Nothing would please me more than to see Bobby Cox walk off a field for the last time, on his way to a World’s Championship Trophy presentation (well, except maybe watching him get ejected on his way to the presentation, but now I’m just being silly).
I don’t think it’s going to happen. As much as Cox patched together just enough breathing players to manage to hang on to the Wild Card, the tank is pretty empty now. The Braves were barely surviving the loss of Chipper Jones by turning super-sub Omar Infante into a regular, when Martin Prado followed Jones on to the out-for-the-year-list. This reduces the Atlanta infield to Infante, Alex Gonzalez, a Derrek Lee who has been pretty lethargic since coming over from the Cubs, and Brooks Conrad, who has shown a strong bat at the plate, but some evidence that he brings the same bat with him onto the field.
Similarly the Bravos’ rotation is a mess. Jair Jurrjens turned his season around after his first injury, then came back from his second one overweight and ineffective, and then injured himself for a third time. Tim Hudson has been effective all year, but Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson have been up and down, and heaven help Coxy and Roger McDowell if they have to rely on either Mike Minor or Brandon Beachy.
The one wild card for the wild card team is production from the outfield. When you have Jason Heyward plus a combination of any two of Ankiel, Cabrera, Diaz, Hinske, and McLouth, the possibilities that Cox could catch lightning in a bottle for a short series in CF and LF, should not be discounted.
But we haven’t even started trotting out names like Buster Posey or Brian Wilson or Tim Lincecum yet. The Giants, barring a dry-up of biblical proportions, should handle the Braves easily, possibly by sweep. If they don’t, they have some serious explaining to do.
Similarly, as fond as I have been of the Reds’ chances since last March, I cannot see them getting past Philadelphia. The depth of Cincinnati’s rotation – such an advantage during the regular season in the fluid N.L. Central – means that they could get everything or nothing from Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto.
More over – understandably under the radar in a year of chaos, injury, and perseverance in Philadelphia – were remarkable improvements Ryan Howard and Chase Utley made against lefthand pitching. This, you’ll recall, was Philly’s undoing in the World Series last fall (particularly in the case of Howard).
But look at Howard’s splits this year:
VS LHP 12 HR 39 RBI .264 BA .492 SLG
VS LHP at home 6 HR 16 RBI .260 BA .470 SLG
The cohort is not exactly small, either. Howard had 193 at bats versus lefties, 100 of them in Philadelphia. He obviously learned something. And while he went just 2-for-12 against Reds lefties during the season, one of the two was a game-winning two-run blast off Arthur Rhodes to win a game in Philly on July 9th. Howard has not seen Aroldis Chapman, but unless Dusty Baker plans to use Chapman as his specialist against lefty bats and switch Rhodes or some righthander to 8th inning duties, the onus will fall on Rhodes, not Chapman.
Utley actually did better against southpaws this year than righties:
VS LHP 10 HR 27 RBI .294 BA .581 SLG
VS RHP 6 HR 38 RBI .266 BA .381 SLG
Those numbers are even a little more extraordinary than they seem. Utley had 289 ups against righties and only 136 against lefties yet his power came against the southpaws. He has no track record against the Reds this year – 1-for-3 off Cueto in the June 28th game in which he hurt his thumb.
So if the Chapman versus the Phils’ power bats thing may not really be an issue, we’re back to the idea of which trio of starters is more likely to get punished: Volquez, Arroyo, and Cueto, or Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt? It would be a bigger upset than the Braves over the Giants if the answer turns out to be the latter.
Here’s the least likely sentence I’ve ever written: Nyjer Morgan has truly damaged the great tradition of The Washington Nationals franchise.
Had to laugh over the weekend at the murmuring – even the predicting on line and on talk radio here in New York – that Ike Davis, the slugging son of the original set-up man of the Yankees, Ron Davis, would be imminently summoned to take over first base for the Mets.
In fact, righty-swinging Nick Evans, a potential platoon partner with Jacobs or Murphy, stands a much better chance of promotion – and sooner – than Davis.
May 26: Fernando Martinez, Mets
June 4: Gordon Beckham, White Sox
June 4: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
June 7: Tommy Hanson, Braves
So for those of you holding your breath (or your roster spots in fantasy leagues) waiting for Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Craig Kimbrel, Drew Storen, and even Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman, hope you’re prepared for a few months of zeroes. Some teams – like the Nats last year with Jordan Zimmermann – can’t resist. And we saw how that turned out.
Having already tabbed the Rockies for a possible runaway in the West (pursued perhaps by the Giants), we move to the Central:
may represent a startling fact about this division – there not only isn’t a
great team here, there isn’t even a good one. The starting line-up is
five-eighths made up of guys who significantly regressed from 2008 to 2009,
plus Marlon Byrd. The new ownership seems to have already committed to the age-old easy way out of worrying more about the ballpark than the ballclub. Larry Rothschild has gratefully plugged Carlos Silva and Tom
Gorzelanny into his rotation. The bullpen is headed by a shaky Carlos Marmol
and not one experienced right-handed set-up man. The Cubs are a mess.
didn’t make any sense for CINCINNATI to invest in Scott Rolen, nor bring back
Ramon Hernandez, and with considerable irony, this might as well still be 2007
when the Reds were pinning their hopes on Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce. Their
epiphanies – Bailey’s last September, and Bruce’s during his injury – must be
lasting for the Reds to compete. But there is at minimum some sense of upswing
in Cincinnati. Dusty Baker gave Drew Stubbs the chance to play last year, and
might even find spots for Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, and Yonder Alonso this season. The
bullpen is strong, the rotation potentially deep.
Terry Francona’s top lieutenant, Brad Mills, has deserved a major league team
to manage. He may yet get the chance – for now he’s stuck with Houston. There
is an outfield and there are two starting
pitchers (providing Roy Oswalt isn’t seriously hurt, and doesn’t go home to his
ranch in sheer frustration). The rest of the line-up, and the pitching staff, are disaster areas, made no better by today’s news than Lance Berkman’s bionic knee is ‘cranky.’ Things could brighten somewhat if
Matt Lindstrom harnesses his talent, and if Jason Castro or J.R. Towles squat
up behind the plate, and if three fans turn out to be viable starting pitchers.
Otherwise, this is a franchise that has gone to seed.
psychological saw about repeating the same unsuccessful action with confidence
that this time it
will succeed? The Brewers are confident Dave Bush, Doug Davis, and Manny Parra and/or Jeff Suppan constitute three-fifths of a pitching staff. They’re certain Rickie Weeks and
Corey Hart will harness their talent. Everybody knows this is the year Yovanni Gallardo
leaps to the forefront of NL starters. This is a recording. The Brewers will be
deceptively entertaining as long as Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are around,
and they could get a wonderful spark if Carlos Gomez decides not to style his
way out of the game before his 25th birthday. But all the bullpen depth in the world
isn’t going to help that rotation.
deserves better. Surely they are, on average, a better set of players than the
Astros. But nothing seems to progress in Pittsburgh; Andrew McCutchen and
Garrett Jones arise fully grown from the minors, but Freddy Sanchez and Jack
Wilson are dished off. They make a seeming salary dump to Atlanta and in fact
rip the Braves off, selling Nate McLouth at his high point, opening up a spot
for McCutchen, and getting the remarkable arm of Charlie Morton – and Morton is
the only guy in the state who doesn’t believe he has a remarkable arm. And still, if
lightning strikes – if Pedro Alvarez, Chase D’Arnaud, and Tim Alderson were all
productive big leaguers by June 1, they’d suddenly have an actual real-life
.500 team. And a .500 team might run away with this division.
Pittsburgh can hope, because
ST. LOUIS is the most overrated team in the majors. Albert Pujols glitters so
brightly, he makes you forget that the rest of the infield is an assortment of
Brendan Ryans and Felipe Lopezes and David Freeses. Chris Carpenter and Adam
Wainwright were so dominant that they obscured the reality of what happened if
you actually beat them on consecutive days – the Cards’ season would be snuffed
out in a sweep. This is a team that was ready to trot out a rotation in which
Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, and Rich Hill would pitch more often than did Carpenter
and Wainwright (the first light bulb going off: giving the fifth spot in the rotation not to Hill but to Jaime Garcia). The bullpen is a jumble, the bench non-existent, and lord help
Tony LaRussa if Yadier Molina is really hurt or Pujols’ back is cranky for more
than 45 minutes at a stretch.
You know what? I’ll take the long-odds bet on the dice coming up for the Reds
and not the Cardinals. It’ll be an exciting race, to see if you actually can
get into the playoffs with 79 victories. Chicago third, Milwaukee fourth just
ahead of Pittsburgh, and Houston sixth, unless they decide to conserve energy
and just forfeit all games in lieu of much needed fielding practice and weeding
through resumes of infielders and pitchers.
Something to do as we contemplate the irony of Aroldis Chapman escaping from Cuba to sign with a team that in the 1950’s had to change its name to the “Cincinnati Redlegs” to avoid somebody mistaking them for communist sympathizers.