Tuesday, June 24, 2008

NL West as we near the halfway point

[The first part of this blog was written two days ago. Instead of going through and changing all the stats I mention on account of two freakin' days, I'll just let you know ahead of time that the first part of this blog was written on Tuesday.]
So much can happen in two weeks.
  • Seattle GM Bill Bavasi finally got fired, after much lobbying to that effect in this space. Seattle also fired manager John McLaren in what will hopefully be the beginning of a housecleaning in that franchise. It's lucky that the Mariners play in Seattle, because rarely has a team with such a high payroll been so bad.
  • The Mets aren't nearly as bad off as the Mariners are, but you wouldn't know that to pick up a paper in the metropolis. The Mets' front office waffled like a tower of Jenga as the media forced them into firing Randolph. Blame the media for being so pugnacious, obnoxious, and ignorant (for a firing that didn't need to happen) and blame the upper levels of team ownership for refusing to take a firm stand to stave off attacks. Randolph was doomed the minute ownership showed that it wasn't ready to fully commit to him, and once the blood was in the water, the media sharks attacked and attacked until the team's already weak resolve was obliterated. It was a very bad showing for a team that isn't nearly as bad as everyone thinks it is, and a poor reflection of what life is like as a baseball figure in New York.
  • Toronto also fired its manager, if only to give J.P. Ricciardi more room to fight for his own job (which was in jeopardy before he embarrassed himself on the radio). People in Toronto have much more reason to gripe over Ricciardi's performance, which includes a spotty track record, a sometimes huffy public manner, and the failure to develop even the hint of an offense. This isn't a defense of John Gibbons per se; I think he should have been fired after getting into a physical altercation with a player last season. But firing the manager to save yourself rarely works.

Monday, June 16, 2008

How's it Going at the 1/3 Mark? NL Central

Well, the NL Central is always full of surprises, which is fun if you're a fan, but can be pretty frustrating if you're an analyst. My predictions went along with the prevailing wisdom: the Cubs were the team to beat, the Brewers stood a good chance, the Reds were a dark horse, the Cards would finish fourth, and the Astros and Pirates would fight over last place. Well, it hasn't exactly worked out like that so far.
The one thing that has worked out is the Cubs as favorites. The Cubs have the best record in baseball despite dealing with some injury issues and some guys who haven't performed up to snuff. This is actually good news; if the Cubs can post a .645 winning percentage with flaws, what will they do if they can get everything fixed?
Offensively, the Cubs have had pretty much everything go their way. And, even better, they don't seem to be playing too far over their heads. They lead the league in scoring, with Aramis Ramirez (303/416/496) and presumptive Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto (288/376/532) leading the way offensively. Mark DeRosa may be hitting over his head (305/390/473), but even if his batting average settles down, he's still an asset.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Cub offense is that it hasn't had all the pieces clicking simultaneously. Derrek Lee has had some mild struggles (286/345/511, which is great for most people but just decent for him). Kosuke Fukudome (295/405/430) has played very well, but without the 20 HR-power he was supposed to have. And Alfonso Soriano (283/332/547), who's had injury troubles before, just got hit in the hand with a pitch. Soriano was actually getting booed some at Wrigley Field, which I find hard to understand, since he's hitting right in line with his career numbers.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I Am Ozzie, Hear Me Roar

There's been a lot of interesting things happening in baseball lately. The Reds finally called up Jay Bruce to fill the center field spot, just in time for them to realize that this season is pretty much done. Thanks to Dusty Baker and Wayne Krivsky for screwing up what could have been a Wild Card contender. One of them is fired, and the other should be.
  • The Mariners' situation is just awful. They're 21-39, 15.5 games out of the AL West, dead last and well behind the 3rd-place Rangers. The prevailing optimism about the 2008 Mariners was something I never agreed with. Their performance last year was largely a fluke, and I didn't expect them to do more than finish a distant 2nd. It turns out that even I may have been too optimistic about the team. There's always the chance that they'll turn things around, but my goodness, they just suck. Of their five main starting pitchers, the only one who's played above replacement level has been Felix Hernandez, whose 15.8 VORP is tops among Seattle pitchers and second on the team only to Ichiro (16.3). (That's above replacement level -- not above average. Four of the Mariners' starters are pitching about as well as Rob Bell or Mark Redman for 10-15 times the salary.) King Felix has a 3.29 ERA along with 69 K in 82 innings. After that, the rotation (the very expensive rotation) is a horrific disaster. Erik Bedard has only made 10 starts, but his 4.47 ERA and 26:49 BB:K ratio aren't in line with the ace reputation he brought over from Baltimore.
    But that's the good news.