June 7, 2011
Divide and Conquer, NL West
Drop a Catcher, Drop a Child
Giants May Snapshot
Last year, the Giants lulled everyone to sleep by going 27-23 over the first two months. This year, they likewise finished May two games over .500 but are viewed as a disappointment because of expectations created by winning the World Series.
Such a burden. Here, let me take those rings off your hands. Yeah, I didn't think so.
Run-scoring is down, which should surprise no one. Miguel Tejada, who presumably had nowhere to go but up after a .216/.253/.307 April, managed to slip even further. He hit .218/.229/.257 in May, which helps explain why youngster Brandon Crawford is now up with the big club. Crawford is off to a nice start but hasn't been much of an offensive threat in the minors, so who knows how long that will last?
Speaking of Posey, Giants GM Brian Sabean issued not-so-veiled threats to those responsible for his catcher's injury. As Larry Granillo notes, this is an interesting stance to take given Sabean's lack of outrage over similar events in recent years.
Sabean's remarks got Joe Torre's attention. Torre, a former catcher and Major League Baseball’s current overseer of baseball operations whose opinion carries more weight than Granillo's (no offense, Larry), has asked Sabean to stop talking about the matter.
Back on the field, Cody Ross was San Francisco's biggest offensive threat in May (.269/.374/.474), which illustrates the Giants' run-scoring difficulties. On the bright side (and when you finish a month with a winning record despite a paucity of hitting, there is a bright side), the pitching was stellar.
Sure, the bullpen beyond Brian Wilson and Ramon Ramirez was shaky at times. And yes, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain slipped from their April performances. But Madison Bumgarner started to resemble the pitcher folks expected on the basis of last year's success, Ryan Vogelsong looks less like a fluke with each passing day, and Tim Lincecum is... well, he's Tim Lincecum. Those three combined for a spiffy 1.84 ERA in May while accounting for 45.6 percent of their team's innings during the month.
The Giants remain in the thick of this race despite not being able to score runs. With Aubrey Huff's three-homer game this week and Sandoval beginning a rehab assignment at San Jose, the offense could be on the upswing. It is scary to think what this team might accomplish if the pitchers weren't doing all of the work.
Diamondbacks May Snapshot
Holy Love Snakes, Batman, I do believe the Diamondbacks are blossoming. The improvement in run prevention is ridiculous.
Ian Kennedy, as he did in 2010, had a stellar May. The difference this year is that almost everyone else also had a stellar May. Armando Galarraga didn't, which is one reason he is no longer with the team.
Aaron Heilman also had a lousy month, but that didn't keep him from going 3-0. Heilman is 4-0 with an 8.84 ERA on the young season. Not that you need any more ammo, but here are the worst ERAs accompanying a 4-0 season since 1901:
Go, Aaron! You've got a lot of people rooting for you. And by “a lot,” I mean one sad fellow with nothing better to do than contemplate such things.
(I also have a soft spot for Appleton, who not only appeared in one of the worst pitchers duels in history, but who also legally changed his name from Jablonowski in 1933. This is as useful to you as pitcher won-loss records, but hopefully more interesting.)
The Diamondbacks’ offense got help from unexpected sources. Sure, Kelly Johnson (.267/.313/.552) and Justin Upton (.259/.328/.491) did their part, but so also did Yankees castoff Juan Miranda (.262/.377/.538) and backup catcher Henry Blanco (four homers in 25 plate appearances). Heck, even pitchers Zach Duke and Barry Enright homered in May.
Arizona can be grateful that Johnson got back to the business of producing, but one wonders how long he will remain successful with his current approach. We've noted Johnson's expanding strike zone, and it worsened in May.
Thanks to the recent power surge, Johnson has dialed up his season ISO to .222 (in line with last year's .212) but at the cost of a disturbing .313 BB/K ratio (as compared to last year's .534). If Johnson needed to yield plate discipline to maintain his power numbers, what will he yield the next time those start to slip?
Padres May Snapshot
The offense finally arrived... well, for a while. If you split the Padres' May into two equal halves, you get two very different pictures:
That second half is actually worse than the Padres' historically awful April (.211/.293/.308), but it is masked by a terrific first half. Ah, the joys of arbitrary cutoff points. Because I cannot help myself, this is roughly the difference between Brandon Phillips 2010 and Aurelio Rodriguez 1974.
Brad Hawpe, who looked done in April, paced the club with a .303/.367/.506 performance. Chris Denorfia (.324/.361/.456), Chase Headley (.312/.402/.398), and Ryan Ludwick (.314/.345/.451) chipped in as well.
On the downside, Will Venable played himself into a demotion to Triple-A, and Nick Hundley's extended absence meant more playing time for Rob Johnson behind the dish. Johnson hit .125/.183/.196 in 61 plate appearances in May.
Meanwhile, the club's struggles at home continue. Despite a recent three-game winning streak against Houston (the senior circuit's worst team), the Padres are still just 12-21 at Petco Park. Assuming no further losses, the earliest date they can reach .500 at home is June 25. I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd play the lottery instead.
Rockies May Snapshot
That run differential isn't so bad, right? It doesn't seem to jibe with the won-loss record. Here's a clue: The Rockies went 1-10 in one-run games in May.
The bullpen, as you might imagine from such a stat, was miserable. Felipe Paulino suffered through a particularly bad stretch, taking the loss in three straight appearances from May 3 to May 7. After taking a fourth two weeks later, he was let go and picked up by Kansas City.
The rotation had problems of its own, most notably Ubaldo Jimenez, whose decreased velocity may have affected his performance. A year after going 10-1 with a microscopic 0.78 ERA through the season's first two months, Jimenez found himself at 0-5, 5.86 at the same point in 2011.
On a positive note, Jimenez's first start in June was a four-hit complete game shutout in which he issued no walks and threw just 106 pitches. Granted, it came against the Dodgers—owners of baseball's second-worst offense—but a guy has to start somewhere.
Dodgers May Snapshot
Speaking of the Dodgers' offense, it reached new levels of futility in May. Between Casey Blake's injury and Andre Ethier's slump, the only consistent contributor was Matt Kemp, and even he didn't perform to his usual standards (.253/.327/.495). Beyond Kemp, the chief weapons were Jerry Sands (.242/.359/.409), James Loney (.293/.350/.413), Jamey Carroll (.300/.364/.370), and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.
On the pitching side, last season's dynamic bullpen duo—Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo—continued to be ineffective (18.90 ERA between them) and injured (3
Clayton Kershaw (1.77 ERA, 10.2 K/9) and Chad Billingsley (2.63 ERA, 9.0 K/9) dominated, because that is what they do. Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly were serviceable, although Lilly might want to throw fewer strikes every once in a while to keep hitters from teeing off on him (he accounted for nine of the 20 homers allowed by Dodgers pitchers in May).
Jon Garland returned from the disabled list to eat innings. Then June struck and Garland found himself back on the shelf due to “shoulder inflammation.” Or as the Dodgers call it, with 10 of their players currently injured, “just one of the guys.” On the bright side, at least he got hurt while playing baseball and not while being dropped in favor of a foul ball.
This isn't relevant to anything, but the Dodgers are 14-4 in extra innings over the past two seasons. For a team that owns a .461 winning percentage in nine-inning games over the same period, that is a bit odd. Then again, so is most everything surrounding this club in 2011.