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June 26, 2004

Teams: A Critical Guide

It's Saturday and I Have to Take My Daughter to See ''Shrek 2'' Edition

by Steven Goldman

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NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

FLORIDA MARLINS

Currently sporting a run differential of just +5, using Lenny Harris as DH in interleague games, and that isn't helping. 9-13 in June, and if you survey pennant races, it's just one bad month that sinks many a strong team. Ate Billy Koch's contract, which was just charity, tied for the league lead in caught stealing, pinch hitters batting .177, one of the worst benches in baseball... These scattershot muttering add up to a strong club being undone by inattention to detail. Reminiscent of some Braves teams of the past which had the pitching and select offensive parts but couldn't buy a hit off the bench in about 800 post-season series. GRADE: D+

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Can we get Gavin Floyd moving towards the majors? Failing that, how about retrieving the clearly overqualified Ryan Madison from the bullpen? Sure, the latter would open up another bleeding wound in the pen, where the Bowa keeps trotting out Roberto Hernandez like it makes some deep comment on martyrdom and the futility of living. Still, on any given day the bulk of the innings have to come from the front five, and Vincente Padilla is on the medical roll, Brian Powell is doing what Powell can do, and the rest of the gang, with the exception of the Randy Wolf, have ERAs floating at or above the league average. There aren't many quality pitchers available on the trade market, so in this case, as the great Philadelphian Franklin said, God helps those that help themselves (internally). Just 10-12 in June, and as desperately in need of a Beltran infusion as any team in America. Oh well. GRADE: C

NEW YORK METS

A game under .500 at this writing, though pythagorean expectations suggest the record should stand at three games over. You could blame bad luck, but it would not be unfair to cite a manager who is just not very good at this in-game tactics thing. When dealing with the media he's affable but unrevealing, which means he's either the greatest force for good a clubhouse has ever seen or he's just another typical magpie Mets mistake, where the team bids on a name instead of a talent (see Kazuo Matsui and every reliever they've ever signed)... Neither this pitching staff nor the lineup is built for the ages, so if the Mets are a bat short, say a slugging first baseman (since Piazza seems to be back in the catching business right now), they might as well try to get one; the division is ripe for the taking, and as the Mets have found in the past, sometimes all you need is three starters to get you deep into October. PS: It's last year's news, I know, but Belle and Sebastian's "Piazza, New York Catcher" is a damned good song. GRADE: B-

ATLANTA BRAVES

Let's put Julio Franco into the Hall of Fame for general coolness and dedication. He's already gone where only Cap Anson and Pete Rose have gone before and surpassed them; Anson, 45 in 1897, hit three home runs. Franco already has five... 8-14 in June, it wasn't unexpected that this would be season that ended the dynasty, but it's still difficult to accept. GRADE: D

MONTREAL EXPOS

The only club in major league history whose team song should be "Maybe" from "Annie." No, not even "Hard Knock Life," the defiant lamentation of abandonment appropriated by the rapper Jay-Z a few years go, but "Maybe," the obligatory "wanting" song that telegraphs the intended character arc of so many Broadway protagnonists--in this case, please find my Mommy and Daddy so they can get me the hell out of here. MLB has once again delayed the inevitable decision (just last week Commissioner Selig appeared on WFAN in New York saying they would get this sumbitch done by the break), so it looks like they'll be singing a while longer. GRADE (EXPOS): INC. GRADE (MLB): F

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

The Cardinals offense might cost Scott Rolen a shot at Hack Wilson. At his peak, earlier this month, Rolen was scoring 26 percent of his baserunners, a terrific rate. Most hitters drive in about 15 percent of their baserunners. Driving in 20 percent of one's baserunners is highly unusual. Rolen's rate was about as good as anyone has been since 1972, the earliest year for which we have stats. In 1996, cheery Astros outfielder Derek Bell saw the most baserunners in the history of our Nixon-and-up survey, 573. Bell drove in just 16.8 percent of them, leading to 96 baserunners crossing the plate. He had 17 more RBIs on home runs for a total of 113. Had Rolen, at his current rate of success, batted in Bell's place, he would have plated 148 runners. Toss in another 43 RBIs on home runs (his pace at the time) and voila! 191 RBIs and a tie with Hack for most RBIs in a single season. Unfortunately, the way things stand now, Rolen will not see even 500 baserunners. Four-hundred-eighty seems a more likely figure. He'll still drive in 170 runs, more than enough to win him an MVP award, but it could have been history. ...This is a minor cavil given the team has a .603 winning percentage and the division lead. Leading the National League in runs scored and stolen bases, but please, Joe Morgan, don't draw a connection; it's the high batting average and slugging percentage that deserves the credit. GRADE: A

CINCINNATI REDS

Two years from now, no one will remember the 2004 Reds as contenders. They'll remember that Junior Griffey hit a historic home run for them, but that's about it. Every season throws at least one team like the Reds up the pop chart, a team that has no future, no past, and pretensions to contention that have no foundation in anything except the universe's whimsy. 11-11 with a team ERA of 5.62 in June; they're not going to stay at .500 for long with that kind of pitching. GRADE: C

CHICAGO CUBS

They have but two faults, lack of patience and the complete absence of a quality shortstop. If they could somehow combine these attributes in one player and acquire him at the end of July... Oddly, the leader among shortstops in walks taken is Craig Counsell, who might be available (if Robin Yount '82 was playing for Brewers '04 he would be available, and this is just Craig Counsell for gosh sakes). Omar Vizquel seems like an inevitability. GRADE: B-

HOUSTON ASTROS

Shored up an outfield that needed help on both sides of the ball at the cost of weakening the pen, and their manager loves his pen more than Eggs Benedict or a full menu of adult video options on the hotel Selectavision. Despite the addition of Beltran and the DH, Adam Everett is still absorbing PAs in the second spot of the batting order. Dumber managers have won World Series, but you should get odds before you start laying bets. GRADE: B

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Lyle Overbay is leading the universe in doubles with 29; he's heading for Earl Webb territory. The 1931 Red Sox right fielder smacked 67 two-baggers... the last time 60 doubles were hit was 1936, when Charlie Gehringer and Ducky Medwick both did it. This is good company to be in. Overall, the Brewers are scoring about two runs a game over the last ten games. GRADE: D

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

The term "willing suspension of disbelief" refers to an individuals receptivity to the conceits of a particular work of fiction, their readiness to put aside their skepticism in the face of something unlikely or impossible. When the posters for the first Christopher Reeve Superman picture were tagged with the line, "You'll believe a man can fly!" that really meant, "Our flying effects are so good you'll forget that the whole thing is patently impossible." Sometimes a work of fiction pushes its luck, gets a little too far out with its ideas, illusions are shattered, and disbelief is no longer suspended. With that in mind, just how many impossible ideas about the Pittsburgh Pirates should we be expected to tolerate before our brains bubble over? That Jack Wilson is a player to build around? That the May Daryle Ward (1.140 OPS) is the real one and not the June (.559)? That Craig Wilson would have been given as many chances as Randall Simon to hit his way out of a slump? As Jill Sobule wrote in "Heroes," "I think I'll just get drunk and depressed." GRADE: F

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Winners of seven straight at this writing, and since losing three of four at Arizona at the cusp of the month are 16-5. They have been greatly aided by the return of Ray Durham (.426 OBP this month) and the gradual erosion of Neifi Perez's playing time in favor of Devi Cruz of all people. Hey, an upgrade is an upgrade, and this one has averaged .390 in June, so well done, Felipe. The pitching, non-Schmidt division (which is everyone) says they can't hold on. GRADE: A

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Their top pick in the draft reportedly tried to eat a bouncer. The Marlins' top pick from last year has confessed to drug abuse but says he doesn't want to go back to the Marlins if it means rehabilitation because he's over it, really. Dude, Steve Howe and Darryl Strawberry said they were over it too, not to mention Alan Wiggins and Rod Scurry, both of whom are dead at the present time. Boys will be boys, but it doesn't take great maturity to understand that if you just keep your nose clean, don't go all Hannibal Lecter on tavern employees where you are an underage drinker, you will retire a millionaire, the beloved of millions. After that, you can take all of your sweatily earned millions and stuff them in a crack pipe and no one will care. Many would like to see league-wide steroid testing. Me, I favor league-wide IQ testing. We cultural anthropologists of baseball might learn a lot. Hey, Bush: you want fries with that? Meanwhile, a power bat of any kind would be welcome, and they'll want fries with that, too. Have rebounded to win five-of-six since against bad teams losing six straight against, well, bad teams, so GRADE: B-

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Losers of five straight at this writing, four of the five at Giants, which hurts. They will never outhit their pitching, so this little run at relevance has all been a Hollywood fantasy. Should be looking to deal Adrian Beltre to whatever contender is dumb enough to take him; resigning him would be folly. Would you buy a used car from this player? GRADE: D

COLORADO ROCKIES

Larry Walker is back, but he's about as relevant as Al Gore... Can probably get something tasty from the Yankees for Brian Fuentes (.161 vs. lefties) and they ought to try. Have won three straight at this writing. GRADE: C

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Roberto Alomar has been retired since 2001, so it's only just that he gets been Wally Pipp-ed out of Arizona by Scott Hairston. The question is if anyone would want to take him... They say that Bob Brenly is going to take the wrap for this team. Now, Brenly is not the braniest manager in the biz, but this team was the payment for Jerry Colangelo's many indulgences. That Brenly didn't turn this messy aggregation into contenders, or, well, anything at all, is unsurprising. Connie Mack had teams like this too. Losers of seven straight at this writing. GRADE: F

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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