— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, June 02, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: N.L. Central
The N.L. Central through May 30th.
The treadmill that is the NL Central continues. The Cubs survived a 13-game road trip that took them to four of their NL Central Division rivals, and held their own (thanks mostly to a four-game sweep in Milwaukee). The Cardinals handled the Cubs head-to-head, taking three of four in a weekend set in St. Louis, but stumbled against the Reds and the Astros, while the Astros dropped two of three to the Cubs but managed to stay in the hunt by winning three of four from the Pirates and handling the Cardinals.
For each team, I’ve collected their percentages in converting ground balls (GBO%) and fly balls (FBO%) into outs, which will (hopefully) provide some insights into their overall performance on defense. Line drives are excluded from this analysis, since whether or not a line drive is caught is dependent almost entirely on it being hit right at a fielder.
4-0 at Milwaukee (11-5, 7-2, 6-1, 4-2)
Defensive stats May 12-25:
GBO% .739 (fifth in division)
The infield’s performance slipped during the most recent two weeks, in part because of increased playing time for Lenny Harris at 3B; Harris has worked his way into a platoon role as Mark Bellhorn continues to have problems at the plate. The overall defense has been the best in the division most of the year.
Moises Alou (.386/.426/.579 over the two weeks, 11 RBI)
Sammy Sosa (on DL after having a toenail removed)
The Cubs’ formula for success this year has been solid pitching and defense carrying an offense that has yet to fire on all cylinders. It’s been working so far, as the Cubs’ starters posted a 3.72 ERA during the two-week period, which was the best in the division, and the bullpen (as noted above) has been outstanding. Todd Wellemeyer made his major league debut and earned a save in the 17-inning finale of the series with the Brewers.
The Cubs lost two of three to the Pirates, with a bullpen meltdown in the first game turning a tight pitching duel between Kerry Wood and Josh Fogg into a blowout, and Matt Clement posting his third straight mediocre outing in the second game of the set. Sosa made his return from the DL on Friday against the Astros, but Shawn Estes was rocked in a 9-1 loss. The Cubs took a 1-0 win in 16 innings on Saturday as Wellemeyer earned his first win in the bigs, but the pitchers were clocked again in a 9-3 loss on Sunday. Sosa was 2-15 over the weekend, and Alou and Grudzielanek have cooled off too with no one picking up the slack as the offense managed just 14 runs in the six games this week.
The Cubs get a chance to catch their breath with the Devil Rays coming to town, and really need to avoid looking ahead to the Bronx Bombers’ first visit to Wrigley Field since the 1938 World Series. The pitchers are starting to show some signs of wear and tear, and since they are the strength of the team there’s cause for concern there.
June 3-5 vs Tampa Bay
1-2 vs Cincinnati (2-7, 0-4, 6-3)
Defensive stats May 12-25:
GBO% .774 (first in division)
The infield defense has been the best in the division almost all season, the outfield defense (due mostly to the constant shuttling in RF and LF and Jim Edmonds’s injuries) hasn’t been up to par.
Albert Pujols (.370/.404/.796, 6 HR, 13 runs and 14 RBI)
Tino Martinez (.132/.195/.211)
It looks as though Tony LaRussa’s closer-of-the-moment is Cal Eldred, who picked up four saves in five chances during the two weeks and earned a win in the game in which he blew the save. J.D. Drew continues to play sporadically while LaRussa continues to run the decaying carcass of Tino Martinez out there - it’s about time to make the Pujols-to-first move permanent and let J.D. be out there every day, especially with the health questions surrounding both Pujols and Edmonds. Vina tore the tendon in his right hamstring in the series finale in Pittsburgh, and will likely miss at least the next six weeks.
The Cardinals split their four games with the Astros, getting a complete game from Simontacchi in a 3-1 win in the third game of the set. Morris took a 4-3 lead into the eighth inning of the series finale, but yet another bullpen meltdown from Jeff Fassero and Eldred and a costly error by the normally reliable Renteria allowed the Astros to come back and take a 7-4 win. The weekend did not go well for St. Louis, as the Pirates took the first two games of the set before the Cards managed a 5-4 win on Sunday. The Cards are going to have to bump their level of play up a notch, with the Blue Jays coming off the best month in the team’s history and the Orioles also playing well of late, if they want to take advantage of the interleague schedule.
June 3-5 vs Toronto
3-1 at Pittsburgh (9-4, 6-3, 2-3, 6-2)
Defensive stats May 12-25:
GBO% .672 (sixth in division)
The Astros’ GBO% might be a little misleading. There is one official scorer in Houston who I think records hits as ground balls that scorers elsewhere record as line drives - there are far more ground ball singles and doubles for both teams when he’s scoring than I’m used to seeing. I need to run some of the compressed games from the MLB archives to confirm this. Even with that, though, the Astros have had the worst infield defense in the division all season - their road performance is only in the .715 range - and the recent increase in playing time for Morgan Ensberg at 3B might be in part an effort to improve the defense, although Ensberg has been hitting very well, too.
Jeff Bagwell (212/.281/.250)
The loss of Oswalt has been sorely felt, because he was the only starter who the Astros could count on for six-seven solid innings every time out. With Wade Miller not pitching up to 2002 form and youngsters Tim Redding and Jeriome Robertson inconsistent, the Astros have been straining their middle relievers, and it’s starting to show - Pete Munro, Nate Bland, Brandon Puffer, and Ricky Stone were all hit hard in recent outings. With Bagwell’s slump, Lance Berkman’s continued power outage (.364 SLG over the two weeks), and little help from the bench (Orlando Merced and Brian Hunter hit just .133 combined over the two weeks), the Astros’ offense has been mostly Kent, Ensberg, and Richard Hidalgo (who contracted tonsillitis and missed several games).
Hidalgo had to be placed on the DL on May 29, with rookie OF Colin Porter recalled to take his place on the roster. In the 2-2 split with the Cardinals, the Astros got encouraging outings from Robertson, Redding and Jonathan Johnson and a four-hit game from Bagwell. The bullpen’s struggles continued, as Brad Lidge blew a save for Redding and Puffer was knocked around, although Stone threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Johnson in the 3-1 loss to Simontacchi. Wagner saved both of Houston’s wins in the series. Against the Cubs, the Astros made the most of eight hits in the 9-1 win in the opener of the series, while Wade Miller shut down the Cubs on two hits while fanning 14. Game 2 saw Oswalt’s return from the DL go well, with seven shutout innings and 8 Ks, but the offense garnered just six singles. The Astros got HRs from Berkman (his third of the week) and Ensberg and another good effort from Robertson in the rubber game of the series on Sunday. Hidalgo’s absence will be felt, although he could be back in time for the trip to New York and Boston the week after next.
June 3-5 vs Baltimore
2-1 at St. Louis (7-2, 4-0, 3-6)
Defensive stats May 12-25:
GBO% .768 (second in division)
Cincinnati’s infield defense has turned it around since the abandonment of the Larson/Boone experiments. The Reds’ GBO% with Larson and Boone was .693; since Larson was sent down and Boone was returned to 3B it’s been .777. However, the Reds’ pitching has not improved noticeably since the changes occurred, even though the outfield defense has also been strong, and I think that’s largely because the staff allows more line drives per nine innings (nearly 7 per nine innings; the average is under 5) than any other team in the NL. Basically, they ain’t foolin’ anybody.
Ken Griffey Jr. (.323/.432/.677 in 11 games after coming off the DL)
Ryan Dempster (10.64 ERA in two starts)
The Reds are hitting well, fielding well, and pitching poorly. The only thing that’s changed since the start of the season is that the defense has gotten better. Adam Dunn is threatening to become another Rob Deer. Over these two weeks, Dunn fanned in 16 of 47 plate appearances, and had just six hits - five of which left the yard. He hit .150/.255/.525 in that time frame.
In the latest pitching shuffle, the Reds activated Jimmy Haynes from the DL and recalled Joey Hamilton, sending down Jeff Austin (who became only the second pitcher ever to fail to get out of the first inning in two successive starts) and Brian. Dunn’s grand slam in the 11th inning gave the Reds the Memorial Day game in Altanta, then Haynes gave the Reds 5 solid innings against the Braves in his return to the rotation, but the offense couldn’t do anything with Shane Reynolds and a tenth-inning HR by Chipper Jones gave the game to the Braves. Austin and Hamilton were shelled the next night in a 15-3 laugher in the series finale. In Miami, the Reds won another extra-inning affair 4-3 on an 11th inning shot by Griffey, were handcuffed for the second time by Marlins’ rookie Dontrelle Willis in a 3-2 loss, and rode a seven-run fourth to a 9-6 win in the series finale on Sunday as Scott Sullivan (6-0), Chris Reitsma, and Scott Wiliamson bailed out John Riedling, who gave back most of a 9-0 lead. The Reds actually used Dunn as the leadoff hitter in the Sunday game!
The Reds got pretty good starting efforts in four of the six games this past week; that trend will need to continue when the Yankees and Blue Jays come to town.
June 3-5 vs New York Yankees
1-3 vs Houston (4-9, 3-6, 3-2, 2-6)
Defensive stats May 12-25:
GBO% .761 (third in division)
The outfield defense has been the worst in the division all season, and the infield defense has actually been pretty good most of the year, except for a two-week stretch when Aramis Ramirez was going through some horrors at 3B. Pokey Reese is on the DL with a thumb injury and will miss 8-12 weeks, but Abraham Nunez has stepped in and the infield D hasn’t missed a beat. Most people think the outfield defense has been better with Kenny Lofton out there, but they are wrong; the outfield D has been about as bad this year as it was last.
Virtually the entire offense (.292/.372/.443 during the two weeks, the best OPS in the division)
The bullpen (5.98 ERA)
The Pirates’ bullpen, thought to be a strength entering the season, is making a habit out of blowing late leads and turning close games into blowouts. The Bucs trailed 3-2 after seven innings of the opener against the Astros, were tied 3-3 after eight innings of the second game, had a 3-0 lead for D’Amico after seven innings of the third game, and were down 3-2 when Kris Benson left in the series finale. In each case, the bullpen took (or almost took, in the case of the win) the Bucs out of the game. The bullpen blew a 5-3 lead in the first game of the Arizona series (which the Pirates won in 12), and also blew a 7-2 lead after seven innings in the 10-8 loss to the Cards. Getting the pen back on track is essential if the team is to have any success.
It looks like Suppan might be back into his normal pattern; he’s always pitched his best in the first six weeks of the season, then falls off significantly in the middle 2 1/2 months of the season before coming back in September.
Lofton’s hitting streak was finally snapped at 26 games, one short of the team record that has stood since 1899, on Saturday in St. Louis. Josh Fogg came back off the DL to throw seven shutout innings at the Cubs to open that series, and Ramirez had four hits to back a solid outing from Kris Benson in the middle game. The Bucs also took two of three from the Cardinals over the weekend, as Suppan won his first game in a month although lasting just five innings, and Brian Giles hit a three-run HR to send Woody Williams to his first loss of the season. Fogg gave the Bucs six effective innings on Sunday before two walks off Joe Beimel and Edgar Renteria’s two-run single off Salomon Torres broke a 3-3 tie. The Pirates get only one interleague set this week, against the Red Sox, and are catching Atlanta at a time when the Braves are struggling a bit.
June 3-5 vs Boston
0-4 vs Chicago Cubs (5-11, 2-7, 1-6, 2-4)
Defensive stats May 12-25:
GBO% .744 (fourth in division)
Scott Podsednik took over the CF job from Alex Sanchez, and the Brewers’ OF defense had a good two weeks after being in the bottom half of the division for most of the season. Sanchez never struck me as being a particularly good defensive CF, typical of guys who try to rely on speed to outrun mistakes, and while I’m not sure that Podsednik is much better the early results are encouraging. The Brewers, like the Reds, allow a lot of line drives in play (they’re just behind Cincy in LD per nine innings), which is a commentary on the state of their pitching staff.
Wes Helms (.313/.393/.479)
Royce Clayton (.043/.102/.109, 2-46)
It’s past time to cut bait on Clayton and see what Enrique Cruz can do. I have yet to figure out why a team like the Brewers continues to waste playing time on the likes of Clayton.
While the important NL Central teams battled each other, the Brewers headed for the West Coast to take on the Padres and Dodgers. The Brewers took two of three from the Padres, each game decided in the ninth inning. Franklin threw another strong effort against San Diego in the opener, and Leo Estrella got his first major league victory in the 3-2 win in the finale. In LA, the Brewers got seven solid innings from Ben Sheets in a 5-3 win in the series opener and Richie Sexson’s 17th HR of the season off Guillermo Mota on Sunday gave the Brewers 2 of 3 against the Dodgers. Royce Clayton was 1-13 for the week, so he’s now 3 for his last 59.
The Brewers did get reasonably good pitching efforts from their starters on the West Coast, except for Rusch’s effort against the Padres when he was handed a five-run first inning lead and gave it back over the next five innings, and the bullpen was generally effective as well. They’ll need that against the Mets (who have been playing better of late) and Red Sox.
June 3-5 at New York Mets