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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, July 03, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. Central
The A.L. Central through July 1st.
The Twins were an unpleasantly mediocre 5-7 since the last BiWR. In and of itself that’s not too bad, until you consider that: A) they lost the four games preceding that stretch; B) 3 of those 5 wins came off the lousy Brewers; and C) against the teams chasing them in the division, KC and Chicago, they lost 4 of 6.
The Twins starting staff has been a complete disaster area recently. Lohse was twice bombed by Milwaukee. Mays threw a really nice game against KC and then gave up 12 earned runs in 5.2 innings in his next games (both against the ChiSox, whom he had previously owned.) Rogers gave up 10 runs in 10 innings in his first two starts since the last BiWR, before pitching well at home against the Brewers. Radke had a good outing and then a rough one. Reed had a tough luck loss against the White Sox but gave up 10 runs in his other two. That’s four decent starts in two weeks, which explains most of their recent problems. Paging Mr. Santana, Mr. Johan Santana.
A. J. Pierzynski’s sore knee kept him out of the last two games of the second Brewers series. Gardenhire opted for Matt LeCroy in both games over the rotting carcass of Tom Prince. The Brewers Scott Podsednik surely had to endure the taunts of his teammates after being the only person that LeCroy has thrown out stealing this year (6 steals, one caught in 8 starts). A. J. started on the 30th, getting three hits including a homer and a wicked liner off Gary Glover.
Christian Guzman has missed a couple of astroturf games in the past week because of chronic swelling in his knee. Hocking filled in well.
Because he is hitting 357/426/571, Lew Ford continues to be spelled in at all OF positions. Look for Ford to get extra time in LF since Jacque Jones tweaked a groin muscle Monday. Mientkiewicz also was temporarily injured Mondy, fouling a ball off his knee.
Reed came off the D.L., banishing Tony Fiore back to Rochester.
The First Half, month by month:
The Minnesota Twins went 11-14 in April, 19-9 in May and 12-14 in June. The 2003 Twins have been a Jekyl and Hyde team thus far. They started the season 3-9, beating only Detroit. Then they won six straight, three more against Detroit. New York, KC and Chicago took eight of nine from the Twins, before they rebounded for massive 21-6 stretch against Boston, Seattle and Oakland (but also Tampa, Chicago and KC who were all playing badly at the time). They lost five of six, then won six of eight before going on their current 5-11 stretch. The Twins are the poster children for Bipolar disorder.
Minnesota’s pitching has been the primary reason for their recent woes (and, to a lesser extent, their May surge). It’s awful tough to win much when you allow the opposition a .795 OPS. The more disturbing thing is that there are not a whole lot of alternatives to their current rotation. Sure, they could/should put Santana in the rotation, but he can’t replace all five existing starters. Their best starter thus far, Kyle Lohse was shelled in June (6.21 ERA) making his 1.92 ERA in May look like the aberration. Brad Radke has been consistently bad all year, with monthly ERAs of 6.21, 5.04 and 5.51. Joe Mays has been butt awful with an ERA of 7.00 in 68 May and June innings. Here are Mays’s ERAs for the last three four years: 5.56, 3.16, 5.38, 6.30. As they used to sing on Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the other.” Kenny Rogers had a 6.12 ERA in June to follow his 4.83 May ERA and, despite striking out about 6 batters per game, the opposition is still hitting .302 off of him with a robust .795 OPS. Rick Reed has two months of 6.26 ERA and 6.48 ERA surrounding his 2.78 ERA in May. Moreover, Rogers and Reed are 75 years old between them. It’s not impossible for the Twins starters to turn it around in the second half. After the All-star break last year, Reed had a 2.88 ERA and Lohse was 3.04. Santana could take a rotation spot and, I guess, Milton could make a miraculous comeback and maybe there’s still some life in Bert Blyleven’s arm, but right now it looks grim.
As ineffective as the Twins rotation has been, their lineup has been that strong. After a weak April in which they could only hit Detroit pitchers, they lineup has really been strong. Led by Corey Koskie, the Twins lineup features guys that can get on base (Koskie, Kielty, Mientky) and guys that have been slugging them home (A.J., Mientky, Jones, LeCroy, Mohr, Hunter). If anything, the Twins could generate even more runs in the second half since they’ve hit very poorly with runners on base this year (259/406/324). Another good sign is that they have continued to increase their walk rate from month-to-month.
Down on the Farm:
Despite Justin Morneau’s recall to the majors the Twins system is still stocked with interesting prospects. Michael Cuddyer, who lost his starting RF job in Minneapolis in May, tore up the IL in a 20 game stint going 364/476/485 with 5 doubles (but only one HR) and 15 walks in 20 games. He has been on the DL for all but a few days since May 29 with a strained left hammy.
Claimed off waivers from Milwaukee during the off-season, Jeff Deardorff, 24, has clubbed the ball in both New Britain and (for a short spell) Rochester, putting up .500 slugging averages in both locales while playing both first and third. Like several Twins, he has managed to post a solid batting average (.299 in AAA and .312 in AA) despite atrocious plate discipline (a combined 12/67 BB/K ratio).
Call me sentimental but 31-year old lefty Carlos Pulido is a nice story. He’s been the Red Wings best starter this year, going 7-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 16 starts. His numbers are not particularly pretty (93 IP, 95 hits, 23/56 K/BB and 9 HRs) but I’m rooting for him to get back to the majors after a nine year absence. Certainly, he’d be no worse than James “Mount Baldy” Baldwin (2.45 in 22 IP at AAA).
At New Britain, uberprospect Joe Mauer has struggled since being promoted (244/333/289 in 49 PAs). At age 24, Josh Rabe is a little olds for his level but he has built on a fine 2002 at Ft. Myers to post a 312/374/462 season thus far, while moving from his normal corner OF spot to center. Reliever Jesse Crain, 22, has been nearly unhittable in his minor league career. He’s struck out 56 in 39 innings while posting a 0.69 ERA. But here’s the stunning part—he’s allowed just 13 (!!!) hits this year giving him a two year minor league total of 23 hits in 66 innings.
Fun with paces:
Jacque Jones ? 299/314/473, 144 games, 20 homers, 41 doubles, 14/128 BB/K, 12/14 SBs
7/1/-7/2 ? @White Sox
This last stretch of games before the All-Star break will be determined by which Twins team shows up. If it’s the Twins of May, they may be able to beat up a bit on some of the AL’s weak sisters and put some distance between themselves and Royals and White Sox. If late June trends carry over into July, then Minnesota will be hard pressed to fend off the surging Indians (more on this later) or best the AL West trailers on the road.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS (42-38 ? 2nd Place)
The Royals were 7-6 despite being outscored 67-86. Actually, that’s somewhat misleading, since KC won seven of nine to temporarily seize first place on the 27th only to get thoroughly thrashed (outscored 44-25) by the Cardinals and Indians since then. Unfortunately for Royals fans, these last four games are more indicative of how the team has pitched since their terrific start than the streak of ten wins in twelve games that shot them to the top. They had 5 well-pitched games in their last 13 (3 against impotent Cleveland) but in their other games they yielded 6, 16, 4, 8, 13, 13, 10 and 8 runs.
That said, it was still quite an accomplishment for the Royals to take first place. The Royals did it by, of all things, outslugging their opposition, despite the loss of the fragile cornerstone of their offense, Mike Sweeney. Who’d have thought that team an offense led by Angel Berroa, Ken Harvey, Michael Tucker and Carlos Beltran could score runs? The best news of all of this, to me anyway, has been the contributions of Aaron Guiel. Guiel spent seven years in the Angel and Padres’ systems drawing walks and hitting for some power. No one could have predicted that he would be in the majors after he spent three years as a AAA platoon hitter and a Mexico League refugee. Thus far, he done just what his minor league numbers said that he could do, hit 270/340/460.
Mike Sweeney left the lineup on June 18 with upper back tightness and nerve irritation and was unable to help in the Royals’ surge. On June 26, he joined Miguel Asencio, Runelvys Hernandez, Mendy Lopez and Dee Brown on the disabled list. Morgan Burkhart was purchased from Omaha (where he was hitting 266/373/443) when Sweeney went down. He’s part of rotating DH/OF/1B thing that Tony Pena has going and has hit.
It looked for a while like Desi Relaford might permanently displace Carlos Febles from second, but Pena has continued to give Febles the bulk of the playing time while subbing Relaford around, including in right field against some lefties.
Hernandez will make at least one more start at Wichita, after complaining of continuing elbow stiffness. Jose Lima, who currently holds his rotation slot, has pitched very well thus far (2-0, 3.44 ERA in 18 innings), but is unlikely to keep that up with a 2.45 K/9 rate. Lima’s only homer thus far was given to Barry Bonds.
The First Half, month by month:
Sandwiched between a fiery 16-7 April and a 15-12 June, the Royals slogged their way through a 10-19 May. Their two successful months have been quite unlike each other.
KANSAS CITY PITCHING
The Royals tore though April on the strength of their pitching, specifically Runelvys Hernandez and the bullpen. Since then the pitching has been a disaster, finishing 13th in the AL in May and June. Some of this, however, is a park illusion. It’s difficult for those of us who came of age in the 1980s to understand this, but Kauffman/Royals Stadium is now a hitter’s park. A big, big, whopping huge hitters park. KC’s home ERA is a horrible 6.07 (leading only fellow bandbox resident Texas at 6.54) but, unlike the Rangers, their road ERA is an eminently respectable 4.19, fifth in the AL. Obviously, some of this about sample size and some just noise, but it is still worth considering.
KANSAS CITY HITTING
As mentioned earlier, Kansas City?s offense carried them through a strong June. Their 155 runs were tied with the Yankees for the third best AL out put for June, and only four runs less than Toronto. Before his disabling, Sweeney carried the team with 364/470/600 output, but helping him out were Angel Berroa, who went nuts to the tune of 327/383/592, Ken Harvey (333/389/561), Michael Tucker (300/385/500) and Carlos Beltran (303/410/434). Joe Randa improved upon his .450 OPS of May (how could he not?) but remained a less than valuable 284/319/409 in June.
Down on the Farm:
Kansas City’s AAA affiliate is well stocked with veteran minor leaguers. Of their “real” prospects there, 22-year old OFer Alex Gomez is having a tough go at it (255/294/393) after doing well in his second AA year in 2002 and David DeJesus, who was recently promoted after hitting the snot out of the ball in Wichita, is hitting 287/413/460 in 87 at bats.
Wichita has more talent. Speedy second baseman Alejandro Machado, acquired from Atlanta for Rey Sanchez, is doing a nice job of getting on base (287/368/377). Outfielders Byron Gettis (324/382/513), 23, and Tydus Meadows (294/368/479), 25, have put up fine numbers in a pitchers park and 24-year old catcher Scott Walter is on a hot streak hitting well after his promotion from Wilmington. Wichita has two strong pitchers in lefty, first rounder Jimmy Gobble, 21, who has struck out 76 in 99 innings, and Mike Natale, 23, who has a 16/57 BB/K ratio in 45 innings and a 2.55 ERA between AA and AAA.
Wilmington’s keystone combination, 19-year old SS Andres Blanco (261/344/326) and second baseman Ruben Gotay (277/359/420), 20, have shown flashes of promise and 1B/OF Trey Dyson (295/378/462) has been very good considering that his park tends to favor pitchers. KC’s Hi A pitchers have been very strong Nineteen year old Zack Greinke, first round pick in 2002, is having as good a year as is possible with a 10-1 record, 1.24 ERA and only 55 hits and 13 walks to go with 73 strikeouts in 80 innings. Greinke’s rotationmates, Zach McClellan (2.86 ERA with a 21/55 BB/K ratio) and Kyle Middleton (2.34 but only a 22/38 BB/K rate) have performed well so far also.
At Low-A, Burlington 2B/SS Donald Murphy has gotten on base (295/388/408) and flashed some speed (10 of 11 in stolen bases). Colt Griffin, he whose 100+ MPH radar gun reading vaulted into the first round of 2001, has been solid if wild, but his fellow pitcher Jonah Bayliss (2.69 ERA with 45/80 BB/K and 60 hits in 80 innings) and Keran Mattison (2.50 ERA and 77 hits and 25/83 BB/K in 101 (!) innings) have been a good deal better at much less cost.
Fun with paces:
Carlos Beltran, ? 285/385/469, 127 games, 23 homers, 84 runs, 84 RBIs, 74/76 BB/K, 39/41 SBs
7/1-7/2 ? Cleveland
The Royals been tested by Tribe this year (although they have managed to win most of the contests) but they do get four games against the Worst Team Ever (TM) to balance that out. Road games against the bottom of the AL West could be a break, but as Joaquin Andujar once said, “youneverknow.”
CHICAGO WHITE SOX (40-42 ? 3rd Place)
The White Sox posted a satisfying 8-4, picking up three games on the Twins and one and half on the Royals in that stretch. More impressive is that the Sox bested good teams (Red Sox, Cubs and Twins) during this time. The Sox dormant offense began to stir, scoring 61 runs, but it was the pitching, which held the opposition to just 41 runs, that carried the weight. Three of their four losses were by one run.
The Sox have become dissatisfied with D’Angelo Jimenez’s contributions. Jimenez was constantly on base in April (396 OBP) and May (375 OBP) but he fell hard in June to 187/235/330. When he stopped hitting, the jock radio circuit began to notice his fielding and base running gaffes (including two ill-timed screw-ups in a week.) To be honest, Jimenez’s defense has been less than stellar all season, ranking eighth in the AL in ZR, and he’s been just brutal on the double play. It got so bad recently that Jerry Manuel replaced him with the impotent Wilie Harris. Not that any of this really matters now that the Sox have acquired Roberto Alomar, but it does show how this team can be blind to their needs. The main offensive problem that the Sox have is that they can’t get on base, yet they are quickly ready to dispose of a guy with on-base skills for a 196/213/228 hitting speedster because he has, in words of television commentator Darrin Jackson, “the look in his eyes of a guy who wants to be an All Star.” Hopefully, Kenny Williams will keep Jimenez around to be his utility guy and occasional platoon partner for Crede, Valentin and Alomar. [Jimenez was designated for assignment on July 2 - DS] More likely, the Sox will banish him to Charlotte so that they can the run the fleet Harris out there.
While Harris has been playing second, the Sox have, belatedly, turned CF over to Aaron Rowand. Rowand suffered serious injuries in an off-season dirt bike accident and then began the season by hitting .133, before being sent to Charlotte. Rowand is not anything all that impressive with the bat, maybe a 260/320/450 hitter, but he is an extremely capable defensive centerfielder. I mean primo good, grade A, prime cut, gold glove caliber centerfielder. Yet, no one seems to understand this. Willie Harris might remind one of Willie Wilson; Joe Borchard looks like Dale Murphy but Rowand? Nothing. However, Rowand has posted the best ZRs of any AL centerfielder (minimum 200 innings) for three consecutive years now. In addition, Rowand is now hitting (375/429/719 in June). That said, I expect Jerry Manuel to use Willie Harris there after Alomar’s arrival.
I’ve never understood the ChiSox obsession with Josh Paul (the height of which was when the left Mark Johnson off the 2000 postseason roster for Paul), however, their handling of him this year boggles the mind. The resigning of Alomar to “tutor” Miguel Olivo forced the Sox to either send Paul to the minors, exposing him to waivers, or keep three catchers. The chose the former and Paul cleared waivers but when they tried the same trick this week (to activate Alomar) Paul opted for free agency. Paul’s no great shakes but he can hit adequately for a backup catcher, has some speed and is cheap. When Alomar goes down with his next injury the Sox will be forced to turn to 31-year old career minor leaguer Jamie Burke.
Frank Thomas, who bat came alive after he moved back to first base, has been restricted to DHing because of a sore ankle. He’s still hitting. Brian Daubach and (eek) Paul Konerko have played first in his stead.
The First Half, month by month:
The White Sox who just three weeks ago were, to quote Aaron Gleeman, “just a mess, plain and simple” have played good baseball since venturing into Chavez Ravine on June 6. They went 14-12 in April, 11-16 in May and 15-13 in June. Their pitching staff, which looked lost in May, rebounded to post numbers as good or better than they did in April.
In June, Chicago pitchers walked few batters and yielded few extra base hits. Their pitching staff was like a photo negative of the A’s.
Esteban Loaiza continued to baffle ALers and pundits alike by posting a 3-1, 2.57 month, thanks to 5/37 BB/K ratio and 7.93 strikeouts per nine innings. Mark Buehrle began to reclaim his season (3.83 ERA) by upping his K rate to 6.30 in June. Even Danny Wright turned in three good starts in four (3.42 ERA) in June. Garland’s month was marred by one really bad outing in Arizona and Colon’s by one really bad pitch to Barry Bonds (plus two other rough outings). Rick White (1.35 ERA) and Damaso Marte (2.93 ERA) were good in June, while Koch (22 baserunners and only 6 strikeouts in 13 innings) brought his gas can into 14 crucial situations.
While sports radio pundits have bellowed about how the Sox should try more bunting and “situational hitting” since slugging has not worked for them, the Sox problem is much more simple. They cannot get on base. Only three ChiSox have a better than league average OBP: Thomas, .426; Ordonez, .360; and part-timer Brian Daubach, .350. So, Sox fans must be pleased they began to “take a few” in June, turning in their best walk rate of the season. Thomas led the way by hitting 333/468/678 in June, but Rowand and Daubach also contributed with 1.000+ OPSs and Maggs Ordonez went 281/389/510. Jose Valentin, whose bat disappeared in May (153/217/271), hit 278/383/489 in June.
As related earlier, Jimenez led the June no shows but he had plenty of company, including Carlos Lee, who had to get hot versus the Cubs to raise his June numbers to an uninspiring 269/319/407. Joe Crede (244/299/367), Miguel Olivo (188/260/362), Tony Graffanino (205/255/227) and, of course, Paul Konerko (an astonishing 098/174/098) helped drag down the Chicago production.
Down on the Farm:
The White Sox AAA Charlotte team is not good. Minor league vet, Ross Gload (349/385/553) has been great but the park’s short RF porch really helps left-handed hitters. Former QB and $5 million dollar man, Joe Borchard (223/267/355) has been just horrendous. Soon to be ex-prospect Timmy Hummel (273/344/412) is faring only marginally better in his second season at AAA. Despite years of success while never being deemed a “prospect,” Aaron Miles continues hit (323/359/498) continues to hit and could be an alternative for 2003, if the Sox choose to let Robbie Alomar go. Matt Ginter (2.05 with 16/36 BB/K in 48 innings) is ready to step in if any of the big club’s relievers falter and big, tall guy Jon Rauch (18/55 BB/K in 74 innings) seems to have recovered his stuff after having a “minor” shoulder surgery in 2001.
Former Tigers prospect Gabe Alvarez is having a great season for Birmingham (312/405/502), not that it really matters. Ray Durham’s little brother, Chad, is still on the team, despite never hitting anywhere for any length of time. OFer Jeremy Reed has gone insane (455/500/705 in 44 ABs) since being promoted from Winston-Salem, where he was hitting 333/431/477. Birmingham plays in a big park that has made is easy for the Sox to develop pitchers there, so that they may be shipped off to other franchises —relievers, like Joe Valentine and Royce Ring, are there specialty. This year’s crop includes Jeff Bejanaru (2.56 and 14/38 BB/K in 38 innings) and Clay Eason (13/38 BB/K in 38 innings) now at Charlotte. Now that Dennis Ulacia, Corwin Malone and Brian West have stalled in their development, the Barons best pitcher is 23-year old lefty Neal Cotts (1.83 ERA with 43 hits and 39/96 BB/K in 68 innings), who came to the Sox in the Foulke/Koch deal.
The other minor leaguer in that deal was OFer Daylan Holt (266/343/441), who has begun to show hints of promise at Winston-Salem. Casey Rogowski lost most of 2002 to injury, but continues to demonstrate a good batting eye (277/392/399). Organizational favorite/local boy OF Mike Spidale (289/376/373) and 2B Ruddy (nee Edwin) Yan (304/370/360) have drawn many walks despite the fact that they have a measley 27 extra base hits and only one homer between them. First rounder/local boy Kris Honel (2.44 with 26/81 BB/K in 88 innings) has been inched along by the organization but continues to develop well. Lefty Ryan Wing, a second rounder in the 2001 draft, has been extremely good, despite a less than awesome 36/62 BB/K ratio in 87 innings.
SS prospect Andy Gonzalez (230/345/294), 21, has struggled at Low-A Kannapolis thus far. Toolsy 20-year old CFer Anthony Webster (297/366/369) continues to do a good job of getting on base. Nobody except lefty Paulino Reynoso (2.89 with 57 hits and 43/70 BB/K in 84 innings) has done much on the pitching staff, although project Josh Rupe (3.09, 51Ks in 46 innings) seems to have harnessed some of his talent.
Fun with paces:
Magglio Ordonez ? 285/360/503, 158 games, 28 homers, 38 doubles, 90 runs, 92 RBIs, 62/76 BB/K, 12/16 SBs, 24 GDPs
7/1-7/2 ? Minnesota
The ChiSox have two more important games at home against the division leading, but struggling, Twins. Then they get a week off to see the sights of Tampa/St. Pete and Detroit/Windsor. Seriously, the last time that the Sox played Detroit, the Tigers took two out of three in Chicago. The four games in three days against the Tribe could be either a springboard for the second half of the season or something for the Sox fickle fans to point to as a reason to stay away from The Ballpark Formerly Known as Comiskey Park.
CLEVELAND INDIANS (34-47? 4th Place)
The Indians went 7-6, thanks mostly to their kiddie korps. Their biggest disappointment came in a three game series against Kansas City at the Jake. They yielded the hot Royals only 10 runs in the series but lost three straight because they only mustered three runs of their own. The reaped some modicum of revenge by bashing KC for 18 runs in a sweep of a June 30 doubleheader.
Cleveland activated Karim Garcia and then immediately dumped him and Dan Micelli on the Yankees. In Garcia’s absence, Eric Wedge has rotated Matt Lawton, Milton Bradley, Jody Gerut and Coco Crisp between the three outfield positions and DH. GM Mark Shapiro has also said that this could also lead to playing time for talented Grady Sizemore, Alex Escobar and Ryan Church, but I would not hold your breath. Of the three, only Sizemore is hitting much and he’s still two levels away at Akron. To take Miceli’s middle relief spot, Cleveland called up former Twins reliever Jack Cressend, 2-0 with a save and a 0.00 ERA in 16 innings at Buffalo with a 2/10 BB/K ratio.
The Tribe finally recalled catcher Victor Martinez from Buffalo, where he was pasting the ball to the tune of 328/395/474 despite a slow start. Martinez has started three of the four games since, so, hopefully, Wedge will allow the kid to catch regularly and let the stolen bases be damned. Josh Bard was sent away.
The Indians are of mixed minds about the back of their bullpen and rotation. Brian Tallet was optioned to get another arm for the bullpen, Jose Santiago. Santiago, who yielded a butt load of hits in his first stint with the Tribe this year, was 2-0 with 2 saves and 0.82 ERA in 33 innings at Buffalo. The Indians then played yo-yo with Santiago designating him for assignment and recalling him on July 1. . The reason for this? So that they could give a start to promising left hander Cliff Lee, who was brought up to start one of the June 30 doubleheader games. Lee pitched effectively (three hits, three walks, five strikeouts and two unearned runs in six innings), before being shipped back to Buffalo for Santiago. Jake Westbrook was sent to Buffalo despite pitching very well in June (1.93 ERA in 14 innings).
Rickey Gutierrez returned from the DL to fill in at SS for Vizquel.
The First Half, month by month:
Since their dreadful 7-19 start in April, Cleveland has played .500 ball (14-12 in May and 13-15 in June). And they certainly haven’t done it, at least not recently, with hitting.
The Indians pitchers in June were just great. As a group they were stingy with the longball and nearly stopped walking guys altogether. Brian Anderson (3-1, 3.19) and rookie Jason Davis (3-2, 3.02) led the way. Davis has yet to learn how to use his low 90s heat to get strikeouts but some of that is to be expected given that he is a 23-year-old rookie who skipped AAA. Moved into the rotation, Billy Traber continued to produce, giving the Indians four solid starts in five trips to the bump. And nothing but praise could be heaped upon the bullpen, which featured David Riske (2.84 ERA and 4/13 BB/K in 12 innings), Jason Boyd (3.14 ERA and 4/11 BB/K in 14 innings), Danys Baez (1.80 ERA and 2/11 BB/K in 15 innings), Miceli (1.38 ERA), Westbrook.
Given the loss of both Vizquel and Burks it’s not suprising that Cleveland didn’t do much in the way of scoring runs in June, but there were still several positives. While their power disappeared, the young Indians did a fine job of drawing walks. We expect Lawton to draw his share of walks and, after a slow start he has (hitting 277/398/465 in June), but seeing Milton Bradley and Jody Gerut draw walks like they did in the minors is promising. After getting only seven free passes in April, Bradley has drawn 35 since. Gerut, who is healthy for the first time in his career, has thrived as he has become familiar with the MLB zone. His walks per AB has steadily improved month-by-month (0/17 BB/AB in April, 2/66 in May and 12/99 in June), suggesting promise for his future development. Additionally, Casey Blake had a nice June (307/356/489) thanks in large part to a huge to his 5 for 8 performance with 2 homers in a doubleheader on the last day of the month.
However, since Cleveland only scored a hair more than four runs per game in June something must have been very bad too. For starters, Tim Laker out hit Ben Broussard (239/307/348), who had begun the season strongly. Josh Bard took his 241/292/310 June to Buffalo. Coco Crisp has only managed 211/294/303 thus far in his extended audition. Brandon Phillips got worse, as unlikely as that sounds. Phillips hit 202/231/253 in June, managing only four extra base hits and four walks in 99 at bats.
Down on the Farm:
Pitchers: After taking down all comers at Akron 1.44 ERA 14/35 BB/K in 62 innings), Jeremy Guthrie, the Indians’ first round selection in 2002, has struggled at Buffalo despite a strong 4/1 K/BB ratio. You would like to see him have a better K/9 ratio but he’s pitched very well for a guy with no previous minor league experience. Cliff Lee has pitched very well at both AA and AAA. The Akron Aeros rotation of fireballer Fernando Cabrera (7-2, 2.33 with 28/85 BB/K in 81 innings), former Dodger farmhand Francisco Cruceta (3.21 with a 35/69 BB/K in 84 innings), Kyle Denney (2.35 with a 23/77 BB/K in 88 innings) and Kyle Evans (2.91 with 18/43 BB/K in 77 innings) have all been strong. And Aeros reliever Rafael Betancourt (1.39 ERA with a 13/75 BB/K in 45 innings) has been completely dominant. At Kinston prospects J. D. Martin and Brian Slocum have both struggled. The entire Low-A rotation has pitched well: Fausto Carmona (1.78 and a 5/1 K/BB ratio); Jake Dittler (2.19 in 70 innings with 14/66 BB/K); 20-year old Dan Denham (3.08 in 73 innings with 22/63 BB/K); lefty Keith Ramsey (2.68 in 90 innings with 7/70 BB/K) and 19-year old Sean Smith (3.58 with 61 hits and 40/68 BB/K in 75 innings). The tremendously low ERAs and amazing strikeout to walk ratios lead me to believe that Lake County is a big daddy of a pitcher’s park.
Hitters: In Buffalo, “blue chipper” Alex Escobar (240/282/436) continues to disappoint, while the demoted Travis Hafner (292/489/338) seems to have regained his batting eye if not his power stroke. As mentioned earlier, Ryan Church (259/337/462) is struggling at Akron but 20-year old CFer Grady Sizemore is delivering on his promise (302/358/472). Third baseman Corey Smith has also had many troubles (242/307/360). Kinston’s big park has really taken the starch out of the hitters’ numbers but lefthanded OFer Luke Scott still managed to batter the ball around (278/460/498) before being promoted to Akron. In Low-A Lake County, OFer Jason Cooper was hitting 298/385/553 when he was promoted to the FSL and 23-year old 3B Shaun Larkin is hitting 27/381/481. Phenom SS Chris De La Cruz is laboring at 239/303/273.
Fun with paces:
Milton Bradley ? 339/440/517, 132 games, 12 homers, 51 doubles, 83 runs, 85/99 BB/K, 26/34 SBs
7/1-7/2 ? @Kansas City
Cleveland’s pitched well against KC recently and beat them in the first two games of the series. Then they get to play the Twins as they are struggling. The Indians are playing for anything this year, but seven games in six days at home against the hulking Yankees and resurgent White Sox will give them more information about their youngsters.
DETROIT TIGERS (19-61 ? 5th Place)
Searching for a place in history, the Tigers went 2-11 in the last two weeks. That drops their winning percentage to near record pace of .238, only slightly behind the 1916 Athletics .235. At this pace, however, they would lose a record 123 games. To avoid 100 losses, the Tigers must go 44-38 the rest of the way. .
Is it really over? Is the Brandon Inge era really over? The Tigers optioned Inge to Toledo on June 18th, picking up the contract of well-traveled backstop A. J. Hinch (hitting 263/319/437 in AAA). So, is Inge the worst hitter ever? Hmm, it’s close. Before he went on to be a genius manager, Paul Richards was, like Inge, a strong armed/ no bat catcher for the Giants and Athletics of the 1930s. Like Inge, Richards was aged 24-26 in his first major league stint and posted OPS+ totals of 30, 26 and 69. He was then banished to the Three-I League or some such place before the World War II and a desperate Tigers team rescued him from oblivion. During the war, Richards was a good enough hitter (OPS+ totals of 71, 76, 89) to support his superlative defense and he helped the Tigers win the 1945 World Series. Thus far, Inge has put up OPS+ totals of 20 (!), 63 and, with his 2003 totals of 150/225/275, probably something like 40. It is a tribute to how bad the Tigers have been that they have 677 at bats to arguably the worst hitter ever.
Carlos Pena was activated from the DL and he has gone 6 for 13 with 3 walks and a double in his four games back.
Bobby Higginson is “banged up,” according to Alan Trammell and missed the last two games of the month.
They exiled Franklyn German, the largest man ever, to Toledo for being unable to find home plate, even with the help of a map, compass and night vision goggles. German had a 32/34 BB/K ratio in 32 innings this year. The Tigers called up Chris Mears, who had pitched competently enough as a swingman for Toledo (5-1, 2.92 ERA with 49 hits, 18 walks and 26 strikeouts in 49 innings).
Matt Roney has made two starts during the last two weeks and while neither was effective, he was limited in his innings and forced to pitch against Boston and in Coors Field. Roney has been effective as a reliever this year, limiting opponents to .205 average.
The First Half, month by month:
It’s a sign of how bad this team is that their 11-18 May, sandwiched as it was between a 3-20 April and a 5-22 June, looks like a bright and shining moment. Is there anything positive that we can say about this team thus far? Let’s try.
The Tigers pitching staff has been their sole reason for optimism this year. Unfortunately, the staff was just brutal in June. Sure, Mike Maroth (2-2, 3.19) was very good and Jeremy Bonderman had a decent month (4.50 ERA and a 7/21 BB/K ratio in 36 innings) despite going 0-5. Penmen on the opposite ends of their careers Jamie Walker and Wil Ledezma were quietly effective in June. The rest of the staff was rancid. Adam Bernero was 0-5 with a 6.07 ERA and a lousy BB/K ratio and Nate Cornejo (53 hits and an 11/6 BB/K ratio in 32) continues to demonstrate the dangers or rushing a pitcher to the big leagues.