— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Saturday, September 13, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. Central
The A.L. Central through September 11th.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX (78-68 ? 1st Place)
The White Sox were 7-6 over the last two weeks against Detroit, Boston, Cleveland, Minnesota and single game at the Yankees. They gave up scored 61 runs while giving up 48.
Jerry Manuel was throttled for sending Neal Cotts out to start in Yankee Stadium while holding Buehrle back for a game against the Tigers. Twenty-twenty hindsight made Cotts?s Bob Sprowl impression seem like a foregone conclusion. So, according to local sports seers, Manuel threw in the towel after taking two of three in NY: “If Buerhle had started we would?ve swept ?em.” Of course, Buehrle was bombed by the Tigers in the next game, but no matter. In the everything-is-certain-after-the-fact world of talk show blather, Buehrle lost to the Tigers because he was pumped up for Yankee Stadium and deflated by having to pitch against the Tigers. Nobody yapped though when Manuel did the same thing a week later, holding back his best four starters and throwing Wright against the Indians.
I haven?t done the research on this, but it seems that free-swinging teams tend to run hot and cold. For example, Maggs Ordonez is hitting 376/435/629 since the break and Konerko has clouted to the tune of 327/394/614 with 13 homers and 43 RBI over the same period. Lee is 338/366/602 with 14 homers and 46 RBI. Crede is 324/368/578; Everett is 310/400/512; and Thomas (251/359/583) has hit 19 homers and driven in 45 since the break. The Sox have hit 295/360/519 in the second half but just 245/319/408 during the first half. Their 309 runs scored since the break is second in the league to the BoSox, but before the break they only outscored Tampa and Detroit.
Thomas went on a Sosa-esque homer binge, popping eight dingers in the last in the Sox last nine games of August and thirteen for the month as a whole.
Danny Wright got his old fifth starter spot back against the Rangers. He pitched well in that blowout and then well again in his next start against the Indians. He?s was prone to the homer in those two games, but they all come with the bases empty. Wright?s future role with the team is still up for grabs, with at least one local color commentator declaring him a “future closer.” Jon Garland is 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA over his last four starts; Colon is 3-1 with a 2.53 ERA in his last four starts.
The Sox recalled Jamie Burke before September 1, making him eligible for the playoff roster (should there be one for the Sox). Is it possible that Burke, a 30-year-old minor league veteran, is the Sox best hitting catcher? Sox signed Jose Paniagua, who had pitched for a couple of teams in the Mexican League this year after being released by Tampa during the spring, and brought him up when the rosters expanded. Mike Porzio, who unlike Paniagua can actually pitch a little, was designated for assignment with the move. In his first appearance with the Sox, Paniagua was shelled by the Twins in a mopup role, made an obscene gesture at the home plate umpire and was released. It is rumored, that Porzio soiled himself because he was laughing so hard. Jon Adkins (part of the Durham trade but no prospect), Aaron Miles (a potential replacement for Robbie Alomar) and Armando Rios (.323 with an 899 OPS in Charlotte, a great hitting park for lefties) were also recalled.
9/12-9/14 ? @Boston
The Sox have the toughest remaining schedule of the AL Central contenders. While KC and Minnesota are diddling around with Cleveland and Detroit, the Sox have to go to Boston and host the Yankees. Still, the Sox basically hold their fate in their own hands. They still get to go head-to-head with Minnesota and KC for the title, which is really all that a team could ask when a season begins.
MINNESOTA TWINS (78-68 ? 1st Place)
Minnesota was 10-4 over the last two weeks in series against Texas, Anaheim and the White Sox. They scored 83 runs while giving up 67.
For all the guff that we give Gardenhire for keeping Johan Santana in the bullpen for half the year, there is still something to be said for being patient with young arms; something to leaving them in long-relief to get their feet wet. It?s a good sign for Twins fans that Gardenhire seems to understand this concept. While the Royals and White Sox were throwing Neal Cotts and Jimmy Gobble to the wolves, the Twins refrained for as long as possible before finally sticking prospect Grant Balfour into Joe Mays?s rotation slot, despite the latter?s inabilities. “I don?t want to wreck [Balfour] by throwing him out there and letting him get crushed by somebody,” Gardenhire sagely asserted. Of course, he sort of diminished his lesson by declaring that, “Joe should be able to handle it. That?s what he here for.” Joe Mays, Designated Get Crushed By Somebody Pitcher. Mays, of course, had an excuse—his elbow was a big messy pile of goo. Mays will miss most, if not all, of the 2004 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. When Balfour finally got his start in place of Mays on Sept 3 vs. Angels it wasn?t pretty. He gave up four runs on five walks and four hits in 2 2/3 innings. The Angels are leading the league in bashing the wild minor league phenoms of contending teams, having given the same treatment to the White Sox Neal Cotts last month.
Maybe it?s just me but I still have trouble remembering that Grant Balfour is not a hockey player.
The Twins were second in the AL with a 3.67 ERA in August. They were led by AL pitcher of the month, Johan Santana (1.07 ERA). Santana left August 29th?s game with a hamstring “cramp,” but reported no problems the next day. Then the Rangers bashed him for seven runs (one more than he allowed in six August starts) in four innings in his next start. He looked great against the White Sox in his last start, dominating them with a fastball/changeup combination. Kyle Lohse has pitched well since August 1, turning in five quality starts. Brad Radke is 6-1 with a 3.93 ERA since the All-Star break. Rick Reed has been activated from the DL and will be used in relief. And, at least one report had the Twins making an offer to Steve Sparks before he signed with Oakland.
As for the Twins injuries . . . Guzman developed back spasms in late August, but seems recovered. Corey Koskie missed several days in late August with a personal matter related to his family?s health. Mientkiewicz aggravated his wrist injury on September 1. He?s already had the maximum number of cortisone shots in the area and will have surgery on the wrist in the off-season. It doesn?t seem to be bothering him too much though; he?s hitting .391 in September. Jacque Jones?s groin injury, which sidelined him for weeks in mid-summer, was still bothering him as late at August 26th. Shannon Stewart has been playing with a sore hamstring, which seems to be better lately. Groin and hamstring pulls? Does this team believe in conditioning?
Speaking of Stewart, the Twins have had to move Jacque Jones to right field since Stewart was unable to handle the position. By his own admission, he felt “wobbly” out there.
Minnesota activated Michael Cuddyer on August 31, to be eligible for a possible Twins playoff roster. With the roster expansion, they added Alex Prieto (who gives them a much-coveted seventh infielder), Michael Restovich (who seems to have lost ground to Cuddyer in the battle of the Michaels), Lew Ford, Justin Morneau, Adam Johnson and Brad Thomas (who had pitched pretty well at Rochester despite partially tearing an elbow ligament earlier in the year). To make room, Todd Sears was designated for assignment.
Milton pitched two scoreless innings at Single-A Fort Myers on August 30th. He allowed one hit and walked two while striking out two batters. A week later he yielded two runs and four hits in four innings at AA New Britain.
The Twins picked up Jesse Orosco from the Yankees. Look, I like Orosco. I?ve always like Jesse. And I do mean always. For example, I used him to death in a Strat-O-Matic league in 1982. But, Jesse, it?s time to go. Orosco has descended into Tony Fossas territory. Sure, he can get lefties out (236/313/389) but so what? He?s so bad against right-handers (415/484/623) that he can only really be used against about 15 hitters in the league ? lefties that are guaranteed not to be lifted for a pinch hitter.
Carlos Pulido started Tuesday against the White Sox and pitched well enough. It was his first major league start since August of 1994. Since before George W. Bush was elected . . . governor. Frank Thomas hit two homers off of him in that game.
9/12-9/15 ? @Cleveland
The Twins chances look really good right now. Their wins in the last two games at Chicago allowed them to leave town still tied for first. From here on out, their schedule is very favorable ? six each against Cleveland and Detroit and three at home against the Sox.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS (74?70 3rd Place)
Royals were 4-8 over the last two weeks in series against Anaheim, Cleveland, Texas and a make-up game with Arizona. They scored 61 runs while yielding 53.
The Royals rotation is currently a bizarre collection of major league retreads (Paul Abbott, Brian Anderson and Jamey Wright) and a hot young prospect, Jimmy Gobble. Abbott pitched very well during the stretch, yielding just 2 earned runs in 17 innings. Brian Anderson is 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA since joining the Royals. The nattering nitwits of sports talk radio always like to gripe about the selfishness of today?s players, but did anyone notice that Anderson waived a $600,000 dollar trade bonus? Wright pitched very well at Anaheim. Wright is still as good a candidate as any to have a nice run of years in his 30s. He had been 3-5 with a 3.64 ERA in 12 starts at Omaha. Sean Lowe was released to make room for Wright. Called up from Wichita on August 3, Gobble had pitched two excellent games in early August against the D-Rays and another at Texas last week (six runs but only one earned). In between he was beaten about like a . . . well, like a 22-year old rookie starter.
The way that the Royals have handled their staff in recent weeks has been a bit perplexing. For quite a while, the Royals bullpen had dragged down good performances from their rotation. But even though the Royals rotation has just been a shambles of late, the club still seems to perceive a need in the bullpen. For example, Jeremy Affeldt is in the pen, despite his desire to start. Why? According to Brent Mayne, Affeldt?s velocity drops from around 95 mph in the first two innings to around 92 mph thereafter. Since moving to the pen, Affeldt has posted 26 strikeouts in 18.3 innings and a 1.47 ERA. About those stats, the Kansas City Star?s beat writer declared, ‘‘That’s not a trend. That’s a conclusion.” Well, no, you dope. You can?t conclude anything about 18 innings of work. But let?s pretend that those numbers are significant, what do they tell us about Affeldt?s ability to be a quality starter in the future? As far as I can tell, and someone correct me here if I?m wrong, the answer is nothing.
Granted, that there has been so much really, really bad pitching going on here (5.15 ERA since the All-Star break), that quibbling over whether it is the fault of the starters or relievers is a bit irrelevant.
Injuries continue be a problem for the Royals. Jose Lima (groin strain) is likely to return to the rotation by next week. The Royals were toying with the idea of having Miguel Ascencio join the bullpen when he returned to the big club but instead decided to shut him down for the rest of the year. Kevin Appier?s season (career?) ended when he went under the knife to repair a torn flexor tendon. Kyle Snyder, whom the Royals considered using to bolster the bullpen, will not return this season. Runelvys Hernandez is slated to undergo Tommy John surgery and will likely miss the 2004 season. Mike Sweeney has hit just two home runs in the 136 plate appearances since his return from the DL. And it?s not like he?s been rocketing balls off the walls for doubles either since even Brent Mayne has had a better doubles rate in the second half. At this point, you?ve got to conclude that Sweeney?s back problems are more than just irritants. I keep thinking of Don Mattingly when I see him. Beltran?s left knee (patella tendon) continues to trouble him, although he claims that as long he is on his “medication” and keeps his knee tightly taped then he is right as rain. Rondell White has sat out of seven of the Royals twelve games since he was acquired, mostly with a sore left hamstring. Rondell White gets hurt! Film a Eleven! Mike DiFelice, the current holder of the Paul O?Neill Red Ass Award, finished serving his two-game suspension, levied against him for littering the field during a hissy fit.
Some things have been promising though. The Royals best hitter in the second half, left-handed hitter Aaron Guiel hit a homer and double off of Randy Johnson in the Royals make-up game with Arizona. Angel Berroa has stolen 11 bases since the beginning of July. And Ken Harvey?s white-hot stick has bolstered the anemic offense.
The Royals recalled prospects third baseman Jarrod Patterson and center fielder David DeJesus from Triple-A Omaha, The mouldering corpse of Tom Prince was brought up with them to act as their chaperon. Royals recalled RHP Nate Field from Triple-A Omaha.
9/12-9/15 ? @ Detroit
The Royals have a favorable schedule. After this 10 game road trip they finish with seven at home, including a four game season-capping series against the White Sox.
CLEVELAND INDIANS (64-83? 4th Place)
The Indians were 5-9 over the last fortnight in series against Detroit, Toronto and the White Sox. They fielded a tremendously young team during the stretch, including eight rookies in the lineup and a three or four more in the rotation. The inexperienced hittera, who scored 69 runs, fared better than the inexperienced pitchers, who gave up 79 runs.
Injuries have really leveled the Indians late in the season. Matt Lawton?s dislocated right finger kept on the DL for five weeks. Coming back in August, he wasn?t able to play the field, which allowed the Tribe to get extended looks at Coco Crisp, Jody Gerut, Ryan Ludwick (until he jammed his knee, probably ending his season) and Alex Escobar. However, Lawton was still inserted at DH for a time, depriving Ben Broussard and/or Travis Hafner of playing time. Sensibly, the Indians finally gave Lawton the rest of the season off. John McDonald and Omar Vizquel?s knee surgeries have given Jhonny Peralta an extended showing at short. Ellis Burks was still taking batting practice with the intent to play at some time in September. Milton Bradley?s deteriorating disc in his lower back will sideline him the rest of the year. Despite his eccentricities (which include refusing to accept a speeding ticket and leading Cleveland police on a brief chase), Bradley has had a marvelous year. Disc problems are always a long-term concern, though. Jason Davis was scratched on in late August with what was originally diagnosed as “fatigue in his shoulder” but was later updated to “tendonitis.” An MRI showed no damage, so Davis has complained that the Indians are being too cautious. Somebody show him the stats on how shoulder injuries destroy a pitchers career. Brian Tallett had Tommy John surgery and will miss most or all of the 2004 season.
Despite dealing free-agent-to-be Brian Anderson to the Royals, the Tribe and Anderson seem to have some mutual interest in returning him to Cleveland in the off-season.
Brandon Phillips was recalled despite hitting only .175 at Buffalo. He immediately lost several days to a bruised wrist caused by being hit by a pitch but did hit two homers in the last ten days.
The Indians acquired 30-year old reliever David Lee from the Dodgers. Lee was last seen with San Diego in 2001 (3.73 in 48 innings) and before that he posted a 3.67 ERA with the Rockies in 1999. His control has been pretty shaky but he might find a niche in middle relief.
September roster call-ups included Chad Durbin, Jason Stanford (who took Anderson?s spot in the rotation), Jason Boyd, Chris Magruder and Zach Sorensen. Victor Martinez returned from the DL. Jose Santiago was purchased from Buffalo. It was his fifth trip to Cleveland this summer. In all the hullabaloo, David Cortes was designated for assignment.
The Indians prospects OFs Grady Sizemore (304/363/480 at Akron) and Luke Scott, 3B Corey Smith, C Dave Wallace, RHPs Kyle Evans and Todd Pennington and LHP Mike Hernandez will play for the Mesa Devil Dogs in the Arizona Fall League.
Sabathia, Davis, Traber and Cliff Lee look like the top four starters for the 2004 Tribe. Stanford, Durbin or maybe a veteran free agent are the likely candidates for the other spot.
Danys Baez has a 6.17 ERA in 11 appearances since being removed from the closers role.
9/12-9/15 ? Minnesota
Cleveland?s kids get a chance to play the role of spoiler against three teams in the playoff hunt. Minnesota?s had their troubles with the Indians this year.
DETROIT TIGERS (37-107 ? 5th Place)
The Tigers were 4-9 over the last two weeks in sets against Cleveland, the White Sox, Toronto and the Yankees. They scored 47 runs while giving up 73 runs. During this stretch, they became the only team other than the 1962 Mets to lose 100 games before September. And yet they?re trying to peter that all away. What?s really disturbing here is that they may have cost themselves a shot at immortality by taking three in a row from the Indians from September 2-4. If they fail to lose 120, the Tigers will have to look back at a couple of three game winning streaks against Cleveland and the White Sox and ask them selves, what might have been. They are currently on a pace to lose 121 games.
You really have to be a special kind of team to lose 120 games. Not only are the Tigers stocked with bad to mediocre players but they?ve also been ravaged by injuries. A sore hamstring has hobbled Bobby Higginson, but probably not as much as an ailing bat. His career is over, over, over. Shane Loux strained his rotator cuff on August 26, but claimed to feel much better soon after. Someone should tell Loux about the shoulder injury thing too. Danny Patterson?s surgically repaired elbow continues to act up on him. Eric Munson?s injury has forced the Tigers put Danny Klassen at the hot corner. Hmm, what would I do if I were forced to choose between Klassen and Shane Halter? I guess I would opt for option C) self-immolation. Cody Ross was the latest victim of the team?s injury woes. He tore his ACL by tripping over first base. Everyone on this team has been hurt. And the hurt guys can?t even DH since Dmitri Young, the Tigers only major league quality player, has been forced to play there because of an . . . injury to his Achilles tendon. There?s been a bit of talk about how Trammell is getting everything that he can out of this club and teaching them how to play the game right, but this team sure has had a lot of groin strains and hamstring pulls. These things that can and should be avoided.
The Tigers roster expansionees included pseudo-prospect Cody Ross, Gary Knotts, Eric Eckenstahler, Matt Anderson (who missed five weeks this year with continuing shoulder woes) and Matt Walbeck. But not Omar Infante, because of his “defensive indifference.” Andres Torres was not going to be recalled by then got tabbed when Ross hurt himself. Well-traveled minor league reliever Brian Schmack, 29, was brought up from Erie where he had a 2.05 ERA as their closer.
And Brandon Inge is back. Defying all odds, the worst hitting regular in the history of the major leagues is back. Apparently, the Tigers will use him as their regular catcher the rest of the way. Someone really hates A. J. Hinch. The Tigers now have Inge, Hinch, Ben Petrick and Matt Walbeck on the roster. And, sadly, Walbeck may be the best of the lot.
Nate Cornejo has been pitching really well lately, but is still just amazingly ugly.
Jeremy Bonderman was removed from the rotation while sitting on nineteen losses. I?d like to gripe about how holding a player out to avoid a dubious distinction (like 20 losses or the most strikeouts by a batter) is stupid, but Bonderman has pitched like crap of late. So, why leave in a 21-year-old kid with 150 innings to wear the 20-loss collar.
Alex Sanchez has been plagued by a strained hip flexor, all but eliminating his speed and sole raison d?etre. He has stolen 33 bases in the AL this year, third behind Carlos Beltran and Carl Crawford. This is how pathetic the Tigers are—they have been using Sanchez as a pinch-hitter at times and then using Inge to pinch run for him. Man, talk about a bad roster.
And a big smiley face goes to Craig Monroe, who has 19 homers in just 364 at bats this year. Damn, it?s hard to find good things to say about this team.
9/12-9/15? Kansas City
Like Cleveland, Detroit has a chance to play the role of spoil . . . Okay, I can?t do it with a straight face.