Thursday, June 29, 2006

Is the NL in MLB, or AAA?

Tonight I'm just gonna poke some fun at the NL. Everywhere I look, something new and exciting jumps out at me about them. So here we go. The first thing was almost too easy. I checked ESPN's stat page last night, and guess what - of the top five leaders in each of the following categories - HR, RBI, W, ERA, and SV, a total of 50 candidates - exactly four of those come out of the two West divisions. Two of those are from Arizona, one is from San Diego, and the other is San Francisco. The AL/NL West is kind of like NL Lite, and so that gives you an idea of what to expect.

As good as interleague play is for the AL, it's that bad for the NL. The Cardinals just ended an 8-gamer. The Pirates just ended a 13-gamer, (more on that later). Meanwhile, the Red Sox are on the right side (for them, at least,) of a 12-gamer, and the Tigers are on a 6-gamer, and have won 17 of their last 20. Even Minnesota is on a 7 game winning streak, having won 15 of their last 16. And how frustrating must it be for them to go on a tear like that, and go from 11.5 to 11 games back of Detroit. An entire half game in three weeks; utterly meaningless.

G4wybekcAnd while the entire NL has a problem, the Pirates have a more serious problem than most teams. Hell, they may have surpassed PFC Grudzielanek's KC Company as the worst team in the league. The Pirates just snapped a 13-game losing streak. A 13-gamer. And the best part is, when it ended, it was on a stroke of luck. The Pirates played the White Sox tonight, but even in victory they were stinky. In the top of the eighth, up by two runs, Roberto Hernandez blew the save. The Sox tied the score at 6 by scoring two runs. Then, in the bottom of the ninth inning, pigs finally took flight. Some guy hit a walk off home run, winning the game for the Pirates... and they celebrated like they had just won the World Series. It's a big deal for them, because it was really starting to become a problem. In fact, it was so bad that Pirate fans began to boo the mascot, because he wasn't a parrot. It's kind of complicated I think. You can see the video at the bottom of the post.

While the Pirates are looking up -- for the first time in more than two weeks -- the Cubs are still bad. As one blogger recently put it, "Dusty Baker has gone on a one-man crusade to make walk-up tickets at Wrigley a reality again, a crusade which does not involve anything remotely resembling On Base Percentage." As bad as the Pirates are, the Cubs are only three games up of them, and have scored the fewest runs - 308 - of any other team in all of MLB, by a lot. That's 50 fewer runs than the Pirates have scored. Imagine if the Pirates, being as horrible as they are, weren't even the worst team in their division. And here's the thing - it's not looking any better for the Cubs. Anyone who honestly, in their heart of hearts, thought the team would bounce back when Prior and Lee returned is living in the wrong reality. Prior could pitch a perfect game every fifth day -- something he's light years away from doing right now -- and Lee could hit a home run every game, and it wouldn't make a difference. This team is playing like pre-schoolers, and Dusty Baker is the last guy on the planet that will push them to do any better. And the NL is on the same plane as the AL, right.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tigers, Braves, and Sox

We're going to do things in reverse order today, starting with comments first. Kevin actually came in and surprised me by leaving some legitimate baseball opinions. Regular readers know that Kevin is Part II of this whole baseball thing I have. He's the guy I go to the ballpark with, and occasionally he'll pipe in with his own comments. They're usually something like, "Roy Halladay is not that good," or, "You know you didn't think the Tigers would do as good as they are." And at least once a week he'll send me an IM that goes something like this:

Kevin: Dude
Reid: What's up man?
Kevin: I was on this message board, and some dude just said that (insert stupid comment here, "the Yankees are the worst team in the league," or, "Barry Bonds is the best player ever," or, "Kenny Rogers will win us the World Series,") and I tore him up. He kept saying these stupid things like, "dude no you're wrong."
: Stupid idiots.
Kevin: Haha yeah.

He also has his own blog when he wants to, and he does other stuff like that. According to him, the Tigers will deal for Bobby Abreu, just because Leyland says it won't happen. Like I said, he is strong in his beliefs. Tell him that the Tigers won't be getting Abreu, and you're wrong. Why do we want Abreu now? The Tigers have been building up one of the best farm systems in the league for the past few years. Eventually, it will be time to trade away some of those prospects for a championship run. I don't think that now is that time. Maybe, come July, the Tigers are 5 games up of the White Sox - then, maybe, you make a deal. But if the Tigers are 5 games back of the Sox, that move doesn't happen. But to deviate for a second to what Yuhsing said, the Tigers do have some hidden problems this year. They strike out a lot, don't walk a bunch, and have an inexperienced rotation. However, the team is winning.

But the Tiger's weak schedule has also helped them to their record. However -- and this is important -- like I've always said, bad teams don't beat average teams. What I mean by this is that, oftentimes, someone will say, "Hey, Roy Halladay (or take your pick,) had a 2-hitter against the Angels. But they have a terrible offense, so it doesn't count." While it may be easier to two-hit the Angels than the Yankees, that doesn't make it an easy thing to do in and of itself. You still need to be a good pitcher to do it. Same thing goes with the Tigers -- they have to be good to do as well as they're doing. So maybe the Tigers are a little worse than their record shows us, but they're not bad. Maybe they should have 47 wins instead of 52, for example. Next, Brandon Inge. He's not  the All-Star that some people think he is, (I keep hearing that people think this. Why?) But he just broke up Clemen's potential perfect game in the bottom of the 3rd. Not a big deal for most, except that Kevin invited me to tonight's game (two hours before gametime,) and I declined. If Clemens had thrown a perfect game or even no-hitter, I wouldn't know what to do with myself. On another note, I was happily watching this game on MLB TV, but then the feed stopped. Of course, when I tried to start it up again, I received the black out message. Alright, I accept that I can't watch any Tigers games, but please, don't tease me about it like that, alright?

Now we're going to shift gears to the Yankees - Braves game. As I mentioned in last night's post, the Braves have gone, in the month that I've been in Chicago and Cincinnati, from 5 games back of the Mets to 16 games back. Why? Perhaps it's because the Mets can't be counted on to choke two seasons in a row. They're not drastically different from last year, yet they have 10 more wins now than they did exactly one year ago - and the Braves have 10 fewer wins. Last year, at this time, Atlanta had 42 wins and New York had 37. This year, New York has 47 and Atlanta has 32. Atlanta is worse and New York is better. So maybe the previous theory is incorrect - the Mets are better, but that's not why the Braves are in last, (however, if the Mets had the same record this year as they had last year, the Braves would only be 6 games back, not 16.) Maybe it was the not-so-good start the Braves got off to this year, which they never really recovered from. Throw in a losing streak like this, and look where you end up. But, remember this. The Braves are baseball's version of a vampire. Remember that. Just when you start to throw some dirt on them, they come back and take the division again. All the evidence points to this not happening this year, but you never know with these guys. And they just showed a 'highlight' clip of Jaret Wright getting hit by comebackers. Are you kidding me? I think they showed four, and once he was even hit with a bat. And, I also believe he was wearing a Yankee uniform each time. Considering he's only pitched about three games as a Yankee, I can't imagine how many times the guy has been drilled in his career.

Well, it looked like Buehrle was kicking around the Pirates, surprise. So I jumped to that game, because I like Mark Buehrle. From the moment I turned the game on, here is what happened: Craig Wilson got an infield single, Jose Castillo hit a double, advancing Wilson to third, and then Ronny Paulino walked on four pitches. Then Joe Randa comes to the plate and came about two feet away from the Grand Slam. Mark Buehrle is on my pay league Fantasy Team, and suffice it to say that there must have been some sort of black magic at work there. You know it's time for one of our favorite BHGM references... Black Magic in Baseball?

And they just showed a very distraught-looking Jim Tracy explaining why Oliver Perez has been moved out to the bullpen. He said that you never know which Perez is going to show up every fifth day. You just never know, he continued, and that's just really hard to deal with. You know what else is hard to deal with? A guy that, in the last four years, has only had an ERA below 5.38 one time. Once. That one time was his unforgettable - at least for the Pirates - 2004, when he had his breakout year. He went 12-10, with a 2.98 ERA, and 239 K's in 198 innings. Remarkable. That was the good Oliver Perez. Now, let me make things simple for you, Jim. In 2004, the Good Oliver Perez showed up. In 2003, 2005, and 2006, the Bad Oliver Perez showed up. This isn't a matter of specific games, it's a matter of being good, and that's something Perez hasn't been since 2004. Here's something else that's hard to deal with. Your team has lost 11 games in a row. They have three games with the Defending World Champs, and then they have three games with the team that currently has the best record in baseball. That's what's really hard to deal with. Which brings us to something that BPS has asked repeatedly... "Do these games with the NL still count?"

It's like a turkey-shoot here. I wrote, much earlier, about some possible reasons why the AL is so much better than the NL. The crux of my theory was essentially that a player needs to field in the NL, but not in the AL. Therefore, when a good bat rises through an AL organization, he can continue even if he can only hit, and not field. In the NL, this player would be dealt for another guy. You could say that this makes for a more potent 8-man lineup than the AL, but that's obviously not the case for two reasons. If it was true, the NL would be evenly matched when they played at home. The second reason, which is more likely the ultimate cause, is that the game is so balanced right now that's its impossible to have 8 men that are more potent than 9 men.

Thank you, Roy. - April 5, 2006
AL v. NL, Mariners, Nats, and more! - April 1, 2006

Monday, June 26, 2006

Mid-Season Division Overviews

Finally back from Chicago - this time for good. It was a rough three weeks, really. I haven't been able to follow much of baseball at all, so it's gonna be tough getting back into the swing of things. Luckily, I have four days off* - in a row! - so that should make it a little easier. I haven't had that much vacation time from work and school for more than a year. As for today's post - and we will be back to the normal daily post routines (except for weekends, which are always a little touch and go,) I'm going to talk about a few things that are less-than-current, since, well... as I said before, I haven't been following the game as intently as I should be the last three weeks. But I'm going to try to hit on each division.

*- Not true. Got called in to work on Sunday for 5 hours.

AL Central
How about the Tigers? Are they for real? The White Sox have won nine in a row, and are still in second place in the AL Central. And the Tigers have 51 wins by late June. That's a September number, not a June number. It's looking like, barring a major collapse, the Tigers may be going to the playoffs this year. Shh, it's still early. See, the BPS will tell you that the Tigers aren't going to the playoffs this year because they've had an easy schedule. Here's the thing. The AL Central is already a race for third. Minnesota has won nine of their last 10 games - and are still 11 games back. Cleveland is 17 back with a record of 33-41 - hardly what I expected from a club I said could make a legitimate run at a playoff spot this season. And the Royals... oh the Royals. They're 23-50, good for 26 games back. However, the standings reveal that they've won seven of their last 10. Are you kidding? When I left for Chicago three weeks ago, I don't think the Royals even had seven wins total. What a bad team... Finally, it looks as though -- for now -- we might actually see an AL Central team take the wild card. This is special only because, for the last several years, the Wild Card has been the Red Sox's ticket to the post season. The fact that that this may not happen is, to me, remarkable. Then again, there's a lot of that going around this year, (see NL East).

AL East
Things look pretty much the same as they did when I left. Yankees 2.5 games back, with a bunch of guys still on the DL. The Sox are on an 8-game win streak, and as soon as they drop that and get cold, they can sit back and watch the train go by. Meaning, Yankees fly right into first place. Toronto is just four games back, which is impressive -- considering they have been without one of their biggest free-agent signees, A.J. Burnett. Is he still afraid of throwing the ball, or what's going on with him? Halladay -- your 2006 Cy Young Winner, I maintain -- has been on his usual tear throughout the League. He's 9-2 and has won eight of his last nine decisions. Because I've been away from my computer for so long, I can't offer much insight on the Yankees and Red Sox - like I said earlier, it looks much the same as it did to me three weeks ago. The Sox have won 8 straight and they're only 2.5 games up. That's a 3-day lead. Nothing too special, and it is only June, lest we forget. I hear that Gary and Matsui both received promising news, (whatever that may be,) and as soon as they get back we should start running away with the division again.

AL/NL West
Does it matter what I say here? All the clubs in the NL West had a talk with those in the AL West. 'Look, if you play bad, we'll play bad, and no one will look bad.' All 9 teams in the two West divisions have records below .550, (about 41 wins at this point). The A's (SI's 2nd best MLB team going into the year, as we have ridiculously continued to point out throughout this season) are 41-34, for first place in the AL/NL West. The Angels are last, with a 34-41 (.453) record. In other words, there are no great teams, but there are no immensely terrible teams either. Now, there are a few ways to look at this. One is to say that all the teams are slightly above-average, and so they're just beating up on each other. This is not true. Rather, all 9 teams are extremely mediocre and while there is no runaway, (such as the Tigers or White Sox,) there are no terrible teams either, such as the Royals or Pirates. See, this is pure luck. All the teams happen to be average teams. Great, what's that get you? Average attendance, and below-average performance against the other teams in the league. Spectacular.

But to get into some detail; the Angels have totally collapsed this year. Their offense, which used to be great, (think about two or three years ago,) is now in a complete state of disarray. They've scored 339 runs, 2nd to last in the league - behind, who else, but the KC Royals, with 313. And you can't point to Vlad and say that his numbers have declined, he's aged, he can't carry the team anymore. No one has said it yet, but I'm sure they will before the end of the year. Well, here are the facts - Vlad, who recently turned 30, is seeing some decline in his numbers. So we're halfway through the year, and he has 10 doubles. In 2004, he hit 40. In 2005, when he only played 141 games due to a shoulder injury he suffered while making a stupid slide at home, he hit 30. And now he's on pace to hit 20. But that's all pointless. The truly interesting stats, for him, are his OBP and AVG. Vlad's career OBP is .387, yet it is just .326 so far this year. His average is at .290, down from his typical .322. His slugging is at .490, a significant drop from his career.581. But, back to the original question - is Vlad aging, or is something else happening? I think it's a little bit of both. His numbers - which aren't really that much lower - are probably the result of playing on a poor team as much as they are of being older. And now you say, 'but the Angels aren't that bad.' Maybe not, but they're terrible if you look at their expectations. People are asking questions and attendance is (probably) down. Either way, that makes for a bad vibe in the clubhouse, if you will. And that, I believe, only makes matters worse - it makes it harder to perform when everyone is asking you why you aren't. A bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will.

Meanwhile, in the NL West, we have... today it is... the Dodgers, on top with a 40-35 record. As has been previously stated on numerous occasions at BHGM, they can pretty much start printing playoff tickets now. 5 Games above .500? That's a mountain the rest of the division really can't climb.

NL East
Well, I'm not sure what's going on here. I know that when I left three weeks ago, the Braves were about 5 games back of the Mets. Maybe, I really don't know. The Marlins were the second-worst team in MLB, behind the Royals. Now, and follow me closely here, they're 8 games back of .500 and in 3rd place. Now, forget for a moment that the Mets are so far out in front that third place (13.5 games back,) second place (11.5 games back,) and fifth place, (15.5 games back,) are all the same. Try to forget about that. Now, the Marlins are in third, and they're 32-40. Seriously, they must have won every game they played since I left for Cincinnati (and then for Chicago,) four weeks ago. In fact, on June 1st - the date I left - the Marlins were 17-34. So, in 25 days, they've won 15 games and lost 6. What a clip! Meanwhile, the Braves went from 28-26 and 5 games back to 32-44. That means they've gone 4-18. How far away is Atlanta from Kansas City, exactly?

NL Central
Well here's another interesting story that I would've liked to include closer to the NL West, but it just didn't work out that way. Regular readers already know what I'm about to bring up, but here goes. Name one of two players the Pirates received when they traded away a fellow named "Jason Schmidt" in 2001. Answer: Ryan Vogelsong. The other player was Armando Rios, who started 55 games for the Pirates. Anyway, back to Ryan Vogelsong. He was never a good pitcher, but he has remained on the Pirates roster. And now, CBS Sportsline has the following to say about him in their nifty fantasy notes:

News: Pittsburgh RHP Ryan Vogelsong, who has allowed at least one baserunner in each of his 20 relief appearances, did not pitch in the weekend series at Los Angeles.
Analysis: Vogelsong should only be active in leagues that reward negative play. Even there, the fact that he is not being used makes him obsolete.

Could you be any tougher on the guy? He's a stud on the negative play team. Great. Then again, his career ERA is 5.86, and you gave up Jason Schmidt to get him. Surprisingly enough, Dave Littlefield, who made the deal to acquire Ryan, is still the GM in Pittsburgh. Now, is there any stronger way for the Pirates to tell their fans they have no desire to win than by keeping Littlefield around? During his five-year reign, the Pirates have consistently been one of the worst teams in the league. In 2001, they rang in the brand new PNC Park by losing 100 games. In 2002, it was 89 games. 2003 was 87, and 2004 was 89. in 2005, in was 95 games. They've gone nowhere, and are currently riding an 11-game losing streak as they head in to play the White Sox and Tigers. At least the Pittsburgh fans have the All Star game to look forward to... that game counts for more than possibly any other game ever played at PNC Park. That is, the AL will be taking home field advantage again.

And how about the Cardinals - they've quietly, (since no one ever wants to gang up on the Cardinals, and for good reason -- how would you feel if you lived in Missouri?) gone on a six-game losing streak. That puts them at 42-32, and only two games up of the Reds. It's interesting that when Derrek Lee went down, everyone talked about how silly the Cubs were for centering their offense around one guy. No one seemed to notice that the Cardinals were centered on the same philosophy. Oh, that's right. The Cardinals have a strong supporting staff for Albert on the bench, and they also have pitching. Unless the Cubs define Kerry Wood and Mark Prior as 'pitching,' there is a difference. Both Pujols and Lee are now back, by the way. However, that doesn't mean that the Cubs' season isn't over, because it still is. The latest news on Kerry Wood - and this is an accurate quote, I didn't make this up - an MRI on Wood's shoulder revealed "no significant concerns or any kind of significant issue or injury or anything like that... the MRI, in Dr. Kremchek's terms, stated it was pristine, that the labia repair looked as if it was completely intact, looked like it had healed nicely and perfectly," said Cubs trainer Mark O'Neal. Yet, 'there is still no timetable for his return.' So let me get this straight; Wood went to the doctor, and the doctor told him he was perfectly healthy, and that everything was in order. In fact, it was perfect and pristine. Yet, no one has any idea how much longer it will be before he pitches again. Is this some sort of joke?

Anyway, that's the wrap up for the divisions. It took me Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to write this, so some of it may be out of date - but I did my best. In any case, I'm going to try to get back into the groove. I've got a lot of catching up to do, and I'm mostly running around all day. But we should be completely back to normal in about a week I think. Anyway, that's it for now. It'd be nice to see some comments but I can understand if we don't have the readers back yet.

Mailbag: Cleveland Indians - March 30, 2006
Labels: Kansas City Royals - Various

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Tigers, Bears, and... Fish?

A few things on the agenda tonight. I actually caught a game, from the third inning on, for one of the first times all season. Meaning, I sat in front of the TV and focused on only the game. That game being the Tigers v. Cubs, which is one of those games where... well, you can kind of tell how its going to end before it actually ends. Or a few weeks before it begins. In this case, you're dealing with a Cubs team that has been so unbelievably bad this year, (in case you've missed any of the BHGM-bashing,) that they've found themselves 15.0 games back of the division lead... and one game up of the Pittsburgh Pirates. To be one game up of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are themselves having an awful year even by their standards, is a lot like... it's a lot like being in the middle of the ocean, on a raft that is quickly sinking. Ironically enough, in this analogy, the Pirates are in this situation and unable to swim. The Cubs are able to swim, but they're still in the middle of the ocean, so it doesn't really matter. To take it one step further, the Cardinals are cruising around in the Queen Mary 2. Tigers and the Cubs played at Wrigley Field today. And the Tigers still have the best record in the major leagues, a full 69 games into the season. That is unbelievable. For months I've been saying that I was sure the Tigers would have a good, surprising, .500 season, but I don't think that's any more accurate than if I had predicted another 80-loss season.

There aren't many ways to take a game 12-3 as the Tigers did today. You're looking at a couple huge innings, right? The Tigers hit eight home runs, and that's really where all the offense came from. Here's the thing about this year's team -- everybody is hitting home runs. Six Tigers have 10 or more home runs on the year, which isn't bad. If I had the time, I would go into Marcus Thames and how he's hit 14 HR in only 150 AB's, while most of the team has between 230-260 at bats. Meanwhile, the Cubs plodded along with three home runs or something. And Mark Prior made his debut. It seems that the information circus is finally drawing to a close on him. But then, there is always Kerry Wood, who will never let you down there. Is he injured? Is he alive? Where is he? Is it his shoulder? Is it his knee? Or is he ok, and throwing "more than bullpen sessions?" Who knows.

Finally, we have a story about the venerable Florida Marlins, a man named Roy Halladay, and a boy named Hanley Ramirez. First, with Roy. As many of you know, Roy has been my pick for the Cy Young since, well, since early 2005. Somehow -- I didn't watch the game -- he gave up 3 or 4 runs to the Marlins, one of the worst teams in the game. Because the Jays only threw in one run to back him up, he got the loss. Not good. But, even more exciting is the fact that Hanley Ramirez -- who was on an 8-game hitless streak, going 0 for his last 27 -- got a hit. Now, that's when you're struggling. If you go up to the plate 27 times and each time come away with an out, (with the exception of two walks that he received in that time period,) you're gripping it pretty hard. You have to think that, for the last 10 at bats of that 'streak,' Hanley was sweating bullets every time he stepped out of the dugout. "Man, I'm gonna make a fool out of myself again. Great. I don't need it today..." That's a tough spot to be in, because the longer you go without a hit, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But then, you go up there so many times, you're going to have to turn it around at some point. And then you're loose, you hope, and you can go on a streak -- the other, good, way.

That's all I've got time for tonight. I leave for Chicago again in seven hours, but this week I will have my computer with me. And I'll try to pay closer attention to baseball. Now, I know it's been a shaky three weeks here. Visitors have dropped - plummeted in fact. We're at about a quarter of the hits per week compared to three weeks ago. Quite frankly, it makes sense, because there has been nothing to see here lately. But, this won't be a regular occurrence. When I come back from Chicago, be it Friday night or earlier (I hope,) things will be back to normal for good. We'll be back to the nightly post routine. As for Tiffany's invitation to another live-blog -- I'm not sure yet. I know that's a bad answer, but as of now, I'm going minute to minute. I've been home for about four days in the last month, and I've got a ton of things to do. I would like to do another live-blog, especially with the Tigers, but I can't commit to the time right now. However, the Sunday, June 25th matchup (1.05pm) looks good. I think I can do that, but I can't tell you for certain. Oh and... when we get back into the 'nightly routine,' we'll be getting back into the 'good, logical writing routine' at the same time as well. Thanks for hanging in there guys.

Chicago Cubs Labels - Various