We roll into the "break" at 48-32, .600 ball, best record in baseball and a 9 game lead in the division. I'll be the first to admit I did not foresee that strong a team in the Sunflowers, although I did think we were a good team and one of the most likely playoff contenders. I thought Graham's Vail squad would be better, and Festus has fallen on hard times recently, making what was a close race look not-so-close at the midpoint.
On offense, we started out red-hot and have cooled off recently. At the 80 game mark we are tied for the lead in HR (with Vail) with 122. We are 3rd in runs scored, which about matches my preview projection of "3rd or 4th". D-Lee continues to power the offense, sitting at .307(2nd)/.386(4th)/.644(2nd) with 22 HR(3rd), 57 R(3rd), and 63 RBI(3rd). Jeter still leads the league in runs with 61, Edmonds is 3rd in OBP(.395), 4th in SLG(.587) and somehow 7th in average at .280.
Overall, our combined line of .226/.299/.437 compares favorably with the league averages of .230/.305/.422, however based mostly on power. One big aspect of our performance has been scoring 107% of our runs created, a figure unlikely to continue for 162. I think we create a lot of our own luck in that category with good lineup chemistry, good team speed, one of the top couple base stealing teams in the league, but I don't think we're 107% good.
On the defensive side, our team ERA sits at 3.92 while the league ERA is 4.01. We also allow the fewest unearned runs in the league, making our runs/9 even more impressive. This also is about what I projected in my preview when I stated my conclusion as "Above average hitting + above average fielding + at least average pitching = Above .500, playoff contender."
Jon Garland has been the ace of the staff, going 11-3 with a 3.20 ERA over 115.1 IP. Blanton (5-2, 3.84), Colon (2-6, 4.52), and Towers (3-5, 4.71) have been adequate, while Cliff Lee (0-7, 5.91) has been close to terrible. Paul Maholm has been great as a sixth starter, going 0-0 with a 1.42 in 12.2 IP.
The bullpen has been solid, with Izzy (8-2, 2.09, 10 sv), Gordon (4-1, 2.36, 2 sv), and Politte (5-3, 2.94, 7 sv) as the main horses. Free agent pickups Juan Padilla (1-0, 3.29) and Clay Hensley (1-1, 3.38, 1 sv) have been adequate as the replacements of Wickman/Tavarez and their combined ERA of 5.70. Brad Thompson (2-2, 3.98) and Brian Fuentes (6-0, 4.84, 4 sv) have more than done their job as back-of-the-pen pitchers.
I hope some underacheiving players (Matheny, Biggio, Jose Guillen) can bump it up a little in the second half, and the rest can continue their solid play. Having a 9 game lead in the division, I just want to play game one at a time (or five at a time), and have a solid second half. If that happens, everything else should work out.