— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, August 21, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. West
The A.L. West through August 19th.
Hide the women and sheep ? the A.L. West Review is back! As of August 19:
Egad, nearly a quarter of a season has passed since the last update. The extra time tells the tale, as the defending champs turned into pumpkins when the clock struck the All-Star break, leaving Seattle and Oakland to duke it out for the division title once again. Oakland?s Harden?d up (sorry) for the second half, while the Mariners may have made their bullpen just a little more flammable.
Is that Texas with a six game winning streak? Why, yes, it is.
A Month In Brief: It?s that time again. The Mariners, after sailing unimpeded through the first three months of the season, suddenly hit rough seas as the calendar flipped to July. In the month since the break, the Mariners are just 17-14. What?s going on here?
The Breakdown: Every team goes through slumps over the course of a long season, so when one comes along, perspective is important. However, as the trade deadline came and went, and all the Mariners got were Rey Sanchez and the flammable Armando Benitez. Time to panic?
Not so fast. Over the four weeks, the Mariners? schedule was stacked with teams like KC, Minnesota, Oakland, New York, and Boston ? all above average teams. While their division lead has shrunk, Seattle has managed to slog through that stretch with no major catastrophes, and the end is in sight. Starting August 19, the Mariners will only face two teams playing .500 ball for the rest of the season: Boston and Oakland. The road to October is apparently paved with Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Texas and Anaheim. While Tampa and Texas are playing better, Mariner fans should be able to step back from the ledge.
Randy Winn has apparently been sucking the life out of Bret Boone, because he?s posting a Booney-bat-flippin? .950 OPS since the All-Star Game. The actual Bret Boone must have hurt himself wiffing in the home run derby, because he?s hit just .232/.318/.455 since. While he and John Olerud (Post-ASB:.229/.344/.429) struggle, Winn and the rest of the offense have been able to continue pushing an average of five runs per game across the plate. Edgar?s still Edgar, and Ichiro, after a post-ASB slump, is back to his .340 hitting ways. Mike Cameron in particular continues to sparkle, and his road numbers (.303/.388/.507 in 211 ABs) are just tremendous; imagine if he played in a hitter?s park all the time. Just sayin?.
Of course, if there weren?t dark clouds in their silver linings, they wouldn?t be the Mariners. The starting pitching, which had been so impressive all season, is suddenly not so much impressive. Joel Piñeiro?s last three outings:
Piñeiro threw 194.1 innings last season, and is projected to go close to 240 this year, a high total for a 24-year-old pitcher. He?d been magnificent in July, with a 1.44 ERA and winning all five of his decisions. He?d gone over 100 pitches in all but two starts before August, and had hit 123, 126 and 113 in three of July starts. He doesn?t look hurt, and both he and the Mariners say he?s just fine. Still, his next start will be in Fenway against a good offensive team. It?s something to keep an eye on.
Of course, he?s not the only one. Gil Meche excepted, the starting pitching has unusually inconsistent this month:
Freddy Garcia?s been inconsistent since the season opened, but if Franklin continues to get hit hard, it?ll present a problem against teams like Toronto and Texas, teams with great offensive talent. Franklin got some of that back last night, giving up just one run on five hits in six innings against Toronto?s offense.
It?s also a good thing that Shiggy?s Hasegawa?s put on his Proven Closer underpants, and Rafael Soriano and Julio Mateo have been virtually untouchable out of the pen. Armando who?
Next Two Weeks: Eastward ho. After the three Toronto and four in Boston, ending the toughest part of their schedule. After that, Tampa Bay and Baltimore for two weeks. Whew.
Parentheses indicate league rank
A Month In Brief: Billy Beane?s “softball offense” has certainly been soft, but outstanding pitching has pulled them into the wild card lead, and within range of the division-leading Mariners. After getting swept in four by Minnesota coming out of the break, the A?s have been excellent, winning 18 of 28 games against the same opponents as Seattle.
The Breakdown: Oakland?s playoff chances took a turn for the ugly this weekend, when Tim Hudson right hand got in the way of a line drive by Dave Berg. Hudson recovered to throw Berg out at first left-handed, but it?s unlikely he?ll have the same success pitching lefty as he?s had pitching with his right hand. His last six starts:
That?s fine as fine can be, except now that valuable right hand is wrapped up like a deuce. With Mark Mulder leaving the game early complaining of hip pain on Tuesday, this is exactly what the A?s didn?t need. With Mulder questionable for Thursday night?s match-up with Pedro Martinez, the A?s may start rookie Rich Harden a day early, or go with John Halama. Oakland?s eeked out a one-game lead in the wild card race over Boston, which makes this series the biggest one in Oakland?s season thus far.
Harden?s first stint in the majors has been impressive. Thus far:
Where?s the applause for Beane?)
If he doesn?t miss a start for the remainder of the season, Harden has about eight more starts, or at least another 50-60 innings, coming to him. Ken Macha has been careful with the 21-year-old; Harden hasn?t thrown more than seven innings, and he?s been kept to around 100 pitches in all of his starts, maxing out at 109 twice. Still, with the A?s chasing the Mariners and trying to stay ahead of Boston, Harden likely won?t be getting any days off.
The move to grab Jose Guillen looks good so far. It?s not so much that Guillen?s been great (.271/.316/.471 in 17 games), but that his new teammates have been horrible. Minus Guillen and a rejuvenated Eric Chavez (.324/.395/.559 in August), the rest of the team is rolling along at .220/.274/.362 for the month of August, and the California GOP has threatened to recall Miguel Tejada?s MVP award.
Next Two Weeks: After Boston, 29 of Oakland?s last 35 games will be against sub-.500 teams. First on the menu: Toronto, then a home-and-home with Baltimore zippering a home-and-home with Tampa Bay.
Parentheses indicate league rank
A Month In Brief: The Angels went into the All-Star break on a major roll, going 9-3 as they won consecutive series versus Texas, Oakland, Kansas City and Minnesota. While the schedule resumed, the team stayed on break, and promptly fell right out of playoff picture, losing 20 of their first 25 after the break. The jig is up.
The Breakdown: Yes, the Pythagorean % is correct. I checked it, like, a bajillion times.
As the Tick would say, gravity is a harsh mistress, and when teams come back down to earth, the landing?s usually pretty rough. After playing themselves to within 7.5 games of Seattle at the break by winning their last five games, the Angels folded like an origami turkey. Kevin Appier, after a July in which he couldn?t get past the third inning in three of his five starts, was given his outright release, despite being owned 57 trillion dollars over the next two seasons. Jarrod Washburn?s ERA in June and July was 6.41. Troy Glaus and Darin Erstad are DL?d, with Glaus likely gone for the season, and Erstad heading that way. At one point, the Angels had a line-up that consisted of Eric Owens, Jeff DaVanon, Alfredo Amezaga, Jose Molina and Robb Quinlan. These are the defending world champions?
Injuries to Glaus and Erstad were problems that the Angels avoided last year, where pretty much the entire team stayed ambulatory and contributing. Not this year, though. Even before Glaus went on the DL, he was on his way to his worst season, and hitting an appalling .199/.285/.342 in June and July.
While both Manager Mike Scioscia and Bill Stoneman won?t publicly admit it, it?s time to play for next season. Scot Shields has done a nice job stepping into Appier?s starting spot and holding his own. Shields is a ground ball machine; in his four starts this month, 40 of the 57 outs on BIP came on the ground. AAA first baseman Robb Quinlan has been getting the regular starts at first, while Chone Figgins is being molded into a super-utility guy, getting time in centerfield while Erstad rests his battered body. Amezaga is getting an extended look at shortstop and third base, while Adam Kennedy is getting regular shots against lefties for the first time in three years. Come September, it?s a sure bet that Chris Bootcheck and Kevin Gregg will get more starting opportunities.
The Angels aren?t unique in that they?re just playing out the string. What?s disappointing is that they came into this season with an opportunity to solidify their quickly growing fan base. Now, with only .500 to play for, the Angels are only a game out of last place, and will be hard-pressed to keep their new fans on board.
Next Two Weeks: All Central, all the time. Three in Chicago, four in Detroit. In Anaheim for three against Minnesota, then back on the road for Kansas City.
A Month In Brief: It?s all a ruckus in Texas. Gonzo and Raffy won?t go, while A-Rod said he would if he had to, while the Rangers lost six of seven. Then the sun came, and Texas tore through Toronto, Detroit and Chicago.
The Breakdown: Last time I did an update, I took almost as many liberties with the Rangers as the rest of the American League. This time around, however, they?re on a 7-game winning streak, 18 of their last 23, and are threatening to climb out of the cellar. I?d like to say that it?s because some of that young pitching is starting to come around, but it?s really all about the muscle: the Rangers having been averaging 6.5 runs in the 31 games since the All-Star break, and Alex Rodriguez, who had been “just” cruising at an altitude of about .900 OPS, is hitting 1.425 (.373/.500/.925) since he came under heavy criticism for saying that he?d be open to a deal that would move him out of Texas. Likewise, Rafael Palmiero turned down a trade with the Cubs, and has been hitting (.417/.485/.817) since.
While the offense has been pushing crooked numbers across the board, the starting pitching has, as well. Aside from John Thomson, whose actually having a decent month (2-0, 3.97 ERA in 22.2 innings), the rest of the starters have posted an ERA of 6.33 (and, go figure, has gone 7-2 this month). What?s been actually working out has been the bullpen:
Not exactly Young Guns III; Mahay and Shouse are over 30, and neither Powell nor Fultz are heaven-sent. Ramirez is interesting, a converted lefty starter who is better than a LOOGY role. Cordero is, of course, the key. Taking over after the Rangers traded Ugueth Urbina to Florida, Cordero has been excellent in converting eight of his nine save opportunities this month.
Cordero hasn?t been the only guy given an opportunity because of trades. Shaking loose Doug Glanville and Carl Everett means that Laynce Nix and Ramon Nivar are now in right and center, and Kevin Mench is finally back in left field and fairly healthy. Nix and Mench should hit, and in Nivar the Rangers finally have a centerfielder who can actually range for fly balls.
Next Two Weeks: The Rangers are going to cool off, if only because they?ve got some pretty good teams coming up. Texas has an upcoming road trip to Chicago and Kansas City, then go back to Arlington to host the Twins and Royals.