Northbrook, IL - May 25, 2012 - According to STATS ... The AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles have trailed after six innings and bounced back to win on nine occasions, more than any other team. The bullpen has done its part, recording 11 of the team’s 28 victories, easily the most wins among AL bullpens. O’s relievers have posted a 2.31 ERA that is second in the majors, only to Texas’ 2.03 mark. A year ago, Baltimore’s relief corps recorded 23 wins all season and ranked 26th with a 4.10 ERA.

We’re in the midst of a pitchers era, and the trend continues in 2012:

Runs per Game per Team, All MLB

2006 4.86
2007 4.80
2008 4.65
2009 4.61
2010 4.38
2011 4.28
2012 4.21 (through May 24)

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This season’s average of 4.21 runs per game is the lowest in a season since 1992. That year teams tallied 4.12 runs a game.

Both Chicago clubs have turned to rookie closers. White Sox kids Hector Santiago and Addison Reed each have four saves, with Reed the current closer. Rookie Rafael Dolis has four for the Cubs. All three might threaten franchise rookie records. The Cubs’ single-season record for saves by a rookie is 10 by Oscar Zamora (1974) and Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter (1976). Salome Barojas, with 21 saves in 1982, holds the Sox’s rookie mark.

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis leads the majors by seeing 4.71 pitches per plate appearance and taking 67.8 percent of all pitches seen. For Ellis, even an 0-2 count is an opportunity to work the count. In 35 at-bats in which he has started 0-2, he has batted .429. Among all players who have faced 25 or more 0-2 counts, only St. Louis’ Jon Jay (.478) has a higher average. Collectively, all major leaguers are batting .164 after starting 0-2.

While Ellis practices patience, the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton epitomizes aggressiveness. The Texas star is the only big league regular to swing at more than half of the first pitches he sees (52.7 percent). He has 17 hits and a .500 average when he puts the first pitch in play. The only player with more first-pitch hits is Washington’s Ian Desmond, who has 19 and is batting .442. Hamilton has four homers on the first pitch, tying Minnesota’s Justin Morneau and the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina for the most in MLB.

Ten pitchers have made at least five starts and remain winless this spring; only three have sub-4.50 ERAs. Detroit’s Doug Fister (0-2, 1.84), the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster (0-2, 2.28) and Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee (0-2, 2.66) probably wish they could buy a little run support. Lee has received 1.84 runs of support per nine innings, the third-lowest average among all pitchers with 5+ starts. Dempster receives 2.28 runs of support, the seventh-lowest mark, and Fister ranks 14th lowest at 2.76 runs per nine innings.

The Washington Nationals are thriving with a starting rotation that has posted a 2.71 ERA, the lowest among all teams. The three young stars anchoring the starting five -- Stephen Strasburg (4-1, 2.21), Gio Gonzalez (6-1, 1.98) and Jordan Zimmermann (3-4, 2.47) -- all have sub-3.00 ERAs. Only two other teams have three starters with ERAs lower than 3.00 heading into Friday’s action: the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants.

Playing mostly in Houston, Lance Berkman never drew much national attention until he moved to the Yankees and Cardinals the last two years. The 36-year-old veteran, in his 14th season, is contemplating retirement after suffering a knee injury in May. For all of the great players in the game today, Berkman ranks fourth with a .409 OBP among those with 3,000 plate appearances. Only Todd Helton (.420), Albert Pujols (.417) and Manny Ramirez (.411) have higher marks. Berkman is 10th in slugging at .546.

When Toronto’s Rajai Davis reaches second base, opposing teams might want to save themselves the trouble and simply give Davis third. Five of his eight stolen bases this season are steals of third. Both he and Houston’s Jordan Schafer are 5-for-5 to lead the majors, but since the start of the 2009 season, Davis’ 46 steals of third in 49 attempts easily leads all players. Next are Philadelphia’s Juan Pierre (32) and Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki (31).

After ranking 22nd in runs per game in 2011, the Atlanta Braves are averaging 4.87 per contest this season -- nearly a full run more than a year ago (3.96) and the fourth-highest team mark in the majors. A key has been the Braves’ .340 OBP leading off an inning, the second-highest leadoff OBP in the National League. Chipper Jones is one of four Atlanta regulars who have excelled at getting an inning off to a good start.

Braves’ Top OBPs Leading Off Innings, 2012

Player PA OBP
Chipper Jones 24 .458
Michael Bourn 86 .407
Dan Uggla 49 .388
Jason Heyward 34 .382

The Braves posted a .306 OBP starting innings in 2011, which ranked 11th among NL clubs.

Statistics and rankings are updated through Thursday, May 24

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Nick Stamm