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Friday, June 13, 2003

Bi-Weekly Review: N.L. Central

The N.L. Central through June 11th.











since 5/26




























  St. Louis






















































Houston takes advantage of a soft early interleague
schedule (6 games at home with Baltimore and Tampa) to move into a virtual tie
with the Cubs for first place. The Cardinals, led by a blaxing hot Albert
Pujols, take 6 of 8 from the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Red Sox to hang with the
Cubs and Astros. The Reds continue their string of early blown leads fueled by
faulty starting pitching and amazing late-inning comebacks spreadheaded by a
beleaguered bullpen. Pittsburgh’s starting pitching crashes, dragging the Bucs
down with them, and the Brewers continue to tread water.


1-2 vs Pittsburgh (0-10, 4-9, 5-4)
1-2 vs Houston
(1-9, 1-0, 3-9)
2-1 vs Tampa (3-2, 2-5, 8-1)
2-1 vs NY Yankees (3-5, 5-2,
2-0 at Baltimore (4-0, 7-6)

Streakers: Corey Patterson (.328/.344/.672), Eric
Karros (.298/.345/.667), Alex Gonzalez (.286/.310/.518)
Laggards: Mark
Grudzielanek (.167/.239/.190), Damian Miller (.194/.216/.333), Shawn Estes (1-2,
5.89 ERA)

Starters: 6-6, 4.18 ERA, 6.6 IP/start, 2.75
Relievers: 2-0, 3 SV, 5.13 ERA, 1.78 K/BB

The Cubs have been suffering through a team slump on
offense, with the three players mentioned above carrying most of the load. The
Cubs have hit just .239/.281/.383 during the last 14 games and have been
averaging 3.9 runs per game during that stretch. The pitchers have been keeping
the club in games - the team’s 4.47 ERA during the past two weeks was second
only to Houston in the division.

Hee Seop Choi had to be placed on the disabled list
after colliding with Kerry Wood on a popup and suffering a concussion, removing
a sorely needed LH bat from the lineup. The Cubs called up David Kelton to
replace him on the roster and Kelton delivered two hits in his first start in
the 7-6 win at Baltimore.

Sammy Sosa’s suspension for using a corked bat was
reduced from eight games to seven games, and Sosa began serving that suspension
in the second game of the Batilmore series. The Cubs went 10-7 while Sammy was
on the DL earlier in the season, and won their first game without him in this
recent stretch. Sosa has been struggling at the plate, hitting just
.250/.268/.300 since coming off the DL.

On tap: at Baltimore 6/12, at Toronto 6/13-6/15, at
Cincinnati 6/16-6/19, vs Chicago White Sox 6/20-6/22. This isn’t a particularly
difficult stretch of games, and the offense will have a chance to get well in a
hurry against the pitching staffs that they will face. It gets harder after
that, with series with the Phillies, Cardinals, and Braves looming prior to the
All-Star break.


2-2 at St. Louis (5-10, 7-4, 1-3, 7-4)
2-1 at
Chicago Cubs (9-1, 0-1, 9-3)
3-0 vs Baltimore (11-6, 6-4, 11-1)
3-0 vs
Tampa (11-8, 5-4, 2-1)
1-1 at NY Yankees (3-5, 8-0)

Streakers: Morgan Ensberg (.417/.533/.917, 6 HR, 16
RBI), Lance Berkman (.373/.457/.780, 6 HR, 18 runs scored, 17 RBI), Craig Biggio
(.310/.385/.534), Billy Wagner (8 appearances, 6 saves, 0.96 ERA, no walks and
14 K in 9 2/3 IP)
Laggards: Brad Ausmus (.195/.271/.244), Geoff Blum

Starters: 6-3, 3.81 ERA, 5.7 IP/start, 3.26
Relievers: 5-1, 6 SV, 2.36 ERA, 2.86 K/BB

The highlight of the Astros’ two-plus weeks was the
six-pitcher no-hitter in Yankee Stadium - the first no-hitter against the
Yankees there in 51 years. However, the team as a whole has been performing very
well of late, with the offense finally clicking on all cylinders (the Astros
scored 6.3 RPG over the two-week stretch) and the pitchers shining as well (3.25
team ERA). Jeff Bagwell’s power stroke is still missing, but he’s been hitting
well and getting on base, and Richard Hidalgo has six hits in three games,
including two doubles and a HR, since returning from the DL. The Astros’ top six
players, including Ensberg who appears to have taken over at 3B from Blum, have
hit a combined.335/.419/.672 over the past 15 games.

Jimy Williams continues to have a quick hook out for
his starting pitchers even when they are doing well, not allowing them to get
into trouble and relying on his relievers to close the door. Only Cincinnati’s
starters averaged fewer innings than did Houston’s over the past two weeks (the
Pirates had about the same average), even though the ERA of the Astro starters
was the best in the division, as was their OPS against (.676). The bullpen had a
small rocky patch but seems to have recovered from it.

On tap: at NY Yankees 6/12, at Boston 6/13-6/15, vs
Arizona 6/17-6/19, at Texas 6/20-6/22. Once the Astros get clear of their
Eastern trip, they will have a bit of a breather with 12 games against the
Diamondbacks and Rangers followed by 13 games against the bottom three teams in
the NL Central leading up to the All-Star break.


St. Louis

2-2 vs Houston (10-5, 4-7, 3-1, 4-7)
1-2 vs
Pittsburgh (3-7, 3-4, 5-4)
3-0 vs Toronto (11-5, 8-5, 13-5)
2-1 vs
Baltimore (8-6, 1-8, 11-10)
1-1 at Boston (9-7, 1-13)

Streakers: Albert Pujols (.526/.561/.860), Jim
Edmonds (.318/.434/.682), J.D. Drew (.326/.383/.628), Scott Rolen
(.362/.397/.500), Jason Simontacchi (3-0, 3.60 ERA in two starts and one relief
outing), Cal Eldred (4/4 in save opportunities).
Laggards: Miguel Cairo
(.246/.294/.295), Matt Morris (1-0, 6.52 ERA in three starts), Brett Tomko (0-2,
9.30 ERA in four starts)

Starters: 5-5, 5.68 ERA, 6.3 IP/start, 4.31
Relievers: 4-1, 5 SV, 6.69 ERA, 1.63 K/BB

 The Cardinals are finding themselves needing to
win slugfests, because the pitchers have been struggling. Even reliable Matt
Morris was lit up by the Orioles, although the Cards ending up winning that game
anyway. Tony LaRussa has been leaving his starters in the game longer than
usual, because no one in the bullpen has shown any ability to shut down the
opposition consistently, although Eldred seems to have settled in as the closer.
The Carda activated Jason Isringhausen after a couple of rehab outings, but I
would expect him to be used carefully - there was no reason not to give him an
inning in the 13-1 blowout in Boston, but LaRussa chose to let Dustin Hermanson
finish it out.

Pujols has been sizzling. Over the last month (May 12
through June 11) he has hit .450/.488/.829, with 15 doubles, 9 HRs and 29 RBI in
28 games. He has 50 hits in that time frame. With Tino Martinez on the DL,
Albert will likely be spending a lot of time at 1B.

On tap: 6/12 at Boston, 6/13-6/15 at NY Yankees,
6-16/6-19 at Milwaukee, 6/20-6/22 vs Kansas City. The Cardinals will be playing
primarily NL Western division teams leading up to the All-Star break, and have
arguably the most difficult schedule of the contenders in the division, with the
Giants and Dodgers on the docket as well as a key series in Chicago with the


1-2 at Atlanta (7-6, 2-3, 3-15)
2-1 at Florida
(4-3, 2-3, 9-6)
2-1 vs NY Yankees (4-3, 5-2, 2-10)
1-2 vs Toronto (2-9,
9-8, 0-5)
2-0 at Tampa (4-2, 7-6)

Streakers: Jose Guillen (.355/.429/.645), Juan Castro
(.303/.324/.515), Aaron Boone (.319/.373/.489), Jason LaRue (.611
Laggards: Adam Dunn (.128/.358/.359, 13 BB/13 K in 53 PA, 10 runs scored
with just 5 hits), Austin Kearns (.189/.295/.245), John Riedling (0-1, 8.83 ERA
in four starts)

Starters: 2-5, 6.75 ERA, 5.0 IP/start, 1.26
Relievers: 6-1, 4 SV, 4.08 ERA, 2.5 K/BB

Ahh, the Cardiac Reds. Bob Boone has got to be
tearing what’s left of his hair out trying to find someone who can get the game
at least into the seventh inning. The Reds handed Riedling a 6-0 lead after 2
1/2 innings in Tampa on Wednesday, and Riedling gave it all back before the
fifth was over. The Reds have won 17 of their 32 victories this season in their
last at-bat, and in many of those wins the starters squandered early leads. If
it weren’t for Mercker, Heredia, Sullivan, White, Reitsma, and Williamson, Cincy
would be down with the Pirates and Brewers.

The Rob Deer watch on Adam Dunn continues. In 2003,
Dunn has come to the plate 244 times, and has posted one of the Three True
Outcomes in 134 of them (55%). Deer has a 49% ratio over his career. Boone had
Dunn hitting leadoff in several games before dropping him back into the #6 slot
against Dewon Brazelton on Wednesday.

Guillen threw a temper tantrum, along with a couple
of bats, when he wasn’t in the starting lineup for a game recently, after he had
apparently been told he would be starting that night. True, Guillen has been
hitting the snot out of the ball, and I suppose I can’t fault anyone for wanting
to play, but surely he has to realize that as long as Dunn, Griffey, and Kearns
are healthy, he’s going to be the fourth OF.

On tap: 6/12 at Tampa, 6/13-6/15 vs Philadelphia,
6/16-6/19 vs Chicago Cubs, 6/20-6/22 at Arizona. The Reds follow that up with
three at St. Louis and Cleveland, and then play the Pirates, Mets, Astros, and
Brewers prior to the break. There’s a chance for the Reds to move up the
division ladder here, but someone is going to have to step up and anchor the


2-1 at Chicago Cubs (10-0, 9-4, 4-5)
2-1 at St.
Louis (7-4, 4-3, 4-5)
1-2 vs Boston (4-11, 3-8, 5-4)
0-2 at Atlanta (6-8,
0-2 at Toronto (8-13, 5-8)

Streakers: Aramis Ramirez (22-game hitting streak,
.444/.458/.574), Brian Giles (.435/.559/.739), Craig Wilson
Laggards: Jack Wilson (.211/.279/.316), Abraham Nunez/Jeff
Reboulet 2B tandem (combined .234/.306/.297), Kris Benson (1-2, 10.47 ERA in
three starts)

Starters: 4-6, 6.72 ERA, 5.7 IP/start, 1.86
Relievers: 1-2, 2 SV, 4.58 ERA, 1.18 K/BB

At one point in mid-May, the Pirates had the
third-best starters’ ERA in the National League. I doubt that anyone expected
that to last, and it’s starting to unravel. Benson has had nothing the last two
times out, and there are some who think he might be hiding another injury. Jeff
D’Amico has also been cuffed around of late (8.50 ERA in three starts), Jeff
Suppan is starting his normal pitch-less-well-in-hot-weather slide, and Kip
Wells has hit a difficult patch as well. The Pirates need the starters to get
the games into the late innings, because the formerly reliable bullpen has
fallen on hard times, with only Salomon Torres providing consistent

Ramirez has put together one of the quietest 20+ game
hitting streaks around; there’s been very little publicity surrounding it,
certainly nothing like the hype that Kenny Lofton got when he made a run at the
club record earlier this year. Ramirez’s defense has improved in tandem with his
hitting, which is also a normal pattern for him. He’s not hitting for much
power, but with Giles starting to hit like Giles the offense is starting to look
better. Craig Wilson is starting to see more time in right field as his hitting
has warmed up recently, and Jason Kendall is getting on base even though he’s
still not driving the ball as he did before his series on injuries.

On tap: 6/12 at Toronto, 6/13-6/15 at Tampa,
6/17-6/19 vs Montreal, 6/20-6/22 vs Cleveland. The Bucs have a relatively easy
schedule between now and the All-Star break, and their ability to take advantage
of it to climb back into the race could determine whether Lloyd McClendon keeps
his job.


2-1 at San Diego (4-2, 6-8, 3-2)
2-1 at Los
Angeles (5-3, 0-3, 4-3)
2-0 at NY Mets (8-7, 5-3)
1-2 vs Boston (9-3,
10-11, 1-9)
0-2 vs Florida (4-12, 5-6)

Streakers: Scott Podsednik (.370/.414/.500), John
VanderWal (.421/.476/.632), Ben Sheets (2-1, 3.43 ERA in three starts), Royce
Clayton (.314/.442/.543)
Laggards: Glendon Rusch (0-1, 10.32 ERA in two
starts), Geoff Jenkins (.239/.327/.391), Brady Clark

Starters: 3-4, 5.05 ERA, 5.9 IP/start, 1.70
Relievers: 4-2, 6 SV, 5.59 ERA, 1.79 K/BB

After a successful West Coast trip, a sweep of an
abbreviated two-game set in New York, and a win in their interleague opener to
pull within 1/2 game of the Pirates, the Brewers came back to earth on Saturday
when their bullpen blew a 10-4 lead to the Red Sox. The Brew Crew has dropped
four straight, and only a similar slump by the Pirates has managed to keep the
Brewers within shouting distance of fifth place.

The Brewers gave up on both Alex Sanchez (traded to
the Tigers for two minor leaguers on May 27) and Jeffrey Hammonds (released on
June 4). Podsednik has been a pleasant surprise since moving into the starting
lineup, as he’s helped both the offense and the outfield defense, which has been
much better with Podsednik out there.

After slagging on Royce Clayton in my last article, I
feel it’s only fair to give him his due; he has been one of the most productive
hitters in Milwaukee’s lineup since ending his 3-59 slide. However, Jenkins and
Richie Sexson have been slumping, and with both big guns struggling the Brewers
have difficulty scoring runs consistently.

The pitching actually hasn’t been all that bad.
Rotation starters Sheets, Wayne Franklin, and Matt Kinney have been generally
effective, although it’s pretty clear that the last two are best suited as
back-end-of-the-rotation fillers. The Brewers have also been getting good
bullpen work from young lefty Matt Ford and righties Leo Estrella and Curtis
Leskanic, and Mike DeJean has been generally effective as the closer (although
he did blow a save in the 11-10 debacle).

On tap: 6/12 vs Florida, 6/13-6/15 at Baltimore,
6/16-6/19 vs St. Louis, 6/20-6/22 vs Minnesota. The Brewers have a tough stretch
immediately after those series, with the Cubs, Twins, and Astros on the road,
before coming home leading up to the break with the Rockies, Pirates, and


Mike Emeigh Posted: June 13, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 4 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Jason Posted: June 13, 2003 at 02:15 AM (#611490)
Rotation starters Sheets, Wayne Franklin, and Matt Kinney have been generally effective, although it's pretty clear that the last two are best suited as back-end-of-the-rotation fillers.

Huh? By both BP metrics and ERA Kinney has been the Brewers best starter this year and looks like a little more than rotation filler. Cory Lidle comes to mind a mid range pitcher that will solidify any staff by being suitable in slots 3-5. Sheets has looked more like a #4 racking up innings like no tommorrow while doing OK. Franklin I'm not sure about, but your comment would have made more sense if you flipped Kinney and Sheets while acknowledging that both are young enough and have the stuff to take it up a notch
   2. H. Vaughn Posted: June 13, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#611496)
"Is there a timetable for Choi's return? I haven't heard..."

He was cleared by a doctor yesterday but has to be out two weeks due to some complication involving the Cub's insurance. The Cub Reporter page linked elsewhere on this site has details.
   3. Srul Itza Posted: June 13, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#611529)
As regards Jimy Williams' pulling his starters early, and the following note that their ERA and OPSA was the best in the division: Maybe the former is the reason for the latter? This could result in a bullpen melt down later in the year, so there has to be some balancing, but maybe Jimy is very good at knowing when his pitchers are about to lose it, and acts before it goes bad, instead of after?
   4. Mike Emeigh Posted: June 13, 2003 at 02:16 AM (#611535)
Huh? By both BP metrics and ERA Kinney has been the Brewers best starter this year and looks like a little more than rotation filler.

I was a little hard on Kinney. I was going on a couple of his recent outings where he seemed to run out of gas after about five innings, and I somehow got the sense from that that Yost has been pulling him at the first hint of trouble, which would have the effect of protecting his ERA. It's not like that at all - although Yost does have a quicker hook with Kinney than he does with Sheets, Kinney is averaging nearly 6 1/2 innings per start (whereas Franklin is under 6). Kinney has been a bit hit-lucky (.261 BA/BIP), but so have Sheets (.260) and Franklin (.250). (The Brewers appear to have a very good defense, which has gotten better since Podsednik took over in CF.)

I do look at IP/start as an important metric. A pitcher with a decent ERA who is constantly being pulled before completing 6 innings is generally the type of guy who is either (a) injury-prone or (b) unable to carry games beyond 5 innings - in neither case do I consider that pitcher as a good front-of-the-rotation candidate. Yost has been doing that with Franklin a lot, but not with Kinney. The Lidle comparison seems apt.

-- MWE

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