What Roy Oswalt To The Phillies Could Mean For The Braves

Written by Thomas on July 29, 2010 – 1:24 pm

Pending his approval, Roy Oswalt will be making 12 plus starts for the Phillies over the course of the next two months. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com points out, this trade is an admission of guilt by GM Ruben Amaro for inexplicably trading Cliff Lee last off-season. The Lee trade left the team with a top heavy rotation that was hurt even further when it lost J.A. Happ to the disabled list after only two starts.

Following the Happ injury in April, the Phillies rotation looked like this: 1) Roy Halladay 2) Cole Hamels 3-5) Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton. To translate this into Braves lingo, they had a Maddux, a Glavine and then three Kenshin Kawakamis. Another comparable would be the Braves’ 2007 rotation which consisted of Hudson, Smoltz and then three or four Kenshin Kawakamis. That season there was an incredible amount of pressure on the games Huddy and Smoltz started, because losing them meant there could easily be a four or five game losing streak. Both of them stayed healthy all season and pitched very well, but the team could only win 84 games, good for third in the NL East.

The Phillies’ top two of Halladay and Hamels have been in a similar situation all year but have managed to lead the team to an impressive 55-46 record prior to the Oswalt trade. Unfortunately, adding the Astros’ ace to their staff significantly improves the Phillies’ chances at catching the Braves down the stretch. Oswalt, who will essentially be replacing the mediocre Jamie Moyer, has been very good this year, with his 8.37 K/9 ratio being the highest it has been since his rookie season.

The Phillies could potentially switch to a four man rotation at some point before the season is over. Doing so would eliminate yet another horrible starter from their rotation. This combined with the return of Utley and Victorino will make them a very dangerous team. The Braves still have a 3.5 game head start, but their chances at winning the division looked a whole lot better one week ago. At that point the lead was seven games and Oswalt was still in an Astros’ uniform. Six games remain between Atlanta and Philly including the three game set at Turner Field to end the season. As Billy Wagner predicted long ago, these three games just might determine who wins the NL East.


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NL East on par with AL East

Written by Colin on June 19, 2010 – 8:46 am

In the last two weeks, the Atlanta Braves have played the Tampa Bay Rays, the Philadelphia Phillies have played the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Now the Florida Marlins are playing the Rays and the New York Mets are taking on the Yankees now that they’ve demolished the pitiful Baltimore Orioles. The record so far? The NL East has won 12 games, the AL East had won 5.

The NL East is good this year. Yes, our Bravos are good (and we’re damn good). We’re 29-0 when we score 5 runs or more, and we have the best home record in baseball. But it’s not a one-team division. The Phillies are starting to bat again and have started winning a few games. And though the Mets have been beating up on last place teams like the Orioles and Indians, they’ve won 8 straight. The Marlins and Nationals have shown flashes of brilliance but are riding some younger teams that aren’t developed to the point they need to be at to compete in the NL East.

The AL East is good too. Obviously you have the defending World Champ Yankees. I will point out their pitching staff has been improved by an NL East castoff (Vazquez). The Rays are just playing great baseball in almost every aspect of the game, and then you’ve got the Red Sox hanging just one game back. Even the Blue Jays have surprised and are playing six games above .500. The Orioles don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the word “good,” but I just screwed that up, didn’t I?

Bottom line is the NL East is comparable to the AL East. Even if you throw out the Orioles series (as might be fair), we’ve won 9 of 14. But we won’t throw series out. After all, the Yankees and Rays have played the O’s and those wins count towards their .612 win percentage. We’ve won 12 out of 17 games.

I’m going to go out on a limb (a very strong limb) and predict an NL East vs. AL East World Series. With a National League Champion.


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NL East Review: Braves

Written by Akshay on July 11, 2008 – 6:43 am

I figured this would be a good time to get the review in, what with it being an off-day and all. Let me start off by saying I made a mistake earlier, I should not have said the Muts would be fourth in the division. After watching this team play the past couple of weeks, and with the state they are in right, I would be pleasantly surprised if we finished above where we are right now. To be honest, I feel like this team has regressed instead of progressed.

Who would have thought that Andruw’s absence would have been such a downgrade in power numbers over the past year. It was no surprise we weren’t getting much out of left field, we didn’t last year in terms of slugging and homers. Yeah, Andruw still hit 26 homers and surprisingly had 94 RBI, but about HALF of his at-bats were with runners on and 170 of his 570 at-bats had them in scoring position. Ridiculous, this season, we can’t get guys on, guys aren’t getting over and no one’s driving anyone in.

Yeah, we have the second highest run differential in the East, but about 90% of that is thanks to the ridiculous consistency we are getting from our pitching. How much better would we have been last year with a guy like Campillo (Campillo, btw, is hitting .222, same as Andruw last year, he may have had 90 RBIs batting in the position Andruw did in our line up) or if Reyes didn’t walk every second batter he faced?

2007: Keep in mind,  before you read these stats, these numbers are with Craig Wilson’s 58 at-bats (.172), Scott Thorman’s 287 at-bats (.216), Chris Woodward’s 136 at-bats (.199) and Ryan Langerhans’ 44 at-bats (just three hits in those at-bats, THREE! Julio Franco had that many in ONE game last year). All of those numbers right there are about an entire person’s average for a season, that’s 525 at-bats and 102 hits…seriously those are real numbers, that’s a .194 batting average between three guys. Lots of what-ifs surrounding last year’s team.

In 2007, the Braves finished third in the NL in batting average (.275), and scored the third most number of runs with 810. One of the reasons they were able to do so well was clutch hitting. Guys like Frenchy had ridiculous numbers in the clutch, but we’ll get to those later. With runners on at all, Atlanta hit .284…that went up with runners in scoring position to .291. They hit just .265 with runners and scoring position and two outs, but that was second in the league behind Pittsburgh (.267).

However, last season, just as they do this season, the Braves did hit poorly in close and late situations. Those situations, as described by The Language of Baseball are “situations in a baseball game in the seventh or later inning with the any of the following conditions: score tied. one team leading by a run, or with the tying run on base, at the plate, or on deck.”

In those instances, the Braves came in eighth at .257 with only 112 runs. Compare that to St. Louis who led the league with a .313 batting average and Houston and Philly who both scored 141 runs in those situations.

Fast forward to this 2008, Braves are down two guys that were stalwarts on the field in at least the past two seasons: Edgar Renteria and Andruw Jones since 1997. The Braves, after 92 games, are ninth in the league in runs scored (405, Chicago is tops at 487), yet third in batting average(.263, Chicago is tops at .282)…kind of makes you wonder. Read more »


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NL East Review: Philadelphia

Written by Akshay on July 6, 2008 – 2:44 pm

Well…I’ve been out of town for a couple of days and am writing this at about 3:30 in the morning while watching a movie with my cousins, so excuse me if this one sucks. The Phils deserve a good review because frankly, they’ve been the least bad team in the division this whole season. The Nats flat out stink, the Mets are severely underachieving, the Marlins are playing above and beyond their capabilities for what is supposed to about a second or third year team…but the Phils, I still can’t understand how they keep winning.

Unlike their usual selves, they got off to a decent start and did not dig the same huge hole they have over several of the past fifteen years (2003 was their last World Series appearance and their last playoff appearance before 2007). They’ve done it for the most part with what has been one guys in their rotation and a bunch of pitchers just flat out do well against the rest of the NL East. The Phillies are 8-1 against the Braves to this point, 3-3 against Washington, 3-3 against Florida and 3-5 against the Mets (as of  7.06.08, morning). How they continue to dominate the Braves and destroy the Braves, I won’t know. It just seems like the matchups that look to go in our favor go in theirs and the matchups that go in their favor are blowouts.

That said, the Phillies are a team that know how good they are but also know their shortcomings. They have one of the best offenses in the league with Jimmy Rollis, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard at the top and guys like Cole Hamels, J.C. Romero and a new Brad Lidge on the pitching staff. They have been making their noise by getting a lead to their bullpen and hoping they can keep it. Which, the bullpen has done a spectacular job of.

After 86 games played, Philly has led the National League in relievers’ ERA (2.74), had 22 saves, pitched the least amount of bullpen innings (250.0, which is understandable for a team that does not have an overworked bullpen) and been second to the Braves in batting average against at .235.

Offensively, they are second in the league in runs scored, but ranked 10 in average (.257)…hmm…how does one figure that?  With runners on at all, they Phils step it up to .279, tied with Pittsburgh for the league lead. With runners in scoring position, the Phillies are hitting .272, third best in the league.

The Phillies pitching staff overall is ranked 3 in ERA (3.89), but their starters feature a 4.44 ERA, obviously not the best.

But with Philly, when they get their hits, they make them count. They are second in the league in slugging percent, meaning they get a lot of extra base hits, and obviously home runs in their park. But that’s not all, their OPS is second in the league and their On-base percentage is fourth.

Now the Phillies need what most other teams need, another solid starting pitcher. They dont know how long Adam Eaton will hold up, and the same with Jamie Moyer. Cole Hamels is a stud, but what about Kyle Kendrick and Brett Myers? Will Myers become the dominant start they think he’ll be, or will he regress into a double AA quality pitcher. That said, they are in the market for C. C. Sabathia and look to make some noise in that way.

Anyway, There’s not much more to say about the Phillies other than they have owned us the last two seasons and hopefully will slow down a little against us in the second half. They are easily a 90 win team and I think they will be the team tied with Florida for the lead at the end of the season.

Prediction: 90-72, Tied 1st

– Akshay


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NL East Review: Marlins

Written by Akshay on July 3, 2008 – 1:27 pm

Man…those Devil Rays really are making a name for themselves. Evan Longoria, Rookie of the Year? Guy’s an absolute beast this year, average isn’t perfect, but his other numbers are easily better than any other rookie out there. Among qualifying rookies in both leagues, Longoria is fourth in the majors in average (.275, tops in the AL) and tops in the majors in homers (15), he is also tied for second with Geovany Soto for RBIs (50, David Murphy – 52). Among other stat categories, Longoria leads the majors in slugging (.528) and is second to Soto in OPS (.876). Yes I know I haven’t really looked at pitchers, but the best qualifying AL Rookie is 5-6 with a 3.44 ERA, not exactly sparkling even for a rookie (remember Brandon Webb and Dontrelle Willis‘ rookie years?). No that definitely got me thinking back to 1995, when a young hotshot rookie third baseman was coming off a severe ACL injury, but immediately made an impact offensively on a team that would go on to win the world series. Chipper Jones that year hit .265 with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs, he also had 23 doubles and a .450 slugging percentage…this was in 524 at-bats, Longoria’s doing his damage in half that many. At the rate he’s going, Longoria might become THE offensive threat in their line up for years to come (he also signed a long term contract that would keep him out of the first year of free agency).

Anyway, back to the real article: The Marlins, boy they were a surprise coming out of the gates and still are. But to be honest, anyone truly surprised by this just hasn’t taken a look at the recent past. The Marlins have a unique formula for winning games, getting to the playoffs and winning championships. Their owner and general manager don’t go for it every year as much as their fans would like to believe. After their first championship in 1997, they got rid of guys like Gary Sheffield, Moises Alou, Luis Castillo among hitters and Techie Kevin Brown, Rob Nen and Al Leiter among pitchers to bring in younger talent. Later in 1998 they would resume their firesale to bring in guys like…well, just take a look at this, their 2003 Championship roster:

  • C – Ivan Rodriguez
  • 1B – Derek Lee
  • 2B – Luis Castillo
  • 3B – Mike Lowell
  • SS – Alex Gonzalez
  • LF – Todd Hollandsworth
  • CF – Juan Pierre
  • RF – Juan Encarnacion
  • BN – Miguel Cabrera
  • BN – Mike Redmond
  • SP – Carl Pavano (Healthy)
  • SP – Brad Penny
  • SP – Mark Redman (when he was good)
  • SP – Dontrelle Willis
  • SP – Josh Becket (worst starter on that staff…seriously)
  • CL – Braden Looper, not the best but still good at that time.

Imagine what their team would be and how many games they would have won in the last five years had they kept those guys together. At that time only Pudge was over 30, but he’s still playing pretty decently. He’s only seen a decline this year. All of the rest of those guys are name guys, there aren’t any players on that team that would make you think, huh? who? Maybe back then, and obviously hindsight is 20/20, but still, there’s something special about a group of no-name players winning a world series.

In that regard, I initially predicted them to win one in 2009 (every six years), but the way this team’s going right now I would not be surprised to see them do it a year early. They have the talent, their offense is clicking and they are expecting some of their best pitchers back (just like the Braves, except the Marlins are actually hitting).

These are some of the highlights of their current roster and how they got the players:

  • Dan Uggla – .289, 23 homer, 58 RBIs and .620 slugging (!!). Rule 5 draft pick from Arizona when they could not find room for him on the roster
  • Jorge Cantu – .273, 14 homers,  struck out just 66 times in 330 at-bats. This guy was released by the Reds in December and signed to a minor league contract by the Marlins and is now an everyday player.
  • Hanley Ramirez – .298, 20 home runs, 41 RBI and 72 runs scored. Came over in the Josh Beckett trade from the Red Sox and just signed the largest contract in Marlins history.
  • Their outfield is pretty decent too with guys like Luis Gonzalez (who was supposed to be washed up and done), Cody Ross and Jeremy Hermida (who went to my high school – Wheeler, Go Wildcats!). Not only that, they have solid backups in Alfredo Amezaga, Wes Helms and Josh Willingham
  • With the exception of Mark Hendrickson, all of their starters are 25 and under. Scott Olsen got serious this year and and has a 3.47 ERA in 106.1 innings, Ricky Nolasco is 9-4 with a 3.94 ERA and they are still expecting Josh Johnson back later this season.
  • In the Bullpen both Kevin Gregg and Renyel Pinto have sub-3.00 ERAs in 40+ innings for both (Gregg has pitched 39.2, close enough).

So, how do they stack up against other teams…pretty well. They are fifth in the NL in runs scored (407) and first in home runs (121). Their team batting average is pretty low (11, .253), but they step it up when there are runners on (.266). They are also fifth in OPS at .758.

Their pitching stats are surprisingly poor with a 4.54 team ERA (12), and 10 in batting average against at .262. Their bullpen, though, has been solid with a 3.71 ERA and a .241 BAA.

So after these numbers, where would the Marlins possibly need help? Well, the same place everyone else is looking, starting pitching. They may need one or two guys to get them down the stretch. Hendrickson has been slowing down after a great start and they may need someone to spell him. They also need some help in the bullpen to stabilize that end and maybe get a set up guy for the stretch. That said, they are a very young team and have tasted losing seasons in the past, the taste of those seasons has obviously left them with a great will to win and win soon. I think the Marlins’ best baseball is ahead of them and they should be able to pull out the division as long as they keep believing in themselves.

Current Record: 44-40

Predicted Final Record: 90-72, Tied-1st NL East

– Akshay


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NL East Review: Mets

Written by Akshay on July 2, 2008 – 4:04 pm

I almost feel like I should be writing about the Rays after what they did (again) last night. Is there seriously a better team around right now? I doubt it, I almost wonder how they keep doing it day in and day out. And they’re really not likely to drop off since none of them are rookies and have experienced a full season’s load before.

Anyway, let’s move on to talking about a much worse, more dysfunctional team: The New York Mets. What can I say about them, has there been a worse underachiever in the majors this year? In the top three in team payroll and still cannot even seem competitive. The reality of it is they’re lingering around and have the pieces in place to make a run if they can put it together mentally. New York is only 3.5 games behind the Phillies, one game under .500 and they get to play them this weekend. It’ll be good timing for them as long as the Phils have not severely beaten up the Braves by then.

According to Coolstandings, the Mets have an 11.3 % chance of making the playoffs as the division winner (believe it or not, their chance is less than the Braves’ 13.0 % chance at the 4 spot). They have even less of a chance of winning the wildcard with both Milwaukee and St. Louis sitting at better records than the best team in our division.

The problems with the Mets run pretty deep. Two seasons ago (2006), the Mets built up a HUGE lead by the All-Star break and coasted to the division title, the lead was so big that they were able to withstand a pretty good rally by the Phillies towards the end of that season, who at 85-77 were still 12 games out.

But last year something awesome happened, not necessarily a good awesome, but awesome. The Mets became the first team to blow a lead as much as 7.5 games in September. Yes, they blew a 7.5 game lead in just ONE MONTH! That’s not even 30 games but around 25 or 26 depending on the team.

The Mets really have little to no excuse. They have had less players and less important players injured than any of the other teams in the East. And by important players I mean players that have had a huge impact on the team when they have been in the lineup or on the field. And I’ve narrowed that list down to Ryan Church, Angel Pagan and Pedro Martinez in his first and third start. In fact their projected starter behind the plate didn’t even make it back to the starter’s role after he came off the DL, Ramon Castro is now backing up Brian Schneider.

The Mets’ mediocrity goes beyond injuries though, they’re just flat out not hitting well. They’re sixth in the league in runs (386), ninth in hits (736), 11 in home runs (75), 10 in average (.257) and 11 in OPS (.726). With the exception of runs scored, all of the other values are well  below the league averages.

Individually, they are not doing much better. Carlos Beltran has a similar average to his career, but his slugging percentage at .471 is 123 points below his 2006 percentage and about 54 points below his slugging average last year. In fact, his numbers this year are closer to his down year in 2005 than his good years of 2006 and 2007. His ESPN projected end of the year averages show 23 home runs and 107 RBIs. Those are pretty good numbers, but I’m sure Mets fans would love to see more home runs out of their star player than they are seeing now.

Other players that are struggling include David Wright, their other star. Wright is hitting 20 points below his career average at .288 and is slugging 20 points below that average as well at .508. Wright’s struggles are coming with runners in scoring position. With runners in scoring position (RISP), Wright is hitting .273 and .267 with RISP and 2 outs. Pretty low for a guy that’s supposed to be clutch. Jose Reyes is their only player doing better than his career averages. He is hitting .291 and slugging .471, both higher than his career averages. Reyes, though, just does not have the same stolen base numbers that he did in the past and is outwardly having trouble getting along with new manager Jerry Manuel.

Where would they be if Carlos Delgado would hit anything though? Delgado is hitting .236, about 50 points lower than his career and .432 slugging, about 100 points lower than his average. Delgado has similar halfway stats to his career stats, but was really struggling at the beginning of the season in pressure situations. He drew several boos and has only recently started to come out of his slump at the plate.

The Mets are equally average in the pitching department. They are eighth in ERA (4.17), 12 in walks (309) and 5 in batting average against (.255). Of course, much of their success is because of new acquisition Johan Santana. Of qualifying pitchers, only Santana (6) and John Maine (T-19) are in the top 20 and no more in the top 40, though Oliver Perez is 41 with a 4.98 ERA. Compare that to the Phillies who have four starters in the top 40.

Santana is 7-7 with a 3.01 ERA and 103 strikeouts. Santana came over from the Twins in the off-season and signed a 6 year $150 million contract. Of course, for a pitcher, that’s pretty ridiculous money. The Mets haven’t exactly won all of his starts, in fact they are 4-6 in his last 10 and are 9-8 in his starts this year overall, not worth the $16 million he’s making this year.

So what do the Mets have to do to get better? Simple, find a source of motivation, increase their club chemistry and band together to try and save the job of their general manager and (maybe) manager if they decide to keep him. They have too many players who speak out negatively. Billy Wagner really takes it upon himself to call out other players in a passive aggressive way and there just isn’t the same clubhouse chemistry there was two seasons ago when they won 97 games.

As of right now, the Mets are 41-42 in 83 games and are probably going to end up with a similar record at the end of the season as they do now. Without a change in attitude and chemistry, the Mets will not do much better than they are doing now.

Prediction: 80-82, 4 NL East

-Akshay


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NL East Review: Nationals

Written by Akshay on July 1, 2008 – 2:22 pm

So, here we are at the halfway point of the season. About the time when you can almost judge what will happen down the stretch (no one could have seen the Mets major collapse this early last year, but there will be random cases). If the season ended after 81 games, the Phillies, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Cardinals (wildcard, WC) would be off to the playoffs in the National League. The Rays, White Sox, Angels and Boston (WC) would be the teams in the American League. Yes, the first name on the AL side was the Rays and in Tampa Bay, formerly the Devil Rays. The team has a great nucleus of young players, young pitchers and veterans. Almost reminiscent of some of the early Braves teams of the ‘90s…but not quite.But I’m not really here to talk about the AL; I wanted to talk about the NL East this week, starting from the bottom up. So today we’ll talk about everyone’s favorite bottom feeder: The Washington Nationals. Remember in 2005 when they were the only team with 50 wins by the all-star break? Well, they were living on the edge much like last season’s Diamondbacks and winning a lot of one run games with Cordero as their designated closer. Of course, all the Braves did was calmly go to Washington in the first series after the all-star break to take the lead in the division and never looked back. The Nats ended up finishing last at 81-81 (the NL East was the only division without a losing record that year) and haven’t really seen much more than the bottom of the division.

Since that time, former manager and hall-of-famer Frank Robinson retired and Manny Acta took over. Guys like Ryan Zimmerman, Lastings Milledge and Cristian Guzman have been the go-to guys on that team. Not saying much? Seriously, those are probably their best hitters. This season, Zimmerman leads the team with eight home runs, Milledge leads the team with just 32 RBIs and Guzman leads the team with a .314 (respectable) average and 48 runs scored at the top of the order.

To see how they fare against other teams, you pretty much have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the NL in the stats page to find them. They rank dead last in:

  • Runs scored (305, Braves are seventh with 375).
  • Hits (675, Braves are third with 769).
  • Total bases (1014, Braves are sixth with 1193).
  • RBI (285, Braves are sixth at 359).
  • Batting Average (.239, Braves are third at .270).
  • OPS (.673, Braves are fourth at .765).

Obviously, that’s the result of not winning a lot of games and not getting any production out of guys they would have thought were guys that would give them a lot. Austin Kearns (.187, 42 games) and Felipe Lopez (.242, .318 OBP, 72 games) are hitting well below their averages in Cincinnati and has been the status quo for what the Nats are going through. Guzman is, in fact, the only guy with respectable stats on the entire offense. He is hitting .314 with a .776 OPS and 24 doubles in 82 games.

Sadly, the pitching stats do not get much better with this team. They rank 14 in ERA (4.55, Braves are tops with a 3.69 team ERA), 11 in the NL in walks (308, Braves are ninth with 287) and 14 in batting average against (.288, Braves are again tops with a .246).

So what will the Nats have to do to get better? This team looks so similar to our teams of the ‘80s that there are no quick fixes. The fans and the players will have to ride it out until they can get some solid young talent in, enough to fill up their minor league system and who knows, maybe one year it will just click and send them to the top of the division.

This year, there’s probably little to no chance of them making a run. The Nats currently sit at 33-51. They have shown little to no efforts to get better and are not getting healthier. Chad Cordero was placed on the disabled list today and was never fully healthy this season. Because of this, I doubt the Nats will win that many more games than they won in the first half.

Prediction: 63 – 99, 5 in NL East.

Akshay

 


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Quarter Season Review – National League

Written by Akshay on May 28, 2008 – 10:13 am

Now, onto the much delayed analysis of the NL and their surprises:

NL West: Looking at the standings, there’s one thing that really surprised me. The two teams that played a 163rd game last season are one and two wins ahead of the worst record in the majors (owned by the Mariners). Those teams are San Diego and Colorado respectively. San Diego has scored the fewest runs in the majors, understandable when they have absolutely no consistency in their lineup (other than Adrian Gonzalez who would be the fifth or sixth best hitter on the Braves by comparison), they have no power (12th in the NL in home runs, which is understandable considering they play in Petco, but surprising because they have less homers on the road than at home). Moving on up, Colorado is just struggling because of growing pains from their young pitchers. Other than Aaron Cook (7-3, 2.82) none of their other starters has a sub-4.00 ERA. The third place team in the division, San Francisco, is a team that some thought could be the worst offensive team in the history of the majors before the season started. They’ve done alright considering they’re just now coming off the Barry Bonds era and pretty much rebuilding from the ground up. As far as their offense, the only team in the majors that has scored less runs than the Giants are the Padres in the NL and the Royals in the AL. Arizona is a team that everyone expected to do well at the beginning of the season and they have. They are probably the best team in the NL and deservedly so, their young offense is getting better and their pitching staff has gotten better with the addition of Dan Haren from Oakland. The Dodgers are the enigma of the group, they are very streaky, but are also the victim of bad front office movies. Joe Torre being the new manager, in my opinion, wasn’t very different from Grady Little. I think the name and ticket sales they would bring in with a big name manager were the clincher for Torre in this case.

NL Central: Boy, this division really turned upside down after the Cubs. Last season, the Cardinals finished seven games out of first place in the Central and even worse in the wildcard race. The Astros finished 14 games behind the leader in the same division. This season both teams have gone through somewhat of a rebirth to the early part of the decade when they regularly battled for the central crown. This season both teams are battling with the Cubs for the lead in the division. St. Louis is one game out and Houston is two games behind the Cubs. All three teams have the offense, pitching or both to carry them to the divisional crown and I fully expect this race to go down to the end of the season.

NL East: I think we can call this a four team race down to the wire. We just outlined the Marlins a couple of days ago and we all know about the Braves. The Phillies will be in contention as long as they play at Citizens Bank Park and the Mets….well, yeah they’ll stick around, I guess. Honestly, I really don’t see them winning consistently outside of Santana’s starts. The Mets are 7-3 when Santana starts and 17-23 when everyone else does, kind of tells you something about their pitching staff. For the division though, I’m sticking with my preseason pick of the Braves. Here’s why: They are a third of the season without some of their major players (Smoltz, Soriano, Gonzalez, Moylan among others) and are only 2.5 games out of the lead. Soriano and Smoltz are expected back soon, meaning Cox won’t have to worry as much about going to the bullpen (which is still the third best in the NL) as much as he would have earlier in the season. The Braves bullpen has a 3.51 ERA, sixth in the league and a .229 batting average against, third in the league.

Predictions:

NL West: Arizona
NL Central: Chicago
NL East: Atlanta

Wildcard: Philadelphia


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NL East: The Big Picture

Written by Colin on May 25, 2008 – 10:01 am

Here’s the big picture in the NL East right now:

Florida Marlins: Can they hold it together? Nobody expected to see these guys in first this far into the season.  I think even the Marlins are surprised.  That hasn’t kept them from acting like they belong in first.  Anchored offensively by Uggla, Hermida, and Ramirez, the Marlins have come out to score this year – currently ranked 10th in the league with runs scored.  The rotation has been solid as well – only six different pitchers have started games this year.  The Marlins recently picked up Jacque Jones to shore up their outfield after he was released by the Tigers.  But if the Tigers can afford to release him, will he help?  The biggest question remains: can the Marlins keep it up?

Atlanta Braves: Sure, the Braves can win at home, but they have to be able to win on the road or nothing will come of it. The Braves have a rock solid offense led by the mighty Chipper Jones, but they’ve had some injury issues on their pitching staff – Smoltz is moving to the bullpen, Rafael Soriano has spent significant time on the DL, but they’ll get those two plus Mike Gonzalez back from the DL here soon. The question – will they trade for another starter? Not if Jorge Campillo can keep up his Greg Maddux impression (and get rid of some pesky blisters).

Philadelphia Phillies:  The Phillies are shadowing the Braves as they both stalk the Marlins.  Their offense has been good but hasn’t been firing on all cylinders for more than a game or two at a time, and past Cole Hamels their other starters have ERAs at or above 4.37.  Brett Myers has dropped his last four starts, and Adam Eaton is still winless.  If the Phillies’ starters can get their acts together, this is a much more dangerous team – already they’re fourth in the NL with 26 quality starts – but they have potential for much more.  On the other hand, their bullpen has been great – lowing the team ERA to a 5th best 3.98.  The Phillies could come together to be a very dangerous team.

New York Mets: The Mets’ manager Willie Randolph is under fire for his team’s poor play. And the Mets have had poor play as of late. They’re now in fourth place struggling to beat decent teams. The team is oft-injured. Ryan Church likes concussions, Moises Alou caught Mike Hampton syndrome, and Marlon Anderson pulled up lame. And that’s just the last series in Atlanta. Pedro comes back soon, but will he really help? Johan Santana hasn’t been the savior he was billed as, either. This team has got to start playing ball if they want to hang it at the top of the division.

Washington Nationals:  The Nationals are just chilling out in the NL East basement, 7.5 games out of first with a .420 winning percentage.  Their offense is one of the worst in the NL, ranking third to last in runs scored, second to last in OBP and OPS, and last in batting average, slugging percentage, and stolen bases.  Their pitching staff is better, but not by much, ranked 12/16 in ERA and 13/16 in Batting Average Against.  This is likely something we see continued for most of the season.

What do you see happening?  Can the Marlins hold it together?  Will the Braves start winning on the road?  Can the Phillies fire on all cylinders?  Are the Mets and Willie Randolph doomed to oblivion?


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Quarter Season Review – American League

Written by Akshay on May 23, 2008 – 10:13 am

We’re about at that point in a season when one can look at the standings and say, “so these are the contenders.” And here they are:

In the AL East we have the mighty Red Sox, the only team with a better (by 1 win) home win-loss record than our own Braves. The surprising Rays and Orioles check in behind the Sox. The Rays have never had this good of a record this late in the season and it’s been a long time since the Orioles have been here. The Orioles have scored less runs than they’ve allowed, giving them the title of “this year’s 2007 Diamondbacks.” While they don’t have the same kind of ridiculous young talent that the D’backs had last year, they do have their fair share. Adam Jones, the stud center field prospect from Seattle, is hitting .260, a respectable average for a rookie. Luke Scott, from Houston in the Tejada trade, is hitting .271 with four homers and Nick Markakis, of Woodstock, is hitting .264 with eight homers. The Orioles, who traded ace Erik Bedard to Seattle in the offseason, still have a good crop of young pitchers. Second year pitcher Brian Burress leads the team in ERA with 3.47, a run and a half better than last season. Daniel Cabrera is 5-1 and Jeremy Guthrie also has a sub-4.00 ERA for the starters. George Sherrill, who also came over from Seattle, has been a pleasant surprise for the Orioles with 17 saves in 19 opportunities.

Moving on, in the AL Central may be the most even division. The Detroit Tigers (ESPN’s preseason darling) is sitting in last place, six games out of the lead. They probably could have used Jurrjens in their rotation this year. Overall, they are the only division where just one team has a winning record. The White Sox have played above expectations all year. Jermaine Dye and A.J. Pierzynski are both hitting over .300 and Carlos Quentin leads the AL with 12 homers. On the pitching side, both John Danks and Gavin Floyd (who the Phillies traded for nothing when they got Freddy Garcia) have a sub-3.00 ERA, Jose Contreras is back to form with a 5-3 record and Javier Vazquez is tied for the AL lead in strikeouts.

Finally, the AL West may be the one division where the best team is not necessarily leading the division. To this point, the Oakland A’s have scored nearly as many runs as the Angels (3.0 games ahead), but have given up 31 less runs. With Rich Harden coming off the DL recently, the rotation should get a boost assuming no other injuries hit the team. The A’s have average at best hitting, with their best everyday hitter (Bobby Crosby) sitting at .266. As a team they are fourth in the AL in runs scored, but 11th in hitting overall. The disparity is easy to spot though; the A’s are hitting .282 with runners in scoring position (4th in the AL). They are also winning games by getting ahead early and allowing the pitchers to take over. Oakland is second in team ERA (3.19) in the first six innings and their bullpen has a 3.25 ERA, also second in the league.

Here are my predictions for the rest of the season:

AL East: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Cleveland Indians
AL West: LA Angels of Anaheim
AL Wildcard: Oakland Athletics

Stay tuned for the NL Review.


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Pondering The Phillies

Written by Colin on May 1, 2008 – 12:13 pm

Erik of PhilliesFlow.com was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions about the Phillies yesterday. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s a great blog full of stats and good insight on the Phillies. Great way to keep track of what’s going on up in the City of Brotherly Hate. I also answered some great questions he had about the Braves, so check out his blog for that Q&A session.

BravesBlast: With Jimmy Rollins on the DL until at least next Monday, how are the Phillies picking up the slack?

Erik: Eric Bruntlett gets the call at short now and forever until the Phils get Rollins back. After a miserable start he’s been good defensively, but the Phillies have no chance to replace Rollins’ offense at the position. One of the things that has Phillies’ fans excited early is that the team is playing well without Rollins. Basically they’ve been managing to win games paced by unbelievable hittting from Utley, who hit seven home runs in seven days, and Burrell, who set a team record by driving in 24 runs in April. The bullpen has also been other-worldly, far better than just about anyone had expected.

BravesBlast: The Phillies’ bullpen has been very successful this year – introduce us to the key pieces and tell us what your thoughts are.

Erik: Brad Lidge is the biggest story for the Phils, not allowing a run in his first 11 appearances for the Phils as he knocked down six saves. Coming into Wednesday night’s game, Lidge, JC Romero and Rudy Seanez had combined to allow one earned run in 31 1/3 innings. Seanez doesn’t see as many of the pressure situations that Lidge and Romero do, but the trio has been impressive.

Tom Gordon is another guy that Manuel feels comfortable going to with the game on the line. He got bombed for five runs in a third of an inning on opening day but has been lights out since. In his ten appearances after his first time out, Gordon threw to a 1.80 ERA with a 1.00 ratio and struck out 12 in ten innings.

Chad Durbin generally gets the call in long relief and he’s been very good as well, throwing to a 1.56 ERA coming into Wednesday night’s game. He leads the pen in innings pitched with 17.

Seanez, Ryan Madson and Clay Condrey make up the rest of the pen and most often fill out when the game is out of reach one way or another. I’m a little surprised we aren’t seeing more of Seanez given how effective he’s been early, but we’ll see if his role evolves. Madson has struggled early, but will likely find himself in a bigger role as the season progresses. Condrey will give the Phils innings until the next time they DFA him, but it probably won’t be pretty.

A big issue for the Phils pen is the lack of lefties. Romero is their only southpaw and it puts a lot of pressure on Manuel to keep the Phils’ left-handed starters (Hamels and Moyer) in the game, especially if the Phils’ opponent has big lefty sticks in their lineup. We saw that in a game last week when Hamels stayed in to throw 121 pitches against the Brewers and lefty Prince Fielder lit him up for his second home run in the eighth. The Phils will put another lefty in their pen before too long and it may be Steve Kline.

BravesBlast: Where are the spots in the lineup opposing pitchers can hope to get a break from the offense? And how good is your offense when you’re not hitting BP in the launching pad that is your home field?

Pretty much everyone except Utley, Burrell and Jayson Werth haven’t done much with the bat this month. Utley and Burrell have just been ridiculous. The lineup is weak at the bottom where you’ll often find Feliz, Ruiz and Bruntlett all in a row. Those three are all righties, too, so the bottom of the order is especially vulnerable to a good righty reliever. The Phils also pretty much can’t hit for Bruntlett cause if they do they have to move Feliz to short, and that’s not what you’re looking for.

In 2007 the Phillies scored more runs in their games away from home than any other team in the NL (if memory serves, the Mets and the Braves were both in the NL last year (could be mistaken, we could probably get someone to look that up if need be)). Primarily due to the extended loss of Rollins and the miserable start by Howard, the Phils’ offense is down across the board in 2008. It may be down all season, the Phils scored nearly 900 runs last year, but by the end I expect they will be among the league leaders in runs scored both overall and on the road if not at the top. Citizens Bank Park is a great place for hitters, but the Phillies’ hitters would be really good without it.

BravesBlast: Let’s Mets bash. Can they keep it up? How tight is the race going to be in the final months of the season, and who’s in on the chase?

Erik: Fraid so. On paper they’re the best team in the division. On the other hand, they were last year as well and that didn’t end up helping them much. The Mets certainly seem like they could implode at any time in some spectacular fashion, but even if they do I can’t see them not being in the picture down the stretch. I think the Phillies and Braves are going to be in striking distance when September rolls around, so it may come down to who plays the best at the end of the season.

The Fish have been fantastic in the early going, but even with all their impressive young talent they may be a couple of years away from being a legitimate contender for the division.

BravesBlast: One of my good friends (sadly a Phillies fan) told me the starting rotation scares him. Tell us who pitches behind Hamels and Myers, and whether or not they’re decent and who we can tee off against.

Brett Myers got the start for the Phils on opening day, but Cole Hamels is without a doubt the Phillies’ ace. The Phils are counting on Myers and Hamels to carry the load when it comes to the rotation, cause they’ve got a lot of question marks behind them.

Sadly for the Phils, only one of the duo is getting it done so far. Myers has struggled to find his velocity, often working in the mid to upper 80’s, and been banged around a bit. After six starts his ERA is over five and he’s allowed ten home runs over his last 32 innings.

Myers and Hamels are the guys the Phils are really counting on, cause there are some big potential problems looming behind. Jamie Moyer is amazing. He’s 45 years old and a treat to watch when he’s on. He has come up with huge performances in big games for the Phils, but he also gets bombed every so often. Even when he doesn’t he can’t go real deep into games, so it puts a burden on the pen.

Adam Eaton pitches behind Moyer, looking to rebound from a season where he threw to a 6.29 ERA in 30 starts for the Phils. He started off the season strong, throwing to a 4.12 ERA over his first three starts. He’s struggled more his last two times out — in both games he seemed to be cruising but then got lit up quickly in a big inning that chased him out of the game.

Kyle Kendrick rounds out the rotation. The 23-year-old is coming off of a fantastic surprise of a rookie season in which he went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 20 starts. Kendrick is a guy that just about everyone expects is going to slump this year. His numbers overall with the Phils last season were better than his minor league numbers, he doesn’t strike anyone out and lefties kill him. He’s been hit pretty hard this year and sports a 5.13 ERA after his first five times out.

Overall I’d say there’s good reasons for concern when it comes to the Phillies rotation. At least one of the guys behind Hamels and Myers won’t make it through the season, but Myers is the real problem for the Phils if he doesn’t start to pitch better. The Phillies are counting on Myers to stabalize things, and if he can’t get his problems figured out the Phils don’t have anyone in the organization with the talent to replace him. It will be interesting to see where the Phillies go when they have to make a move at the back end of their rotation. Giving Chad Durbin some starts may be the first choice. Kris Benson is rehabbing, I don’t think there are many people who think there’s any chance he can help the team before June, if that soon. The Phils do have some touted (at least by the Phils) arms in the minor leagues — if they have to go there my guess is that Josh Outman might get the first call.

Thanks once again to Erik from PhilliesFlow for his insight and willingness to share his opinions. I answered some questions from him about the Braves – don’t lose the opportunity to go check out his blog.


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NL East Power Rankings

Written by Colin on April 7, 2008 – 10:49 am

It’s time for our first series of NL East Power Rankings. Power Rankings indicate who has the power and momentum in the division and with three contenders this year, they’ll change weekly. So who is at the top? Who is at the bottom? And why do the Marlins have the same record as the Braves?

#1 – The Atlanta Braves
The Braves (3-3) have come out of the gate with their offense firing on most cylinders. The scary part of that is they’re still 2nd in the NL in average (.292), runs (40), slugging percentage (.470) and OPS (.822). They’ve already shown their ability to battle back and put games into extra innings, as well as outscore the Mets 14-6 in the last two games. Their pitching staff is not working as it should yet – the bullpen is recovering from early jitters and Mike Hampton is back on the DL (Surprise? Hardly). But solid starts from both John Smoltz and Jair Jurrjens have put the Braves in a good spot to be – at the top of the division early.

#2 – Florida Marlins
How are these guys able to be 3-3? They’ve taken it to the Pirates. I don’t think they’ll be in the #2 position long, so don’t get used to it. They’ll begin climbing the ranks downward.

#3 – New York Mets
These guys would be in the two position were it not for the Marlins’ strong start. Santana is looking good, Pedro is hurt and their offense wasn’t clicking during their last series against the Braves. The Mets’ bullpen hasn’t been stellar so far either. But they’re the Mets, and they’ll surely rebound strong. Can’t discount them.

#4 – Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies may be in the cellar right now as far as standings go, but they’re not completely dead yet. However, they’ve had issues with the starting pitching and relief corps. And their highly touted offense has had a slow start – scoring only 27 runs so far – that’s fourth in the NL East.

#5 – Washington Nationals
The Nationals have issues. They just lost a series – the entire series – to Cardinals. The Nationals did eek out a win against the Braves to start the season (lucky break on that Moylan pitch), but they’re going to need to start winning the easy games against the teams that are worse than them. Thus, they’re in the basement, at least for the first week of the power rankings.

Did I mis-rank the teams? Any of the 12 Marlins fans that are young enough to own computers want to whine about them not being at the top? Leave us a comment and we’ll hash it out.


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