This Week in Baseball

It’s getting late early out there. And small sample sizes are becoming slightly less small sample sizes. Let’s check the pulse of this refined old game as we waltz into mid-May.

A Perfect Circle of Acquaintances and Friends
World-class jackass Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game against one of baseball’s best lineups yesterday, beating Tampa Bay 4-0. Of the many statistical quirks that conspire to elevate baseball to something more than a game, the perfect game is my favorite.

It’s rare: only 19 guys have done it. More people have been leader of the free world. More people have been in outer space. More people have been in Khloe Kardashian at once (HEY NOW!).

It’s a legitimate achievement: infinitely more difficult to achieve than a no-hitter, when you can walk the ballpark or actually lose the game.

It actually matters: unlike, say, the cycle which is an anomaly more than an accomplishment. Pitching a perfect game guarantees your team will win; something that not even hitting four home runs in a game does.

You never know who will pitch one: It’s just as likely that Dallas Braden, Don Larsen or Tom Browning will pitch a perfect game as Sandy Koufax, Cy Young or Randy Johnson. Pitching nine hitless, walkless, errorless innings requires fortune as much as talent.

So, congratulations to Douchey Dallas Braden. On the plus side, you’ll go down in history. On the minus side, you’ll force The Baseball Project to re-write the lyrics to “Harvey Haddix.”

Padre, Do You Know a Cheap Virgin Who Likes to Tango?
Are the Padres for real? A quarter of the way through the season, San Diego is baseball’s biggest surprise at 19-12, alone in first place in the NL West. The Padres are doing it with pitching, as the offense ranks 11th or worse in the National League in hits, runs, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

The team boasts a +40 run differential, meaning their record is earned and not a fluke based on how they’ve played so far. They’re fourth in baseball in defensive efficiency, meaning they convert the highest percentage of balls in play into outs. And only four teams have allowed fewer line drives than San Diego’s pitching staff, meaning it’s not just cavernous Petco Park that’s keeping opponents off the scoreboard.

Can a team win with pitching, defense and baserunning, even with no appreciable offense? Sure, in the National League. The Mariners are finding out that it’s not that easy in the stronger circuit. Still, a course correction is likely coming for the Pads. Every single member of their starting rotation is significantly outpitching his projection. Jon Garland is not going to end the season with a 1.71 ERA. If they hang on to Adrian Gonzalez all year (a big if), I could see the Padres sticking around in the NL West and Wild Card races, but there’s no way this team finishes with more than 85 wins.

Betrayed, Betrayed by Rough Trade Lies
Lance Berkman said this week that he’d be willing to waive his no trade clause to get the hell out of Houston. A trade would be the best possible thing for both Berkman and the Astros. It’s obvious why anyone would want to leave Ed Wade’s sinking ship, but the Astros would be wise to close the book on the Berkman era too. He’s the last vestige of the Killer B’s, the last survivor of the winning years with Biggio and Bagwell and Wagner. As long as he’s hanging around, Houston and their fans won’t be able to close the book on that era, and they’ll be seized with false hope that this team can still contend.

Berkman can still help a legitimate team, particularly in the American League, but figuring out his trade value will be the tough part. He’s due a ton of money this year, though he’ll be off the books in 2011, and he’s diminished from what he once was. Given his salary, the Astros probably won’t get a top-level prospect in return, but if they could score two or three B-grade prospects and clear most of Berkman’s salary, they’d be doing well for themselves. If Nick Johnson’s health continues to be a problem (Nick Johnson’s health will continue to be a problem), the Yankees could have a need at DH. And the Mariners are all in on 2010, and may be compelled to make a panic move to upgrade their offense.

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