Tuesday, April 25, 2006

If it walks like a duck, but doesn't hit like a duck...

I'm not surprised that teams haven't started pitching to Bonds yet, but it's time. 36 at-bats is not a lot, but it's enough so that his only having 1 HR is a bright red flag. I'm not saying the phenomenon is over, but at this point I think it behooves opposing managers to start finding out.

A batting line of .222/.541/.389 has to have a story behind it; there's just no plausible explanation for a .222 hitter and a .389 slugger (forget we're talking about Bonds here) to get on base 54% of the time. One possible creation myth for such a line might be that Joey Gathright, frustrated by his terrible year at the plate, channeled his anger into a form of telekinesis which allowed him to divert incoming pitches out of the strike zone at will.

What's actually happening is kind of an unbelievable story in it's own right: a 41-year old Barry Bonds has been so devastating for so long that managers and pitchers still aren't comfortable with the idea that it may not be professional suicide to throw him a strike. Maybe it still is, but he hasn't done anything this season to prove it.

This is not a long, indirect way of blaming Willie Randolph for last night's game. Bonds only scored one of the Giants' six runs, and he would have only been the second out in the 7th when Alou drove in two more. I'm just saying if I were a manager I'd try to overcome my Pavlovian response to the sight of Bonds in the batter's box, and go after the old boy.

Another reason not to put much blame on Randolph is that the Mets only scored two runs. After going 8-34 with a double in the San Diego finale, the Mets managed to regress last night, mustering a lousy six singles in 34 ABs. That's not going to get it done most nights.

So now we stand at 12-7 on the year. Only the White Sox have a better record so far, and no other NL East team is above .500. I'm very happy with the team's performance so far. I wasn't as excited as some about the 10-2 start, but I'm not especially worried about the offensive slump the team's going through right now. It's officially a slump, but Delgado and Wright are still sporting gaudy lines, and there's good reason to expect improvement in other areas.

While I'm accentuating the positive, I have a second olive branch to offer Randolph: he is using Heilman in very high-leverage situations. It's not mop-up duty as I had anticipated. That makes a difference, and could, if Randolph uses him this way all season, result in Heilman actually preventing more runs than Billy Wagner. I maintain that he should be given an opportunity to start, but at least he's not being wasted.

Tonight the Mets face Jamey Wright, the former Rocky whose early season numbers look a lot like Brian Bannister's. Here's hoping they unleash the fury.

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