It’s Wednesday, September 9th, 2006, and with only 27 games to go, the league is coming down to the wire as usual. Except for the Galactica Division, no division leader leads by more than 4 games, and the wildcard slots are tight in all four divisions.
Compared to their 29-game lead at the conclusion of the 2005 season, the Daly City Montis are hanging onto a history-worst, yet still-sizable 16-game lead going into September. With a 12-game magic number, another division title for Daly City seems secure, and all eyes turn towards individual recording-breaking opportunities and preparation for the playoffs.
In the two months since the All-Star break, Daly City has gone 38-16, .704, off of some absolutely dominating star performances. They’ve been even more dominant in pitching, and are now solidly back at the top in terms of batting, leading by a large margin in OBP and total runs.
But before we get there, let’s have a quick look at the rest of the league:
Things were lopsided in 2005 in the Universe League, when Daly City and Apple placed 1-2 in the division, and the Microsoft Longhorns, 94-68 and a full 17 games ahead of sub-.500 Terran division winner Europe, failed to make the playoffs. This year, the Universe League and especially the Galactica Division seem more stacked than ever – while Daly City still leads the pack, Microsoft and Apple follow up 2-3 not only in the division, but in all of baseball. The fourth best team in baseball, the Canon Image Stabilizers, are four games behind Apple, and within the Universe League, even the last-place Mozilla Firefoxes, 66-71, .474 and 33 games out of first place, lead Terran division leader Asia by 6 games! Sadly, with the current playoff structure, Daly City and one of Microsoft or Apple look to head into the playoffs against two sub-.500 teams from the Terran Division.
The headlines in the Universe League have been dominated once again by the epic Microsoft-Apple struggle. The most dramatic change for both teams has been a huge beef-up in hitting – Apple, who went .262-.312-.435 in 2005, are now .286-.341-.465, riding almost purely on the shoulders of their two superstars, SS Ben Kenobi and RF Chewie Gonzales. Microsoft, meanwhile, has developed into an offensive juggernaut, from .262-.330-.444 to .274-.337-.488, on the strength of a slew of power hitters – SIX out of their nine starters are slugging over .500. On the pitching front, their aces have been dueling it out all season long, with Apple’s Kyle Katarn 18-8, with a 2.31 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 240 K’s in 249 1/3 innings (8.7 K’s/9) and Microsoft’s Kernel Tyranus at 21-5, with a 2.03 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 189 K’s in 217 2/3 innings (7.8 K’s/9). So far in the season, Microsoft is leading by two games, and Tyranus is 2-0 in 2 starts against Apple, with a 1.13 ERA and 0.75 WHIP, while Katarn is 1-2 in 3 starts against the M-Dollar, with a 3.38 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.
Over in the Shinto-World League, the league is dominated by a smattering of mediocrity, save for Canon’s Gates Skywalker’s single-handed march to the record books. At the young age of 24, Skywalker appears headed straight for his second straight Batter of the Year Award, hitting .354-.442-.907 with already 67 HR through only 5 months, putting on pace for 80. If Skywalker continues his amazing August run, however, in which he hit 23 homers, he may very well challenge Kenton McClinton’s 66-year old HR record of 88. With 157 RBIs already, he may be on his way towards the RBI record as well.
But despite Skywalker’s individual achievement, his Canon Image Stabilizers are only 75-60, .556, hanging onto a tenuous 4 game lead over the Nikon Vibration Reducers.
Tina “Experimental Error” Quach, Catcher: The Daly City catcher hit a bit of a cold streak after the end of the all-star break, going .238-.313-.298 in July, but like the rest of the lineup, heated up n August, where she posted a .307-.402-.426 line. Quach has seen a noticeable uptick in walks – she’s drawn 25 in July and August, compared to only 24 in April-June combined.
Marco Paz, Backup Catcher: Things haven’t gone well this rookie season for Paz. After posting some of the worst numbers in the league, Paz hasn’t seen much of any opportunity, seeing a total of only 31 plate appearances since June, in which he’s gone .138-.194-.172. Among players with 100 plate appearances, Paz is by far the last in the league in almost every single hitting category. On the bright side, Paz’s fielding has been flawless – he’s the proud owner of a perfect fielding percentage, and has thrown out 3 of 6 baserunners.
Derek Lew, 1st Baseman: What a comeback season it’s been for Derek Lew! While Lew was consistently good throughout the first half of the season, he has simply exploded in the second half – he posted a .312-.342-.615 line in July, and he followed that up with an even bigger .398-.419-.771 August in which he drove in a staggering 39 RBIs and scored 25 runs. He’s now leading the league by a large margin with 143 RBIs, and with a line of .318-.350-.609, is poised to set career highs in all the batting categories, not to mention shatter his career high of 160 RBIs he set in his rookie year and the league-record 74 doubles he hit in 2004 – all this in likely 100 less at bats than he had in 2003-2004. He’s 7th in the UL in batting average, 3rd in hits, 1st in doubles, 3rd in triples, 1st in RBI, 2nd in SLG, and looks to be in strong contention for the Batter of the Year award, especially if he can keep up his August hot streak through September.
Rudy Puzon, Designated Hitter: As big of a season as it’s been for Lew, Daly City’s designated hitter Puzon, batting in the third slot ahead of Lew, has been every bit as critical to the team’s success. Like Lew, Puzon seems to have turned on the burners since the All-Star Break, since which he’s posted consecutive .400+ OBP months (.453 in July and .427 in August), which has been key to Lew’s prodigious RBI totals. Puzon has built on his rookie success, and has been an OBP machine all year – he currently leads the team with a .407 OBP (4th in the league), and is 4th in the league in Runs Created as well, and his 108 runs are 2nd in the league.
Cristian Ortiz, Second Base: While it’s been up and down for Ortiz, the one thing he can say is that he’s never been abysmally bad. He appeared to be in a prolonged July slump but still pulled out a .250-.317-.407 month out of it, and rebounded back with a .293-.356-.455 August. Throughout all this, he’s been as quick as ever on the basepaths, stealing 11 more bases in July and 19 in more in August, when he finally eclipsed Ben Kenobi for the lead league in steals. For the season, he’s just reached 72 steals, and looks just about ready to break Aubrey Cubilo’s freshly-set steals record of 77.
Joanna Maung, Saung-gah-basewoman: Despite everyone else’s breakout second-half performances, Maung has been a sore lack of production so far, barely even reaching the .300 OBP plateau. Her power has seen a noticeable increase of late – her total bases per hit has gone up to 1.45, compared to 1.23 in the second half. If she can get her batting average back up, which might be tough considering the number of strikeouts she’s accumulating.
Henry “Mr.” Nghe, Shortstop: The story’s stayed the same for Nghe, who’s been combining solid hitting all year long with a complete and utter power outage. So far in the second half, Nghe’s added another weapon to his arsenal – walking power, drawing 10 in July and 19 in August, to post OBP’s of .360 and .380. He’s also increased his speed prodigiously, swiping 7 bags in July and 9 stolen bases in August, to put him at 30 steals for the year. Despite all this improvement, Nghe still can’t seem to hit the ball much further than the infield – he’s slugged .363 and .383 the past two months, and still isn’t showing any signs of improvement.
Jonathan “The Cheet” Chee, Leftfielder: After a solid first half of 2006, Chee hasn’t been anywhere close to the mark since the All-Star break. While he’s maintained a high OBP through walks and hit-by-pitches (including a combined 29 walks and HBP in August), he’s his .239 and .198 in July and August, and slugged only .337 and .271 in those months. Nonetheless, Chee’s consistent OBP has still kept him in the #2 slot, where he’s managed to score 93 runs so far in front of sluggers Puzon and Lew, and is on pace to record his first-ever 100 run season.
Tiffany Ho, Centerfielder: The young spunky outfielder continues to provide life to this team, as Ho continued her success through the second half. She had a monstrous .340-.384-.437 July, in which she also stole 13 bases, and she’s also been steadily increasing her walks every month. For the year so far she’s .294-.332-.382, demonstrating dramatic improvements across the board, along with some star contact ability and stellar defense.
Francis Chen, Rightfielder: Where has the long road known as the 2006 season led for Francis Chen? While he appeared to be off to a blistering start, Chen fell long and hard in June, and only continued that through July, with a .182-.289-.364 line, playing only 18 games. Things got slightly better in August, where Chen went .177-.311-.435, but Francis is still far off from his April-May marks in which he appeared to show his true potential. With just a month to go, and with a batting average barely above the Mendoza line (it sits at .203) it looks sadly like another wasted season for Chen.
Jason Liu, Rightfielder: Speaking of wasted seasons, Jason Liu and his enormous power potential has sat on the bench for much of the season, being placated by the more popular Chen. As a result, Liu’s performance seemed to suffer with the inconsistent playing time. Liu finally appeared to get it together in August, however, where he played 15 games and accumulated 55 at bats, going .309-.345-673 with 6 homers.
Nathan Yan, #1 Starter: Yan’s continued his dominance so far in the season, although he accumulated his first loss and had a fairly ugly 1.90 ERA August. Regardless, Yan appears on pace to shatter all records (and personal career highs), including the hallowed 500-K mark (he’s up to 462 K’s, on 18.0 K’s/9). Since August he’s had a number of phenomenal performances, including perhaps his best start yet, an 11-inning 1-hitter, in which he struck out 25 batters (and had K’d 21 through 9 innings).
Whitney Esguerra, #2 Starter: It’s been a long, hard season of bad luck for Esguerra, who can’t seem to get a break anywhere. Despite her 3.26 ERA, ranked #6 in the league, Esguerra has been the victim of the 12th worst run support in baseball, garnering only 4.2 runs per game on a team that scores 5.9. Despite being perhaps the best pitcher on the team in August, where she pitched 38 1/3 innings with a 1.88 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a shutout, she was only 2-3, and overall is 10-10 with a 3.26 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 19 quality starts (76%), which is ranked 5th in the league.
Terrence Zhao, #3 Starter: While his numbers may now show it, Zhao has been one of the most dominant in the second half – seven of his last 11 starts have been complete games, and 8 of those 11 have been 1-run starts. Zhao seems to have a habit for getting bombed, however, which is where the worst of his numbers come from – despite all this he’s been a healthy 6-2 in July-August, and his 1.67 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 13.14 K’s/9 in August show that the lights-out 2005 Terrence is still buried in there somewhere.
Samantha Chin, #4 Starter: Chin’s break out season continues, as the sophomore starter was nothing but brilliant in July and August. She went 6-0, with a 2.41 ERA and 0.90 WHIP, and has been just a couple runs of support and a few shaky bullpen appearances short of being a perfect 10-0 so far this second half. 4th in the league in ERA, 3rd in WHIP, 5th in wins, 7th in K’s per 9, Chin appears well on her way to becoming a superstar in who is surely this year’s breakout player for Daly City.
Sean Wade, #5 Starter: After an abysmal first half, Sean seems to have righted himself back on track, with sub-1.00 WHIPs in both months so far, and an especially dominant 0.75 ERA in July. While Wade isn’t going to come anywhere close to his rookie season numbers, a seemingly strong finish to the 2006 season is a positive sign that Wade will be able to begin 2007 with a fresh start.
Miguel Pardo, #6 Starter: Pardo suffered a tragic end to his season, tearing his rotator cuff muscle clean off in his 3rd August start. He’s now shelved for the end of the season, and perhaps not a moment too soon – his July ERA hit a high 4.38 with 1.38 WHIP, and his three starts in August seemed to show a regression to the Miguel of old, with only 10 1/3 innings in 3 starts, with an 11.32 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. A somber end to another season of hope and heartbreak for Pardo – one wonders whether he’ll ever break through to become anything more than a #6 starter, especially in Daly City’s stacked rotation.
Helen Yamamoto, Mopup Reliever: After a blistering first half, in which Yamamoto brought her ERA all the way under 3, she’s regressed significantly to her 2005 form – so far in the second half she has a 9.00 ERA and 2.33 WHIP, mostly in non-consequential games. She still stands at a decent 4.95 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in the season, although if she were to retire right now (as she’s expected to be sent down to the farm at the end of 2006), her 7.30 ERA and 2.17 WHIP career numbers would go down as the worst in Daly City history – a little bit of September effort, and she might manage to get her numbers down lower than Clayton’s 7.28 ERA and 1.67 WHIP
Angel Poon, Middle Reliever: After her shaky start, Poon has been nothing but sheer brilliance since June, with 18 innings of work and a 2.00 ERA and 0.72 WHIP. While her ERA from 2006’s early months still weigh her numbers up at 4.19 ERA (right now, a career-worst), her WHIP is a career-best and league-#4 1.02. On another note, despite another year of declining appearances and innings, Poon has just broken the 200-inning mark, a first for a Daly City reliever.
Alfred Vong, Long Reliever: It hasn’t been a good year for the sophomore reliever, who was expected to make great strides on the mound, but has instead regressed in every way. Vong was abysmal in July, where he accumulated a 7.27 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. With Pardo’s season-ending injury, Vong gets a reluctant chance to prove himself, although with the way he’s pitched this year, he hardly seems ready to become a starter. In two semi-starts so far, however, Vong seems to have risen to the occasion – he filled in for 5 1/3 innings the game that Pardo was injured, giving up only 1 run and earning the win. The next game, Vong’s first start this season, Alfred pitched a complete game, allowing 2 runs and striking out 8, and accomplishing it in only 109 pitches, no less. Perhaps this is Vong’s big break – he’s got a whole September (2 or 3 starts) to show his stuff, and all eyes will be watching perhaps Vong’s first and last big chance to make the rotation permanently.
Zubeda Khan, Middle Reliever: The former closer has quietly put together a season of steady improvement – while her ERA at 3.44 isn’t much better than last year’s at 3.47, and she’s blown 3 saves as a middle reliever, her WHIP has dropped dramatically to 0.93 (good for 2nd in the league, if she was an inning qualifier). Perhaps more tellingly, her Component ERA has dropped from last year’s solid 3.28 to a gaudy 2.27. She’s been the one steady part of a tumultuous season in the bullpen, and who knows… she may well see herself back in the closer’s role next year.
Alvina Chu, Setup Reliever: It’s been a season of ups and downs for Chu, who seems to have put it all together in the last three months after a dreadful April and May. She’s 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA in 19 1/3 innings since June. However, her WHIP remains at a high 1.27 (including a scary 1.67 August WHIP), and her CERA is a pedestrian 3.24. She has, however, only blown 1 save in 8 opportunities this season, although she’s allowed 41.2% of her inherited runners to score. On another note, her 7 wins this year puts her in the all-time lead for reliever wins with 27, toppling Sarah Jimenez’s old record.
Josiah Leong, Closer: What looked so right has gone horribly wrong this second half for Leong. The player who led the league in saves and had a sub-2.00 ERA at the end of the first half has been hammered all second-half, posting a 9.95 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. He’s also blown a staggering 9 saves so far this season, far more than any Daly City closer in history, and 2nd in the league. Despite all this he’s still 2nd in the league with 31 saves , is #1 with 12.8 K’s per 9, and could conceivably become the 1st reliever in Daly City history to strike out 100 batters in a season.