- First-Half Review: The Expos started the 2003 season with a bang, surging to a franchise-record 32-18 start, capped by two straight dramatic victories over NL East rival Philadelphia in front of sizeable, lively crowds.
Then came the road trip from hell. The Expos spent 25 days away from Montreal, playing 22 games. The trip included stops in Florida, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico, Seattle, Oakland, Pittsburgh, then back to Montreal. The Expos went 8-14 on the trip, which featured a few heartening highs–most notably a six-game winning streak in the middle of the trip, after an awful start–but mostly crushing lows, including a six-game losing streak toward the end of the jaunt.
The Expos haven’t been the same since that trip started, going 17-27 overall to hit the All-Star break at 49-45, in third place in the NL East, 12.5 games behind the division-leading Braves and just a half-game ahead of the surging Marlins. After sitting on a lead in the Wild Card race for much of the first half, the Expos hit the break tied for fourth in the Wild Card chase, trailing the pace-setting Phillies by four games.
Things figure to get worse before they get better. Unlike any team in baseball other than the Diamondbacks, the Expos were racked by serious injuries. General Manager Omar Minaya’s lemon of an off-season deal with the White Sox—Bartolo Colon and Jorge Nunez for Orlando Hernandez, Jeff Liefer, and Rocky Biddle–looked even worse when El Duque went down for the year with a torn rotator cuff. The Expos then lost two more members of its starting rotation to rotator cuff injuries–Tony Armas and Zach Day.
Still, first-half surprises Livan Hernandez, Claudio Vargas, and Luis Ayala helped keep the Expos’ pitching afloat. Hernandez has gone from an innings-eater known for surliness and rockets off opponents’ bats in San Francisco to an innings-eater known for guts, anchoring the top of the rotation. Vargas, a throw-in from last year’s Cliff Floyd trade with the Marlins, has also impressed. Ayala, a Rule 5 pick expected to fill out the back of the bullpen, became was the pen’s unsung hero before going down with a shoulder injury of his own.
It’s on the offensive side where the Expos have suffered most. Jose Vidro and Orlando Cabrera both appear on their way to career-best seasons. Brad Wilkerson has shown solid progress as he grows into a productive everyday player. But the offense’s biggest cog of all, Vladimir Guerrero had his production curtailed by a herniated disc in his back. The injury got so bad that Vlad was eventually forced onto the disabled list, where he’s remained for six weeks. Meanwhile the offense has languished, with Triple-A-level talent like Ron Calloway, Edwards Guzman, and Jamey Carroll finding themselves overmatched in ample playing time.
- Looking Ahead: Minaya has made noise about upgrading the club through trades. But after Juan Gonzalez vetoed a deal that would have sent him to Montreal for prospects, Minaya’s been uncharacteristically silent. Given the fragile nature of the heavily-worked, weakly-credentialed pitching staff, the uncertainty surrounding Guerrero’s injury, and the offense’s increasing woes, any deal at this point may be too little too late. Given the team’s lack of payroll flexibility and quality prospects to offer, Minaya may not be able to make an impact trade either way.
The outlook isn’t any rosier for 2004, or beyond. Major League Baseball continues to drag its feet on the Expos’ future. As part of a short-term money grab, it may move all Expos games to Puerto Rico next season.
On the field, Guerrero’s as good as gone to the free agency market, while the front office may have a tough time bankrolling raises for Vidro, Cabrera, Javier Vazquez and other core team members, even after Guerrero and $6.5 million albatross Fernando Tatis walk. Last season’s go-for-broke trade of top prospects Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore for Colon stripped away the last blue chippers of a once-proud farm system, laid waste thanks to years of neglect by incompetent Expos management.
The funeral arrangements have already been made. All that’s left is to lay out cold cuts for the shiva.
- Much of the credit for the Giants’ successful first half belongs to Barry Bonds, Jason Schmidt, Ray Durham, and Jose Cruz, who have all met our high expectations. But we want to talk here about the players who’ve defied the predictions, in a good ways or bad.
- First Base: Going into the season, first base for the Giants looked to be a hole that Brian Sabean would have to fill at some point during the year. But J.T. Snow has combined better-than-expected hitting–a .297 Equivalent Average vs. the .265 that PECOTA projected before the season–with his usual sterling defense. An even bigger surprise has been the 42-year-old Andres Gallaraga, who has hit like an average first baseman (.285 EqA vs. .225 projected) as Snow’s fill-in and platoon partner.
- Jerome Williams: We were high on Williams going into the season, even higher than most other publications, but any time a 21-year-old takes to the majors this quickly and this well, you have to count it as a surprise. Williams has been overshadowed by fellow rookie starters Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb, but that’s only because the other two got a head start on him and have piled up a few more innings. Looking at the rate stats, Williams’ Support-Neutral Winning Percentage of .739 is identical to Willis’s, and not all that far behind Webb’s spectacular .809.
- Marquis Grissom: Can you believe that Marquis Grissom has 2,000 career hits? It really took us by surprise when the Giants radio team noted this milestone on Saturday. And in that same game Grissom reached another significant milestone — his 25th career walk. But seriously, Grissom seems intent to prove that the offensive resurgence he showed last year with the Dodgers was no fluke. It’s another thing that may be hard to believe about Grissom, but he really is one of the league’s most fearsome sluggers against left-handed pitching.
- Edgardo Alfonzo: Joe Sheehan’s got this one covered.
- The starting rotation/hospital ward: There’s no problem with the first-half performance of the Giants rotation. They rank behind only the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Expos, and Phillies in the NL according to the Support-Neutral stats (the full team rotation rankings are here). But they’re also demonstrating that the Dusty Baker days of extreme reliability and health in the starting rotation (see Baseball Prospectus 2003) are over. Kirk Rueter is on the DL for the first time in his career with a sore shoulder. Kurt Ainsworth may be out for the season with a fractured shoulder blade. That’s not to mention Ryan Jensen’s “injury” (“Looking at your chart, Ryan, your 10.80 ERA indicates a significant problem with, uh…your back”). Damian Moss and Jesse Foppert have been jerked in and out of the starting rotation due to bouts of ineffectiveness.
They’re scraping the bottom of the AAA barrel already, and another injury–especially one to the traditionally fragile Schmidt–could spell disaster. Look for the Giants to add a veteran starter, either by trade or by coaxing Chuck Finley to spend some time away from Tawny.
- Minor League Pitching Depth: The Giants celebrated minor league pitching stable has taken a beating in the first half. Granted, three members of that stable have been called to the majors, but Ainsworth was injured and Foppert has fallen short of expectations so far. Boof Bonser is following up a disappointing 2002 by striking out fewer than one in every six batters in the Eastern League; his stock is heading toward DrKoop.com territory. Ryan Hannaman, Francisco Liriano, and Matt Cain are all hurt, and Jeff Clark is just off a two-month DL stint. There have been a few success stories–Merkin Valdez, Greg Bruso, and James Garcia, for example–but each comes with a caveat of one kind or another. The sudden shallowness of the minor league pitching pool, even if it’s temporary, will make it more challenging for Sabean to pull off a big deadline deal.
The Bad and/or Ugly:
Toronto Blue Jays
- Last Time Aboard the Train: You’ll want to check out Chris Kahrl’s Transaction Analysis for the full scoop, but offered without comment:
Shannon Stewart, Age 29
TM AB R H 2B 3B HR BI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS 1995 Tor 38 2 8 0 0 0 1 5 5 2 0 .211 .318 .211 .529 1996 Tor 17 2 3 1 0 0 2 1 4 1 0 .176 .222 .235 .457 1997 Tor 168 25 48 13 7 0 22 19 24 10 3 .286 .368 .446 .814 1998 Tor 516 90 144 29 3 12 55 67 77 51 18 .279 .377 .417 .794 1999 Tor 608 102 185 28 2 11 67 59 83 37 14 .304 .371 .411 .782 2000 Tor 583 107 186 43 5 21 69 37 79 20 5 .319 .363 .518 .881 2001 Tor 640 103 202 44 7 12 60 46 72 27 10 .316 .371 .463 .834 2002 Tor 577 103 175 38 6 10 45 54 60 14 2 .303 .371 .442 .813 2003 Tor 303 47 89 22 2 7 35 27 30 1 2 .294 .347 .449 .796
Bobby Kielty, Age 26
TM AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS 2001 Min 104 8 26 8 0 2 8 25 3 0 .250 .297 .385 .682 2002 Min 289 49 84 14 3 12 52 66 4 1 .291 .405 .484 .889 2003 Min 238 40 60 13 0 9 42 56 6 2 .252 .370 .420 .790 Total 631 97 170 35 3 23 102 147 13 3 .269 .375 .444 .819
- I’m Looking Over My Dead Dog Rover: There ain’t no such thing as support neutral, at least in Toronto. Even with Roy Halladay‘s Summer of Sudden Sam, the Toronto rotation’s been treated like Randall Simon in the land of ambulatory sausage people. The support-neutral rundown:
Team SNW SNL SNPct. E(W) W L RA AdjRA SNVA ---------------------------------------------------------------- TOR 31.1 35.7 .465 29.5 39 32 5.59 5.37 -2.6
Not particularly horrible beyond comprehension, but 51 of the Jays’ 95 starts have come from four starters that come from below the dreaded Radke line (also known as replacement level). Without Roy Halladay, the Blue Jays would probably draw comparisons to the Tiger Teams of the late 80’s that “couldn’t outscore their opponents” despite a bomber-laden offense. With Halladay, the Jays are nine back in the AL East, six out of the wild card, and scoring 44 runs more than their opponents. Of course, with an offense like this, they really should have a run differential closer to +1300-+1500…
Name Team Pos Out PA EQA EQR RAR RAP RARP Delgado, Carlos TOR 1B 237 413 .347 83.8 53.7 32.0 45.8 Wells, Vernon TOR CF 285 432 .297 68.6 32.5 13.0 27.8 Myers, Greg TOR C 131 228 .334 42.2 25.5 19.3 25.4 Catalanotto, Fr TOR RF 244 371 .281 51.2 20.2 -0.6 13.2 Wilson, Tom TOR C 123 192 .284 26.4 10.8 5.1 10.8 Stewart, Shannon TOR LF 216 332 .277 43.6 16.2 -2.7 9.6 Hudson, Orlando TOR 2B 206 310 .264 36.7 10.6 -0.9 9.1 Woodward, Chris TOR SS 194 288 .255 31.9 7.3 0.8 9.1 Johnson, Reed TOR RF 126 195 .285 27.2 11.3 1.0 8.0 Hinske, Eric TOR 3B 169 244 .256 27.9 6.5 -1.9 6.0 Phelps, Josh TOR Oth 188 286 .272 36.2 12.3 -4.9 6.0