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Baltimore Orioles

  • Unlikely Star: Two weeks ago, Melvin Mora was having the best season of his career, posting a .324 EqA through Monday. Since then, with two weeks right out of one of Barry Bonds‘ best seasons, he has raised his EqA to .360, and come within five points of the American League lead. His .455 on-base average leads the American League, his .350 batting average is just two points shy of Hank Blalock for that lead, and his slugging average places him fourth. He’s taken over the #2 spot in the batting order (scoring 11 times in just the past week), and he’s also taken over as the regular left fielder.

    Now, Mora’s been an Oriole for three-and-a-half years, and has always been described by the team and scouts as somebody who couldn’t play everyday–the ultimate bench player, able to fill in at every position. As things presently stand, though, he’s the Oriole most clearly deserving of an All-Star berth. The All-Star game shouldn’t be the all-May team, but you have to consider that: 1) it hasn’t just been a good May for Mora, but a great May, and 2) these are still the Orioles; it’s not like someone else has had a great career with a rough start.

  • Kids: Mora’s not alone on the “performance by someone who’s not supposed to be here” bandwagon. The Orioles were considering calling up Brian Roberts to take the slumping Deivi Cruz‘s place, but had to use him to replace Jerry Hairston and his broken foot instead. After 11 games in the leadoff spot, Roberts has a .389 OBA, 10 runs scored, and has beaten the Angels twice with grand slams. The team got tired of Gary Matthews‘ extended slump, tried to send him to Ottawa but lost him on waivers; his replacement, Luis Matos, is 18-36 with five doubles in nine games, and he’s scored 11 runs.

    Since Matos was called up, the lineup has been basically set, and every player has hit better than an average major league hitter. For the last two weeks, it has essentially been

    
    1.	Brian Roberts, 2B, (.316 EqA)
    2.	Melvin Mora, LF (.448)
    3.	David Segui, DH (.276)
    4.	Jeff Conine, 1B (.308)
    5.	Jay Gibbons, RF (.281)
    6.	Tony Batista, 3B (.267)
    7.	Luis Matos, CF (.434)
    8.	Deivi Cruz, SS (.302. That's right, .302.)
    9.	Geronimo Gil/Brook Fordyce, C (.334/.269)
    
    

    Geronimo Gil has reclaimed the #1 catcher spot from Brook Fordyce. The team’s EqA has improved from .253 to .267–up a point a day. The Dow should act so well.

  • Draft: The Orioles finally succeeded in landing their #1 pick from 2002, Adam Loewen, flipping the $700,000 they saved when Gary Matthews was claimed by the Padres. Unfortunately, the O’s signed Loewen to a major league contract, meaning he’ll have to be in the majors in 2006, whether his play (and injuries?) warrant that or not.

    For 2003, the Orioles chose to take Nick Markakis with their first pick. Like Loewen, Markakis was a draft-and-follow from 2002 (Reds); unlike Loewen, he didn’t sign and so re-entered the draft. Since he hit .455 with 17 HR as a juco player this year, the O’s have said they’ll groom him primarily to be an outfielder instead of a pitcher. The Orioles next three picks were all college pitchers. The #3 and #4 overall picks from this year’s draft, pitchers Kyle Sleeth and Tim Stauffer, were both picked by the Orioles out of high school in 2000.

Colorado Rockies

  • Road Rage: The Rockies continued to be a disaster on
    the road by posting only one win in seven road games over the
    last two weeks. On the other hand, they’ve been on fire at home lately, winning six of the seven games at Coors Field during the same
    period. Overall, they are now 21-8 at home and 7-22 on the road.

    The Rockies, of course, have had to deal with a home-road split
    larger than normal since they started playing in 1993. Denver
    teams from other sports
    have traditionally had extra-large home-field advantages too; the Broncos
    have had a huge home/road split during the last two decades. But the
    Rockies’ split so far this season is more than huge; it’s almost
    unbelievable. The extremity of the 2003 home/road advantage may be
    just
    a function of small sample size, but that can’t be used as an
    explanation for the last decade. The easy explanation for the Broncos’
    home-field advantage–the team’s ability to treat the thinner air as
    normal–wouldn’t seem to apply as much to a baseball team. The Rockies
    have tried experimenting with many different types of players during
    their history, especially during the Dan O’Dowd era, but the team has
    yet to stumble onto a solution to their home/road disparity.

    Colorado will play six games at Coors Field before they have to face
    another treacherous road trip. It will be interesting to see if the
    Rockies’ road failures continue versus the hapless Tigers in Comerica;
    that series starts a week from Friday.

  • Bad Break: The best of times suddenly turned into the worst
    of
    times for Rockies second baseman Ron
    Belliard
    this past week. Belliard was once a top Brewers prospect,
    but his fortunes had fallen in recent years. So he came to Rockies
    camp
    guaranteed only a minor league contract and was given only a small
    chance of making the big league club. As a result of others’
    injuries and his own solid play, Belliard won not only the Rockies’
    everyday second base job, but also the job of leadoff man. By the end of May he’d
    peaked, going 5-for-5 on May 29th.

    During his last two years with the
    Brewers, Belliard’s plate discipline had fallen apart and his power had
    waned. Belliard still wasn’t providing much pop for the Rockies in
    April and May, but his home .407 OBP and his road .378 OBP were just
    what the Rockies needed from their leadoff hitter. Unfortunately for player and team, Belliard badly sprained his ankle on June 1st, forcing him onto the disabled list
    just as Juan
    Uribe
    finally finished rehabilitating. As Belliard has already
    seen, injuries can win players jobs. He’ll have to wait several weeks
    to see if his injury loosens his hold on the Rockies’ second base job.

  • He’s Drafty, and He’s Just Their Type: For only the second time in their
    history, the Rockies took a position player with a true first-round
    pick in the annual Amateur Draft. Their only previous first-round position
    player pick was Todd
    Helton
    in 1995. (Second baseman Jayson
    Nix
    was the Rockies’ first pick in 2001, but he was selected with a
    supplemental pick between the first and second rounds).

    This time the pick was third baseman Ian Stewart, a high school senior from Garden Grove, California. Stewart is known for his great bat speed and has some
    the best power potential of anyone available in the draft, though
    many experts expected him to go a few picks later than he did because
    his defense at third is questionable and his plate discipline is spotty. The Rockies already are deep at third in their organization and probably expect Stewart to end up at a corner outfield position anyway; the club generally tries to take the best player available regardless of the specific needs of the organization. Bill Schmidt, the Rockies’ scouting director, then returned to his usual picking style by taking college players with every one of the Rockies’ 10 picks. Five of those 10 selections were pitchers.

New York Mets

  • He’s #1: The Mets’ shopping spree last winter didn’t cost them
    their
    2003 first-round draft pick, thanks to the rule that protects teams in
    the
    lower half of the standings from losing their #1 pick as compensation for
    free-agent signings. The Mets needed to make good use of the bonus,
    however,
    as their pick at #13 would be their only one in the first 108
    selections.

    Florida high-school outfielder Lastings Milledge fills a need
    for the
    Mets, who have a distinct lack of both outfield prospects and
    athleticism in
    their system. Milledge stole 43 bases in his senior season for Lakewood
    Ranch
    H.S. while hitting .414 in 98 at-bats, with four doubles, three triples
    and 10
    home runs. Milledge was arguably a top-10 talent who, like other high
    school
    players, slipped in the draft as teams rushed to grab college hitters.

    Milledge is far from a sure thing, however. He’s the classic toolsy
    high
    schooler, but without the great body–just 6’1″, 185 pounds–that
    marks the
    type. He struggled with wood in a Baseball America showcase last fall,
    and was
    expelled from his first high school, after allegations of inappropriate conduct with a minor, although no
    charges
    were filed.

    All things considered, taking Milledge made sense for the Mets, who
    needed a
    high-upside outfielder and may have gotten a bargain (Milledge was
    neck-and-neck with #1 overall pick Delmon Young less than a year
    ago)
    in the deal.

  • Star Performer: We’ve said it before, but paying too much
    attention to
    performance in April is a good way to make bad decisions.

    Armando Benitez is just the latest example. When the sun came up
    on the
    morning of April 20, Benitez had an ERA of 6.97, having blown four save
    opportunities in two weeks. He’d walked eight hitters and allowed 17
    hits and
    two home runs in 10 1/3 innings. He was still whiffing hitters, though,
    notching a dozen Ks. All things considered, the stretch seemed to be
    the
    result of a minor control problem, paired with some bad luck on balls
    in play.

    Benitez has been his old self since then, posting an ERA of 1.71 in 21
    innings
    with 20 strikeouts, 10 walks and 12 hits allowed (one home run). He’s
    converted his last 11 save opportunities, and other than a blip against
    the
    Diamondbacks on April 27 (three runs in one inning when the Mets were
    already
    down 4-2), he has been absolutely dominant. Given Al Leiter‘s
    no-trade
    rights and the poor play of Roberto Alomar, Benitez is the Mets’
    most
    valuable trade chit. Every great outing he has makes it that much more
    likely
    the Mets can start their rebuilding process by trading Benitez for the
    good
    young hitters they need.

  • Stat of the Week: Benitez is pretty much the only Met striking
    anyone
    out. The Mets pitching staff is next-to-last in the NL in strikeouts
    and
    strikeout rate, a rare occurrence.

    Shea Stadium has long been one of the best strikeout parks in baseball,
    and
    the Mets haven’t finished in the bottom half of the league in
    strikeouts or
    strikeout rate since 1997, when they were also next-to-last in both
    categories. Their inability to get hitters to swing and miss is a big
    part of
    their 4.75 team ERA, 12th in the NL, as well as their #28 rank in
    Adjusted
    Runs Prevented and #20 rank in Support-Neutral Value Added. This is not
    a good
    pitching staff.