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August 5, 2004

Teams: A Critical Guide

In Which Several Plot Lines Are Resolved, AL Edition

by Steven Goldman

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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Went 5-2 on the week, going 3-1 against the Mariners as all good teams should…. Robb Quinlan, who batted .440 and slugged .800 on the week, represents yet another challenge for Mike Scioscia as he attempts to allot playing time down the stretch. As the club has coped with injuries, unexpected contributors have risen from the depths like a pod of slugging humpback whales. Astoundingly, the team's three big prospects--Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson and Jeff Mathis--cannot be found among their number, remaining, for the moment, mere porpoises. Instead, unheralded fringe types Quinlan and Jeff DaVanon have popped up to keep the team afloat at key moments. DaVanon got benched as soon as Darin Erstad came back to do his superficial throwback ballplayer act. Quinlan, too, will no doubt fall out of the lineup at the soonest opportunity. He's not likely to sustain this act beyond the next two minutes, but a good manager like Scioscia knows how to play the hot hand. On pitching, at the trading deadline Bartolo Colon arranged to have his soul traded into his body, which is like getting a Cy Young transplant. GRADE: A

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Went 2-4 on the week, and once again the pitching was the culprit. The answer to Pete Seeger's musical proposition, "If I had a hammer," can be found here. If you had a hammer, you'd hammer on the Orioles. Failed to move anything at the deadline, not even Redundant Hairston, Jr., who is hotter than the "9 ½ Weeks" DVD your klepto little brother lifted from Target. Like Sir Walter Raleigh at the Tower of London, we await the master stroke. As Lincoln said of McClellan, the Orioles have the slows. Unlike McClellan, they've been at it for about a decade now. They need a tactical laxative. GRADE: D

BOSTON RED SOX

Outscored the opposition 34-20, but still lost three of five contests, including two one-run games. We'll leave the Transaction Analysis to colleague Chris Kahrl. Suffice it to say that dealing Nomar Garciaparra precipitously, even if he was wounded, or dogging it, or a wounded dog, without getting a return that was going to give you an equal push into the postseason now or in the future, is a classic example of Franklin's adage that haste makes waste. The epitaph for this Sox team will be: much was expected, little was delivered, and then like leaves they scattered to the winds. GRADE: D

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Captain, we regret to inform you that we left the landing gear back at the airport…. Chain restaurants are even harder to figure out than McDonald's, because they're more expensive than McDonald's while providing the same low-expectation experience. If you live in suburbia, or even in major cities like New York, you're inundated with these low-percentage industrial dining halls: inflatable Italian house Olive Garden, sort-of Mexican Chi-Chi's, the Outback Steakhouse (or Steakback Outhouse), Bennigan's, which is identical to Ruby Tuesday, which is identical to Applebee's, right down to the faux-"Sanford and Son" décor. They may satisfy initially because they placate you with "free" chips or rolls or somesuch, but as sure as you're sitting there you're going to be disappointed before you stand up again. We patronize them anyway, because virus-like they've eliminated most everything else.

The Chicago White Sox are the chain restaurant of baseball. They are, by definition, white, the absence of color. Their ballpark does not signify architecturally. They have been overwhelmingly right-handed for years. They have not won a World Series since Woodrow Wilson was in the White House. They do not provide free breadsticks. Unlike the rest of us casual diners, Chicagoans have an alternative. GRADE: F

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Put together an aggregate ERA of nearly 7.00 last week, and if you can find an offense that can support that chances are they're wearing football pads. They still split on the week, because when they pitched even a little better than that, the run-scoring machine took over. Apparently we must be patient. GRADE: C

DETROIT TIGERS

Didn't hit much, pitched a little, and went 3-1 in one-run games. There is a danger of mistaking this for real progress; a team's record in one-run games is not predictable from year to year; luck is taking a greater part than usual. Still, if this team, of all teams, wants to trumpet this as progress, perhaps they deserve special dispensation for this year only…. Carlos Pena went 0-for-10 on the week. Love that Carlos Pena. GRADE: C

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

One wonders why the Yankees aren't inquiring about Matt Stairs. It's hard to believe that they would be overly religious about Ruben Sierra…or Bernie Williams. They could be religious about him. Anyway, this is about the Royals, not the Yankees, or even the Houston Astros, who hold the only Royal having a good year. The Royals, coming off of 2003, were irrationally exuberant, drunk on a strong season that was achieved without the benefit of pitching or projectable pitching. Zack Greinke changes that, at least slightly. One can only hope that his 2004 education has the same effect as Tom Glavine's 1988 did. GRADE: D

MINNESOTA TWINS

It was V-M week, Victory Morneau, as the Twins rid themselves of their biggest impediment on offense, a first baseman who doesn't first baseman. No verb there? "First baseman" is the verb. When you hear the words "first baseman," the words "Big Dan Brouthers" should pop into your head. Even if you have no clue who Big Dan Brouthers was, if you know who he was but have never seen a picture, it's not important. The point is, first baseman = a guy who could answer to the name Big Dan Brouthers. That's what the position is for, big guys who Brouthers the ball. If your team's first baseman Minkys the ball, their priorities are not in order. "Minky" sounds like "plinky," while Brouthers sounds like "bruiser." The Twins figured this out just in time, and it is no coincidence that the White Sox waived their white flag at about the same moment that the Twins woke up. Perhaps what persuaded them was their own record; their pitchers did better than fine without a prophylactic Minky to protect them from the big bad grounder. GRADE: A

NEW YORK YANKEES

Went 5-2 against the softer sisters of the American League East, by which we somehow do not mean Tampa Bay… The Yankees as an organization may sometimes be obstinate, but they're not stupid, and they know just as well as you do what they got in Esteban Loaiza, and what they gave up in Jose Contreras. If we would fault the team for failing to develop this pitcher, for being unable to help him overcome the problems of concentration that plagued him throughout this stay, then we must also indict every team in the history of the game, for it has happened often that a pitching problem that thwarted one coach was easily defeated by another…. The larger problem is that if they have assured themselves only of mediocrity, that may be soothing to the ulcer but not to the post-season aspirations. They and Randy Johnson may be together in winter quarters sooner than either thinks. You reap what you sow, and if you don't sow, you don't reap anything. That's the Yankees farm system: subsidized agriculture with the soil salted to keep the price of corn high. As Stan Freberg would say, "Corn? That's what I thought it was." GRADE: B-

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Lost just once on the week, taking three of four contests from the team in front of them…. The saving grace of their season has been the outfield, which looked uninspiring back in the spring with Jermaine Dye seemingly having passed his expiration date, Mark Kotsay debilitated, and left field being manned by "staff." The same is true of catcher, shortstop, first base, and DH; all of them have outperformed reasonably pessimistic predictions. Normally you would expect them to revert, but they've been doing it for long enough now that you might expect them to keep on keeping on right into October. GRADE: A

SEATTLE MARINERS

Note that Bret Boone has been hitting the last few weeks, just in time to be someone's waiver claim sweetheart…. Went 1-6 on the week, Ichiro Suzuki got very hot, batting .500. In the hierarchy of fandom bang for the buck, there's winning, followed closely by being entertaining. Ichiro is entertaining. Seattle has some very fine restaurants, the Space Needle, and Anna, with whom I used to have many fine conversations about Gene Kelly versus Fred Astaire. That's entertainment. GRADE: D

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Played very poor hosts to Kansas City and Toronto, more than doubling them up, 29-14, and winning five of six games. The team ERA for those six contests was 2.17, and that's an accomplishment of which to be mindful because even with the inoffensive nature of the Blue Jays and Royals, the nature of a home-run era is that no one can sustain that level of pitching for more than a few days without some kind of help, like a home field that plays like Chavez Ravine circa 1964. If the team OBP was only .302, well, that's fixable by simple expedients, whereas an entire pitching staff is not. Caveat: in trading Victor Zambrano, they let go of their only pitcher was capable of causing hitters to swing and miss. Getting back to the nature of a home-run era, keeping balls out of play is a big deal. The strikeout guys are also more likely to be pitching well a year or two from now than the Mark Hendricksons of the world. Scott Kazmir should render this objection null and void in the near future. Should. GRADE: A+

TEXAS RANGERS

Lost five games on the week, and it wasn't the pitching that killed them but the offense. The whole lineup went to sleep, batting just .193/.267/.338. Oakland's pitching will do that to you. The best hitters by far were Gary Matthews, Jr. and Eric Young. It's like "Alice in Wonderland," or "Republicland" (not "Republicanland," sports fans, Republicland - Texas used to call itself a republic. "Republic," John Wayne said as Davy Crockett in his version of "The Alamo," "I like the sound of that word"). Reports of their demise may have been exaggerated; the bats will not stay quiet and if the pitching endures, as it has beyond all reason, Showalter's boys will still be there at the end. GRADE: D

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Both Carlos Delgado and Alexis Rios came alive last week. The former is academic, the latter bodes well for the future. Otherwise, they couldn't quite score four runs a game…. Inert right now, like a rock. We eagerly await the import of offense, and maybe a political convention to promote their new platform. GRADE: D

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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