The Salem Volcanoes rose to first place in the AL West, with a 14-5 record since the All-Star break, including a sweep of division rival Seattle and taking 3 out of 4 from Honolulu. The race is tight, with three teams leading for stretches of the season, despite all having sub .500 records and allowing more runs than they have scored. As of press time, Salem held a 1 game lead over Honolulu and a 3 game lead over Seattle.
The Volcanoes' edge has been their offense, which ranks amongst the top 5 in the AL in AVG and on base percentage, while Seattle and Honolulu have relied on pitching. Salem has a team that can score runs - and plenty of them - despite not relying on the long ball. Only two teams (Baltimore and New York) have hit fewer homeruns (108) than the Volcanoes. First time all star catcher Patrick Knotts has been Salem's main weapon, despite ownership's well known intent to trade him. Acquited in a trade last season, the 24 yr old is hitting .345 with 27 HRs and a 1.033 OPS. Rookie 2B Brian Jordan (.322 AVG, .398 OBP, 18 HR and 71 RBIs) has been a phenomenal and exciting addition to this team, quieting critics who claimed the 23yr old was not ready for the majors after only hitting .214 in Spring Training. Rule 5 selection Alfredo Mateo has stolen 69 bases and has been a spark in the Volcanoes' offense.
Salem's pitching has been reliable and consistent, with only 5 workhorses combining for all of the teams' starts. Sophomore starter Dennys Satou (8-5, 3.72 ERA in 21 starts) has been very good. Controversial free agent acquisition 39 yr old Dorian Kinkade (8-7, 4.80 ERA) has been very versatile, starting 18 games that included 5 complete games, in addition to making 11 appearances out of the bullpen and logging 2 saves. Prior to this season, Kinkade had not appeared in relief for 5 years (2 appearances for Memphis). The crafty lefthander has pitched particularly well against his own division. Pitching coach Pedro Guzman said in a recent statement: Dorian can anchor any pitching staff, plus he brings incredible professionalism, leadership and a team-first attitude that has been a boost to our young guys. New Salem's second starting pitcher free agent acquisition Bump Ponson has pitched much better than his 6-8 record suggests (3.32 ERA).
The AL West division title is a 3 horse race, but the Volcanoes have erupted since the All-Star break and show glimpses of being the most balanced team in the race. With so much young talent and significant offseason acquisitions, it is no surprise that Salem has risen to the top of the division, but they will have to battle Seattle and Honolulu the rest of the way to remain on top.