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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Arizona Phil 2 hours 17 min ago (view)
Beginning in 2019, a club must wait a minimum of seven days before it can place a player who was claimed off Outtright Assignment Waivers during the off-season back onto waivers, so because he was claimed off waivers on Wednesday 11/27, yesterday (Wednesday 12/4) was the first day the Cubs could place LHRP C. D. Pelham back onto Outright Assignment Waivers, and so tomorrow (Friday 12/6) is the first day the Cubs can send Pelham outright to the minors (if he was placed back onto waivers yesterday).
Arizona Phil 23 hours 4 min ago (view)
A Competitive Balance draft slot can be traded only during a period of time starting on December 2nd and extending up until two hours prior to the MLB First-Year Player Draft (MLB Rule 4 Draft), so don't be surpised if these draft picks are traded during the off-season.
Keep in mind that the slot cannot be traded for cash unless it is a financial adjustment made to offset the salary of one or more of the players involved in the trade.
Arizona Phil 23 hours 6 min ago (view)
The active list roster limit changes scheduled to go in effect in 2020 have not yet been officially approved. Same goes for the three-batter minimum (or else record the third out in the inning) for relief pitchers.
Arizona Phil 23 hours 9 min ago (view)
And then the active list roster limit will expand from 26 to 28 on September 1st (max 14 pitchers in September).
Arizona Phil 23 hours 12 min ago (view)
The "26th man" who was added for doubleheaders will now be the "27th man" and he can be a pitcher.
crunch 1 day 4 hours ago (view)
ATL signs cole hamels 1/18m...a'ite then.
also, z.wheeler 5/100+ to the phillies.
Charlie 1 day 20 hours ago (view)
I think without the off-field issues, a front-office might at least be tempted to gamble on Russell's youth and dreams of his upside. But with what we all know about him now, the challenges of improving both on and off the field are too great to gamble on.
George Altman 2 days 11 hours ago (view)
This was the easiest non-tender decision, maybe ever. As if there weren't enough off-field reasons alone, there were even more baseball reasons. He became a sub .700 OPS hitter with bottom of the order OBA results. His defense, formerly his strength, became inconsistent due to attention deficit issues. He turned himself into bench infielder with suspect skills which is someone you don't pay more than $1--1.5M/yr.
crunch 3 days 1 min ago (view)
he was due for a 3.5-4m payday (3.4m last year) at a minimum, anyway.
it's as good of a time as any to cut him loose. nico hoener's spring just became a lot more important.
Craig A. 3 days 17 min ago (view)
Addison Russell, to no one's surprise, was non-tendered. I still think he has the talent to excel in the major leagues, but it'll take a new attitude for him to realize his potential. It can't be easy to deal with his baggage in front of millions of fans. I won't forget his contributions in 2016, or that beautiful play that used to be the banner of TCR.
crunch 4 days 19 hours ago (view)
keuchel doesn't have draft pick compensation attached to him and he's a decent enough ground ball pitcher...that will be attractive to a lot of clubs. that would put 3 lefties in the cubs rotation (pending a trade) again, though. not sure they want to go for that look again.
that said, i still imagine the cubs are probably looking to make this thing happen via trade. it's hard to tell what their $$ situation is, but they've done a great job signaling they're not looking to spend $$ this offseason.
Dolorous Jon Lester 5 days 1 hour ago (view)
Looking for impact starting pitchers, but won't be shopping at the top of the market? So I guess they won't be in the market for impact starting pitching.
Still hoping they find a taker for Q.
crunch 5 days 3 hours ago (view)
"Patrick Mooney of The Athletic writes the Cubs are in the market for impact starting pitchers but won't be shopping at the top of the market."
darvish, lester, hendricks, Q, (???, a.mills, t.chatwood)...pending trades
d.keuchel? r.porcello? trade target pitcher?
Arizona Phil 5 days 3 hours ago (view)
HAGSAG: I suspect going into his age 30 season and coming off a great year as a pinch-hitter, LaStella wanted a chance to be an everyday player, and since that obviously wasn't going to happen if he stayed with the Cubs, TLS (or his agent) may have asked the Cubs to trade him somewhere he could get that opportunity.
crunch 5 days 4 hours ago (view)
dunno any official reasoning, but his D is miserable and they decided to "upgrade" there with descalso for similar loot as well as getting a trade piece back. the whole a.russell thing was lingering over the team.
it's not like descalso is great with the glove, but la stella plays a miserable 2nd and meh 3rd.
i do wonder if things would have turned out differently if russell wasn't due to miss significant time.
Sonicwind75 5 days 8 hours ago (view)
Was just thinking about this, maybe that isn't a good thing for TLS? I wonder if Maddon will use TLS differently after seeing his success last year. That's my gripe with people complaining about Theo trading away a player that turns into an All Star. If TLS had stayed with the Cubs, Maddon would most likely kept using him in the same manner and with the same results.