May 3, 2011
Divide and Conquer, NL West
A Tale of Two Aprils, or In Which the Padres and Rockies Swap Places
Giants March/April Snapshot
Through the season’s first month, the Giants aren’t hitting as well as they did this time last year. They aren’t pitching as well either.
On the offensive side, Pablo Sandoval (.313/.374/.530) led the charge before breaking the hamate bone in his right wrist during Friday’s game against Washington. The injury is expected to keep him out four to six weeks.
It is tempting to say that Sandoval “rediscovered his stroke,” but he got off to an even better start (.368/.433/.575) in 2010. Stuff happens. Guys go into prolonged slumps. They break bones.
With Sandoval out and Mark DeRosa already on the disabled list with wrist issues of his own, Miguel Tejada (.216/.253/.307) shifts from shortstop to third base, leaving Mike Fontenot in Tejada’s old spot. Tejada, for his part, has been a downgrade from 2010’s shortstop tandem of Edgar Renteria (.320/.373/.400 last April) and Juan Uribe (.313/.370/.469).
Aubrey Huff, pushed to the outfield during Brandon Belt’s 17-game trial at first base, hit .202/.264/.309. And although Huff didn’t set the world on fire last April (.247/.344/.403), he at least contributed something.
On the bright side, veteran Aaron Rowand has been surprisingly effective (.294/.333/.447) filling in for the injured Andres Torres. Whether Rowand can sustain that over an extended period is a question the Giants and their fans hope remains unanswered.
The pitching hasn’t been as strong as it was last April, when Barry Zito forgot which side of the bay he was on and started pitching like a Cy Young Award candidate (1.53 ERA in five April 2010 starts). Closer Brian Wilson walked 18 percent of batters he faced in April and didn’t see his ERA dip below 7.00 until the month’s final day.
Finally, in the improbable-but-true department, veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong won his first big-league game since 2005 on April 28 at Pittsburgh. Vogelsong, the Giants’ fifth round pick in 1998 (taken four slots before Tampa Bay popped Huff), later was shipped to the Pirates as part of the trade that brought Jason Schmidt to San Francisco.
After washing out in Pittsburgh, Vogelsong spent three years pitching in Japan. He returned to North America last year, where he went 3-8 with a 4.81 ERA in the Angels and Philly systems. Now, at age 33, he is back where he started and winning games.
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Diamondbacks March/April Snapshot
Like the Giants, the Diamondbacks duplicated their April win total of a year ago. Also like the Giants, they needed more games in which to do it.
We’ve discussed Miguel Montero, Ryan Roberts, and Justin Upton in this space, but they are not alone. Stephen Drew (.321/.389/.531) is off to another hot start, Gerardo Parra and Chris Young have been useful, and even the three-headed beast at first base isn’t killing the team.
If Montero and Drew maintain their productivity into the summer and Johnson finds his groove, this team could make more noise than most folks expect, especially if the pitching continues to improve.
Ah, the pitching... The fact that a sub-5.00 ERA is considered improvement speaks volumes. The three kids in the rotation (Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Barry Enright) have been predictably erratic as they attempt to convert minor-league potential into big-league success. Still, it beats having Rodrigo Lopez and Kris Benson in your rotation, as Arizona did last April.
Lopez led MLB with 37 home runs allowed in 2010. Although he has moved on, his spirit lingers on in Armando Galarraga. Baseball’s near-perfect man allowed 11 homers in April and is averaging 3.53 HR/9 this season. Somewhere, Ken Dixon is smiling...
The bullpen hasn’t been a complete disaster, which for a team that featured historically bad relief pitching last year is stronger praise than you might think. The Diamondbacks rank 14th in the NL in bullpen ERA (4.17) but lead in K/9 (9.04), which gives cause for hope. At the very least, they can see the pack from here.
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Padres March/April Snapshot
The experts were right about the Padres, albeit a year late. The team everyone expected to see in 2010 has finally arrived.
Runs have been scarce, which is hardly surprising for a team that shed itself of its one true offensive threat over the winter. Adrian Gonzalez (.288/.408/.563 last April) has been “replaced” at first base by Brad Hawpe (a late surge pushed his line up to .149/.194/.194).
Gonzalez (hitting .314/.379/.457 in Boston) would help, obviously, although Chris Denorfia (.289/.357/.474) has more home runs in less than half the plate appearances. What would help even more is if the hitters the Padres currently employ started, you know, hitting.
Denorfia has been one of the few bright spots, along with center fielder Cameron Maybin (.247/.330/.433) and catcher Nick Hundley (.274/.347/.452). Of course, Hundley started strong last year (.275/.373/.412) before fading.
Will Venable wasn’t great last April (.230/.293/.486), but he occasionally did some damage. This year (.205/.300/.218) he hasn’t been a threat. At the other corner, Ryan Ludwick continues to look more like Bubba Trammell than Greg Vaughn.
It is difficult to discuss the Padres’ offensive incompetence because there is so much to cover, but here are a few points worth noting:
On the pitching side, Dustin Moseley has been a pleasant surprise, although his Ballardesque strikeout rate portends a return to reality at some point. The only negative is that Mat Latos hasn’t pitched as well as he did last year, which will be cause for concern if it continues.
The bullpen, as it was in 2010, is ridiculous. Heath Bell ranks among the elite closers in baseball, and he might not be the best reliever on his own team. That would be Mike Adams, against whom opposing batters are hitting .071/.071/.143. Yep, they’ve been worse than Hawpe.
Small sample fluke? Not really. The top line below represents what Adams has done to big-league hitters since 2009:
The second line? That is what Phillies catcher Mike Ryan did in 1968. He is the last man to have an OBP and SLG below .220 in at least 300 plate appearances. Only two other men in MLB history have done that–Bill Bergen (1904, 1906, 1908, 1909) and George McBride (1906).
Yeah, Adams is kind of good.
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Rockies March/April Snapshot
The Rockies outscored opponents by 26 runs in April 2010 but finished with a losing record. This year, their April run differential checks in at a mere +23 and they lead the division by 4.5 games.
Chris Iannetta and Jonathan Herrera have returned to Earth, but Troy Tulowitzki continues to dominate. Third base remains a black hole (.140/.198/.226), and Carlos Gonzalez(.228/.277/.304) looks more like the version that Oakland traded away after 2008 than last year’s MVP candidate.
Gonzalez, who recently endured an 0-for-25 skid, is working to fix “a flaw in his start-up.” Manager Jim Tracy has expressed optimism about the young outfielder whom Colorado signed to a seven-year deal this past winter:
A guy of this magnitude offensively, he's one good swing away from basically everyone stepping back and saying, “Look out.”
Elsewhere in the Colorado outfield, Dexter Fowlerfinished April leading the NL with 34 strikeouts. And while a strikeout is the same as any other out in many respects, consistent failure to make contact isn’t something you want to see from your leadoff hitter unless he has the power of an Alfonso Soriano (or even Juan Samuel). Fowler and his career .139 ISO don’t fall into that category. Still, he is getting on base...
So is Todd Helton, who seems to have rediscovered his power stroke. John Perrotto quoted a scout as saying of Helton, “This is the best he's looked in years. He is hitting the ball consistently hard again, and he is even hitting lefties.”
Overall, though, these Rockies aren’t scoring the way last year’s version did. Hawpe (.357/.460/.714), Miguel Olivo (.291/.333/.600), Stewart (.293/.386/.520), and Gonzalez (.350/.361/.538) led the charge last April. All are gone except for Gonzalez, who isn’t hitting.
But thanks to better pitching (led by the emergence of Jhoulys Chacin and his 2.91 ERA in five starts) and a bit of luck, the Rockies end the season’s first month well ahead of second place Los Angeles and San Francisco. It should be disheartening to division rivals that the Rockies have done this without getting much out of Gonzalez, Stewart, or ace Ubaldo Jimenez.
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Dodgers March/April Snapshot
Scoring is down for the Dodgers, in terms of both what they’ve produced and what they’ve allowed. Like the Giants, they are a little lucky to be where they are right now. And like the Rockies, they have a better record this year than last despite similar (-12 in 2010, -15 in 2011) run differentials.
Meanwhile, on the pitching side, Los Angeles has seen its hurlers exhibit much better control. Southpaw Clayton Kershaw (6.8 BB/9 in April 2010 vs 3.5 BB/9 in April 2011) has made the most obvious improvement, although getting Charlie Haeger and George Sherrill off the roster also helps. Starters Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly, and Jon Garland all finished April under 2.0 BB/9.
And what would the Dodgers be without controversy? Last year it was Manny Ramirez. This year it’s Frank McCourt vs Bud Selig.
I'm sorry that some of them [fans] think that lifestyle decisions I made affected my commitment to putting a winner on the field and winning a championship for L.A.
When asked to clarify his stance, McCourt continued in a similar vein:
What matters is that is the perception. I'm sorry that is their perception. I'm sorry that they don't think I'm committed to them.
On a personal note, I would like to offer an apology of my own. I’m sorry that people perceive McCourt isn’t contrite enough. It must be very difficult for him.