— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Sunday, June 15, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: N.L. East
The N.L. East through June 13th.
Vs Central: 45-34
Vs. West: 48-35
Vs. AL: 20-16
Goodness, those Atlanta Braves can score some runs! As far as the Mets are concerned, so can the Seattle Mariners. Incredible starting pitching is still carrying the Phillies. The Marlins are just trying to stay ahead of the Mets, and the Expos are on the cusp of becoming "America?s Team" (sorry, Canada).
The Atlanta Braves are off to their best start since?well, ever. After a decade-plus of division titles (although not consecutive due to the Expos 1994 title), the Braves are managing to top their previous work. You think pitching and defense wins championships? How about mashing the living snot out of the ball and defense? That?s working pretty well for the Bravos. As a team, the Braves are slugging .500. Their team OPS is .850. Get out of the way before you get hurt! In the last two weeks, the Braves have picked up four games on every team in the division. The Braves need to build a lead, because they aren?t beating the division. They dropped two of three to the Mets this last two weeks. Of course, they are playing .800 ball against teams not in their division. That?s a good way to build a lead.
So far in June, the Braves have posted an OPS of .929. Javy Lopez has had a resurgence that baffles everyone. Okay, I thought it was a slump for a year and a half, but this season is making a lot of Braves fans take back those "Why did we keep Javy?" comments. Lopez is currently third in the league in home runs, one ahead of Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield.
Through the lineup:
Rafael Furcal has seen his OPS drop 50 points in the last dozen games. He got yesterday off. Marcus Giles "slumped" in May (0.831 OPS), but has picked up the pace again, ripping 13 hits in his last 7 games, posting a June OPS of 1.036, moving up to 9th in the league in OPS for the season and has been outstanding on defense. It would not surprise me to see him win a Gold Glove this season. Gary Sheffield has been a model of consistency ? he?s about as dangerous a player as there is right now. He has 32 BB and 20 K. Chipper Jones is still ailing from a slide into second in the 9th inning of a 4-2 loss to the Mets on May 31. He?s hit the ball well since then, but has taken the last few games off as it has been more aggravating. In his place, Darren Bragg has stunk up the joint in a manner befitting a San Diego Padre.
Andruw Jones also injured himself sliding into second in the 9th inning of the May 31 loss to the Mets. I?d like to say Andruw has hit the ball well since then, but that wouldn?t be fair to Andruw. He?s played in six games and homered in five of them. He ranks just ahead of Giles in OPS for the season. Andruw?s defense, however, is visibly down ? a function of too many carbohydrates. Javy Lopez is a beast this season. Vinny Castilla has found himself again ? two weeks ago it was a tolerable .827 OPS ? today it is 0.761, and dropping. Robert Fick is playing okay at first and hitting "not very much" for a first baseman, but more than the Braves were generating there last season. Up and down the lineup ? when Greg Maddux isn?t pitching ? the Braves are scaring the pants off some people.
The pitching is still "not good". In June, the team ERA is 4.48. Maddux, who is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season, has an ERA of 3.00 in his two starts. Mike Hampton tweaked a groin (his own). Russ Ortiz, Horacio Ramirez and Shane Reynolds have ERAs well over 5 this month. But hey, when you put 8 runs on the board, even a 6 ERA doesn?t hurt too much. The Braves bullpen is still getting great work from John "Donut" Smoltz and Trey Hodges. With Hampton?s groin strained, Hodges may get back in the rotation. The Braves might try to bring Jason Marquis back as well (3.26 ERA in 10 starts at Richmond). Presently, Hampton is still scheduled for his start against the Mariners.
@ Seattle June 13-15
@ Philly June 17-19
Baltimore June 20-22
The Montreal Expos were stunned by dropping six of seven games to division rivals, and then proceeded to get thumped twice by the Angels in San Juan. That dropped the Expos from two games behind the Braves to six. They bounced back to reel off six straight wins before losing to Seattle 1-0 June 12. The biggest issue is that Vlad Guerrero is sidelined (or should that be dugouted?). Vlad, while usually a terror, has not been dominant this season, and other Expos have picked up the torch.
Jose Vidro and Brad Wilkerson are playing great, and Orlando Cabrera is contributing plenty, leading the team in home runs. It?s tough to tell exactly how well the Expos are playing due to the games in San Juan. The packed Hiram Bithorn Stadium for the Texas Rangers series was impressive. Adrian Beltre?s future, Fernando Tatis, is still playing a lot and still playing poorly. The same is true for Michael Barrett. Brian Schneider?s playing time is definitely up, and he?s producing. Presently the Expos have solid players at RF, 2B, wherever Wilkerson plays, SS, and C. Endy Chavez isn?t hitting much, but he is playing excellent defense. Wil Cordero could be upgraded at first base without too much effort.
At Edmonton, Terrmel Sledge looks very strong. Okay, he?s not a true prospect (26 years old), but he has a nice walk rate and decent power. He also has experience at first base, playing there at Harrisburg while recovering from shoulder surgery. At Harrisburg now, Josh McKinley is a bigger (6?2", 200) second baseman who could probably fill in at first. He didn?t hit very much his first season at AA, but is handling it well now. He?s 24, so not an uber-prospect, but certainly good enough to play.
The Expos season success has been the pitching staff, with Javier Vazquez, Zach Day (now DLed for 6-8 weeks), Livan Hernandez and Tomo Ohka pitching well to adequately. Newcomer Claudio Vargas has been excellent, posting a 3.17 ERA in his nine starts. Tony Armas opened the season strong before being lost to a shoulder injury. Even with their games in San Juan, the Expos have a strong staff, posting a 3.71 ERA good for fourth in the NL. Park factors considered (San Juan), they?ll move up a couple of slots too. The Expos survived a rough stretch by Vazquez, and he looks like he has rebounded. Vargas? strong work has helped ease the pressure of the Armas and Day loss. Vazquez is being ridden pretty hard, throwing 120 or more pitches in half of his starts. He is a strikeout pitcher, so I wouldn?t be terribly alarmed, just try to get him out of games when he has a big lead.
@ Oakland June 13-15
@ Pittsburgh June 17-19
Toronto June 20-22
The Philadelphia Phillies just can?t quite get it together. The offense is sucking wind, while a young outstanding pitching staff keeps the Phils in games. The Phillies team OPS is .731 or 120 points behind the Braves. You aren?t winning the division like that. Oddly, the Phillies OPS is slightly higher than the Expos and they have a slightly lower ERA ? yet are 4 games behind them in the standings. Stupid run distribution.
Why aren?t the Phillies winning? There is plenty of blame to go around, but David Bell and Pat Burrell in the middle of the lineup are obvious problems. Bell, who got an inflated contract based on his good 2002, has performed very poorly. I know lineup construction isn?t supposed to matter, but the Phils have been constructing one that can?t score. Jimmy Rollins (0.307 OBP), Placido Polanco (0.326 OBP) leadoff every game. Well, hell, you start every game with two outs before Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu come up. First inning runs are important, and the Phils give away too many first innings.
As of June 12, Abreu, and his near-.400 OBP, is batting leadoff. Abreu is quoted as saying (at ESPN.com): “If it helps the team, I might do it,” Abreu said. “But I’ve always been a 3-4-5 guy. I’m most comfortable there.” That lends credence to making guys comfortable in the lineup, in spite of run-scoring issues. Of course, if Abreu knew sabermetrics, he?d know he?s better off in the leadoff slot than Rollins.
Through the lineup in June (OPS):
Okay, I give Byrd another shot at leadoff. What?s bad is we all knew Polanco couldn?t hit coming into the season. And Rollins could get on at a .350 clip. So Thome could either HR, BB, or K. And Abreu would drive someone in. But Polanco in the 2-hole? That?s stupid 1970s managing. David Bell is killing the Phillies playoff chances. I?d change some roles. And the Phillies are trying ? they signed John Valentin to a 10-day contract (that?s a NBA joke). Travis Chapman is playing better in Scranton, so Bell should be replaced. Chapman may not walk a ton, but he knows how to take a pitch ? to the shoulder.
The Phillies rotation is something to brag about. Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, and Brett Myers have been stupendous. Vicente Padilla and Brandon Duckworth are starting to get it together. It?s a very strong staff. They have gotten good work from Turk Wendell and Rheal Cormier out of the pen. If they could get Mesa out of the nuthouse, they?d be better off.
Okay ? a cheat ? on June 12, the Cincinnati Reds kicked the living crap out of the Phillies. Adam Dunn, who is a big man, ran over Mike Lieberthal, who is also a big man, (Dunn was out) when the Reds were up 10-0 on a play at the plate. Next time up, Phils reliever Carlos Silva threw at and behind Dunn. Dunn went to the mound, but Lieberthal tackled him from behind. Silva then threw a punch at Dunn *who was lying on the ground*. Silva is a jerk. I think the Reds/Phils games are going to be very interesting, and violent, for the rest of the season.
@ Cincinnati June 13-15
Atlanta June 17-19
Boston June 20-22
The Florida Marlins had a winning two weeks, and have played pretty well. The hitting is coming from expected sources ? at least expected so far this season. Mike Lowell has been the Marlins best player and is still playing well, although nearly every team that doesn?t have Scott Rolen has some discussion about acquiring him. The last two weeks have seen Derrek Lee mash the ball. Oddly, Alex "Marlin" Gonzalez is still hitting well ? 7th in OPS at .968. Pretty impressive for a career 0.700 OPS guy. When he starts to regress, so will the Fish. Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo have posted weak OPSs, but both are OBP-heavy, so the Marlins won?t complain. Pierre has stolen five bases in the last two weeks without being caught. All in all, the Marlins have gotten good recent play from historically bad players: Gonzalez and Lee. Oh, I forgot about Ivan Rodriguez. Pudge is posting a .750 OPS so far. Not what he?d like, but certainly not worth the money he?s being paid. The Marlins strategy this season is definitely to steal bases. IRod is 9 out of 10 in attempts. Pierre has 27 already. The Marlins have almost twice as many as the next NL team (83 to 44). Maybe Trader Jack McKeon is modeling the team after the 1980s Cardinals.
The Marlin pitchers have been written about plenty ? all bad news. Mark Redman dislocated his thumb and missed a month, but has been good in his starts so far (2.83 ERA). Josh Beckett has started throwing off a mound, and some curveballs, in his recovery from a strained elbow. He doesn?t plan on rushing back. A.J. Burnett is 60-day DLed. But that?s not completely bad news. Dontrelle Willis, age 21, has been marvelous in his time with the team ? he?s made seven starts, and hasn?t thrown more than 109 pitches in any of them. Evidently, McKeon is a bit gentler than Torborg. He?s also allowed just 4 runs in his last 4 starts, spanning 28.2 IP. The Marlins also found out that Michael Tejera shouldn?t start. Brad Penny has been solid and Carl Pavano has been acceptable. In the bullpen, the closer, Braden Looper, has pitched well, and "Avril" Levrault has not made things too complicated. The rest of the bullpen has been pretty bad, but special recognition goes to Vladimir Nunez, who has allowed 7 home runs in 10.2 IP. And that?s not just one bad game. He?s allowed home runs in 6 games. He has a sparkling 16.03 ERA, and is still pitching (last appearance 6/7).
@ Texas June 13-15
New York Mets June 16-19
Tampa Bay June 20-22
The New York Mets fired their General Manager Steve Phillips on June 12. And there was much rejoicing. Blow us a fanfare, Patsy. Sadly, owner Fred Wilpon didn?t get rid of all the Astros hanging around the clubhouse too.
The Mets offense has gotten better. They took two of three from the Phillies and then two of three from the Braves. Then dropped a doubleheader to the Brewers and a doubleheader to the Mariners. Then took two of three from the Rangers. Vance Wilson has hit very well in Piazza?s absence. Jason Phillips has certainly out-produced Mo Vaughn. Rey Sanchez got injured again, and the Mets called up Jose Reyes. Reyes singled on the first pitch he saw, and also doubled later in the game, but hasn?t hit much since. He has played good defense, and has a very strong arm. Jeromy Burnitz came off the Disabled List, bashed a couple of home runs and started playing center field for the Mets. In June, Burnitz has found himself: .200/.220/.445. With the other options being Cliff Floyd and Roger Cedeno, it?s not pretty. Timo Perez got healthy enough to play, and for some insane reason, Art Howe decided to leave Burnitz in center field. Beats me. Howe is just not too bright. Howe did figure out that playing Robbie Alomar against LHP is a bad thing. Against RHP, Alomar has a .820 OPS. That?s good at second base. Unfortunately, the Mets have no real "platoon" for Alomar, presently using Jay Bell and/or Joe McEwing. Hopefully, when Rey Sanchez is healthy, he?ll get the nod at second and the Mets will just let Reyes learn on the job. Cliff Floyd is doing what he?s supposed to be doing, posting a .928 OPS.
On the mound, the Mets have gotten the best work from Jae Seo, probably the best rookie in the National League thus far. Seo has allowed 2 or fewer earned runs in 8 of his 12 starts en route to a 2.88 ERA, good for 7th in the NL. It?s pretty bad after that, with Al Leiter and Tom Glavine having identical 4.82 ERAs and Steve Trachsel dragging in a dead cat and his 5.38 ERA. Pedro Astacio, who many said wasn?t injured at the start of the season, has a torn labrum. I think he was injured at the end of last season, and now he?s out for the year (or two). The Mets presently have no reasonable replacement with Mike Bacsik looking less than mediocre so far. Armando Benitez has recovered nicely from his first two weeks and has his ERA down, and has the look of a much thinner man. He?s got a bit more pop on his fastball, and is making himself into a reasonable piece of tradebait. John Franco came off the two year DL, and has thrown 5 entertaining innings. Graeme Lloyd has pitched very well of late, going multiple innings his last two games ? not bad for a LOOGY.
In firing Steve Phillips, Wilpon announced the team would get younger very soon, hinting he wasn?t waiting around for the trade deadline to dump some players. That means Alomar and Benitez and probably David Weathers and Mike Stanton are on the block. Good.
@ Anaheim June 13-15
@ Florida June 16-19
Yankees June 20-22