— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, June 19, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. West
The A.L. West through June 18th.
The top three teams tread inter-league water, while the Rangers get torpedoed by the N.L. East, and sink to even greater depths within the division. Let?s run the list.
Two Weeks In Brief: That whole hitting, pitching and defense thing is working out well. The Mariners swept through Philadelphia as part of their nine- game winning streak, lost one in New York before finishing off their 11-1 road trip with a flourish with on a wipeout of the Mets, 20-1 in a Sunday doubleheader. Returning home, they stumbled a bit to the Expos, losing the first two of a three game set before winning the last game 1-0 behind Ryan Franklin. The Braves followed, and Seattle took two out of three against the best team in the National League. Following that up by flushing Anaheim the first two games of their four game series.
The Breakdown: There?s good, there?s very good, and then there?s bulletproof. Seattle continued to pull their Superman act against all comers, the Expos not withstanding. The pitching staff in particular has been nothing short of amazing, posting a 2.33 ERA during the first half of June. The injury to Kaz Sasaki hasn?t impacted a deep bullpen; Arthur Rhodes, Jeff Nelson and Shiggy Hasegawa have all been excellent out of the pen this month. It also helps that the starting pitching has been consistently going deep into games. Consider this: in 13 15 starts in June, Mariner starters have pitched seven or more innings 10 12 times, and have pitched through the sixth inning all 13 15 times. Who needs a bully when you can do this?
Joel Piñeiro continued the streak Monday night, giving up just two hits in his last 6.3 innings, after allowing three runs in the top of the first. Ryan Franklin followed on Tuesday with an 8 inning performance, giving up four solo homers in an 8-4 win over Anaheim Whatever was bothering Freddy Garcia, he seems to have gotten over it, at least for now. After an inconsistent April and a disasterousdisastrous May (7.22 ERA), Garcia seems to have settled into a groove, keeping the ball down and actually getting lefties out for a change.
Last season, the Athletics and Angels ran down the Mariners as injuries and ineffectiveness beset the entire team. In 2002, the 2002 Mariner team staff ERA was 3.67 at the All-Star break, but 4.56 afterwards with Garcia, James Baldwin and John Halama bombed into shock and awe. This year, with Garcia seemingly back on track, and with good health so far from Franklin and Meche, the Mariners should be able to stave off any such meltdown this year. So far, so good.
With the pitching so hot, the offense apparently decided to take a break, scoring just 4.3 runs per game in June. It would figure that with two of the better pitching staffs in Montreal and Atlanta visiting SAFECO Field, runs might be harder to come by. Bret Boone continues to hit like an MVP: .323/.384/.617 in June, which is great ? until you put it next to Ichiro Suzuki?s .459/.484/.558, continuing a hot streak that is making a lot of pundits ("The league?s figured him out.") look stupid. His Roadrunner act against Greg Maddux on Sunday, followed by a two-homer game against the Angels on Tuesday, served notice that Ichiro is still Ichiro, and Seattle is still the best team in the West.
Next Two Weeks: The next two weeks might be seen as a soft spot in the schedule, with an opportunity to take Anaheim out early while fattening up on San Diego. It?ll be Anaheim for two more in Seattle, then on the road for three-game sets in Anaheim and San Diego. Back to Seattle for three against the Padres, then off for a showdown in Oakland. More comments here?
Two Weeks In Brief: The A?s season continues to yo-yo. Oakland was pounded by the N.L. East, losing two of three against Florida, Philadelphia and Atlanta ? then turn around and sweep the visiting San Juan Expos, who had just taken two of three against Seattle. Go figure.
The Breakdown: The defending A.L. West champs are going to kick it in gear? now. No, wait? now. No, wait? now. No, wait?
Thanks to Michael Lewis? "Moneyball," here?s a line forming, and it?s full of people who just can?t wait to jump all over Billy Beane and the A?s if they fall flat on their faces this season. With the way the A?s have been playing of late, there?s plenty of ammunition to go around. Eric Chavez is finally hitting (.975 OPS in June) and Eric Byrnes (.956 OPS in June) is still going like crazy, and Erubiel Durazo has long since justified his trade value. The problem is everyone else. Minus the above three, the rest of the roster has combined for 292 at-bats worth of .209/.285/.353. Where?s that beer league softball offense everyone?s been talking about? Miguel Tejada, Scott Hatteberg, and Mark Ellis all logged OPSs under .700, and Jermain Dye and Terrence Long carted OPSs under .500. (Note: The decision not to offer Miguel Tejada a giant new contract looks pretty good right now.) Where?s the applause for Beane?)
Compounding the problem was the unusual unreliability of the usually reliable starting staff. While Tim Hudson has been excellent (2.57 ERA in 21 innings), Barry Zito hasn?t quite been himself (4.12 in 19.2 innings). The real problem, though, is with the other guys:
That?s no good. If you?re the A?s, you have to expect Mulder to bounce back strong, but Ted Lilly hasn?t been good since April. If he or Harang continue to struggle, John Halama may be slotted back in the rotation, or Rich Harden or Justin Duchscherer may be called up from Sacramento sooner rather than later. Oakland still owns the second lowest ERA in the league, so there?s no reason to panic over pitching.
There is reason to start getting plenty concerned about the Mariners, however. The A?s have played fast and loose with the schedule the last two seasons, playing .700 ball after June to make up for lackluster starts. Is it in the cards for 2003? Jermaine Dye?s injury woes may have finally caught up to him, and Long and Chris Singleton shouldn?t be expected to be big contributors. If Tejada doesn?t turn into a young Ernie Banks fast, it?s unreasonable to think that Messer?s Hudson, Zito and Mulder can pull another 100-win season out of their collective ass by themselves. (Project: Try and visualize a collective ass.)
Once again, the A?s have their work cut out for them, climbing out of a hole of their own devising. However, it?s easy to overstate the A?s problems; despite not playing particularly well, they are still 38-29, tied for the fouthfourth best record in the league. There is no reason to believe that Oakland won?t have a better second half again ? after all, Tejada and Chavez, Ellis and Dye all have to be better than they have been, right? (Note: Three hours after I first wrote that, Tejada homered against Texas. )
Next Two Weeks: Hosting Texas and San Francisco for three each, then on the road for seven against the same teams before returning home to Oakland where the Mariners will be waiting. How about more prediction/comments here? A big second half won?t catch Seattle if the A?s lose too much ground now.
Two Weeks In Brief: The Angels spent most of the last two weeks winning two of three against Montreal (San Juan), Florida and the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, then got bushwhacked by the lowly Mets in Anaheim, losing two of three. Followed that up by getting punched in the face the first two games in Seattle.
The Breakdown: In a division where everyone who matters is winning three of every five, "slightly better than average" just isn?t going to cut it. It took until June 11th for the Angels to claw their way to three games over .500;, they then proceeded to lose two of three to the Mets, including getting one-hit by Steve (5.38 ERA) Trachsel on Sunday. Unlike last season, the Angels haven?t fattened up on the weak teams in the league, which is a good indicator that they?re closer to being one of the hunted than one of the hunters. That was certainly apparent on Monday night, when Seattle spotted them three runs, then shut them down the rest of the way.
The good news is that Darin Erstad?s defense is back. The bad news is that he?s going to take time away from Jeff "Babe" DaVanon, who?s swinging a healthy .357/.373/.881 with 7 homers in June, and helping to throw off that Pythagorean projection. Ah, San Juan ha sido muy, muy bueno a mí. DaVanon, along with Garrett Anderson (1.229 OPS) (!), Brad Fullmer (1.086 OPS), and Scott Spiezio (.909 OPS), head an offense that is rolling along at .284/.338/.502 in June. Those numbers mask the fact that the 2003 offense is only slightly above average ? middle of the pack in OBP, SLG, and runs scored ? or do they foretell of a great offensive outburst.? You decide.With the Mariners on the horizon, it?s doubtful.
Starting pitching is turning into a real problem for the Angels. John Lackey has shown only small signs of started to turning it around (43.4265 ERA in June, after a 5.92 ERA in April and May), and Ramon Ortiz has been consistently inconsistent from one start to the next (and often, from one inning to the next), while Aaron Sele and Kevin Appier are both showing their age, following solid outings with vicious poundings their next times out. Jarrod Washburn is the one standout and had been excellent, flashing a 2.17 ERA in his last eight starts before last Sunday?s loss to the Mets.
The bullpen?s been good, and their work in the late innings keeps the Rally Monkey employed, though you may not be able to say the same thing about Mickey Calloway for much longer. Brendan Donnelly, in particular, has been nigh untouchable. For the season:
Yes, that?s a "1" under the ER column. Middle relievers don?t usually get to pitch in All-Star games, but Donnelly definitely deserves the recognition.
A couple of good weeks by the starting rotation, combined with this brilliance at the back end of games could drag the Angels back into the race. But just like in 2002, everything?s got to click, and you could say exactly the same things for a half-dozen other teams in the league.
Next Two Weeks: A possible make-or-break period: on the road at Seattle for four games, followed Dodgers in El Lay for three. Back to Anaheim for three each against the Mariners and Dodgers, followed by the Rangers. If the Mariners do to the Angels what they?ve been doing to everyone else, it could be an early knockout blow to the Angels playoff chances. So far, no good.
Two Weeks In Brief: Sometimes you?re the truck, and sometimes you?re the possum. The Rangers are getting beat down on such a scale that one country couldn?t hold all the losses. Texas managed to get swept in both Atlanta, United States, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, as part of their 9-game losing streak, then improved dramatically at home by winning one of three against both the visiting Mets and Marlins.
The Breakdown: Hey look, they?re beating their Pythagorean projection. It must be all that great pitching they?re getting.
Perhaps the pitching staff has been raiding Rafael Palmiero?s stash of little blue pills, because everybody scores big on them. Their 274 walks allowed is almost 20 more than the next worst staff in the league (Tampa Bay, of course). Couple that with the 82 homers they?ve yielded, and you get the feeling that, even though their lips say no, their hearts say, "Hit me, baby." Ranger starters should just take the mound with no pants on. In the first half of June, opponents are whispering sweet nothings to a tune of .316/.380/.519. That?s right, an opponent .898 OPS, leading to a team ERA of 7.02 ? over a full run higher than any team in the league. Oy.
Chan Ho Park was back, but having been mostlyhasn?t been ineffective since leaving Dodger Stadium, and has been near totally ineffective all season. He was activated, got knocked around in his one start back against Montreal, and complained of continued discomfort in his right rib cage area, though testing done by the Ranger came up with nothing. Colby Lewis continues to get opportunities, and he continues to get torched ? 13 runs in just 5.1 innings in his last two starts. Ismael Valdez continues to be the only Ranger start this season to be anything resembling "good." Now would be a good time for Texas to try and parlay Valdez and Ugueth Urbina into something useful ? Toronto, Anaheim and Kansas City could all use another good starter.
Averaging 5.3 runs per game before June, the Rangers rolled up just 4.5 runs per game in June. Hank Blalock is chugging along at .275/.351/.471 in June, and .341/.398/.559 in his second season thus far. Michael Young has been absolutely on fire, hitting to the tune of .370/.453/.522, and Juan Gonzalez is rolling along at .375/.375/.594, though interleague play and a sore right elbow have cut into his playing time. Mark Teixeira has slumped badly, hitting just .238 in his last 12 games, but his .333/.548 OBP/SLG bode well for the future. Carl Everett is slumping badly (.686 OPS) and Alex Rodriguez is still not quite himself (.799 OPS).
Not that it matters; the Rangers are so far out of contention, the playoffs aren?t even a rumor in Arlington. That?s the way it?s going to be for the rest of the year, and until the Rangers get some pitching, that?s the way it?s going to stay.
Next Two Weeks: It?s not going to get any better. In Oakland for three, then host Houston for three and the Athletics for four. After that, they go on the road, with visits against the Astros and Angels. If you?re into offense, tune in to the Houston-Texas match-up next week.