— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: N.L. East
The N.L. East through May 11th.
National League East through May 11, 2003
Vs Central: 32-25
As we approach a quarter of the season gone, the division is starting to take shape. The leaders are getting their lead from great pitching ? mostly from unexpected sources. Sure, we all know about Javier Vazquez, Greg Maddux and Vincente Padilla, but who drafted Zach Day, Mike Hampton and Brett Myers?
The NL East is looking to be the strongest division, where even the Mets and Marlins are playing the other divisions to a tie, while the Braves are smashing them, and the Expos are just better. What really makes that good is that the Braves, while in first by three games, have struggled within the division ? that means one fantastic divisional race ? wild card or not. -CD
Atlanta has gotten some outstanding pitching from Horacio Ramirez, Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and a couple of games from Shane Reynolds. Maddux had another mediocre outing last time out. You might think the Braves have made this 10-2 run with pitching ? Hampton coming around and Maddux returning to form, but the team ERA is over four the last two weeks.
The offense has posted an OPS of 0.829. The starters are simply tearing the cover off the ball, with the exception of Vinny Castilla:
Montreal has played 2 games over .500 over the last two weeks. The return to the pack has been led by the same pitching that rabbited them out to the early season lead. Javier Vasquez and Tomo Ohka are both sporting May ERAs above seven. Livan Hernandez, starting regularly, posted a stabilizing 3.38 while Zach Day did his part with a 3.86. Only Hernandez improved on his April numbers, a fact more than offset by replacing Tony Armas? sub-2 with Carlos Vargas? near-5. Also, the ?pen was only mediocre.
On the offensive side of the ball Jose Vidro came back down a little too but still posted an All-Star worthy 351/415/459 for May. Vlad posted similar numbers (294/429/441.) But whatever slack the two stars let droop was more than taken up by the month?s surprise juggernauts: Wil Cordero, Orlando Cabrera and Brad Wilkerson. Those are 1.214, 1.174 and 1.110 OPSs, respectively. Cordero, considering his long history in MLB, is probably a great example of Vörös? Law, but Brad Wilkerson?s month certainly merits close attention. Last re-cap I mentioned Wilkerson?s oddball ability to draw walks while not hitting at all. If he?s finally brought his minor league average and power to Montreal he?s a real, long-term contributor and a perfect compliment to Vlad and Vidro?s offensive skill sets. A 300/400/550 hitter dancing around the bases in front of those guys spells real offensive possibilities. -SH
Much like Montreal, Philadelphia has been playing near .500 ball. In doing so they?ve both managed to avoid being buried by the Braves? 21-4 run, but both need to either pick up their respective paces or hope for the Braves to cool off if they are going to stick around all year. Dropping half a game in the standings every week is not the way to make a pennant race.
The Phils are finally getting the hitting they paid Jim Thome to provide, and Mike Lieberthal continues to hammer the ball. But what gains Thome?s come-around serve were offset by Bobby Abreu cooling off significantly (.781 OPS for May.) At the same time Placido Polanco returned to Earth (.649 OPS for the month) and everyone?s still waiting for Pat Burrell to hit at last year?s levels.
The Phillies? pitching has kept them in games, though. Randy Wolf has been near unhittable in May and Brett Myers has out-pitched Kevin Millwood. Only Vicente Padilla has been roughed up, the worst of it coming in his last start vs. Houston. The ?pen has been either stellar (Plesac, Cormier, Wendell) or bad (the rest). -SH
Florida took a huge step in the right direction this weekend when they fired Jeff Torborg. He captained the shipwreck that was the 1992-93 Mets after performing miracles with the White Sox 13 years ago. Torborg just overworks his starters. A decade ago, David Cone averaged 120 pitches per start. He averaged that. Okay, I?m a little bitter about those early 90s Mets.
When we last left you, the Marlins had a promising young rotation. Now, not. On April 29, A.J. Burnett went on the 15-day DL with a swollen elbow. On May 3, Mark Redman went on the DL with a fractured thumb. On May 7, Burnett moved to the 60-day DL. He?ll miss 2004 too. On May 10, Josh Beckett, the number one pick in 2000, went on the 15-day DL with a strained elbow. If you are a Marlins fan, you had to be calling for Torborg?s head. Shockingly, the conditioning coach, Dale Torborg also got fired.
The parade of new starters: Justin Wayne, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Tejera. Each pitched at least satisfactorily in his first outing. In Wayne?s second start, he didn?t get anyone out. He threw 22 pitches ? four of them for strikes. Brad Penny is pitching well and Carl Pavano has done a nice job. I say "well", but they have really been outstanding, posting an ERA of 3.52 this month. And still dropping like a stone in the standings. Losing a bunch of games, anyway.
The offense isn?t generating runs because the guys who are good aren?t producing and the guys who are bad are. Unfortunately, the hitters aren?t distributed optimally for when this happens. Juan Pierre (May OBP 0.433) and Luis Castillo (May OBP 0.465) have been on base, but Ivan Rodriguez (May BA 0.138), Derrek Lee (May BA 0.176) and Mike Lowell (May BA .270) are leaving them there. Then Juan Encarnacion (May OPS 1.028), Todd Hollandsworth (May OPS 1.018), and Alex Gonzalez (May OPS 1.014) start it over, before being stranded themselves. It?s bad luck, but it?s just the sort of thing that won?t even out. -CD
The NY Mets got their best news of the season by putting their starting 1B on the DL. This helps them in two ways. First, it gets Mo Vaughn off the field. Addition by subtraction never got so easy. Secondly, it gets Tony Clark into the starting lineup. Clark has cooled down from his red-hot start, posting a Vaughn-esque 173/273/379 for the month of May, but even so, the defensive advantage of having a passably mobile hominid playing the position improves the team dramatically.
Robbie Alomar has shown some signs of life, squeezing out a .750 OPS for the month. It remains to be seen how much of his recent improvement is a function of having faced the Brewers and Padres respective staffs. Cliff Floyd and Mike Piazza also finally started hitting like they?re supposed to as well. Neither of those guys gets dinged with a caveat. As long as they?re healthy they?re supposed to hit. While no one was looking (and after getting benched) Roger Cedeno started playing baseball again, dialing up an .871 OPS for the month of May, most of it coming in the last week (364/417/535.)
On the down side (for Mets fans,) Ty Wigginton and Raul Gonzalez woke up from their pipe dreams while Shinjo and Timo Perez continued to not hit major league pitching.
On the mound Tom Glavine and Al Leiter did their best Tom Glavine and Al Leiter impersonations, respectively, and Pedro Astacio out-pitched both of them. Steve Trachsel had a bad couple of outings but Jae Wong Seo stabilized the backside of the rotation with yeoman like work. Meanwhile the Great Benitez Follies Roadshow quieted down allowing the bullpen to hold leads when they got them. That, as much as anything, should be the foundation of future hope for Mets fans. New York will live or die in 2003 on their pitching. The offense might very well stabilize around serviceable, but they will require starters with ERAs in the threes and a pen that doesn?t blow leads if they are to hang in the division. -SH
Upcoming games (Team and May dates):