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September 9, 2004

Teams: A Critical Guide

Dylan Thomas...Whoever He Was...Edition

by Steven Goldman

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Because with the NL wild card contenders, death has no dominion. They rage, rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light. Also, doubtless some of them drink a bit. When they're not doing that, they rage.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

For the Reds and the Pirates, the Deep Dark Truthful Mirror was Arizona pitching: they couldn't hit it. The D'backs pitched spectacularly well this week, giving up an opposition line of .204/.292/.361 and allowing just 21 runs in six games. Unfortunately, the Arizonans scored just 19 runs themselves. Anti-Beaneball types should note that the Snakes batted .269, but due to a lack of power and patience, they were still outscored. Outhomered 11-3, outwalked 22-11. You can find examples of this every day. GRADE: D

ATLANTA BRAVES

Won five of six on the week. It's time to put Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone in the Hall of Fame. Take it from this huge Casey Stengel partisan: the Atlanta Braves are the most impressive dynasty in the history of baseball… Here's an oddity for you: Chipper Jones scored three times last week, all on home runs. The other eight times he reached base he died a-hugging whatever base he was a-hugging at the time. That speaks to the slugging prowess of the hitters coming up after him, none of whom had a particularly good week; Larry's three home runs were 75% of the team total for the week. Andruw Jones slugged .250, J.D. Drew .391. Still, the team batting average was .355, the OBP .432 so they scored better than six runs a game anyway… It is going to be an interesting off-season for the Braves outfield as Drew is unsigned and will demand big gobs of dough coming off his fine season, Jones is annoying with his Flying Dutchman approach to consistency (that's not a Honus Wagner reference), and as much fun as Charles Thomas and Eli Marrero have been, they are not to be trusted. The pitching staff is doing it with mirrors, so they'll have to redesign that, too, but at this point it would be foolish to predict the end. Ever. GRADE: A

CHICAGO CUBS

Spent the whole week at home against the Brewers and Astros, yet won just four of seven games despite doing a ton of hitting (49 runs) because home runs and walkies troubled the pitching staff and they allowed 44 runs. As you know from studying your Pythagorean theorem, run differential is everything, and it don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing… Moises Alou had a great week, scoring 10 runs and driving in 13 while batting .440 and slugging 1.080 on four doubles and four home runs. The second baseman remains something of a lucid nightmare ("It's all going to be okay. We are going to win with these second basemen. I can lose 20 pounds before breakfast just by sleeping in. Lou Piniella is not after my job. I am not aroused when I think about Donald Duck walking around without pants all these years. The plays of Shakespeare were actually written by Chris Kahrl. Jennifer Aniston looks forward to my phone calls."); Todd Walker batted .118, 2-for-17, meaning his sole contribution to the team was on defense. This is a bit like saying that Benedict Arnold's sole contribution to American victory in the Revolutionary war was defecting to the British. No fair mentioning Fort Ticonderoga, clubhouse leadership. GRADE: B-

CINCINNATI REDS

After any week in which your team bats .192/.300/.326 and you win half your games you should probably head to the local temple and make some kind of burnt offering to Doubledaymachus, Greek God of Baseball. The starting pitching was terrific, and only the shaky Joe Valentine's Day Massacre kept them from winning two more. If the Reds can forget Barry Larkin's number, there's no reason they can't discard that of a lesser luminary like Valentine. GRADE: C

COLORADO ROCKIES

A perfect week, 0-6, spent on the road against teams with pitching. Result: scored less than three runs per game. The pitching, theoretically liberated from Coors Field, allowed six runs per game. Matt Holliday, just liberated, batted .105/.190/.105. In neutral parks this year, Holliday has batted .240/.287/.367. This is a kid to build around. Preferably what's built around him is some kind of fence and moat system to prevent him from getting onto the field. GRADE: F

FLORIDA MARLINS

A.J. Burnett threw like his old 2002 self this week, winning two games and posting a line of 15/7/2/6/18. The Marlins are an excellent example of how hard it is to synchronize one's planning and have the whole ballclub come along at once. The Marlins have mastered the pitching end but are below average in the hitting business. The Yankees, on the other hand, score a lot of runs but don't know what they're going to get from the pitching on any given night. Then there are teams that have neither. This is why the 1927 or 1998 Yankees only come along every so often; luck may be the residue of design, but there's no guarantee you'll get good luck, design or not, and you need a few things to click to reach greatness. No doubt if you sort through the 40 great teams mentioned in the Cardinals comment below, for most of them you could find successful elements not attributable to planning; that is, developments of which you could observe, "There is no way the 1942 Yankees knew that Joe Foozle was going to win 20 games. The best they could have hoped for was 10." Sometimes luck is only evidence of luck. GRADE: B+

HOUSTON ASTROS

Just when it seemed as if the Astros were doomed to go the way of all Phil Garner teams, if it's even fair to call this a Phil Garner team, a 6-1 week kept the team in the thick of things. To be fair, Scrap Iron never did have much to work with, and if he tried too hard to manufacture runs when handed offenses that more closely reflected Jefferson's vision of America as a pastoral nation with home manufacturing rather than Hamilton's supercapitalist Industrial Revolution anticipation wet dream, the only shame is that he never realized that giving away outs only exacerbates your problem, much as Jefferson pal Dr. Benjamin Rush never realized that bleeding killed your patients faster than the disease you were treating. If Garner worked a few pitchers' arms off, surely he's had time to reflect on that. Meanwhile, there was no member of this team that didn't do something positive with the bat last week, right down to Orlando Palmeiro. You can have your pick of heroes, but the sentimental choice is old Jeff Bagwell, who is to this outfit what Walter Brennan was to "Rio Bravo", the old lawman with a mouth full of gums just hanging on to his job by minding the city jail. Still, he's dangerous with a shotgun, if you happen to hand him a shotgun. Baggy hit .429/.529/.714, popping two home runs, taking six walks, and even stealing a base. Yo, cowboy, the sunset's thataway. GRADE: A

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Struggled to put together a winning week against the Mets and the Badfinger Expos (if you want it, here it is, come and get it, but you'd better hurry 'cause it's going fast), and what of it? Winning this year was always a quixotic quest, with a pitching staff that at times has resembled a chromosome post-THC exposure and an offense that increasingly comes down to one man, Adrian Beltre, who has clearly been possessed by the power of the logos much as Jesse Custer was in Garth Ennis' Preacher. Beltre belted .517/.563/1.000 last week, and while Babe Ruth probably had weeks like that, he's not a free agent this winter… If they're going to hold, they'll have to earn it; of their remaining games, there is a soft ten with the Diamondbacks and Rockies. Everything else is Padres, Cardinals and Giants. As Woody Guthrie used to sing, "So long, it's been good to know yuh." GRADE: C+

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

America's team went 0-6, outscored by the Cubs and Phillies 13-45. Not only will the revolution not be televised, there won't be a revolution. GRADE: F

MONTREAL EXPOS

Went 3-4; the Expos may be orphans, they may not have assets or a home or mommies and daddies that love them, but they have comported themselves with a degree of commitment missing in such well-heeled franchises as the Mets. Slugged .496 against the Dodgers and Padres, swatting 20 doubles and 11 home runs. Regrettably, they were still outscored by 15 runs because of that old Alouvian bugaboo, bases on balls. The opposition hit for far less power, but had many more runners on base, allowing their home runs to count for multiple tallies. Think about this: Frank Robinson played for Earl Weaver for six years. If he got the message about the three-run homer thing, and you'd think he would have because more often than not he was the three-run homer, he hasn't been able to communicate it to a majority of his players. A teacher can only teach if he has willing pupils (and an ability to teach). GRADE: B-

NEW YORK METS

Helped the Padres and Dodgers get fat just phoning it in; took just 16 walks the whole week on the way to batting .206/.269/.359. The star on offense was, and this hurts to say, Gerald Williams, who hit .412/.412/.588. Note that he failed to talk a walk; you'd hate to think that David Wright might try to learn anything from these players, this manager, this ownership, and so on. The malaise is so thick you could spread it on a bagel and still have enough left to spackle your drywall. GRADE: F

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Swept by the Astros at Houston, then did the same thing to the Brewers at home. They didn't hit much against either team, and the bullpen took two of the losses. Just another week in Philadelphia. Six out in the wild-card division, it ain't over 'til Larry Bowa squawks. Rumors that the belligerent one might transfer to the Mets to be a proxy personality for Art Howe are too disturbing to be credited; this isn't Strat-O-Manager, and you can't platoon personalities. GRADE: D+

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Scored three runs and change per game, so they lost four of six, but the Pirates actually had a very strong pitching week, with a 3.67 ERA and just 11 walks issued in 54 innings. This team is two good decisions away from contention, but the likelihood they'll make those decisions is very small. GRADE: C-

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Went 6-1 to keep a hand in both the NL West and wild-card races. While their new uniforms don't deserve national exposure, their ballpark would look good in fall action… The pitching was again spectacular, with David Wells and Jake Peavy winning two games apiece. Wells, 41, makes for an interesting Hall of Fame case in the faulty logic manner of, "Everyone who looks like him is in, so he has to be in, too." With the exception of Carl Mays, every pitcher who ended his career with 200 or more wins and a winning percentage above .600 has made it to the Hall (Mays is out because of a half-dozen questionable incidents in his career, of which killing Ray Chapman with a pitch is not the most significant). Wells qualifies on both counts, but what he would be rewarded for is happening to be a consistently decent pitcher while being with one of the greatest teams of all time. Wells the Yankee--68-28, 3.90, .708, perfect game--may be a Hall of Famer. Wells the Tiger/Oriole/Blue Jay etc.--141-107, 4.08, .569--is not. GRADE: A

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Outscored 27-33 but split on the week anyway. That's obviously not something you can count on doing on a weekly basis… Most Sabermetric Line of the Week Award goes to Dustan Mohr, who batted just .222 but hit a double and a triple and walked four times for an OBP/SLG of .462/.556. Contrast: Pedro Feliz hit .263, but because he's above walking his on-base percentage was .293. The evidence for on-base percentage is more apparent than the evidence for global warming… Another strange line of the week had Brett Tomko's ERA 14.73 points lower than Jason Schmidt's. Foul play is suspected. GRADE: C

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Their current winning percentage of .669 puts them in the bottom half of the 40 winningest teams of all time (post-1900, as measured by winning percentage). Of the 40, just 34 actually went to the World Series. The 1902 Pirates predated the World Series, the 1904 Giants refused to go, the 1909 Cubs, 1942 Dodgers and 1954 Yankees all finished second, and the 2001 Mariners tanked out at the ALCS level. The super-teams went 22-12 in the fall classic. If you remove the three instances when super-teams played each other, the super-teams went 19-9. Of the five post-expansion super-teams, four have survived the playoffs and made it to the World Series. All four won. Should the Cardinals remain in this group, you have to like their chances. Note: the institution of the unbalanced schedule may have rendered all of the foregoing arithmetic moot. GRADE: A

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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