EARLY RETURNS IN RECONFIGURED LOOP
With the three divisions of East, Central and West just a memory, the rebooted 2015 B.A.R.B. league began play in early May about a month behind "reality". In the Cactus Division, perennial contender Yuma and emerging Brooklyn both jumped out to early 4-1 records on the strength of outstanding starting pitching. Meanwhile, in the Grapefruit Division, it was offense that led the way, with Brownsville averaging over eight runs a game and St. Francis leading all of B.A.R.B. in runs scored.
Which is better? Canny insiders suspect that the Cactus may become the new "Division of Death" with three former East clubs added to a mix that includes Yuma and Carolina. This is especially bad news for the Kansas City Rebels, who have finished in the second division three years straight and began this season by dropping their first five games, scoring only six runs and being held scoreless in back-to-back games by Worcester.
Also struggling: Casselton (1-4), which has yielded a league-high 30 runs in the early going; Pottsylvania (1-4), whose best pitcher so far has been Josh Collmenter; and, most surprisingly, Santa Barbera (0-4).
KANSANS OFF TO HOT START
With three playoff berths and over 360 wins the last four seasons, the St. Francis Kansans have a lot to live up to in 2015. Following an off-season trade of long-time cleanup hitter Jose Bautista, Scott Hatfield's club has retooled by adding bats through the draft and pitching via trades and free agency.
The early returns on the 2015 are better than anyone could've expected two months ago: after five games, St. Francis is undefeated, a perfect 5-0, and leads the league with 33 runs scored. CF Michael Brantley, RF J.D. Martinez, SS Jhonny Peralta and utilityman Justin Turner (all 2015 draftees) have provided both average and power to balance an attack that in 2014 was slowed in the postseason by injuries to lefty sluggers Chris Davis and Pedro Alvarez.
Both Davis and Alvarez return, however, and the club has significant depth on offense: both Brian McCann and Carlos Santana have been added as versatile backups to starting C Salvador Perez; Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Cuddyer, Adam Lind and Marcus Semien all bring versatility to the roster as well.
Meanwhile, the club's new rotation (featuring former Santa Barbera lefty Gio Gonzalez) is expected to be bolstered soon by the return of "the Dark Knight", Matt Harvey. With Aaron Harang, Jared Cosart and Wei-Yin Chen added as affordable free agents, the club will be nine deep in starting pitching without needing to tap its minor-league system. The pitching staff's real question at this point will have more to do with the bullpen, which is stocked with effective ( but aging) strikeout pitchers: Zach Duke, Pat Neshek, Fernando Rodney, Koji Uehara.