For the first time in a long time the mid-Atlantic is the center of the baseball universe, as the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals have the best records in their respective leagues. (The Nationals are actually tied with Los Angeles Dodgers at 18-10.) As the season starts to shake out, we asked our experts to tell us what they think the best race in baseball will end up being. Plus talk of two struggling first basemen and the Chipper Jones-Jamie Moyer feud in today's Triple Play.
1. The best division race will be in the ________?
Molly Knight (@molly_knight), ESPN The Magazine
The NL East because, hey, the Nationals. They're for real. Their pitching has been unbelievable and will keep them in every game. Bryce Harper is must-see television, so if I had an option to watch the Nats or any other game tonight I'd stick with Washington. But what really intrigues me about this race is Stephen Strasburg. The team says it's only going to let him pitch 160 innings this year to protect him, but will the Nats really pull him off the field if they're in a playoff race for the first time? They say yes, which is cute, but do you think the Nats are going to bench the best pitcher in the game down the stretch while their division rival Phillies welcome back Ryan Howard and Chase Utley? If so, I've got a monument to sell you in Washington ...
Kevin Orris (@kevinorris), Capitol Avenue Club
The AL East. Considering the injuries to Evan Longoria, Mariano Rivera, Michael Pineda, Andrew Bailey, Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, Toronto has a chance to make it a four-team race. I still think the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will get one wild-card spot and Tampa Bay will win the division. Boston and New York will battle for the final playoff spot in their three-game series to end the season.
Logan Burdine (@logan_burdine), Blake Street Bulletin
AL East. It's an obvious choice, but no division in baseball is as deep. Even the Orioles look good this year. The Rays, Yankees, Orioles and Blue Jays all have positive run differentials, and every team in the division, according to Cool Standings, still has at least a 19 percent chance of making the playoffs.
2. Which young first baseman's struggles concern you more, Ike Davis' or Eric Hosmer's?
Knight: Ike's. Hosmer has just been unlucky so far. Once his BABIP improves to his career average, his batting average should jump 100 points. Can't keep a swing like that down for long. Davis, on the other hand, just looks lost at the plate.
Orris: Both guys have been very unlucky, but Hosmer's strikeout and walk rates have actually improved while Davis' have declined. Hosmer is also more than two years younger than Davis and has all the potential in the world to succeed. Plus, the pitching in the NL East is much tougher than in the AL Central.
Burdine: Each player has been the victim of some bad luck early on. Davis'
batting average on balls in play is just .206, and Hosmer's is even worse at .179. Because of that, both guys are pretty much guaranteed to improve. I'm much more concerned about Davis' 27.3 percent strikeout rate. Hosmer has been much better at making contact, which bodes well for him eventually turning it around.
3. Who would win in a fight, Chipper Jones or Jamie Moyer?
Knight: Moyer. Obviously, Moyer is operating with a different skill set here involving sorcery and Jedi mind tricks. As a big Chipper Jones fan I know that all you have to do to beat him in a fight is kick him as hard as you can in his surgically repaired left knee. Then, victory dance.
Orris: Chipper would easily win either a physical or emotional battle with Moyer. How many players have publicly called out Moyer's "fastball" coming in at 78 mph? Chipper was the one who challenged Old Man Moyer to scrap in the hallway and Moyer backed down. Also worth considering: Chipper spends his down time hunting on his private ranch.
Burdine: On paper, Chipper has to be the overwhelming favorite. He has four inches and 25 pounds on Moyer and he is almost 10 years younger. Plus, you have to think Chipper's right and left are equally dangerous weapons. However, Moyer is a crafty lefty who probably throws deceptive punches from odd angles, and he can obviously take a beating. So he might put up a better fight than most think. Still, I'm going with Chipper.