Friday’s NL Central Review

16 05 2008

Chicago Cubs (25-16), — GB

The Chicago Cubs had a fantastic week. They got their revenge against the Arizona Diamondbacks after last year’s sweep in the playoffs. Chicago swept the D’Backs fairly convincingly all three days. The Northsiders were not done, however. The team then welcomed the lowly San Diego Padres to town and quickly took three out of four from them.

Starting pitching has been a very big strong point for the Cubbies this week. Carlos Zambrano is on pace for 24 wins, and he’s looked every bit like their ace all season long. The biggest surprise has been Ryan Dempster. I criticized the move to the starting rotation, but it appears that the move is paying dividends for the Cubs. He pitched 8+ innings of shutout ball against the Padres yesterday, and his strikeout rate was quite impressive (12 strikeouts in the game).

  • The biggest news of the week has been the signing of Jim Edmonds. Cubs fans are torn. They hate Jim Edmonds from his days in St. Louis. I mean hate him. Not to mention the fact that he has been just horrendous in 2008. Or, as Goatriders of the Apocalypse puts it, “Jim Edmonds is on pace to suck.” Well put.Besides the fact that Edmonds is over the hill, Chicago now must decide what to do with Felix Pie. The young center fielder has shown flashes of brilliance, but the organization has not fully committed to the young man. A View from the Bleachers says that the management needs to decide the fate of Pie right now. Will the team give him a chance? If not, trade him.
  • GoatRiders of the Apocalypse has some nice trends concerning the Cubs. Derrick Lee has been super impressive this season. He is on pace for 41 home runs and 41 doubles. That’s not too bad. Geovany Soto is on pace to slug even more doubles than Lee. He’s been fantastic thus far this season. Soto gets my vote for NL Rookie of the Year thus far in 2008.

Houston Astros (24-18), 1.5 GB

The team from Texas is on a tear, and I believe they should thank the Milwaukee Brewers for that. The Crew got them started. This week, the Astros swept the Los Angeles Dodgers (who just took two out of three from the Brewers) and took three out of four from San Francisco. You want to know what’s even more impressive about this streak? It was all on the road. The Milwaukee Brewers could learn a thing or two from the Astros.

Lance Berkman has been playing out of his mind lately, hitting homers, batting for average, knocking in baserunners. He has to be on the short list of NL MVP candidates thus far. Miguel Tejada has continued his resurgence, and Hunter Pence has broken the chains of the sophomore jinx. The pitching has been solid enough during the winning stretch. Jose Valverde is back to his exuberant, dominating self. His stuff is electric.

  • To start the season, I went on a limb and declared Michael Bourn to be the breakout player of the year on Houston. I may or may not have been wrong on that one. The Crawfish Boxes notes that Michael is statistically the worst lead-off hitter in baseball. His average is .197, only six points above Rickie Weeks, but his on-base percentage is .272. That is 41 points lower than Rickie’s. He may steal a lot of bases, but he simply cannot get on base.The Astros Dugout takes a different perspective. Sure, Michael has been unproductive this season to say the least, but that does not mean the Astros made a bad trade. The sample size is much too small to discern the type of ball player Bourn is. Plus, the Astros are in much of the same predicament the Brewers are in. There is nobody else to place in the lead-off spot.
  • MLB Trade Rumors notes that the Astros will not shy away from resigning Roger Clemens if he decides he still wants to play. Honestly, that would not be a bad move for Houston. Their starting pitching is their major weakness, and a low-risk, high-reward player like Clemens could pay huge dividends down the stretch. Roger is not the pitcher he used to be, but he can most likely still put together some solid innings.

St. Louis Cardinals (24-19), 2.0 GB

The Cardinals have enjoyed a dream start to the 2008 campaign. I hope the Cardinals fans basked in the glory while they could because the team’s slide may have already started. The Cards lost 3 out of 4 to the struggling Milwaukee Brewers and 2 out of 3 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is inexcusable for a division-contending team to lose a home series against a team like the Pirates. Their good luck in April may be running out fast.

The bullpen has been the biggest concern. Jason Isringhausen asked to be removed from the closer’s role one day before Eric Gagne from Milwaukee asked to be removed. Ron Villone started strong in 2008, but he has come back down to earth in the last few days. In fact, the only solid performer in the Cardinals’ pen thus far has been Kyle McClendon. He has some nasty stuff.

  • Viva El Birdos has a first-quarter report card that grades every aspect of the St. Louis Cardinals. I must agree that their starting pitching has outperformed anything anybody ever thought they could have done. Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer have proven to be less than awful. In fact, Wellemeyer has been downright impressive this season, especially with how many batters he has struck out. Otherwise, the only major upgrade needed in St. Louis is in the middle infield. The organization has reportedly been searching for external options to fill the holes, and I expect that search to continue. There is much more to read. Check it out.
  • Fungoes takes a look at Jason Isringhausen. Has he truly been as bad as advertised, or has he simply been a victim of bad luck? The adjusted numbers show that Izzy has always had a lower than expected ERA, which suggests that he has been lucky throughout his career. At the same time, his 2008 ERA is way too inflated. He has been very unlucky after the ball has left the bat, and the numbers say that Izzy’s luck should turn around in a hurry. Just do not expect him to post an ERA below 3.00.

Pittsburgh Pirates (20-21), 5.0 GB

The Pittsburgh Pirates are looking more like a division contending team than are the Milwaukee Brewers, and I never thought I would be saying that in May. They have won eight out of their last ten after taking the series from the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals. Chicago will welcome the Pirates next, as two of the hottest teams in the Central will clash at Wrigley. It should be a good series.

Paul Maholm has shaken off his poor year in 2007 to come back throwing extremely well in 2008. He and Zach Duke have been picking up the slack while Tom Gorzelanny has struggled. Ian Snell struggled out of the gates this season, but he has been turning it around in his past couple starts. Xavier Nady and Jason Bay have been performing rather well as of late, and Nate McLouth is still inexplicably mashing at the top of the order. It will be interesting to see if the team can keep it up next week.

  • One of the best stories of the year in Pittsburgh has been catcher Ryan Doumit. Doumit had been criticized mercilessly on the blogs for being completely inept defensively, but he has turned that around a bit. His story will go on hold for about a month, however, as he rehabs a broken thumb. It could be a big hit to the offense in Pittsburgh.The article also notes that Rule 5 draft pick, Evan Meeks, will be staying with the Pittsburgh organization. The Pirates worked out a trade with the Rays to keep the young pitcher. Cash was all it took to get the pitcher from Tampa.
  • The best post of the week on Pirates blogs goes to the Pittsburgh Lumber Co. They had a great Round Table discussion about trade possibilities and who will get signed to long-term deals. Definitely take a look at this post. It’s a great read. Also…isn’t it sad that the Pirates have won three straight series, and their biggest concern is who they would like to trade this season?

Cincinnati Reds (18-23), 7.0 GB

The Reds had a week with two games that were postponed due to rain, even though they did get a make-up game with the Mets in on Saturday.  It was a tale of two series for Cincy.  They lost two out of three to the Mets at Shea, but the team bounced back to sweep the Florida Marlins at home.  Playoff prospects are beginning to look darker and darker as the Reds fall further behind the first place Cubs.  Cincinnati will have to right the ship in a hurry if they wish to make a run at a Wild Card berth.

Aaron Harang finally got his first win of the season this week, and it ironically came on his worst outing of the season.  He has had terrible run support throughout the year.  Joey Votto took three out of the park in the past week or so, and Adam Dunn has shown signs of life in that big body of his.  Edinson Volquez has also taken the limelight away from Johnny Cueto for the time being.  In eight starts in 2008, Edinson is sporting a cool 1.12 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 48.3 innings pitched.  That is Cy Young caliber work right there from the Rookie.

  • Shortstop Jeff Keppinger has been a fan favorite in 2008, and his production has backed up the praise.  He has proven that he can handle the load at short with a .324 batting average.  Unfortunately, as with Ryan Doumit, the fine story will take a backseat to injury.  Keppinger fouled a ball off his kneecap and fractured it.  That is just as painful as it sounds, I would assume…
  • After the extremely slow start by the Reds, the Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn trade talks certainly follow.  I’m pretty sure it’s a law of physics of some sort.  Anyway, the Seattle Mariners have been said to have high interest in reacquiring Griffey, and the price tag will not be a deterrence.  I thought the Reds would have an opportunity to get a pretty nice haul for Griffey, but it turns out that this may not be the case at all.  MLB Trade Rumors says that new GM Walt Jocketty said yesterday that the Reds are involved in no talks regarding Griffey.  This could be a smoke-screen, but it’s interesting that Jocketty would come out and blatantly lie to the press if that’s the case.
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3 responses

16 05 2008
lisa

hi jimmy!!!

about michael bourn –

let me put it this way: WHY would the astros decide to give up on this young player, completely, permanently, right NOW? He’s most definitely not preventing the team from winning and he certainly IS providing much needed excellent defense, especially in left center.

the astros really don’t HAVE another CF with whom to replace Bourn, and if you say “erstad” i am going to point you to his stats and his injury history, his declining glove and ask you – one more time, what is the point of replacing a player who you are hoping will learn to hit ML pitching so that you can have a good player for years

IF

he is not causing the team to lose AND you are just replacing him with a stopgap who may not even be able to stay healthy all year as he hasn’t been able to do that as a regular CF in years.

16 05 2008
brewersnation

Agreed, Lisa.

16 05 2008
Hank

Thank you for writing another one of these! I love the reviews. Keep up the good work here 🙂

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