What a difference a week makes. After the Chicago Cubs swept the Chicago White Sox in Wrigley last weekend, the Cubs were rolling and the White Sox looked disheveled at the plate and in the field. Somehow, just seven days later, the White Sox are actually closer to the Cubs now than BEFORE they got swept. After the crosstown series, the Cubs lost two of three to Baltimore and then got swept by the White Sox this past weekend. The White Sox, however, won two of three from LA on the road and the three game sweep of the Cubs gave them a 5-4 record since 6/20 compared to the Cubs' 4-5 record in that span.
The reality? Each team caught a few breaks in its home ballpark, the talent level is pretty even, and there is a really good chance both teams will be playing in October.
Quick quiz: who is currently leading the majors in home runs? No, not Josh Hamilton, but nice try. Chase Utley? Almost, but not quite, despite hitting a home run every day for a month (or at least it seemed like that for a while). Wrong, it's not Lance Berkman, although he is 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in BA, HR, and RBI in the NL. 43 guesses later, you finally figured it out: Dan Uggla. Uggla, a late bloomer, has hit 81 HR in just 2 1/2 major league seasons compared to 64 HR over the course of 5 minor league seasons. Since the day he arrived in the majors, Uggla has proven he can hit, and he appears destined for a Jeff Kent type career, albeit with a later start (Uggla is already 28).
Kent is 40 and has proven to be remarkably consistent and durable. It's saying a lot, but if Uggla can maintain his health, we will start hearing his name mentioned with future Hall of Famer Jeff Kent in another decade or so, especially if he continues his torrid home run pace.
If you happened to have ESPN on last night, you caught a great battle between Josh Beckett and Dan Haren. Best of all, Joe Morgan was no where to be heard. Haren got the best of Beckett as the Diamondbacks beat the Red Sox 2-1, and looking at the career stats, Haren is pretty close to Beckett. Born within months of each other, their career numbers are fairly similar except for the wins:
Beckett: 3.74 ERA, 1.218 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 IP, 84-57 (8 seasons total)
Haren: 3.73 ERA, 1.210 WHIP, 7.1 K/9 IP, 57-48 (6 seasons total)
Beckett has the better winning percentage by far, and Haren had a later start in the "bigs" thanks to a couple years at Pepperdine University, so it will be tough for Haren to catch Beckett in wins unless injuries play a role. As far as talent and effectiveness are concerned, however, the less-heralded Haren seems to be ALMOST on par with Beckett, striking out fewer batters but allowing fewer baserunners.
What Haren has yet to prove is his dominance in the postseason. Effective with a 3-2 record and 3.26 ERA in the postseason, Haren is lightyears away from the superhuman-like postseason numbers of Beckett (6-0 in 9 starts with a 1.73 ERA including a 1.16 ERA in 3 World Series starts). Until Haren can deal like Beckett in October, he will still be relegated to the tier just below "elite," but at least for one day in June, Haren was the better pitcher.
The Phillies and White Sox got embarrassed over the weekend and have allowed the rest of their respective division mates to creep back into the race. The good news for baseball fans is that plenty of divisional matchups will resume in another week. While the potential to gain ground on everyone will no longer exist (as discussed in the previous post), teams just shy of the divisional lead will soon have plenty of head-to-head chances to put fate in their own hands.
The one interesting aspect of interleague play is the ability for a single team to gain ground on an entire division. Normally, there's a good chance two division rivals are playing each other, so even if you win a few in a row, you are likely only gaining ground on half the teams in your division.
Interleague play and the total domination of the Junior Circuit this past week has enabled the Brewers to gain three games in three days on ALL FIVE teams in the NL Central, thanks to each team in Milwaukee's division currently enduring losing streaks of three or more games. It always helps to gain ground on those teams in front, but in Milwaukee's case, it's also nice to distance themselves from the teams lower in the standings.
On the flipside, Cleveland and Toronto are the only two AL teams having big trouble with the NL, and have lost precious ground to all the teams in their respective divisions as every other East and Central team is riding winning streaks of two to seven games.
Minutiae Alert: J.D. Drew went 4 for 5 yesterday with a home run and 4 RBIs, and ESPN (among others, I assume) ran headlines saying "Drew falls triple short of cycle." While technically correct, it bugs me a little because falling a triple short of a cycle is like failing to finish the Ironman Triathlon because you don't like to swim - it's the most difficult step to accomplish, statistically speaking. Drew has 39 CAREER triples, so it's not much of a story, or worthy of a headline in my opinion, to say he missed a cycle thanks to the lack of a triple. That happens all the time. I attended a White Sox game on Tuesday and saw the same thing - Orlando Cabrera finished the game with a single, double, and home run, and nobody was talking "cycle." Missing a cycle because of a single or double (or even a home run for a power hitter) is headline-worthy because the unlikely scenario (triple) is already accomplished. Just my two cents.
The All-Star Game is less than a month away, and more stars are riddled with the injury bug, including Alfonso Soriano (hand) and Albert Pujols (calf). Just yesterday, Chien-Ming Wang was taken off the field with an apparent sprained foot. Before you fill out those All-Star ballots, take the time to look at the stats. On MLB.com, you can compare the players right in the ballot itself, so before you start checking off guys like Griffey and Jeter just because of their names, make sure they deserve it. And if you're looking for Carlos Quentin in the AL outfield, you will have to write him in. The way it stands now, 7 of the 9 AL starters will be Red Sox and Yankees players. Do everyone a favor and vote for some more DESERVING players, namely Ian Kinsler (2B) among others.
With more that 40% of the season behind us, there are some surprise names still atop the league leaderboards in several categories. It's getting to the point where you can't call it a fluke anymore, so let's show some recognition. Among the surprise leaders:
Carlos Quentin (2nd in AL w/ 16 HR, 54 RBI): Quentin was always viewed as a potential talent but always had lingering injury problems. This year, Carlos has excelled with the White Sox and his short stroke looks to be legit. Expect 30+ HR this year and maybe 25-35 for the next 5-10 years if Quentin can stay healthy.
Shawn Marcum (1st in AL w/ 2.43 ERA): No one expected this from Marcum, but he has been incredibly consistent, rarely dominating but frequently getting into the 7th or beyond with just 1 or 2 runs allowed. Averaging less than 1 baserunner per inning (0.99 WHIP) will help Marcum continue his success even if his "stuff" doesn't compare to the typical ace.
Edison Volquez (1st in NL w/ 1.56 ERA) and Tim Lincecum (2nd in NL w/ 1.99 ERA): Both pitchers were believed to be future stars, but a sub-2.00 ERA in mid-June is simply ridiculous, especially for Volquez who pitches in hitter friendly Cincy but just gave up 3 ER for the first time all year on Monday. Lincecum has been almost as impressive, striking out anyone and everyone along the way, amassing 9 quick wins with a mediocre team. These two pitchers have taken matters into their own hands and are putting up historical numbers. Don't expect the sub-2.00 ERA to continue, but Volquez and Lincecum should finish the season with ERAs well under 3.00 and wins into the high teens.
There are several others players having surprisingly great years (Theriot, etc.), but the ones above really stand out. You don't see Josh Hamilton on this list for two reasons: despite his long absence, scouts are not surprised to see his talent finally show, and BECAUSE of his long absence, he still needs to prove he can produce for an entire season.
The NL West is up for grabs again, with Arizona playing below-average ball over the past few weeks and San Diego winning five in a row. Suddenly, the Padres are only 6.5 games behind and Jake Peavy is expected back soon. San Francisco has won four in a row and is fighting for respectability, while Los Angeles has been hanging around second place all year despite sporting a sub-.500 record.
Taking a break from baseball for the day, The Commish unveils his latest Foul Territory. In this edition, The Commish spouts off about the never ending drama in his house. If you have kids, it's a must read. If you are thinking about having kids, take a pass on this one!
While doing some research for my fantasy baseball team, I stumbled upon this startling comparison of pitchers currently in the game. Their career stats:
Player A: 100 - 47, 3.22 ERA, 1.100 WHIP, 9.4 K/9IP, age 29
Player B: 116 - 59, 3.19 ERA, 1.213 WHIP, 7.4 K/9IP, age 30
...and their stats from '04 to '07:
Player A: 70 - 32, 912.3 IP, 2.89 ERA, 0.990 WHIP, 9.7 K/9IP
Player B: 69 - 37, 911.3 IP, 3.15 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 7.0 K/9IP
Player A is Johan Santana and, not surprisingly, his numbers are remarkable. Player B is Roy Oswalt, a well heralded pitcher but never quite to the level his numbers reveal. Yes, Santana is the better pitcher based on the numbers (especially considering most of Johan's stats came from the American League), but Oswalt has shown he is just as capable of logging the innings and giving his team as good a chance to win as the best pitcher in baseball today.
That's saying something, and if you are looking for a good fantasy deal, trade for the struggling Oswalt right now. He'll come a lot cheaper than Santana would and you won't be sorry.
May is in the rear view mirror, and, even despite an 0 for 4 today, Chipper Jones is hitting .405. Jones has been virtually slump free this year and has been consistent from both sides of the plate. There's still four months to go, but Jones is locked in and may just give baseball fans something to cheer for come September.
On the down side of things this year, my pick to win it all this year, Seattle, currently resides in dead last with the worst record in the American League at 21-36. Worst yet, the reason I thought the Mariners had a chance is because of their favorable early season schedule. In other words, it may get worse.