Friday’s NL Central Review

23 05 2008

Chicago Cubs (28-19), — GB

Last weekend, the Chicago Cubs took care of the Pittsburgh Pirates at home. Nothing to get worked up over there. The first place team in the division should take the series from the lowly Pirates. The real test came when Chicago traveled down to Houston for a surprisingly big series. I felt it was a rather sloppy series overall, and the Houston Astros took two out of three against the Cubs.

Chicago is still looking for a reliable fifth starter. Sean Gallagher is the latest arm to get a shot at the fifth spot, but he has been unimpressive in his starts. The right-handed veteran, Jon Lieber, appears to fit better as the long-man in the bullpen. His first start in the rotation was completely uninspiring, and the team quickly put him back in the relief role. My hunch is that Kevin Hart will be getting a shot for the Cubs if Gallagher doesn’t pan out, but he’s still stretching his arm out. Hell, why not stretch out Carlos Marmol? The Cubs use him enough anyway…

  • Brewers fans have been hearing rumors about a certain San Diego Padres pitcher coming to the Dairy State. Cubs fans are clamoring to get another Padre to Chicago, Greg Maddux. The Padres appear to be in “sell” mode…so much so that GM Kevin Towers may be ready for a firesale this summer. Maddux’s 3.94 ERA is solid enough to warrant the trade interest, and the search for a fifth starter at the back-end of the rotation could be solved through the trade. I suspect the name Felix Pie may come up in the trade talks if Chicago pursues this.
  • Chicago is not only looking for a fifth starter. The team is also searching for a center fielder that can hit from the left side. Management looks to have given up on Felix Pie, which is too bad. The young man has the tools to be a dangerous lead-off hitter. He simply doesn’t get enough chances to grow into a big league center fielder. Since giving up on Pie, Chicago decided to try Jim Edmonds in center. Well…he’s terrible, so that’s not working. Lou Pinella has hinted that a 28-year old rookie, Micah Hoffpaiur will get more playing time in center. You’re telling me that Pie is not better than Hoffpaiur? I don’t believe it.

St. Louis Cardinals (28-21), 1.0 GB

Last week, I was wondering if the Cardinals were beginning to regress back towards .500. They were scuffling along, and I thought the surprise team of 2008 had begun to show their true colors. The St. Louis Cardinals responded to my comments (yes, my personal comments) and took two out of three from the Tampa Bay Rays and traveled to San Diego to take the series there. Ryan Ludwick has continued to impress the past week. He’s taking more and more playing time from Chris Duncan in the outfield. Could Duncan be available in the coming month? If Ludwick keeps mashing, it certainly makes Duncan expendable.

The newly acquired Troy Glaus is beginning to heat up, which provides the offense with some much needed firepower. Todd Wellemeyer and Braden Looper have continued to be serviceable, if not above average. Joel Pinero suffered a tough loss on Tuesday, as he lost the game on one pitch (a three-run homer) in the sixth inning. The story of the year in the pen has been the emergence of Kyle McClendon. He’s attacking the strike zone and has nasty stuff. His 2.66 ERA is no fluke.

  • Viva El Birdos takes a look at how the Cardinals organization has handled roster moves thus far in the 2008 season. Hindsight is 20/20, but the Kyle McClendon and Chris Perez call-ups, along with the Jason Isringhausen decision, have looked brilliant thus far. Fans are calling for a trade to be made for a middle infielder, but the internal options are producing well enough. There may not be much power, but Aaron Miles and Cesar Izturis have been getting on base at a fairly high rate recently. Every move St. Louis has made has worked out beautifully so far.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals have been hitting a surprising amount of home runs in 2008. Offensive output was a concern in the off-season, but the team has impressed thus far. Viva El Birdos argues that the output will increase, as about 72% of St. Louis’ home runs have been solo shots. Instead of seeing this as a problem, the article notes that these home runs will inevitably come with more runners on base. That reasoning is simply wishful thinking, as the math doesn’t quite back that up. Take a statistics course.

Houston Astros (27-22), 2.0 GB

Houston fans got a bit of a mixed bag this week. The Astros took on their Texas-rivals the Rangers and laid a collective egg. I know that the Rangers are playing fairly well this season, but the red-hot Astros should not have lost the series to Texas…even if it was on the road. The team then returned to Houston, got a little home cooking, and took the series from the Chicago Cubs. Huge series win for the Astros. I know the Cubs are in first place, but they’ve already lost series to Milwaukee (twice) and Houston. I wonder how the Cubs will do when they start to play tougher competition.

The Astros do have some issues to work through, however. Their ace, Roy Oswalt, has struggled throughout 2008. He was supposedly the only sure thing on the mound coming into the season, and his problems continued yesterday in a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. Oswalt will have to get his stuff straightened out for Houston to stay competitive into September. On the other hand, Lance Berkman is still scalding hot. He’s seeing the ball so well that teams should consider simply walking him when he steps up to the plate. I am not a Berkman fan, but he has been enjoyable to watch thus far in the season.

  • Astros fans are still calling for the head of lead-off man Michael Bourn. His average is still sub-.200, but his blazing speed and fantastic baserunning skills have kept him at the top of the Astros batting order. Perhaps Bourn should be leading off, just lower in the order. Do I smell another situation where the pitcher bats in the eighth spot? That may cement the idiosyncrasy of the NL Central.
  • You cannot keep a talented hitter down forever. I continued to say that Hunter Pence couldn’t keep struggling, simply because he is a gifted hitter. Unorthodox, yes…but talented. After a horrendous April, Pence has bounced back to have a very solid May. How solid? Try .358/.421/.587 solid. Hunter Pence to the rescue indeed.

Pittsburgh Pirates (22-25), 6.0 GB

The past week has been tough for Pirates fans.  After being one of the hottest teams in baseball during the early part of May, Pittsburgh lost an intriguing series to the first-place Chicago Cubs.  The Pirates then welcomed Milwaukee to the unfriendly confines of PNC Park, yet the Brewers were able to take two out of three and the series.  It’s funny how much your outlook can be altered after a single week of baseball.

Pittsburgh’s relative success has mostly been because of the middle part of their batting order.  Jason Bay has shaken off his awful season in 2007 and returned to his All-Star form.  Bay has been carrying the offense with the help of the surprising Nate McLouth and Xavier Nady.  Nady had struggled against the Chicago Cubs, but he came to play against the Brewers.  The Pirates should probably look to trade Nady while his value has been climbing.

  • Much of the talk surrounding the Pirates has been about the June draft.  Should the team draft the collegiate hitter, Pedro Alvarez, or the toolsy high schooler, Tim Beckham?  The consensus seems to be that Pittsburgh will open up their wallets and draft Beckham.  The strategy goes like this: If Alvarez speeds through the minors and makes the big league squad by 2009/2010, what good will it do?  The Pirates need more time to rebuild.  Beckham could be a better player down the road, and it will not make a difference if he needs a little more seasoning in the minors.  The Pirates aren’t going anywhere anyway.  Makes sense to me.
  • Bucco Blog has a little rant about the management.  The Pirates organization says that it’s striving to hit the .500 mark this season.  The article makes a good point when it says, so what?  What is a .500 record going to do for anyone?  The goal should be making the playoffs, and the Pirates will only be able to do this in the relatively near future if they have a firesale and decide to invest in a major rebuilding process.  I completely agree with this point.  I would rather suffer through a couple awful seasons knowing my team is consciously trying to improve than sit through 10 straight mediocre to below-average seasons.

Cincinnati Reds (21-27), 7.5 GB

The Milwaukee Brewers looked up at the Cincinnati Reds to start the week.  The Reds appeared to keep the hot streak going after sweeping their rivals, the Cleveland Indians.  The team then hopped on a plane for their west coast road trip.  Something must have happened on that plane ride because the Reds have played totally uninspired baseball since Monday night.  The Los Angeles Dodgers easily swept Cincy, and the lowly San Diego Padres took the first game of the series last night.  When Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and Josh Bard are all on the DL and you still lose to the Padres, there is something wrong.

One problem is that Corey Patterson is terrible.  His batting average since April 9th has been .188.  And you thought Rickie Weeks was struggling…  More and more fans are calling for Jay Bruce to be called up.  I think it’s getting close to that time for Cincinnati.  Aaron Harang, their most consistent starter, struggled this week as well.  The only positive coming from this week is that Adam Dunn has decided to play some baseball.  He’s been seriously heating up lately.  Baseballs will be flying out of the parks very often I have a feeling.

  • The Red Reporter takes a look at the defense.  Overall, the article suggests that 7 out of the 9 positions are playing average or above defense.  The porous spots in the field are shortstop (where Jeff Keppinger used to roam) and in right field.  Ken Griffey Jr. has lost a few steps, so that is understandable.  There is one problem I have with this article.  How in the world can you claim that Adam Dunn is an average defender?  I don’t care what the “raw numbers” say.  The raw numbers also say that he has more errors than the average left fielder.  And please do not compare Dunn’s defensive prowess to that of Juan Pierre.  I almost got sick when I read that.
  • In case you have been living in a cave thus far in 2008, Edinson Volquez isn’t too bad.  He’s only on pace to have the best season ever for a rookie pitcher.  The article mentions that the Reds should consider trading Volquez while his trade value is through the roof.  I could get behind that.  Not because I don’t think he’s that good, but because he’s an arm injury waiting to happen.  The Reds are pushing him extremely hard this season, and for what?  A last place finish?  If they are going to push his arm, the Reds will be looking at a Francisco Lirano or Tom Gorzelanny type of second season.  If Dusty Baker intends on limiting his innings down the stretch however, it would be stupid to trade Volquez.  He’s someone that will be atop your rotation with Harang for the next four-five years.
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One response

23 05 2008
Dan Wiersema

Its always nice to keep the season in perspective Jim when you say, ” It’s funny how much your outlook can be altered after a single week of baseball.” Despite all of the Brewers’ troubles the NL Central is exactly what true baseball fans would want: a highly competitive division with teams that can win on any night. Baseball pundits (East Coast lovers) always knock the central as weak because no team ever runs away with the division with 90 or 95 wins (by mashing the minnows of the division), but that’s simply wrong.

Its the same for Big Ten play… not enough credit for having parity in a league and then they’re criticized when its a three or four team race for a B10 title (football or basketball). I don’t see the excitment in the ACC or AL East when one (or two) teams dominate everyone else and that somehow makes them better than the rest. Mini-rant over!

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