Era numbers don't look so [anomalous]?"The sample size is too small to draw any definitive conclusions--except, sadly,that there are a lot of cynics out there.

FIVE OF A KIND

Last week PedroMartinez (201--84) became the 106th pitcher to win 200 games. Next are CurtSchilling (196--131) and Kenny Rogers (193--131), who have nearly identicalwon-lost records. However, Rogers (left) has never won 20 games (Schilling hasdone so three times), and his 4.21 ERA (Schilling's is 3.40) would put him inthe company of Earl Whitehill (4.36), Jamie Moyer (4.16), David Wells (4.06)and George Uhle (4.00) as the only 200-game winners with ERAs of 4.00 orhigher.

THE RUNDOWN

•Credit Red Soxmanager Terry Francona for refusing to be a slave to convention: He brought hiscloser, Jonathan Papelbon, into a tie game on the road last Friday. Boston lostto the Blue Jays in 12 innings, but Francona made the right move by getting hisbest relief arm into the game in the eighth inning rather than saving him for alead that never came.

•How much betteris the AL than the NL? One AL team ran a statistical analysis that put thedifference at 10 wins, meaning a .500 team in the AL would win 91 games in theNL.

•Here's one rivalG.M.'s early observation on Barry Bonds (right), who was homerless in 30 atbats before hitting his first of the year, in Colorado last Saturday:"There's a lack of fluidity to his swing. The two quickest bats of this erahave been [Gary] Sheffield and Bonds. I don't see that. I don't see thatexplosion and the swiftness through the zone. He's a little stiff, mechanical,from the waist down because of the knee."

ExtraMustard
by Baseball Prospectus

WHICH TEAMS HAVEBEEN HELPED--OR HURT--BY THEIR EARLY SCHEDULES? How a team gets out of the gatehas as much to do with the schedule maker as with the caliber of the teamitself. Baseball Prospectus used its PECOTA projected standings (PECOTA is aprediction model that projects an individual player's performance based on upto 100 statistically comparable players) to establish each team's strength ofschedule through Sunday. The results are striking, especially at the extremes.The so-called red-hot Astros and Mets have enjoyed two of the three easiestschedules in the major leagues, each having played more than one third of theirgames against the weak Marlins and Nationals. At the other end of the spectrum,the 7--13 Mariners and the 7--11 Twins have both seen a steady diet of theAmerican League's strongest teams: the A's, Angels, Indians and Yankees. Ofcourse, a good team can build momentum off a soft early schedule. That's whatthe White Sox did last year, taking advantage of 11 games against the lowlyTigers and Royals to open 21--7 on their way to the AL Central title and aworld championship. This year Chicago is at it again: The White Sox are 13--5against the weakest slate in the majors, including six games against KansasCity.

> More fromTom Verducci and Baseball Prospectus at SI.com/baseball.

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