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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Friday, August 01, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. Central
The A.L. Central through July 30th.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS (57-46? 1st Place)
Taking advantage of an easy portion of their schedule, the Royals were 9-3 and to open up a 7 game cushion in their division before the break. They then led off the “second half” by going 6-5 to yield a 15-8 record in July. Led by Beltran, Tucker, Harvey and Aaron Guiel, the offense scored 5.5 runs per game. Their pitching staff yielded only 3.8 runs a game during this stretch thanks to strong efforts by Darrell May and Jose Lima and 17 shutout innings by relievers Leskanic, MacDougal, Kris Wilson and Nate Field. Before we get too excited, the Royals did face Cleveland, Detroit and Texas during their little streak. They only faced one decent team, the Angels, and they lost two out of three them. After taking three out of four from the scuffling Mariners following the break, the Royals plodded through a stretch of games featuring Oakland, Minnesota and Detroit. They only played well against Detroit in that stretch. That said, facing bad teams is not a guarantee for success (as the White Sox proved earlier in the month) and the Royals did exactly what they had to do during the first two weeks of July.
We definitely have to start saying that there is something going on here. This team is increasingly reminding me of a host of teams (2002 Angels, 2001 Twins, 2000 White Sox, 1999 Reds, 1998 Cubs . . . ) that played well all year despite all despite a chorus of seers that told us that “they can?t keep playing this well.” Is it possible that the Royals will collapse in the second half? Sure. Their pythags are not impressive. And they?ve played like dog crap against good teams (just 6-21 vs AL teams with winning records in the first half). However, until recently, their pythags were the best in their division and no one had a winning record until after the break. And they?ve played very, very well against the teams that they?ve needed to beat ? going 32-11 vs. the AL Central. So, those may not count for much. Also on the plus side, there really isn?t anyone on the Royals that is playing out of their heads and if they get Sweeney back (Sweeney?s back back?) and/or someone like Juan Gonzalez in a trade, they can probably continue playing well.
The news is better for Mike Sweeney, who was able to swing the bat 100 times and has been pain-free for two weeks, but he is still out indefinitely. He is excited about his examination by a spine specialist. “He gave me a trunk-stabilization program to help my posture and help my disk heal,” said Sweeney. Trunk stabilization program? Is acupuncture and herbal tea next? The most disturbing part of this is that the original word the injury was that it had nothing to do with last year?s disk problems. So, which is it?
Desi Relaford has been batting strictly left-handed during July because of a nagging wrist injury. He?s killed the ball while batting right handed this year and he says that he?ll return to batting from that side after the break.
Runelvys Hernandez returned from the DL and threw three really good innings against the Rangers. But he seemed to tire rapidly in the fourth falling behind almost every batter and giving up three runs. Mixed signals from this start.
Joe Randa, who?s strained his left oblique, has been replaced a platoon of Relaford and Julio Matos (292/327/400 at Omaha), the best player ever to come out of South Suburban (IL) JuCo. Randa?s back now, but he?s been awful.
Good news: Chris George (9-6, 7.11) has been banished. Bad News: The Royals? search for a bullpen lefty might extend so far that they will give Bobby M. Jones a chance.
Fun with paces:
Carlos Beltran, ? 294/389/478, 135 games, 22 homers, 93 runs, 93 RBIs, 79/74 BB/K, 47/49 SBs
Mike MacDougal ? 4.23 ERA, 38/47 saves, 75 appearances, 70 innings, 55 strikeouts, 42 walks, 5 homers
8/1-8/3 ? Tampa Bay
8/4-8/6 ? @ Chicago
8/7-8/10 ? @ Tampa Bay
The Royals still have a chance to put the division in their pocket with a couple of good series against the White Sox. They?ve played extremely well against bad teams and AL Central opponents (is there a difference?) so the two sets against St. Petersburg Tropicanans should help them bolster their record.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX (54-51 ? 3nd Place)
The White Sox won the first two games of the month against the division-leading Twins. They reached .500 for the first time since May 15. They were headed into a stretch of games against the weak sisters, the D-Rays, Tigers and Indians. By July 13, they were a shambles, only managing to win total of five games against seven losses in the two week stretch. They were shut down by Victor Zambrano, Jorge Sosa, Wilfredo Ledezma, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Cornejo, Jason Stanford and Jake Westbrook. How did this happen? The Sox like to talk about how they have trouble against guys that they haven?t seen before, but the simple answer is that the Sox can?t score runs because they can?t get on base. Even during the first half of July when the Sox scored more runs than any two week stretch in almost two months, only Daubach, Thomas, Crede and R. Alomar drew walks at a 55+ per year pace. Which if fine, I guess, if your team is hitting .280; the Sox are hitting under .250.
After the break, they were a different team, winning 9 of 11 (for a 14-9 July record thus far) including eight in a row. They took three of four from the Tigers, swept two from the Indians and took two of three from the Rays. These games were at home where the Sox have been pretty good, so the better sign was that they won two games in Toronto. The Sox have been ludicrously bad on the road this year.
Like the Royals, the Sox outscored their foes during the first half of July (54-48), although by a much smaller margin than K.C.. This is symptomatic of the whole season. The Royals have benefited from tremendous success in hitting with runners in scoring position. Despite a .272 seasonal team average, the Royals are hitting .304 with RISP. The ChiSox positive margin with RISP is just 7 points(.252 vs. .245) as opposed to KC?s 32 point margin.
Jerry Manuel has too many options. Or so he thinks. Manuel is at his best when he can leave a set lineup in there and occasionally spell players with trusted do-it-all utility guys. Right now, the Sox have the kind of team that Earl Weaver could exploit but that Manuel is having trouble using effectively. Manuel is perpetually trying to find the Rosetta Stone of lineups. Carlos Lee got hot after hitting second last year? Let?s do that now! We had two guys that couldn?t hit lefties at the top of the order in 2000? Let?s bat Alomar and Valentin at the top of the order now! Paul Konerko had a good series vs. Tampa last year? . . . You get the picture.
The Sox are undecided about Mike Porzio?s short term future. Danny Wright come back from Charlotte for his next start or Porzio might remain for another turn. Porzio looks like the prototypical lefty soft tosser but his strikeout rate in Charlotte was pretty good. There was a rumor that missing person Gary Glover or AA lefty prospect Neal Cotts would get Porzio?s start vs. the Tribe.
Aaron Rowand is still hitting the heck out of the ball and still playing gold glove caliber defense. Carl Everett had a .614 OPS in the first two weeks of July and cost the Sox four runs with his defense. Willie Harris has hit 188/316/188 in July. So, of course, Everett has more than twice the plate appearances of Rowand. Rowand has had the same number as Harris.
Tom Gordon is the official closer. Koch lost his job after losing a 3-1 lead to D-Rays, despite coming in with no one on base and getting only one out. Well, he didn?t officially lose it, like Foulke did last year. Manuel said that “You probably have to try to get better matchups for him?maybe a little earlier in the game.” Ouch. Translation: You?ll be facing only right handers in the sixth inning now, Billy. At least Manuel has learned something from his rash benching of Foulke last year, when his language was much more harsh: “He’s struggling,” Manuel said. “And we need to be able for him to figure it out without it costing us at this time.”
I had originally written a cute little line here about the Sox 11th and 12th pitchers, David Sanders and Gary Glover, were missing persons. But then Manuel sent Sanders into relieve Colon in the fourth inning with the Sox trailing Detroit 5-1. Hey, a sensible move. Get the kid some work in a low pressure situation. Sanders got Carlos Pena to end the third and Craig Monroe to start the fifth. But then . . . walk, single, line out, RBI single . . . um, Jerry? . . . two run single, RBI single . . . HEY, JERRY! . . . single and then Rick White comes in. So, Manuel basically punted on the game. Unfortunately for the Sox, the dormant offense scored eight runs over the last four innings only to lose 10-9. Hey, nice work, Jerry.
. . . and then the Sox traded Glover and two minor league pitchers for Scott Schoeneweis and a 28-year old AAA reliever, Doug Nickle. I?m not going to rag on Kenny Williams too much for this one, since he?s at his best when he listens to his scouts and dealing for minor leaguers. But how far into LaRussa?s Inferno has modern baseball descended when teams feel that they desperately need a third lefty for their pen?
Fun with paces:`
Magglio Ordonez ? 322/386/567, 159 games, 31 homers, 47 doubles, 105 RBIs, 58/78 BB/K, 9/14 SBs, 22 GDPs
8/1-8/3 ? @ Seattle
8/4-8/6 ? Kansas City
8/8-8/10 ? Oakland
The Sox took advantage of their slate of games against the AL Central?s weak sisters, but their real test is upcoming. Not only do they have six games against their division leader, but they also have to square off against Oakland and Seattle, against whom they have had no success since about 1979.
MINNESOTA TWINS (51-53 ? 3rd Place)
Dear Heavens! What happened? The Twins were a dismal 1-11 during the first two weeks of July, before rebounding with a four game sweep over Oakland at home. They had lost 22 of their last 26 going into the break. That?s a bad spell. While the offense has been horrible, the problem has generally been pitching. But as GM Terry Ryan has said, “Sometimes, it’s the offense. Sometimes, it’s pitching. Sometimes, it’s fielding.” It?s just been ugly, even when you factor in the 7-4 record since the break.
What?s worse is that Ryan is panicking. In trading Bobby Kielty for Shannon Stewart and a PTBNL, they are getting worse and older. And even worse than the trade is the Kenny Williamsesque rationale: “It’s time we start shaking this ballclub up to see if we can get it going in the right direction .” Ah, the old trade to “shake things up.” Look, it?s nice to have so many good hitters that you don?t know what do with them, but when you trade one of them for a worse player, you are just frittering away talent. To paraphrase an old Steve Martin line, “I think I?m going to throw this talented, young, switch-hitting player in the street? What? I can give him to you for a fading, expensive, older, free-agent eligible player? Oh, okay.”
Free at last! Free at last! Thank Gardenhire almighty, free at last! On July 5, the Minnesota Twins passed the 2003 Pitching Rights Act, whose sole clause was that Johan Santana would take Joe Mays?s spot in the rotation. Santana pitched well but lost to the Angels in his first start back and the he was dominating in his start at Oakland.
To build on a theme: the Twins also cut the cord on Tom Prince, making Matt LeCroy the sole backup to A. J. Pierzynski.
But then they called up James “Mount Baldy” Baldwin. Two steps forward, one step back. That?s not quite fair, they also called up Grant Balfour for Nakamura, making this a wash.
In a fit of pique, Gardenhire benched Christian Guzman for the Angels series for failing to turn a DP against the Rangers and general “half hearted” play. He then threatened Luis Rivas with similar treatment until Rivas promised to “look real mean and serious-like.” Make that two steps back.
During Jacque Jones?s tenure on the DL, Corey Koskie was also hobbled by various maladies before landing on the DL on July 21st. Lew Ford joined him there the same day with a broken arm. Jones has returned from the ranks of the injured but is still not likely to play the field anytime soon.
And Eddie Guardado is really struggling lately. His performance and the Twins bad run of games has led foolish sportswriters to speculate that Minnesota might now be sellers in the 2003 trade market. Which is foolish. Not as foolish as a Phil Rogers column, but really silly.
Fun with paces:
Jacque Jones ? 312/331/478, 130 games, 17 homers, 34 doubles, 14/113 BB/K, 14/16 SBs
8/1-8/3 ? Detroit
8/8-8/10 ? @ Detroit
It didn?t look like it was going to get any easier for the Twins after the break. They were really playing badly and just lost their best hitter (Koskie) but they played very well in the sweep against the As and then split with Seattle and KC. They should beat up on Detroit (duh) but Baltimore could be a test. That said, Minnesota has a chance to be over .500 in a week or two, which would have seemed extremely a couple of weeks ago.
CLEVELAND INDIANS (44-61? 4th Place)
The Indians went 7-6 for the second consecutive fortnight but then got eight of nine, before rebounding a bit against the Twins. Most of the credit for their pre-break stretch went to their offense which scored almost five runs a game (62 total). Shane Spencer (406/429/844 in July), Matt Lawton (297/381/676), Ben Brossard (324/400/647), Jody Gerut (297/350/541) and Milton Bradley (255/407/426) deserve the credit for the surge. Sabathia, rookie Jason Stanford and most of the bullpen pitched very well during the stretch. But then the wheels just fell off the wagon during in the White Sox and Yankee series.
There’s a bunch of reshuffling going on in Tribeland. They sent down or cut loose Jose Santaigo, Ricardo Rodriguez, Stanford and Nick Bierbrodt to bring up Westbrook, Rafael Betancourt. Brian Tallet and, briefly, Alex Herrera.
Matt Lawton went to the DL on July 13. Travis Hafner got the call to replace him and had a nice weekend against the White Sox. Ricky Gutierrez was DLed on July 22 with spinal cord compression, which surely can?t be a good thing.
I was going to write about what a terribly strange move it was for the Indians to send former White Sox pitching prospect Aaron Myette to Philadelphia for former White Sox fourth outfielder Lyle Mouton. Certainly Mouton should have been given more chances than he was and almost as certainly Myette isn?t as good as he looked before he punched the Comiskey Park wall, but it didn?t make sense to me that a team would trade a live 25-year old arm for a 32-year old fifth outfielder. I mean, where exactly was Mouton going to play? But then a week later Mark Shapiro shipped off Shane “Clint Hartung” Spencer and Ricardo Rodriguez to Texas for Ryan Ludwick, a key member of the Tribe?s 2006 playoff team.
The biggest news was that Brandon Phillips was sent back to Buffalo. He?ll be replaced by John McDonald. Phillips has been horrible this year, but can he really learn more from being in Buffalo than being in Cleveland?
And there continues to be rumbling and grumbling about Milton Bradley?s lack of effort and focus. I can?t see how you bench him at this point.
Fun with paces:
Milton Bradley ? 328/435/506, 139 games, 14 homers, 47 doubles, 87 runs, 95/102 BB/K, 23/34 SBs
Danys Baez ? 3.44 ERA, 0 wins, 11 losses, 34/43 saves, 75 games, 76 innings, 69 strikeouts, 23 walks, 8 homers
8/1-8/3 ? @Texas
8/4 ? off day
8/5-8/7 ? Seattle
8/8-8/10 ? Anaheim
The Tribe puff out occasional bursts of good play. It?s doubtful though that they will a very successful two week stretch against three pretty good teams in four series.
DETROIT TIGERS (28-75 ? 5th Place)
The Tigers went 6-6 . . . what? Wait. They did what? Before the break in July, the Tigers did indeed go 6-6, including a stunning three game home sweep over the White Sox. Detroit?s starters had been really strong during that stretch and they were bolstered by Chris Mears, the Tigers new closer who features a funky slinging delivery. And Warren Morris has temporarily became Ty Cobb for a week or two. But then reality struck back as the Tigers dropped eight of eleven. Their bullpen was so bad during the series against the Sox that they almost blew a 9-1 lead and failed to win a game despite taking a no-hitter into the eighth. They might still have a shot at the Mets loss record.
Pseudo-prospect Cody Ross got a brief call to the show when Bobby Higginson was forced onto the DL with a raging case of Mycareerisoveritis. ESPN reports that “the stumbling block on Higginson being activated is that he can’t run straight ahead.” And all I can think of is that Monty Python sketch about “The 100 Yard Dash for People with No Sense of Direction.” Higginson?s back earlier than expected because he refused a rehab assignment. Hey, thanks Higgy. Way to take one for the team.
The Tigers acquired former fantasy league sleeper Dan Petrick for Adam Bernero. Petrick has played both left field and catcher for Detroit thus far, but he really can?t hit enough to keep any job where he faces the same direction as most of the other guys on the field.
Lefty phenom Wil Ledezma has pitched very well in his first trip around the majors. He was rocked by the White Sox in his second start against them in 12 days though.
Carlos Pena has really slugged the ball since coming back from Toledo and Eric Munson has been pounding the ball well of late also.
How can anyone be as fast as Alex Sanchez and still get caught 5 of 9 times? Seriously. Although, this reminds me that someone should check on the stealing patterns of the three 1980s players (Pena, Trammell and Gardenhire) that are now managing in the AL Central. They all seem intent upon bringing speed back into the game. But maybe that?s just an illusion.
Eric Munson sprained his instep and is a candidate for the DL.
Fun with paces:
Dmitri Young ? 285/357/551, 159 games, 34 homers, 33 doubles, 9 triples, 92 RBIs, 58/139 BB/K
Carlos Pena ? 252/326/442, 118 games, 23 doubles, 16 homers, 42/101 BB/K, 5/10 SBs
8/1-8/3 ? @ Minnesota
8/4 ? off day
8/5-8/7 ? Oakland
8/8-8/10 ? Minnesota
What?s the over/under on Tiger wins during these games. Three, maybe? Okay, I?m going with the under. They win a game against Minnesota and one more against, oh, I don?t know, Oakland, I guess.
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