The Durham Bulls return to the DBAP tonight for their second homestand of the year. They went 5-5 on their three-city road trip after posting a 6-1 opening mark at home. Over the course of a season, a .500 away record and an .857 home clip would almost surely qualify them for another postseason run at the Governor's Cup, the International League's championship trophy.
But it's early in the year, and making guesses about a 144-game season based on the first 17 outcomes is foolish, especially where roster-unstable minor-league teams are concerned.
The Bulls' great start owed almost entirely to their pitching, which was and continues to be superb. The bullpen has been particularly good. Dale Thayer, the nearest thing to a closer among Charlie Montoyo's relief corps, hasn't given up a run in ten innings spanning eight appearances, and has earned three saves; Winston Abreu, Dewon Day and Chad Orvella have combined to allow just five earned runs in 30 2/3 innings, a collective 1.47 earned run average. Despite a heavy workload, the bullpen has more than done its job so far.
The starters have been strong, too, although they are limited by organizational decree to 75 pitches or five innings per game (with a little wiggle room), whichever comes first. If David Price had kept a couple more balls in the park -- he leads the team with four home runs allowed -- his numbers would look a little better than they do. As it stands right now, Wade Davis (who starts tonight against Charlotte), has been the best of the starters.
The problem has been the bats. "We're gonna hit," Montoyo insisted a couple of times after the final game of the Bulls' homestand. But that hasn't happened yet. Durham has the third-worst offense in the league so far this season, and is one of two teams with an on-base average of less than .300 (okay, it's .299, but still). Only two or three Bulls have gotten off to good hitting starts: Matt Joyce, Jon Weber and (maybe) Adam Kennedy. The rest have been somewhere between OK and awful, which, given the track record of many of them, is a surprise. But perhaps the biggest mystery so far is how the Bulls' only two triples of the season have been hit by a catcher, John Jaso.
Cold weather tends to favor pitching (Ryan Campbell is probably already running those numbers to see if I'm lying), and as the summer starts to sizzle -- or, in the case of Durham 2009, as the spring starts to sizzle -- so do batters. Many of the meteorological explanations for this phenomenon have been challenged or debunked; it may simply be that pitchers' arms tire more rapidly than hitters' bats do over the course of a season. If so, the Bulls' position players are probably happy to see late-April temperatures hovering around 90 degrees. It's certainly a good time for a hot streak.
A prediction: Chris Richard is about to find his mojo.
Remember to bring your sunscreen to the games this week -- and don't forget that Wednesday's game starts at the unaccountably early hour of 11:00 AM for "Education Day" at the DBAP, which means lots of kids waving souvenirs in the air like they just don't care. Don't think of it as Education Day, though, but as Nine-To-Fiver Appreciation Day. Gee boss, I dunno, I was feeling fine when I got to the office a coupla hours ago, but now, gosh (koff, koff), I don't know, maybe I oughta go to the doctor or sumthin'...