Boston Red Sox

  • Pedro and Curt and Someone’s Gonna Get Hurt: Barring an epic collapse, the Red Sox will be playing Division Series games in two weeks. Now, there’s no question as to who starts the first two games of the best-of-five, although you could debate the order in which Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez should step to the mound.

    After that, it’s going to be interesting.

    Pitcher            IP    ERA    K/9   BB/9   K/BB   OPS   SNVA
    Bronson Arroyo  164.0   4.01   7.13   2.41   2.95   716    2.3
    Derek Lowe      173.1   5.19   5.14   3.48   1.48   765    0.3
    Tim Wakefield   176.0   4.96   5.63   3.02   1.86   784    0.9

    On merit, Bronson Arroyo should be the Red Sox’ #3 starter in the playoffs. He’s been the third-best starter all year long, and hasn’t lost a thing in the second half. While Derek Lowe‘s resurgence since the July 31 trade for Orlando Cabrera has been a popular theme, Arroyo has outpitched him even since that event (although Saturday’s one-inning, seven-run outing exaggerates the difference).

    Choosing between Lowe and Tim Wakefield is a toss-up. Their value and performance over the full season has been comparable. Lowe has been better of late, even after Saturday’s debacle. Wakefield matches up better against the heavily left-handed A’s, while Lowe’s effectiveness at Fenway Park makes him attractive against either opponent (whoever it is will start Game Four, certain to be played, if at all, at Fenway Park).

    One problem for the Red Sox is that they have little need for an additional right-handed reliever in the bullpen. As it is, they’re going to be leaving at least one, perhaps both, of Ramiro Mendoza and Curtis Leskanic off the roster. Tactically, they might be better off leaving whoever gets dropped from the rotation off the playoff roster entirely, and that’s sure to set off a controversy.

    This is one of those situations where what’s objectively the best decision doesn’t get made because of the need to keep people content. It’s OK if the Red Sox keep all five of their starters on the playoff roster, because who the tenth or 11th pitcher is won’t matter all that much, especially in the Division Series. But if they make their choice of #3 starter for similar reasons, they’ll be making a mistake. Arroyo has earned that slot, and he gives the Sox the best chance to win.

  • Runs, and Lots of ’em: Lost in the hype over the improved defense and the added speed and all the unearned runs the Sox no longer allow is that this is still a very good offensive team. The likely starting lineup in playoffs will include eight guys with at least a .350 OBP and Orlando Cabrera (who really needs to start batting ninth). The Sox lead in the AL in runs, OBP and slugging, and are second in the league in EqA.

    Since the trade of Garciaparra, the Sox have scored exactly six runs per game (294/49). That exceeds their pre-trade average of 5.63. Credit the returns of OBP guys Bill Mueller and Trot Nixon for some of that. Kevin Millar‘s impersonation of Manny Ramirez has helped, although it’s been negated somewhat by Ramirez simultaneously imitating Millar for two months.

    Don’t get lost in the hype. The Sox have an improved defense, but they still win because they have two great strikeout starters, a very good strikeout bullpen, and one of the best offenses in the game

Cincinnati Reds

  • 190? Without much fanfare, Adam Dunn is sneaking up on a record that no one has wanted any part of over the past few seasons. With 177 strikeouts through Tuesday night, Dunn has a reasonable shot at breaking the major-league record of 189, set by Bobby Bonds in 1970.

    By rights, the mark should be higher than that. The record was challenged each year from 2000 through 2002, twice by Jose Hernandez and once by Preston Wilson. While Wilson missed the record on merit, striking out just once in his last 12 at-bats on the season’s final weekend, Hernandez was removed from the lineup, and even from games, over the season’s last week to help him avoid setting the record. In each case, the decision was an indefensible concession. Hernandez was probably the Brewers’ most vauable player in 2002, yet he sat out the last week of the season–a decision he was part of making, along with manager Jerry Royster.

    And they say we pay too much attention to statistics. There’s no way anyone at BP, or most of the people reading this, would ever sit a player down because he was approaching a negative record. The strikeout mark is trivial, and the importance placed on it by Royster and Davey Lopes (in 2001) reflects an antiquated way of looking at a batter’s performance.

    Dunn’s strikeouts are a side effect of his power and patience. He works deep into counts, risking strikeouts, and takes big swings that miss. Cutting down on his strikeouts should be a goal only if doing so allows him to hit the ball hard and far more often.

    Bonds hit .302/.375/.504 when he set the record in 1970, and was one of the 15 or 20 best players in the National League. Dunn is among the top dozen hitters in the NL this year, and a worthy successor to Bonds. Here’s hoping he plays out his season, 190 be damned.

  • Look Ma, No Luggage: For the first time since 2000–a year he spent coming back from a near-fatal car accident–D’Angelo Jimenez is going to spend an entire season in one organization. Jimenez, who wore out his welcome in San Diego and Chicago with indifferent defense, disappointing offense, and questions about his attitude, has held the Reds’ second-base job all year long. He will finish the year with career highs in many offensive categories. Perhaps most significantly, he didn’t run himself off of the team as he did in his previous two stops. Jimenez has established himself as a major-league second baseman who can contribute to a good team.

    Jimenez will be 27 on December 21, making next year his theoretical peak season. Bold predictions in September have to be taken with a grain of salt, but put Jimenez on your short list of players who could have breakout years in 2005. He has the talent, and he’ll go into the year with fewer doubts about him he’s ever had before.

  • Recovering Nicely: One of the biggest disappointments for the Reds this season was the performance of Ryan Wagner. Wagner, the team’s #1 pick in 2003, had reached the major leagues within two months of being signed, and put up a 1.66 ERA in 21 2/3 innings last year. The Reds–and many others–expected him to be a shutdown reliever in the seventh and eighth innings. He wasn’t: Wagner allowed 20 hits and 12 runs in his first eight innings, and was demoted to Triple-A on May 29 with a 6.75 ERA.

    Since returning to the majors in early July, Wagner has been much more effective, and over the last two months, he’s been more like the pitcher the Reds were counting on in April: 20 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings since August 1, with an ERA of 2.22.

    As the Reds look to 2005, Wagner, like Jimenez and Dunn, will be an important part of their plans. It’s not hard to see all three players contributing to a winning team next season.

San Diego Padres

  • The Sound of Sirens: The Padres, who had battled the injury bug all year long, may have finally lost the war this month. Losing ground in the NL West and wild-card races, the Padres lost the left side of their infield for the rest of the season last week.

    On September 13, likely Rookie of the Year Khalil Greene broke his right finger while fielding a ground ball against the Dodgers. The injury prevents him from throwing, and ended his season. In the same series, Sean Burroughs suffered a torn meniscus on September 15. He underwent surgery last Friday that will keep him out until 2005, even if the Padres reach the playoffs.

    In a span of 48 hours, the Padres lost two of their competitive advantages, excellent defensive infielders with adequate bats who had been a big part of their strong season. Replacing Burroughs and Greene with a combination of Rich Aurilia, Alex Gonzalez, Dave Hansen and Ramon Vazquez manning the position. While a viable collection of bench talent, the combination is a big dropoff from the two young Padres, especially defensively.

  • So, Are They Done? The good news for the Padres is that they have a lot of control over their destiny. After last night’s win over the Dodgers, they’re four games out of first place in the division, which is a more realistic goal at this point than the wild card. They’ll play two more games with the Dodgers, then close their season with six games with the Diamondbacks wrapped around three with the Giants.

    Realistically, they have to win at least nine of their last 11 games, and may need as many as 11. What they actually need to do is win their next two games with the Dodgers. Splitting won’t help, because they need to catch two teams, not just one, and those two will play each other six times over the next two weeks. They have to come out of this series down just two games, or they’re done. Achieve that, and they give themselves a chance.

  • Some Good News: Jake Peavy‘s ERA is 2.40, and would lead the National League by a healthy margin–Ben Sheets and Randy Johnson are atop the list with 2.74 marks–if he were included. His total of 146 1/3 inning is just shy of eligibility, however, and leaves him needing 15 2/3 innings in the season’s last 12 days to have a shot at the crown.

    He has three scheduled starts left, which means that barring a string of ineffectiveness–two starts against the Snakes should eliminate that possibility–Peavy is on his way to becoming the youngest pitcher to lead the NL in ERA since Joe Magrane did it–also at 23, also by just barely qualifying–in 1988. The last younger pitcher to do so was Dwight Gooden, who buried the NL at 20 in 1985.

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