Baltimore Orioles

  • Pitching In: The Orioles, a team that has struggled with their pitching all season, recently had a remarkable streak. For 10 straight games, five on either side of the All-Star Break, the Oriole starters delivered a quality start. After it was broken, they ran off four more–even if they managed to blow two of them in the seventh inning–making it 14 times in 15 games that Oriole starters finished six innings with less than three earned runs. The breakdown:
    • Rick Helling got the streak started, in Seattle on the 9th, leading them to a 7-2 win. He followed that up with another QS on the 18th in a four-game sweep of Anaheim. Against the Yankees on the 23rd, he shut them out for five innings before giving up four over the next two innings.
    • Sidney Ponson continued his stellar season, delivering quality starts (and wins) against Seattle on the 10th, Anaheim on the 19th, and the Yankees on the 24th. That carries him to 14-5 and keeps him right on Roy Halladay‘s heels.
    • Rodrigo Lopez turned in two quality starts during the streak, losing 2-0 to Oakland on the 11th and Anaheim on the 17th. But he is also the one who ended the streak, giving up four runs without finishing the 5th against the Blue Jays…and then got blasted by the Jays again five days later, losing 10-1.
    • Pat Hentgen has turned in three straight quality starts, facing down Oakland, Texas, and Toronto, pretty much guaranteeing that he will remain in the rotation through August.
    • Jason Johnson lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Oakland and Barry Zito in the game that cost Zito his All-Star berth, and then shut the Angels down to finish the sweep. He turned in another quality start against the Jays, but gave up runs in the seventh to blow it.
  • Catching Up: The streak by the starters was only half the story, as Brook Fordyce had a 12-game streak in which he caught a quality start (he didn’t start the Lopez game that ended the streak). Despite the fact that, even with this streak, he has a higher catcher ERA than Geronimo Gil (not that this is all that important, as Keith Woolner has written), the Orioles have seized upon this to anoint Fordyce as their #1 catcher, convinced that he can guide the pitching staff best through the remainder of the season.

    Gil, meanwhile, has been exiled to Canada. His demotion to Ottawa was a shock, not least to him. There is no physical evidence that would indicate that Fordyce is any better than Gil. We tend to be pretty ruthless with our descriptions of players, and how so-and-so deserves to be sent down, but every now and then we get a reminder of how psychologically traumatic this is, even in the testosterone-laden world of professional sports. When you are sent down, the team is telling the entire world that YOU ARE A FAILURE. Gil was in obvious distress while cleaning out his locker, but has recovered enough to hit .300 in his first week back in Triple-A.

  • What Else is New?: The sun rose in the East, traffic was bad on the Beltway, and David Segui went on the DL, after (I am not making this up) checking his swing. Yes, as he became the first person this season to be fooled by a Sterling Hitchcock change-up, Segui apparently popped tendons in his wrist and may well be done for the season. He gave the Orioles 250 plate appearances this year, bringing him up to 697 for the three years they’ve had him on his current contract.

Colorado Rockies

  • New Kid on the Block: Chin-Hui Tsao made his much hyped, heralded, and anticipated debut last week for the Rockies, stringing together seven solid innings in the rarefied air and coming away with the victory. Tsao has been on the radar for a few years, despite having Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2001. His K rate has been outstanding (125 in 113.1 IP at Double-A Tulsa so far this season), he keeps the ball in the yard, and his walks have steadily declined this season, a typical timetable for recovery from elbow surgery.

    Interestingly, the Rockies moved him to the Show without giving him any chance to get used to pitching at altitude at Triple-A Colorado Springs. There’s not enough information out there yet to determine if this kind of player advancement is a good idea for the Rockies or not. Shawn Chacon was rushed to Denver in similar fashion two years ago and the jury is still out on the success of that move. Last Year’s NL Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings followed a more traditional path through the bush leagues, and while he looked good in 2002, his sophomore season has left quite a bit to be desired.

  • Knocking on the Door: The next hot pitching prospect behind Tsao is Jason Young, a 23-year-old right-hander who continues to improve and is now in his second year pitching at Colorado Springs. Young did make his major league debut in May of this year, starting two games with limited success, but he’s back in Triple-A at this point. His strikeout rate remains high (87 in 100 IP) and more importantly his walk and home run rates have declined. If Young can continue to blow his 94-mph heat past hitters, he may become another exhibit in the case for keeping younger pitchers at altitude longer before permanently bringing them up to the majors.

    Rene Reyes was recently called up I-25 after continuing his light but steady hitting this season. There was hope Reyes might find some more power playing at altitude; it hasn’t happened, but the Rockies are apparently too blinded by his .343 average to notice the lack of extra-base hits. Reyes doesn’t walk, doesn’t hit the ball far, and doesn’t really steal bases after reconstructive knee surgery a few years back.

    Meanwhile the Garrett Atkins experiment at the hot corner continues. Atkins, formerly a first baseman, has been disappointing this year at Colorado Springs, with a declining walk rate and continued power outage. His numbers are slightly better than Reyes’, but his path is blocked by the growing pile of infielders on the far end of the Colorado bench. The Rockies would be better off investing in Mark Bellhorn or taking a flier on 30-year old Kit Pellow (.315/.371/.579 in Triple-A), whom they’ve decided to stash behind Todd Helton at first base instead of at his natural third base position.

  • Upcoming Schedule: With plenty of games against the Pirates, Reds, Mets, and Marlins peppering the schedule for the next month, the Rockies will have plenty of opportunities to let their youngsters break in easy and gain some confidence. Colorado is four games out of the wild card, but six back in the loss column, behind four teams. Hopefully, Dan O’Dowd and Clint Hurdle will recognize the team’s position and take appropriate advantage of August and September rather than trying to climb back into the race.

New York Mets

  • Reality Check: Mets fans should be a bit leery of getting attached to the few players who have given them reason to care about this .400 team. The guys actually making contributions this year share a striking resemblance to the “youth movement” of another New York baseball team more than a dozen years ago.
    • Jeff Duncan, 24, has gotten off to a good start since his call-up earlier this month, more or less taking the everyday center-field job. He’s hitting .281/.406/.368, or right around the top of his range. Duncan has never played a game at Triple-A, though, and almost all of his prospect status comes from being beating up younger players over the last two years in the Sally, Florida State and Eastern leagues.

      The Yankees had a similar situation in 1990, promoting an outfielder at mid-summer who wasn’t a heralded prospect, but rather a fourth-outfielder candidate. Oscar Azocar was a completely different type of player–12 career walks in three seasons…Duncan has 11 already–but the excitement that he generated at Yankee Stadium just by not being Mel Hall or Claudell Washington is exactly the bounce Duncan is getting from not being Roger Cedeno.

    • Jason Phillips is becoming a fan favorite, hitting .316/.388/.462. Phillips is in the majors because superstar and fan favorite Mike Piazza has missed most of the year with a debilitating groin injury. In 1990, Kevin Maas got his opportunity when superstar and fan favorite Don Mattingly underwent back surgery. Like Phillips, Maas wasn’t a top prospect, just a 25-year-old who happened to have the streak of his life after his call-up. Phillips will last longer than Maas did because he can catch, but it’s likely that he’s having his career year right now.

      Jae Seo has been the Mets’ best pitcher this year, and while there’s no direct comp for him on the 1990 Yankees, who got the bulk of their starts from veterans, the team introduced a whole host of pitchers to the majors in the 1989-91 period who share Seo’s profile: low ERAs with a low strikeout rate. Clay Parker, who had a 3.68 ERA in 1989 with 53 strikeouts in 120 innings, is probably the best match. Seo is likely to be Scott Kamieniecki, a useful #4/#5 starter whose bad years are going to be really bad.

    It’s understandable why fans would rally behind players like this. It’s fun rooting for young players after so many years of veteran disappointments. Expectations are low–who the hell is Jeff Duncan?–so any contributions are welcome. There are secondary parallels here as well; each of the young players has or had some hook–Phillips’ goggles, Duncan’s hustle, Azocar’s hacking ways, Maas’ home-run records and lantern jaw–that fans and media can latch onto, and in the midst of a dreary season, that kind of story is a beacon of light.

    Duncan, Phillips and Seo aren’t the building blocks, though. Like Azocar, Maas and Parker, they’re transitional prospects, and they’ll be long gone by the time the Mets are ready to contend in 2005 or 2006. As the Yankees eventually did with Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, the Mets will introduce championship-caliber players like Justin Huber, David Wright and, perhaps, Scott Kazmir to the roster.

  • The Happy Recap: The generation of broadcasters who got their start during the primacy of baseball on the radio will retire one more microphone. Bob Murphy, who has been with the Mets since the franchise’s birth in 1962, announced that he will step down at the end of the season. Murphy’s signature “Happy Recap” of Met wins endeared him to two generations of fans and made him an institution in New York.
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe