Behind Enemy Lines

With a quarter of the season in the books, it's time that our foes in the NL Central got the once over.

 

Pos Team W-L PCT GB   RS RA Pythg   Home Away 1-run Extra
1 Cardinals 27-16 .628 --   228 187 26-17   12-9 15-7 9-7 1-0
2 Brewers 20-23 .465 7.0   188 173 23-20   11-9 9-14 7-5 1-2
3= Cubs 19-22 .463 7.0   179 178 21-20   10-10 9-12 8-9 2-2
3= Pirates 19-22 .463 7.0   161 178 18-23   7-13 12-9 3-8 1-1
5= Astros 15-28 .349 12.0   159 198 17-26   13-9 2-19 4-10 0-3
5= Reds 15-28 .349 12.0   190 253 16-27   10-12 5-16 7-9 0-1


St Louis Cardinals

I know this is unthinkable, but could these Cardinals possibly surpass last year's hundred and five thousand wins? It's just that everyday the Cardinals seem to find a new way to win. Starter's put you in a hole? "No problem", says Albert Pujols as he wipes out the deficit with one swing. Still trailing by six in the ninth? "I'll fix that", says Jim Edmonds in the middle of a seven-run rally. Facing Roger Clemens rather than Danny Graves? "That's where I come in", says Mark Mulder while reeling off a 10-inning complete game shutout. Scott Rolen out injured? "You called?", says John Mabry. Phoenix birds never die, Redbirds just never lose. Or at least never lose often enough.

This is a more balanced and well-rounded team than last year too. Thanks to the addition of the old reliable and very good version of Mark Mulder (at a price mind, though Haren has uncharacteristically so far struggled with walks and home runs in Oakland, Calero is injured and Daric Barton's not yet started hitting) and the return of Matt Morris from the land of the gopher ball (he gave up 35 last year!) have really improved the rotation, and Chris Carpenter is up there with the pair of them - while his ERA is currently over 4.00, his peripheral numbers are far better than that, and the .317 batting average on balls in play that's currently holding him back will come down. Neither Marquis nor Suppan are great pitchers (Marquis in spite of his early numbers), but the Cardinals may not have to worry about either for too much longer. Waiting in the wings at Triple-A are two of the more impressive young pitching prospects in the game. Their numbers so far this season (in the very offensive Pacific Coast League)...

Adam Wainwright 2.26 ERA 59.2 IP 54 H 4 HR 7 BB 49 K
Anthony Reyes 2.44 ERA 55.1 IP 35 H 5 HR 9 BB 48 K

The pair have the stuff to justify those kind of numbers too. Reyes, drafted in 2003 in the 15th round because of injury concerns, works in the low- to mid-nineties with his fastball and throws a good slider and impressive changeup. Wainwright, acquired by the Cardinals in the deal that sent JD Drew to the Braves and bouncing back from a 2004 that was all but a write-off due to a shoulder injury, throws in the mid-nineties with a changeup and a great curveball. If both young pitchers are healthy, though that's always been a big if, the Cubs could be spending a lot of time over the next few years staring upwards at the Cardinals unless they can construct a powerful offence of their own that can rival the Big Redbird Machine.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers, much like last year, aren't off to a bad start at all. Unlike last year though, they may not completely fall off the face of the earth come the second half. And, given the sheer amount of talent they have in the minor leagues, this is an exciting franchise to follow.

On the pitching side of things, the loss of Ben Sheets, one of the best pitchers in the game, actually hasn't hurt as badly as it might have done, if at all - his replacement, Wes Obermueller, has pitched well over his head and his peripherals, posting a 2.86 ERA in his four starts. That won't last, but it needn't, since the return of Sheets from his inner ear infection (whenever that may be, he's currently in extended spring training) should see the continuation of that kind of performance anyway. Behind him, Davis, for whom the key to his considerable success last year was keeping the ball in the park, had scarcely reached the 50-inning mark before giving up his tenth home run on the year, but a complete game shutout in his last outing could herald a return to form just in time to off-set the regressions from Cy Young candidates to just above-average innings-eaters that are doubtless about to befall the improved Victor Santos and very promising Chris Capuano. Despite fifth starter Gary Glover (with him the Brewers can only hope Jose Capellan - the main prospect they received for Danny Kolb - quickly learns to throw something besides his Kyle Farnsworth fastball), all in all though, this rotation should be very much a strength, to the doubtless surprise of some. Behind them the bullpen is decent if unspectacular.

Decent if unspectacular probably describes their offence best too. Though Brady Clark and Lyle Overbay (Over-rated-bay!) should come back down to earth, that ought to be softened by improvements from Carlos Lee and JJ Hardy (who's in the middle of a pretty horrid rookie slump that shouldn't disguise the fact he's a very capable hitter, particularly for a shortstop). Otherwise this offence is filled by players that make do rather than excel, and so their offence so far has been little better than the Cubs'. This year is a year too soon for top prospects Richie Weeks and Prince Fielder to provide a much needed shot in the arm (both have serious strikeout issues), but the Brewers, on the back of their improving rotation and Carlos Lee's big bat, I think have a decent enough shot at five hundred for the first time since 1992.

Pittsburgh Pirates

I don't know about you, but the only team in the NL Central that I can bring myself to really, really dislike is the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cardinals, though our big rivals, at least play great baseball, the kind of baseball we only wish our Cubs could play. The Reds at least have a fun offence and the Brewers a promising future. And the Astros, well, for some reason I kind of both admire and pity the gung-ho approach that has yielded results but brings with it a very miserable future. The Pirates though don't play good baseball, they aren't fun (at least to me) , they don't have a great farm system, and they don't spend any money at all. All they have is a nice stadium. Oh, and Oliver Perez, but he's not been so great this year either, as my fantasy team is really finding out. That of course only causes me to resent the Pirates even more.

Since I can't put that resentment aside, let's just leave at this short and not very sweet assessment - the Jason Kendall trade isn't working out too badly (since Mark Redman's pitching very nicely), and they won't have a record comparable to the Cubs' at the end of the year. They also won't finish ahead of the Astros.

Houston Astros

The Cubs will go from playing over the weekend the team that used to never be able to find a good fifth starter to the one that's now taken that mantle. Here's how the Astros' rotation breaks down so far...

One through four 3.42 ERA 247.0 IP 226 H 20 HR 65 BB 190 K
Five 11.81 ERA 26.2 IP 40 H 10 HR 12 BB 20 K

 Ew. Brandon Duckworth and Ezequiel Astacio are the guilty parties. Wade Miller meanwhile is pitching quite nicely in Boston.

The Astros' other big problem, besides owning a 4-10 record in one-run games and a 2-19 record on the road (2-22 in three days' time we hope), has been the offence, which, Craig Biggio and the very underrated Morgan Ensberg aside, has hit .234/.295/.345. And you thought the Cubs' offence had it bad?

Will that last? Well, Lance Berkman can and will hit a lot better than he has in limited playing time after coming back from his injury, and young second baseman Chris Burke, who's now ripping it up at Triple-A after not really being given the shot he deserves, could definately help matters. That would give the Astros four at least decent offensive options. With Jeff Bagwell out for most of the rest of the season at the very least, though, it's hard to see where any other offence will come from. They need another Beltran trade. The problem is they don't have parts nor payroll to spare.

All the same, I struggle to believe that a team with a top four to their rotation as good as Clemens, Oswalt, Pettitte and Backe will finish with just the 56 or 57 wins they project to at their current pace. Sorry, throws like a girl, no first-pick in next year's draft for you!

Cincinnati Reds

Allow me to direct you to what Dan Szymborski wrote when Eric Milton signed his contract with the Reds...

Imagine Carl Lindner taking $25.5 million in cash out of his bank account. After defecating on the money, Lindner proceeds to strangle the Filipino hooker that witnessed his currency defoulment in full view of a group of tourists with video cameras, Lindner then charges into a police station brandishing an empty shotgun. On top of this, he admits that he picked Sam Bowie in the NBA draft, pre-empted the Raiders/Jets game with Heidi, and advised Neville Chamberlain in the late 30's. Uncle Carl is likely to get a better return on his investment under the set of conditions laid out in the previous paragraph than from his investment in Eric Milton, who's as overrated as Eric Gregg is fat.

Er, yeh, I think that about covers it. We were all saying it back then, but Dan O'Brien disagreed on the basis of, er, his "durability" (er, 17 innings in 2003?), his "history of providing significant innings" (which sounds like durability again to me), his "walk-to-strikeout ratio" (I'd give him that one if it wasn't for the home run ratio), his "stuff" (er, Milton's 4.85 career ERA?) and Milton's "competitiveness and work ethic". Right. Okay. So, after 9 starts, how's Milton doing?

*Eric Milton 7.16 ERA 49.0 IP 65 H 15 HR 12 BB 26 K

 And that not only sums up Eric Milton quite nicely, but it sums up the Reds' pitching staff as a whole. The only team in all of baseball (including the Rockies) to have given up more runs so far is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and those poor guys have to face the best offensive division in all of baseball. And you could probably just about pay for their entire team this year with Eric Milton's $25.5m.

Nice offence or not, they're not going anywhere until the pitching improves. And that's not happening this year.

All Told

I still struggle to believe that the Cubs are worse than any team in this division besides the Cardinals. That though speaks more of the division than it does the Cubs, and it's going to take something extremely special from this team if they're going to ensure the wild card and that final playoff spot come from the Central. Right now, that's looking highly unlikely, if not yet completely impossible.

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Comments

I'm going to the Cards/Pirates game tonight with my girlfriend for her birthday (she's a Cardinals fan - nobody's perfect).

Problem is I don't know who to root for. The Pirates are somehow tied with us and need to be knocked down a peg, but the Cards are still 7 games ahead of us. What to do?

John, before I even read this article I have something to share with you: MLB players try their hands at singing on new CD
. It includes a performance by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. He is rapping his original "Wish List." Isn't he on yours?

John, your review demonstrates how weak this division really is. The Division's Pythaganport record is 121-133.

If Obermueller stays at this level and Capuano continues to improve, the Brewers might be able to make regular appearances at the .500 mark. And if JJ Hardy turns into something special, and Prince Fielder is as advertised, they keep their effective and inexpensive bullpen, and make a targeted signing or two, they could contend as soon as next year. (If I were them, I'd look seriously at moving Overbay once they drop out of the running this year and signing a big-time offensive corner outfielder. But will the new owners pony up?)

The emergence of the Brewers and the young pitching of the Cardinals makes it look like the Cubs's window is closing rapidly.

"the addition of the old reliable and very good version of Mark Mulder"

I don't know if I'd call him reliable just yet...despite some very, very good outings, he's still oscillating between being lights out and getting tagged for 4-6 runs and giving up 7-10 hits.

Still, 4-6 runs is nothing to the Cardinals offense. Should we start keeping track of the wild card race now?

(shameless self-promotion: read my interview with Len Kasper at Old Style Cubs, http://oldstylecubs.blogspot.com)

danny graves released...

pleaaaaaaaaaaaaase hendry...do not fall for this hack reliever unless he comes damn cheap.

my bad..new is filtering clearer now...he was DESIGNATED FOR ASSINMENT.

basically 3 days to trade or release him...doubt he's gonna want to go to the minors.

More on the Graves DFA

http://www.tsn.ca/mlb/news_story.asp?ID=12579...

Might be worth a flyer if he doesn't cost us more than say Nate Frese and we can shove him in Des Moines or Mesa for Extended Spring Training while he gets his act together.

I think the magic number for the wildcard is around 95 wins. For the Cubs to pull this off would mean a record from here on out of 76-45. or a .628 winning percentage. Even WITH a completely healthy club this club is NOT that good. I think this club will struggle to go 66-55 for the remainder of the year and end the year with 85 wins. The wildcard is NOT coming from the Central...and the Cubs are not winning this division.

When it comes trade deadline time of year if the Cubs are anything BUT a seller...then they are competing to do the impossible this year at the expense of many years to come. I hope they are sellers and re-organize so they are positioned with strength in 2006.

Cubfan,
Agreed. Bob reports on the other thread that Bruce Levine says the Cubs will be getting an outfielder and reliever soon. I hope the future would not be mortgaged for these because I think this team is missing a hell of a lot more than an outfielder and a reliever unless it's Hank Aaron and Bruce Sutter. Come to think of it, even at their ages they could make the current Cubs.

Graves, with nine-plus years service time, has the ability to reject a move to the minors. He also was approaching the "five-and-ten" threshold, which would have made it so the Reds would have to get his written permission before trading him. By designating him for assignment at this point, they can trade him to whatever team gives them the best offer. Smart move by them.

That said, he is making $6.25M this year and mutual option w/expensive buyout for next year. Graves would be an idiot not to exercise that option next year. "Run Away! Run Away!"

Couple of Points:

- Cubs are 6-1 vs ptichers making their MLB debut in the past 3 years (including Sunday's W). They face a pitcher making his MLB debut tonight. Useless, but interesting stat nonetheless.
- Ozzie got into it with a reporter from Ch.7 about aking McCarthy out. He got really defensive. Chicago might have 2 of teh most thin skinned managers in all of baseball.
- Peter Gammons was on ESPN Radio today (Dan Patrick show) and called Uribe's play with Lee "bush-league" and supposedly Konerko came out and BLASTED Uribe for doing it. I haven't seen any quotes yet, but it would be interesting to hear what he said. It was bush-league, but it was also bush-league to fall for it.

Dc Tom:
"That said, he is making $6.25M this year and mutual option w/expensive buyout for next year. Graves would be an idiot not to exercise that option next year. "Run Away! Run Away!""

Please some one correct me if I am wroing, but if the 10 days go by and the Reds can't trade him and he doesn't accept the minor league option, can't Graves then become like a Free Agent and his past contract null? Thus making the Cubs eligible to sign him for whatever they want? Thanks!!!

Bob reports on the other thread that Bruce Levine says the Cubs will be getting an outfielder and reliever soon.

The outfielder will probably be some cut reject like Enrique Wilson (IF) picked up last week...and the reliever will probably mix in really nice with the talent level already sitting in the bullpen.

I wonder if the big OF and reilef P Bruce levine is talking about is from TB (Huff and Baez)?? The way the post read from the other thread was that it seemed like it was from the same team. What other team could it be? I knwo MIKEC it is pure speculation, so don't jump down my throat or anything. I am not saying the Cubs will get Huff. Just wondering who levine has in mind.

i have johnny damon and keith foulke in the t-c-r
"name that trade" pool.

That's funny, I have Barry Bonds and Armando Benitez.

Wait, that's not funny.

i have johnny damon and keith foulke in the t-c-r
"name that trade" pool.

Sweet...then I have berkman and lidge, with Clemons thrown in for a little extra.

mannytrillo,

Graves signed a free agent contract with the Reds, which means that if he is released, he still has the right to be paid according to the terms of that contract. Either by the Reds or someone else.

Graves could elect to waive that guarantee and sign with another team. But you're Danny Graves, you just flipped off a fan, you've walked 12 in 8 innings this year and an ERA over 7, you're 31, and you are still owed $4-some million dollars for the rest of this season even if you spend it fishing. So it's not likely he'll be available for less than what he's owed by the Reds.

In the t-c-r pool, I stake my claim on Bob Wickman and Juan Gonzalez from the Indians!

I'll take "Drew and Gagne" to block

I'll take Izzy and Jedmonds in the pool.

Now that I think about it, Pittsburgh has a history of giving the cubs whatever they want for next to nothing, so I think it would be a smart move for someone to take Mesa and Bay.

haha..i'll play along

cameron/looper for patterson/wuertz + ???

pure speculation...yum...

Seb--
"...Jimmy Rollins. He is rapping his original "Wish List." Isn't he on yours?"

If he were to become available, I'd be all over him like a sore rash. He's a young and cheap, all-round good player at shortstop. That is of course why the Phillies would be clinically insane to let him become available any time soon.

DC Tom--
"If Obermueller stays at this level and Capuano continues to improve, the Brewers might be able to make regular appearances at the .500 mark."

I really don't see any reason to think Obermueller will continue to perform at anywhere near this level. His present improved home run, walk and strikeout rates on their own only support an ERA around 4.50, and his batted ball distribution doesn't hint at any reason why his when hitters make contact against him they hit just .257 - he's allowing a lot of line drives, his groundball-flyball ratio is slightly biased towards groundballs and not many of those flyballs are infield flies. That's a combination that actually screams allowing a lot of hits on balls in play, it's what afflicted Glendon Rusch for so long. He's just been lucky so far.

Capuano's another matter. He's doing an improved job of keeping the ball in the park, and that's all that really undermined him last year.

crunch--
"basically 3 days to trade or release him"

10 days actually.

Terrence Long and Andy Sisco.

Re #22 (OtherDave) -- I'd tolerate 2/3 a season Jose Mesa for a career of Jason Bay. But Littlefield can't be that dumb.

Atlanta might be willing to part with Kolb, now that they've demoted him and Hendry's coveting of Kolb is public knowledge. Mondesi and Jordan are simply not getting it done there, they can get the same production from Ryan Langerhans. So Hawkins to the Braves for Mondesi and Kolb?

Cubfan,

"I think the magic number for the wildcard is around 95 wins. For the Cubs to pull this off would mean a record from here on out of 76-45. or a .628 winning percentage. Even WITH a completely healthy club this club is NOT that good."

But is the rest of the NL Central (minus the Cards) that bad? I agree the future of the club shouldn't be sacrificed on a long shot this season, but I don't think it's utterly hopeless right now either.

i hope #25 is a joke..heheh

i commented earlier how it might be somewhat hopeful the cubs could end up getting a player so KC could send sisco back to the minors...that shortly followed with KC bringing up a kid from *SINGLE A* ball...

now that's a desperate pitching situation.

Most certainly a joke; I wanted to find an obscure team with a crappy outfielder lying under the radar. Sisco was a bonus, since the Royals don't have (or need) an obvious closer.

By the way, the ESPN home page has a great tagline for the Zambrano-email story: "Not-OK computer: Cubs tell Zambrano to stop."

i woke up in a cold sweat and didnt know why, i checked my computer and saw that danny graves has been released by the reds. i am know feeling an intense urge to shit my self. i must go now, and stop any thoughts hendry has of signing this nipple ring having hair dying choke artist

Ah, good to see another Radiohead fan.

I'll suggest Jeff Conine and Jim Mecir.

So whaddya think? Want Danny Graves to join the bullpen of the damned?

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2...

Jorge Julio and Sammy Sosa

More pure speculation: Byrnes/Dotel?

I think it may be something more like Alexis Rios and Miguel Batista. I don't know why I am thinking that.

Heck, it could be Austin Kearns and Danny Graves.

Could Gagne be the closer?

Phil Rogers seems to think it's possible

With all this tounge in cheek trade talk, somewhere in the cornfields of Iowa, MIKEC is getting shots of pain right to his heart and doesn't know why. When he reads this, he will then know and shoot down each and every trade proposal. :)

Anyways, IENPW, I think that might be the most logical yet, but will they trade in teh division?

I don't think Cincinatti is in a position to make that choice. Their system has crap for pitching, they'll take it from anyone. Likewise for the Cubs. They need offense, period.

My amateur opinion is that Phil Rogers is a muppet. Wood for Gagne just isn't going to happen, the first reason being it wouldn't be a good trade for the Cubs.

Looking deeper into it, if teh Cubs get "a big OF", then who is expendable? Either Dubois would be part of the trade or he could be sent down to make room for the new OF. Or Macias could be cut (can we only hope) and then have Dubois and Holly as our backups in OF. Could make for a mess with Dubois on teh big league club after teh trade.

well said JH.

phil rogers...ken rosenthall...both were good baseball writers who were big men at their respective media outlets until they let it all go to their heads and it effected the real work that made them top dogs to begin with.

I'm going with Corey to the Padres for Nevin and one of their relievers.

bruce levine's comments in the 5 o clock hour indicated the club was a "national league" club. looks like damon/foulke aint gonna happen.

so far.

Bruce Levine is full of it.

Their advertisers want more listeners, and they pay the bills, including Levine's salary. They'll say anything to get you to tune in.

No, I only get shots of pain through my heart when people say Huff is available and Tampa needs to trade him for more prospects in their already over flowing minor league system of talented prospects.

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