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Divide and Conquer, NL Central 

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08-30

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2

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: A Hot Cup of Brew (Crew)
by
Larry Granillo

08-16

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2

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Winless in Milwaukee
by
Larry Granillo

08-09

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11

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: The Astros vs. the Peanuts Gang
by
Larry Granillo

08-02

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15

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Colby Goes to Canada
by
Larry Granillo

07-26

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4

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Easy Pickings
by
Larry Granillo

07-18

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5

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Excitement Central
by
Larry Granillo

06-28

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7

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Recounting Cubs Contracts
by
Larry Granillo

06-06

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0

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Winners' Weekend
by
Larry Granillo

05-23

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27

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Interleague Imbalances (Updated)
by
Larry Granillo

05-16

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1

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Running Scared
by
Larry Granillo

05-09

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4

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Why Would They Do That?
by
Larry Granillo

05-02

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0

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Parting with a Puma, Welcoming a Walrus
by
Larry Granillo

04-25

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1

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: At Your Service
by
Larry Granillo

04-18

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5

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Breaking Barriers
by
Larry Granillo

04-11

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2

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Early Returns
by
Larry Granillo

04-04

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2

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Closer Carousel
by
Larry Granillo

03-25

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Divide and Conquer, NL Central: The Starting Block
by
Larry Granillo

03-18

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21

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Defensive Doldrums
by
Larry Granillo

03-11

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5

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Unwinding the Misery Clock
by
Larry Granillo

03-04

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10

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Wait Till This Year?
by
Larry Granillo

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August 30, 2011 12:05 am

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: A Hot Cup of Brew (Crew)

2

Larry Granillo

The Milwaukee Brewers' hot streak can be attributed to multiple factors.

On the morning of July 26, the Milwaukee Brewers awoke after a day off to find they had slipped out of first place. The Pirates and Cardinals, with whom they had been tied with the night before, had each won their games while the Brewers sat idle, slipping Milwaukee a half-game behind.

One month later, the Brewers awoke on the morning of August 26, again after a night off, alone in first place. The second-place Cardinals had taken advantage of the Brew Crew’s idleness, beating the Pirates. This moved St. Louis to 9.5 games back of Milwaukee. The Pirates had fallen even further, sitting in fourth place and 16 games back. This drastic change in the structure of the National League Central was due almost entirely to the Brewers' stellar month-long run, in which they went 24-5 in 29 games. That .828 winning percentage was just too much for any team to compete with.

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August 16, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Winless in Milwaukee

2

Larry Granillo

The Pirates' continuing struggles at Miller Park might help make the Brewers' season.

On Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for their 70th win of the season. The game dropped the formerly feisty Pirates to 56-63, thirteen games behind the division-leading Brewers. Charlie Morton, Pittsburgh's biggest success story of the season, started the game on Sunday and seemed to have the win in the bank. After extending his scoreless inning streak to 24 with 7.1 innings of four-hit, no-run ball, Morton left the game with a runner on second, one out, and a one-run lead. After Jose Veras got the second out in the inning, closer Joel Hanrahan came in for the four-out save. Hanrahan struck out Nyjer Morgan to end the eighth, but the ball got away from catcher Michael McKenry, and Morgan streaked to first. Ryan Braun made good on the free opportunity two pitches later, and the game was tied. Milwaukee would go on to win it in the tenth inning on a sacrifice fly from Morgan, wasting the great start from Morton and securing the sweep.

The game also marked Pittsburgh's 34th loss in 36 games at Miller Park, a streak dating back to May 2007. At that time, Jason Bay was hitting cleanup in a lineup that featured Jose Bautista as the starting third baseman and a right-field platoon of Xavier Nady and Ryan Doumit. The Pirates had come into Milwaukee for a four-game series sitting on a 12-14 record. Tom Gorzelanny earned the win in the first game, when Bay, Bautista, and others combined for a four-run seventh-inning en route to a 4-2 victory. The next night, the Brewers pounded Pittsburgh's pitching by scoring one run in four of the first five innings before erupting for six more in the sixth and seventh innings. The 10-0 loss was harsh, but no one knew it meant anything more than that. Milwaukee finished out that early-May series with a convincing 6-3 victory on Saturday and a tight 6-4 victory on Sunday, when Pittsburgh tied it up at four in the seventh before giving it up again in the eighth.

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Could Houston's historically bad squad hold its own against Charlie Brown's band of lovable losers?

The Houston Astros awoke on Opening Day this year knowing they were the worst team in the National League Central. Even with some quality players in Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, and Wandy Rodriguez, the Houston squad was never going to match up against the Ryan Brauns or Albert Pujolses or Joey Vottos of the division. A hundred games later, as the July 31 trade deadline approached, General Manager Ed Wade and the rest of the front office acknowledged that weakness, trading away the club's two best players in Bourn and Pence for a handful of prospects from the Phillies and Braves. Fans already knew that the 35-73 club was out of contention for 2011, but the trades showed them beyond the shadow of a doubt that the team probably wouldn't be good in 2012 (or even 2013) either.

That's all well and good, but it doesn't wash away the fact that, with a .325 winning percentage heading into Monday, the Astros were on pace for the franchise’s worst record and a 110-loss season. Even before Pence and Bourn were traded, Houston was near the bottom of the league in runs per game, but remarkably, the team's offense was actually better than the team's pitching, as the staff sat dead last in runs allowed per game.

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August 2, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Colby Goes to Canada

15

Larry Granillo

If Tony La Russa ran Colby Rasmus out of town, it wouldn't be the first time that the skipper's personality clashes forced his team to trade talent.

On Wednesday, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Colby Rasmus and three relief pitchers to the Toronto Blue Jays for a few major-league arms (Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski), three PTBNLs, and Corey Patterson. The Rasmus Era, which began in 2009 with a promising rookie campaign, finally came to an end after two-plus seasons of sniping and seemingly unmet expectations.

Rasmus was a 22-year-old center fielder and the team’s top prospect in 2009 when he won a spot in the starting lineup for the second game of the season. In 143 games, Rasmus batted .251/.307/.407 with 16 home runs and 72 runs scored. That was only good enough for a .248 True Average, but his strong defense in center (4.3 FRAA) earned Rasmus 1.7 WARP for the season. There might have been some growing pains along the way—there was one game against the Royals where Rasmus moved slowly in the outfield, allowing the runner to stretch a single into a double, that drew some comments from management—but Rasmus looked like a future building block for St. Louis following his rookie campaign.

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July 26, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Easy Pickings

4

Larry Granillo

The number of games remaining against the division's bottom-dwellers may help determine which Central team goes to the playoffs.

Over the weekend, the Chicago Cubs swept the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field. In the three-game series, Chicago outscored Houston 14-7, as each of the Cubs’ starters went six innings or more. That small stretch of performance was notable because it was the first three-game winning streak the Cubs had had, over 100 games into the season.

Those wins were a nice sign of life from a team some predicted to be the division's dark horse before the season began, but the Cubs are 42-60 even after the series sweep, and no one expects them to roll on to first place or even respectability. They just don't have it in them, and the Astros aren't exactly a team whose defeat inspires celebration. With a .327 winning percentage as the trade deadline approaches, Houston is far-and-away the worst team in baseball.

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Telling the story of a topsy-turvy season through excerpts from AP game stories.

The tale of the National League Central, as told through selected excerpts of the Associated Press and other daily filings:

April 4, AP:

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June 28, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Recounting Cubs Contracts

7

Larry Granillo

As the Cubs continue to bow beneath the weight of several lucrative long-term deals, Larry takes a look back at the high hopes held for each player in happier days.

The evidence is mounting, and it's beginning to point to one conclusion: the 2011 Chicago Cubs are not a very good team. True, we’re still two weeks from the All-Star break, and all it takes is a few weeks of inspired play to change a club’s narrative from "miserable underachievers" to "second-half sweethearts," but there is little reason to expect something like that from Mike Quade's team.

For fans of the Cubs, who saw their team in the playoffs only three years ago, the 2011 edition’s first-half disappointment is amplified by the team's large payroll. When fans see their team shelling out more than $130 million in payroll, they expect to see a winning team; it’s not unreasonable to suppose that a collection of big contracts might yield a collection of quality players, and by extension, a successful team.

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June 6, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Winners' Weekend

0

Larry Granillo

Four Pujols homers, a Marlin massacre, and more of the same from Morton give the Cardinals, Brewers, and Pirates reason for optimism.

“The season is a marathon, not a sprint."—A thousand writers looking for an easy lead-in to their articles.

The marathon nature of the baseball season lends itself to a number of quirks, one of which is a tendency to stretch small problems into colossal issues that are set to sink the entire season. When Josh Hamilton started off the 2010 campaign hitting .205 in his first 13 games (and .242 as late as April 26), baseball fans everywhere—and, in particular, in the Dallas area—were wondering if he could "break out of his slump" or if he would ever regain his form from 2008. Of course, Hamilton would go on to win the American League Most Valuable Player award and lead his team to the World Series, but no one could know that at the time. All anyone could see was that a star player was slumping, which was regarded as a cause for concern.

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Could the NL Central be decided by an unbalanced interleague slate?

On Sunday, after the Cubs lost to the Red Sox in Boston in the long-awaited rematch of the curse-tastic 1918 World Series, the interleague ledger for the National League Central looked like this:

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Is Ron Roenicke running the Brewers out of ballgames?

At times, you're going to say, 'Why are you running so much? Why are you getting thrown out trying to take extra bases?' It's going to happen, but that's the style I like to play. I've seen it win a lot of ballgames over the years. We're going to be aggressive from third base scoring, we're going to be aggressive from first to third and, at times, we're going to get thrown out. But over the course of the season, I guarantee we will score a lot more runs being aggressive."—Brewers manager Ron Roenicke in his introductory press conference, November 4, 2010

Ron Roenicke’s baserunning philosophy has been a matter of public record since day one of his managerial regime, when he essentially introduced himself to the city of Milwaukee with the above quote. In the lead-up to the season, it was practically impossible to find an article about Roenicke and the Brewers that did not mention Roenicke's aggressive style of play. As a storyline in Brewers circles, it has been a go-to choice for months now. However, as a policy, it hasn't proven popular.

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May 9, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, NL Central: Why Would They Do That?

4

Larry Granillo

Using the far-fetched swaps one might hear proposed on talk radio to pinpoint the needs of each NL Central club.

If there is one thing a fresh, new baseball season is good for, it’s bringing fans out of the woodwork to spew silly, uninformed trade suggestions. Most of these proposed swaps yield few surprises, as they always seem to involve trading either an underperforming player whom the armchair GM never liked anyway or an overperforming player with few prospects for sustained success  (invariably, in the latter case, in exchange for the best player in the league at the same position). For example, a fan of the 2003 Brewers might have seen Royce Clayton get off to a good start and turned that bit of good fortune into a list of reasons why the Rangers would trade Alex Rodriguez, while eating some of his contract, for Clayton and maybe a young Doug Davis.

One way to analyze each team's performance thus far is by proposing the most ludicrous trades imaginable. At the heart of every trade, after all—even ones as misguided as Royce Clayton for Alex Rodirguez—are assets and needs. The right trade, then, can tell us a lot about the current nature of a team. With that said, here’s a ludicrous trade proposal for each NL Central team, along with a quick explanation of what makes it illuminating. And remember, when I say "ludicrous," I mean ludicrous.

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Lance Berkman reminds Astros fans that he wears big shoes, but Brett Wallace may be capable of filling them; Alfonso Soriano rarely gets on base but often drives himself in.

It was an eye-opening week in Minute Maid Park, as Zod and the other residents of Planet Houston were treated to superb performances from first basemen of the Astros' past, present, and—perhaps—future.

Lance Berkman, the twelve-year Astros veteran who was traded to the Yankees late last year before signing with the Cardinals over the winter, made his return to Houston as a visiting player on Tuesday. He was well-received by the fans, who gave him an extended standing ovation in his first at-bat. When he laced a single to right field off of an inside fastball from Bud Norris, the crowd erupted into more cheers. Needless to say, the man with the second-most home runs in franchise history is still very popular in the Bayou City.

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