Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Around The Horn

I believe three days is the longest I've gone without posting something. I'm not really sure why, but I haven't felt much like writing anything. Time to catch up a bit then.

* Let's start off with the O's. The sweep of the Royals didn't come to pass as Brian Bannister shut the offense down - it was the first time the Birds have been kept off the board all year. It was the first time I had actually seen Banny pitch, and I came away unimpressed. I guess that's kind of the point, as he's getting by with his head and not his stuff. I was happy to see him get back on track after having a rough stretch, but I would have preferred if it had happened after the O's left town.

The loss of momentum carried over into the Tuesday game against the Red Sox, but it stopped after the first inning. A couple errors led to a three run first for Boston, but Jeremy Guthrie shut them down after that. He picked up his second win of the year with another good start (6 IP, 8 H, 3 R (2 earned), 1 BB, 7 K). It's nice to see that over the course of the season he's been giving up less home runs and walks, and increasing his strike-outs (5-5-6-6-7 in his last five starts after 2-2-4-2).

He got that win because the O's put up 5 runs on 11 hits against Josh Becket, with Luke Scott going 3-4 with a three-run homer. Glad the power is coming around for him; maybe he can hit another one (or three) out in the second game of the series. Jim Johnson gave up a run, but it was only after he had already pulled a Houdini, coming in to get the team out of a no-out bases loaded situation. Dave Trembley started Sherrill time a little early, going to George in the eighth. To his credit, Sherrill retired the last five guys in order with a couple of K's to get his 14th save of the year. On the bad side, Nick went 0-4 with 2 K's - he's down to .259/.391/.439 on the year, and has struck out twice in three straight games. The lack of doubles or triples (and only 2 HR) in his last ten games is also a concern. He's still a great hitter though, and I expect things to pick up sooner or later.

To (most of) the rest of the majors:

* Congratulation to the Tampa Bay Rays, who moved into possession of first place in the AL East. They have extended their team record by being 7 games above .500 (they set it at 6 up with their previous win) and are in first for the first time this late in the year. If only they were in a different division, the Rays would be a team that I could really get behind. Their greatly improved defense has their ERA down to 3.73 (fourth in the AL) and that's with Scott Kazmir out for a while. If they can raise payroll enough to keep the guys they bring up (like they did with Longoria and Shields) than I think they'll be up there a lot in the coming years. I wonder how they draft when they have to wait till the #25 spot?

* Jason Giambi is hitting just .194, but boy is he making those hits count. His .354 OBP and .469 SLG give him a 127 OPS+; wait till the hits start dropping in. Robinson Cano isn't making anything count, hitting .183/.237/.303; he started out poorly last year too, but not like this. Slumping or injured hitters and ineffective youngsters on the mound are not a recipe for getting to the playoffs. C-M Wang has upped is K rate a good deal and is pitching well (6-1, 2.90 ERA) and Mike Mussina has staved off Father Time for now (5-3, 4.36 ERA), but Philip Hughes (now injured) and Ian Kennedy have ERAs over 8. Mo continues to dominate the ninth though (0.56 ERA, 13/0 K/BB in 16 IP). Wonder how long they'll keep Joba in the pen? He has just 16.3 IP despite a 2.76 ERA - they need to utilize him more.

* The Blue Jays are kind of a mess on offense - they are putting up pretty good overall numbers but are not scoring runs. There is some speculation that the batters are looking to walk instead of trying to drive in runs with men on base. Since it is intelligent people saying this, I'm inclined to think that it may actually be the case. Like I said about Nick, it's great to walk, but with a guy on third and one out I'd like to see him try to hit the ball hard somewhere. At 19-22, the Jays are in fifth in the East, but are easily the best last place team in baseball.

* The AL Central, a supposedly tough division, has been one of the worst in baseball. The Twins, despite losing Johan Santana and sending Fransisco Liriano to the minors, are in first place with a 20-18 record. That's despite Joe Mauer and Delmon Young combining for zero HR. At least Mauer is hitting well otherwise (.331/.414/.421) while Young has been bad all around (.264/.307/.299 - guys who hit in the middle of the line-up really should have a SLG above their OBP). In center, Carlos Gomez runs fast (16 steals) but has just a .304 OBP. Some more minor league seasoning would have been a good idea, I think.

* The Indians, despite climbing up to second place, are seeing some power outages of their own. Victor Martinez hasn't homered (but is hitting .345) and Travis Hafner has just 3 HR and is hitting .223/.322/.354. The average should come up, but the power he showed even two years ago is gone. That contract is going to look mighty bad in the near future - that's why you don't sign big unathletic sluggers to long-term deals after the age of 30. Cliff Lee is still having an insane season (0.67 ERA, 1 HR, 4 BB, 44 K), as is Fausto Carmona (though in a different way). Carmona has a 2.40 ERA despite walking almost twice as many as he has struck out (35 to 18). Good thing he is getting a lot of double play balls.

* The Tigers, despite showing some life in that one good stretch, are still in last place. Their offense has been pretty good (.264/.343/.415) but they are only fifth in runs (182) and are not looking anything like a historically good offensive team. The pitching has been the main problem for the poor start, as Armando Galarraga (who I had never heard of) has been the team's ace (2-1, 3.07 ERA, 21/9 K to BB). The fall of Justin Verlander has been particularly troubling (1-6, 6.43 ERA, 30/21 in 49 IP - I don't know why the K's have dropped off so much for him).

* This (.287/.399/.566) is what made Carlos Quentin such a great prospect a couple of years ago with the D'Backs. Excellent pick-up for the White Sox. Chicago is once again leading the AL in home runs, and Quentin (9) is a big reason why.

* The Angels, despite losing John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, are still leading the West. They should be getting Lackey back soon (this week, in act) and are likely to win yet another division title this year.

* Unless the A's keep up their fantastic start. They have used great situational hitting to score 187 runs (fourth) despite being 12th in SLG and 10th in average (and just 4th in OBP). Emil Brown still leads the team in RBI (33) but is hitting just .277/.301/.405. That .405 SLG actually places him third amongst Oakland regulars behind Mike Sweeney (.443 - he's making a nice come-back) and Jack Cust (.417 - he actually has a higher OBP with his league leading .434).

* Seattle is awful (15-26) and there may some people losing their jobs soon. The offense has been (predictably) bad, scoring 167 runs (11th) with a league worst .308 OBP. Jeff Clement has not been the answer at DH (.150/.292/.175) and despite his power (4 HR, .510 SLG), Wladimir Balentien is hitting just .224 and has K'ed in over a third of his at bats. The pitching (also predictably), has been good at the front (King Felix - 3.38 ERA and Bedard - up to 3.48 due to a recent shelling), average in the middle (Carlos Silva - 4.33), and bad at the back end (Miguel Batista - 5.58 and Jarrod Washburn - 5.68). The bullpen has regressed from their unsustainably good 2007, and the team is 12th in ERA at 4.45 despite playing in one of the most pitcher friendly parks in baseball. It is very curious to me that a couple of "contenders" (the M's and Blue Jays) haven't sought out the services of Barry Bonds, who despite his "baggage" is still one of the best hitters in baseball.

* It's a good time to be a Florida baseball fan, as the Marlins (like the Rays) are 23-16 and in first place. Florida leads the league in home runs and slugging, with Dan Uggla (12 HR), Mike Jacobs (9), and Hanley Ramirez (9) leading the way. Having Mark Hendrickson as an Opening Day starter was laughable, but he is 5-2 with a 3.91 ERA so far. The Marlins are definitely in line for some regression, but they aren't nearly as bad as many people thought they would (my 73 win prediction, which looked high two months ago, may be looking a bit low right now).

* Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are both good hitters, but only one is showing it right now. Utley is looking for his MVP award with his .325/.406/.669 line (and a league leading 13 HR) while Howard, who has been heating up a bit recently, is still looking bad at .181/.286/.368 with 56 K's. That's still a record breaking pace. Pat "the Bat" is living up to his nick-name (.305/.438/.609) and is in line for a big pay-day after the season. Brad Lidge has whatever he lost back as the closer (0.50 ERA, 19 K's in 18 IP) and the bullpen has been great overall.

* Oh, the Mets. These guys were supposed to win the World Series? Carlos Delgado is nearing the end of a great career (.228/.312/.382 this year, .279/.385/.545 career) and an offense led by Ryan Church (.324/.385/.561) is going to see some struggles (183 runs - 10th in the NL). Johan Santana (3.10 ERA, 52/13 K to BB) and John Maine (2.81, 38/22) are the only bright spots in the rotation. Billy Wagner hasn't given up an earned run as the closer yet - I guess when you do that you can call other guys out all you want. Nelson Figueroa called the Nationals "softball girls" and quickly found himself out of a job. I think it had more to do with the 5.12 ERA than the comments, though.

* The Braves are in fourth at 19-19 despite outscoring thier opponents by over 40 runs. They look like the best team in the division. Brain McCann has got his stroke back after an off year (.303/.372/.568), Yunel Escobar has taken over at SS (.314/.392/.429), Mark Kotsay has shown that he is still a baseball player (.302/.362/.457) and Chipper Jones is cementing his Hall of Fame case and making a run at history (.415!/.475/.683). The starting rotation, which was supposed to be a major weakness, has been kept solid with another great season for Tim Hudson (6-2, 2.54 ERA) and success from their off-season acquisition Jair Jurrjens (4-3, 3.10 - bet Detroit wishes they still had him). John Smoltz was dominant in the rotation (2.00 ERA, 36/8 K to BB in 27 IP) and will bring that to the (mostly) vacant closer's spot when he comes back from his injury. They don't have Leo Mazzone anymore, but their still leading the league in ERA.

* The Cubs are in first place and Geovany Soto is making a great case for the Rookie of the Year award (.315/.421/.575). Six of the eight Cub's regulars have OBP's above .385 - that's a new one in Chicago. They lad the league in the category, as well as runs with 226. The pitchers are third in ERA, and so they've outscored their opponents by over 60 runs. Maybe the Cubs just wanted to wait 100 years to make it more dramatic.

* If the Cardinals don't start losing games pretty soon, than a whole lot of people (me included) are going to look like idiots. Albert Pujols is being given the Barry Bonds treatment (.348/.503!/.600) but some other hitters are picking up the slack. Rick Ankiel has a rocket arm in center field, but has become a solid hitter at the plate as well. He's improved his plate discipline, and is hitting .290/.384/.500 on the year. I imagine Scott Boras will be making some Babe Ruth comparisons when it's time to negotiate his contract. Former Quad-A slugger Ryan Ludwick is getting a chance to play and making the most off it (.336/.410/.701). A rotation of former relievers and castoffs (minus Adam Wainwright) has been very good, as has the bullpen (minus Jason Isringhausen and his 7.02 ERA). I said I would be very surprised if the team won more than 77 games, and well, I am really very surprised.

* I like Lance... a lot. Thanks Chris Berman. Seriously, Berkman is destroying the ball (.392/.470/.790!) and Miguel Tejada has got his energy back (.338/.372/.525). The Astros are third in the league in runs, and would actually stay in contention if they had some starting pitching. They're being led by Shawn Chacon (yeah, that guy) with his 3.53 ERA. I didn't put his record, because in eight starts he has yet to get a decision. Crazy. Roy Oswalt has a 5.05 ERA, but has recovered from some early season struggles and is putting up a 48/15 K to BB ration in 57 IP. The 12 HR is a concern though. Maybe their all-out win-now approach wasn't such a terrible idea after all.

* That vaunted Brewers offense is just 12th in the league in runs. Ryan Braun has found his power stroke recently (.294/.325/.563), but Prince Fielder (.250/.349/.412) and Rickie Weeks (.190/.311/.340) are still struggling. With Chris Capuano and Yovanni Gallardo out for the year, the Brew Crew are a Ben Sheets injury (and given his recent histroy it seems a matter of time) away from having a pretty bad pitching staff. The great Eric Gagne experiment hasn't worked (6.27 ERA), but it was still better than giving Fransisco Cordero $45 million. I guess it's a good thing they picked up Guillermo Mota (2.20 ERA)?

* I hope the Reds end up in last place so we can stop hearing about how Dusty Baker is "a winner". Joey Votto (.288/.358/.568) and (galp) Paul Bako (.303/.367/.515) are raking, but the Reds are still just 11th in runs despite playing in a launching-pad. Cueto-Mania has died down (5.91 ERA), and it's been Edison Volquez having the lights-out year (6-1, 1.12 ERA, 57 K's in 48.3 IP). The offense should pick things up eventually, but I don't see a winning season happening. When's Jay Bruce coming up?

* The Diamondbacks have cooled off a bit, but still have the best record in the majors. The offense is still very good (second in slugging and runs) and so is the pitching. Brandon Webb is 8-0 with a 2.41 ERA; Danny Haren has made a good transition back to the NL (4-2, 3.04 ERA), Micah Owings has become a solid #3 (4-1, 4.33 ERA and hitting .417/.481/.625), and top prospect Max Scherzer is up to solidify the back end of the rotation (3.14 ERA, 18/3 K to walk ratio in 14.3 IP). The bullpen, once again, is doing a good job - Brandon Lyon has taken to the closer's job (2.12 ERA, 10 SV, 12/2 K/BB in 17 IP). They have easily the biggest lead of any first place team (4.5 games).

* It's sad to hear that Rafaul Furcal was put on the DL. Not only was he keeping the Dodgers in contention with his .366/.448/.597 start, but he was really helping out my fantasy team. The Juan Pierre (.277/.352/.319) - Andruw Jones (170 / 282 / 268) tandem isn't doing too well in the outfield (though it's nice to see Pierre walking more), but Andre Ethier (.295/.373/.446) and Matt Kemp (.321/.350/.489) are showing why so many people complained about them being benched or platooned. The pitching has been middle-of-the-road (4.11 ERA) and are waiting on some improvement from Brad Penny (5.09 ERA).

* The Giants are a very bad team, but lucky for them they play in the NL West - there they're in third place. Fred Lewis was finally given the job and is running with it (.298/.370/.489) and Aaron Rowand is earning his contract so far (.325/.391/.520). That's about it - catcher and clean-up hitter Bengie Molina is hitting .272/.301/.424, and shortstop Brian Bocock is "hitting" .143/.258/.156. Matt Cain is making at run at Owings' title of Best Hitting Pitcher with his .294/.368/.706 line. His two home runs places him sixth on the team, ahead of both middle infielders as well as the right fielder. His pitching has also improved, as he has his ERA down to 4.17. Tim Lincecum is starting his run at some Cy Young awards (5-1, 1.61 ERA, 53/18 K/BB in 50.3 IP) and Jonathan Sanchez has been pretty good despite some control problems (2-2, 4.89 ERA, 46/24 in 42.3 IP). Barry Zito is back in the rotation, but is 0-8 with 6.58 ERA, though his last two starts were better (11 IP, 12 R, 5 R, 3 BB, 7 K - yeah, that's better).

* Matt Holliday (.318/.406/.534) and Garrett Atkins (.335/.360/.540) haven't been able to make up for some slumps (like Troy Tulowitzki hitting .152/.226/.238 before getting injured) and the Rockies, despite Coors Field, are just 13th in runs. The rotation, other than Aaron Cook (6-1, 2.26 ERA), has been awful. Jeff Francis has greatly regressed (0-4, 6.27 ERA) as his strike-out rate has fallen and his walks have gone way up. I expected a drop-off for them, but I didn't think they would fall this far.

* San Diego Padres: "Hey, we've got good weather!". Terrible, terrible offense; last in average, last in OBP, last in slugging, last in runs. The pitching hasn't been nearly good enough to make up for it (4.14 ERA - 8th in the NL). Only Adrian Gonzalez as been doing his job (.296/.347/.535 with 9 HR).

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