Friday, August 04, 2006

NL West End Boys: End Game 2006

After the trading deadline ended, there was approximately a third of the season left, so to use a baseball analogy, we're in the top of the 7th now. Things are getting a little more urgent and higher pressure, but there is still plenty of time to win the game (or to choke horribly), particularly with all the teams bunched together. Unfortunately, despite this close game, some Giants fans are already walking, figuratively, out of the stadium, looking forward to the 2007 season.

I thought I would take a look at what each team in the NL West did to bolster itself for the stretch run. I will "steal" the text used by the MLB in the article they wrote on the deals made:

PADRES

Players acquired: RHP Mike Adams, RHP Scott Williamson, INF Todd Walker
Players lost: RHP Brian Sikorski, *LHP Fabian Jimenez, *RHP Joel Santo, *RHP Jose Ceda

Comment: Still looking for a regular 3B, looks like the Dres will platoon Walker, who is a 2B by trade, at 3B with Mark Bellhorn, who has lived the life of a journeyman, except for two years, 2002 and 2004, when he got to play almost a full season both times, 146 and 138 games. Beefed up their bullpen with the additions of Williamson to their 25 man roster. He's a fire-baller with closer experience, but despite being only 30 years old, he is past his best season by 4 years now, as he suddenly lost it in 2003. With an ERA of 5.29 and WHIP of 1.58, I don't see how this is suppose to be a good addition. But the Dres have a great bullpen even with him, he should not detract from their success there. Hard to call this an upgrade, I would call it treading water until they can get their 3B.

DIAMONDBACKS

Players acquired: None
Players lost: None

Comment: None. :^) Actually, the D-backs brought up prospects Stephen Drew and Carlos Quentin and they have played well, helping the D-backs out as well as any acquisition would probably have netted them and it is setting them up for next season as well. Of course, without reliable pitching, either among their starters or their relievers, all the offense in the world won't help them. Batista and Vargas are their #2 and #3 starters, respectively, and they are probably no better than #5 starters for any other team. And Webb is experiencing arm problems, though they say it is nothing serious, for now.

GIANTS

Players acquired: INF Shea Hillenbrand, RHP Vinnie Chulk, LHP Mike Stanton
Players lost: RHP Jeremy Accardo, *RHP Shairon Martis

Comment: I think these were good moves, as I had posted previously. Accardo is finally doing well again, after an initial hiccup with Toronto and I wish him all the best. The moves are also good for what they do for other players, as well as for getting the players. The lineup and bench is helped greatly by the addition of Hillenbrand to the lineup and return of Sweeney to the bench. And the addition of Stanton allowed the Giants to return Jonathan Sanchez to the starting rotation and stretch out his arm. They sound like they expect to bring him back to the majors within the next month, he might not necessarily be a September call-up, Alou was kind of vague specific in that he said Sanchez would come back in September, then as an aside, noted it could be sooner as well, whatever that meant.

ROCKIES

Players acquired: LHP Jeremy Affeldt, RHP Denny Bautista
Players lost: *1B Ryan Shealy, *RHP Scott Dohmann

Comment: Bautista ended up optioned to the minors so only Affeldt is on the 25 man roster right now. He pitched horribly as a starter but had done well as a reliever... thus far. So he'll be another arm but it is to be seen what he can do as a reliver in the long run, it depends their bullpen but it is a big unknown. Meanwhile Shealy was a about as proven a hitter as any prospect is but was blocked by Helton, so it looked like to me that the Royals came ahead in this deal, just for him but then also got Dohmann. Bautista is the kicker for D-Rockies but he has been horribly inconsistent both this year and last, I had bit on him for my fantasy league and he burned my stats horribly when I had him.

DODGERS

Players acquired: *RHP B.J. LaMura, RHP Elmer Dessens, INF Wilson Betemit, RHP Greg Maddux, INF Julio Lugo
Players lost: C Sandy Alomar Jr., LHP Odalis Perez, RHP Blake Johnson, RHP Julio Pimentel, RHP Danys Baez, INF Willy Aybar, INF Cesar Izturis, *RHP Joel Guzman

Comment: Can't tell the players without a scorecard! Wow, Colletti in his first trading deadline went crazy, making deals all over the place and reportedly had more in play but then ran out of time. I think they generally did well, overall, in their trades.

I know I shouldn't bet against a future HOFer like Maddux (especially after his great outing tonight), but his ERA from the start of May to now is 5.48, even with his no-hitter today (6 IP), WHIP of 1.39 and average BAA of .308 (lower with no-hitter, don't know how to recalc). Are the D-gers that desparate for a starter? But Izturis was extraneous so I guess it was worth it to them to just be rid of his contract for this year and next, making this a good trade from that viewpoint. Wow, plus I just calculated his PQS: 56% DOM/13% DIS. That's damn good, maybe we should have picked him up but there's no way we could beat offering an Izturis plus the Cubs sent $1M. OK that's a good pickup.

They also traded away two good prospects in Guzman and Pedroza to rent Lugo for a couple of months - the media pundits said there's no way they gave up so much to NOT resign Lugo but why would Lugo sign with LA when they already have a SS? And unless there's something more serious about Kent's and/or Garciaparra's injuries that they hadn't announce yet, Lugo will soon be riding the bench IN HIS FREE AGENT YEAR and I would be very mad at LA for not giving me a chance to boost my numbers and get a better contract, if I were him. Head scratcher, as Guzman looked to be ready to play 2B, 3B, or OF for them next season, unless they resign Lugo.
Wilson Betemit was a good win-win type of trade, I will give them that. The D-gers upgrade to Betemit at 3B, where they have been lacking since Mueller went down at 3B. The Braves get an adequate replacement for Betemit's utility role in Aybar, meanwhile picking up Baez who they hope will revert back to his closer form again to bolster their flailing and failing bullpen, which they had earlier fortified with Wickman. Baez might also be insurance in case Wickman fails or maybe they could go with a co-closer type of role.

Analysis

Clearly the D-gers appear to have upgraded the most but they were forced to do that, they were lacking in starting pitcher, at 2B with Kent out, and at 3B with Mueller out (they were also lacking at 1B with Nomar out but unless you are the Yankees, there is a limit to the number of rent-a-players you can buy. I think the Giants are arguably next improved, though the D-backs did do well with their phenoms, but they are unproven qualities for now, who knows if they will continue, plus Quentin is only playing part-time. The Rockies and Dres certainly did not do better.

However, the Lugo situation bears watching for how that affects the team chemistry. While now they have three reliable starters with Penny, Lowe, and Maddux, the other two have ERAs in the 5-6 range, making win streaks short, so if, when, Kent and Nomar comes back, Lugo will be sitting a lot, twitching to play for his next contract (and he had been doing it, hitting for more homers and higher BA, as well as his super basestealing). He hasn't been noted as a malcontent before, but he never had reason to, either, and while this is in the past, it IS in his past, he hit his wife, so I would imagine that there might be some anger management problems that he might have and might rear it ugly head in some way. But as I noted, it only makes sense for the D-gers to get Lugo if they suspected that either Kent or Nomar had a strong possibility of missing a lot of time, which means Lugo could start at second while the healthy one of the other two play 1B and, of course, the other one stews on the DL.

Stretch Run

Who will win the West looks like the same ingredient that fueled many divisional winners in the past: someone will overachieve and do something unexpected, whether it be hitting, pitching, or just being healthy. Each team has flaws that could sink them if they don't overcome them somehow.

The Giants have a very solid lineup up and down - IF they are in the lineup: Winn, Vizquel, Alou, Bonds, Durham, Hillenbrand, Feliz, and Alfonzo/Greene. There has been 11 games since Hillenbrand joined and only 4 of them featured the above players. Plus the Giants were 1-3 in those games, averaging only 3.5 runs per game. However, the starting pitching has been good overall (see my PQS post; plus media reports starting rotation has one of the best ERA since the start of May) and the bullpen will be solid once (if) Benitez gets out of his funk plus Kline, Stanton, Chulk, Correia, and Hennessey pitching like they have been and Wilson pitching like he is capable of. Obviously, the wild cards are the health of the players and the joker of the deck is Benitez.

The D-gers also have a good lineup but the same problem: IF they are in the lineup together. Sheriff Ned has done a good job of getting spare parts all season long to stem the bleeding, but now will be handicapped by the need to waive players through the waiver wire. And after the solid top 3 starters, the other two are not doing that well lately and are unused to pennant race pressures. And their bullpen has been suspect all season long and lost Baez in the trades with noone added. They should continue to struggle to get any consistency overall, they will win and lose as we have, and in bunches.

The D-backs are also in the same shoes as the D-gers except worse lineup, worse starting rotation, and worse bullpen. They must have been winning with mirrors, their pitching staff is terrible outside of Webb, only Webb and their offense has been keeping them afloat, apparently. Their Baby-backs are going to have to come through for them to win the NL West, plus the pitching staff will have to step up as well.

The 'Dres are probably in the best position to win the division and hence their lack of need for a blockbuster deal. They have an offense driven by getting on base and speed on the basepaths (Roberts, Barfield, Cameron) plus power (Giles, Gonzalez, catchers, Greene). Amazingly, they have won despite Peavy's horrible season thus far, because their bullpen has been great, allowing their offense to take over games, plus luckily Chris Young helped pick up the slack. They just need to continue doing what they have been doing to be in the mix for first place.

D-Rocks are hard to take as serious contenders. Do any of them have playoff experience? Only their bullpen, which they have done a great job of assembling, is a big plus. Helton has been mysteriously weak and vulnerable this season, his hitting has been way off. But Holliday has broken out this year, which is good because Barmes was not as good as thought by most. The pitching staff has been surprisingly effective and they need this to continue if they want to win the NL West.

Also surprisingly, their home has become more like a pitcher's park after being an extreme hitters park in its entire history. According to an account by AP, the other day, the 1-0 game at the park was just the fourth 1-0 game in the history of the stadium, covering 12 years, but is the THIRD THIS YEAR. There has been a major league-leading 11 shutouts in Coors this season. Runs at the park are down 33% from a decade ago. Jeff Cirillo suggested that the Rockies were illegally waterlogging the baseballs, claiming to have cut a ball there and a ball they brought from Milwaukee and finding the Colorado one to be spongy and puffy.

How I See the Giants Doing

I still think the Giants can win the division but they will have their work cut out for them. The D-gers and 'Dres should be very competitive and the D-backs and D'Rockies could suprise if their young guys come through for them. However, when Hillenbrand starts hitting like he can - which could be soon, he just hit his first homer in SF for the Giants - and Winn starts his second half hot streak, the offense should take off and be scoring runs in bunches, even if a big guy is out of the lineup.

This should allow the starting pitching to relax more because they will be pitching more often with the lead and with a bigger cushion, pitchers can be more aggressive in how they pitch when there's a big lead. With Schmidt and Cain doing well, Lowry starting to get out of his doldrums, and hopefully Morris can regain his pre-All Star game edge, the team should start some nice win streaks over the next few weeks and get back on top, they should be able to play the other NL West teams well and take a few series to move up the division.

I also think Benitez will get over whatever is bothering him and start saving games again like he was before. He's not the greatest but he's good enough and I expect Felipe to not totally trust Benitez in the playoffs, should we make it, he will use others in closer situations if Benitez shows any signs of melting down. But he should be good enough to get us through the rest of the regular season, he has done it before, and while not great, will be good enough. And if he is good enough, I think the Giants will be able to trade him (with $$$) in the off season, with a rebuilding year coming soon, they have an excuse to get rid of him if they are rebuilding to some extent.

3 comments:

  1. "The Giants have a very solid lineup up and down"

    Yes.

    And every day, Iraq is moving closer to a peaceful democracy that is transforming the Middle Eat.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Martin, I'm glad someone is able to look at the glass and describe it as "one-quarter full." But I see it as three-quarters empty. With a hole in the bottom. In the midst of gale-force winds. The fact that the glass is sitting on a table known as the NL West should not distract us from the water level, the hole, or the winds.

    Bonds, Alou, Durham, Matheny, & Niekro have been injured and/or underperformed. Winn & Feliz have been simply Winn & Feliz, and we should expect nothing more. Only Vizquel has been what we hoped or expected. And I think we could foresee our current situation as early as mid-May.

    If only the losing streak could have happened 3 weeks earlier, Sabean may have been motivated to do what needs to be done. Instead, we are "going for it" this year.

    On the bright side, we've managed to keep Benitez away from the Middle East, Tyler Walker away from SF restaurants, and Shea Hillendbrand away from John Gibbons. I believe that puts us solidly in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I said my dauber was down, not down and out. I still see the half glass full, just I was really disappointed that they showed no life when Lowry had pitched the best game of his season. I'm still aiming for the World Series.

    And I still believe it's a very solid lineup up and down, I'll post more detailed thoughts on that another day (or refute myself if the data don't support it).

    All I can say is that things are different in the playoffs, barring a major injury. If we can get our guys to the playoffs (assuming we make the playoffs) healthy enough, we should be very competitive with the other teams, probably Mets, Cards, and maybe Reds or even another NL West team, we're all in the hunt for the Division title and the Wild Card spot.

    The Cards starting pitching is so bad that they resorted to Ponson and now Jeff Weaver. The Reds or NL West team or heck any of the teams only 5.5 games out, all have their weaknesses too.

    But our ace in the hole, if things continue to work out are Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, and Cain as our starting four plus our bullpen.

    If the losing streak happened 3 weeks earlier, it probably would have been followed by a long win streak to balance things off, that is the way it has been all season long, not too far up, not too far down, for all the NL West teams. Like for the Dodgers right now, they won 10 games straight and they are still not in first place, because they lost something like 13 of 14 before that. Yin and Yang.

    We just need to get it going enough to get into the playoffs, then we have as good a chance there as any NL club, the Cards I mentioned, the Mets are trying out rookie starters left and right to find someone who will stick, scrounging for Orlando Hernandez as their savior, but if our rotation is humming along like it has been plus our lineup is healthy, we can get into the World Series. Pitching is the best way to get there and our rotation is shaping up pretty well now, we don't need to be the greatest during the season, we just need to be good enough to get into the playoffs and just be on a roll by then.

    ReplyDelete

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