The Mets take over the top spot by roughing up the fourth-ranked Dodgers and the reeling Diamondbacks while shedding the disappointing Kazuo Matsui (.256/.308/.363, .239 EqA in his MLB career). Carlos Beltran is red-hot, as he’s now hitting .297/.406/.631 for the season and has surpassed last season’s home run total in 100 fewer games; he and teammate David Wright are both in the NL’s top five in VORP. Patching up a weak back end of the rotation are the Cuban duo of ancient Orlando Hernandez and rookie Alay Soler, who both toss two complete games–including Soler’s two-hit shutout of Arizona–and yield just two runs in 25 innings.
After weeks of playing through myriad injuries, including a 9-2 run that helped them take this week’s rain-shortened series from the Red Sox, the Yanks finally hit a flat note by losing four straight, including a Bronx sweep by the A’s. Randy Johnson returns to pitching like a late-model Kevin Brown; the Big Eunuch’s ERA now stands at 5.62 and his VORP at 0.3 after the A’s tag him for three homers in just four innings. He’s not the only starter failing to get the job done; as a unit, the rotation has given the Yanks just 5.7 innings per start this month while putting up a 5.37 ERA. Meanwhile, the offense is forced to work around another Derek Jeter hand injury; since Memorial Day, he’s hitting just .188/.333/.250 and has missed five games, but he’s still second among AL shortstops in VORP (27.7).
A 4-9 skid, including losing two out of three to the White Sox, threatens to end the Tigers’ joyride. They’ve been outscored by an average of two runs a game during that span (5.53 to 3.53), highlighting their woes on both sides of the ball and shaving about 50 points off their Hit List Factor. Joe Sheehan compares them to last year’s upstart Sox and finds strong similarities on the hill, in the field, and at the plate. Good: the Tigers steal the best player in the draft in Andrew Miller; rookie Zach Miner fills in for injuredMike Maroth and subdues the Blue Jays. Bad: the bullpen gets torched for eight runs. Ugly: aside from Marcus Thames (.333/.359/.806), the team is hitting just .247/.307/.367 in June, with a ghastly K/BB ratio of 82/26.
The Dodgers climb atop the NL West, less by seizing the initiative than by weathering the storm as the Diamondbacks sink. Brad Pennytosses a gem and lowers his ERA to 2.34; he’s fourth in the NL in VORP (30.9), while teammate Derek Lowe is seventh (25.2). There’s no middle ground in the rotation, with three starters (the other being Aaron Sele) putting up ERAs below 3.00, and three (including whoever’s been exiled to the bullpen) above 5.20. Speaking of the ‘pen, Eric Gagnegarners his first save of the season but is shut down due to swelling around the ulnar nerve, a problem Will Carroll terms “potentially devastating.” Gagne’s likely headed back to the DL.
The White Sox bounce back from a 2-5 week by taking a pair of series from their two closest division rivals. As people compare this year’s model to last, here are a couple figures to bear in mind. On offense, this year’s Sox are 0.34 runs above the league average in scoring, and 0.46 runs better than the league average on defense; last year’s team finished at -0.19 and 0.78, respectively–a larger differential but a dramatically less balanced one. A big reason for the offense’s improvement is Jermaine Dye‘s performance; he’s hitting .300/.400/.663, leads the AL in SLG and is second to teammate Jim Thome in homers (19 to Thome’s 21). Meanwhile the success of last year’s bullpen becomes even harder to match as Cliff Polittehits the DL with a sore shoulder and Jeff Nelson faces career-ending elbow surgery.
The Jays remain in the AL East picture, but their rotation shuffle continues. AJ Burnett is set for a rehab start on Tuesday, but Gustavo Chacinreturns to the DL with an elbow sprain and could miss eight weeks. Rookie Casey Janssen (3.07 ERA, 18.6 VORP, good for 19th in the league) continues to pitch well, but take that with a grain of salt, as only one of his nine starts has come against a team with a winning percentage above .500. Fellow rookie Ty Taubenheim is giving the Jays just 4.25 innings per start, and not good ones either (6.35 ERA). The staff’s underlying problem is vulnerability to the long ball; they’re yielding 1.46 gophers per nine, worse than every major league team except the Royals, who don’t really count as a major league team.
Life without Albert Pujols isn’t shaping up particularly well for the Cardinals, who’ve lost five out of eight since the big slugger went down and briefly surrendered first place after a sweep by the Reds. For the moment, offense isn’t the problem; the Cards have averaged 5.63 runs post-Pujols, but they’ve been giving up 6.38. The rotation is simply a mess; Chris Carpenter is none too impressive coming off the DL, while Mark Mulder has given up 19 runs over his last three starts, lasting just 14 innings, and neither Jeff Suppan (5.35 ERA) or Jason Marquis (4.88 ERA) are worth writing home about either. Luckily, several Cards are swinging the bat well this month, including Scott Rolen (.394/.476/.606), Jim Edmonds (.318/.375/.591), and, surprisingly, Yadier Molina (.407/.467/.704), though the latter’s VORP is still well below zero.
An eight-game winning streak puts the Reds atop the NL Central, but a lost weekend against the Cubs allows the Cards to rule the roost once again. The good news is that the rotation’s been giving the team great work lately; Reds starters have yielded just a 2.89 ERA for the month while averaging 6.2 innings per start, and for the season they’re a solid fifth in the league in SNLVAR (7.7). Even Official Hit List Whipping Boy Eric Milton‘s been pitching well, tossing four quality starts in a row and walking just one batter in those 29.2 innings while lowering his ERA to 3.88. Check local listings for signs of the Apocalypse in your area.
An ugly week for the Tribe as they drop two series and sink even further in the AL Central standings; the losing has them bickering amongst each other (tale of the tape: Bob Wickman has at least 50 pounds on Paul Byrd, not to mention a higher VORP). In the deepest funk is Jhonny Peralta, just 3-for-39 since May 31 and hitting only .225/.307/.329 for the year, a line that more resembles his premature arrival in 2003 than his MVP-caliber 2005. With unlikely contributions from Casey Blake (.305/.390/.524) and the Ben Broussard/Eduardo Perez first base platoon (still hitting a staggering .354/.398/.624) combined, the Indians aren’t really missing his offense yet; they’re cranking out 5.79 runs per game, second in the AL. But Peralta’s struggles cast a pall on this team and serve as a metaphor for their unexpected struggle in the face of so much hype. There’s still time to turn it around, but the hill they’ll have to climb gets steeper with each passing week.
Grim Reaper: a BALCO-related federal raid on the home of Jason Grimsley leads to the journeyman pitcher’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs, highlighting loopholes in the current policy such as the lack of a test for Human Growth Hormone and setting the stage for a new phase in baseball’s drug scandal. The news rocks the baseball world, particularly because Grimsley reportedly revealed to the feds names of other players who used (pdf); if the pattern holds, those names will soon be leaked to the public. Grimsley requests and receives his release as the Diamondbacks decide to withhold pay. On the field, the D-backs play as if snakebitten, losing seven straight by a combined score of 58-16 and plunging all the way from fourth in last week’s rankings.
Feeble week for the Padres as the offense manages just 19 runs; Adrian Gonzalez rips it up (.400/.444/.720 ) but the rest of the team manages just .231/.288/.341. Chris Young–who tripled, giving him as many total bases on the week as Mike Piazza and Khalil Greene–continues his roll, striking out 12 Marlins and allowing just one run. He’s now 11th in the NL in VORP (21.7) and ninth in SNLVAR (2.7). More worrisome is staff ace Jake Peavy‘s struggle in the wake of shoulder issues. His 10 strikeouts of the Marlins notwithstanding, he allows 11 runs in 8.2 innings on the week, and has lasted past five innings in only one of his past five starts. Whether or not you’re a Padres fan, you have to wonder whether he or the club are seeing the big picture by letting him pitch.
In his return from the DL, Cole Hamels notches his first big-league win, albeit against a stunned Diamondbacks team that had just learned about the Jason Grimsley situation. Not surprisingly, the results aren’t quite so favorable in Hamels’ next outing, but through four starts, the kid has 22 K’s in 22 innings and a 3.86 ERA, which beats every Phils starter except Brett Myers. On the offense, Ryan Howard is swinging a big stick; his three homers (part of a .357/.419/.786 week) give him 22, third-best in the NL.
After just one four-inning appearance, Rich Harden returns the DL, but this time it’s a whole lot worse. Harden could need Tommy John surgery, which would end his season and seriously damage the A’s playoff hopes at a time when they’re basking in the afterglow of a week which sees them sweep the Yankees in the Bronx to cap a 9-2 streak. Esteban Loaiza returns from his own injury to toss his first good game as an A. Also starting to feel at home in the green and gold is Frank Thomas, who’s finally putting the Big Hurt on opposing pitchers instead of his own lineup. He’s walloped nine homers in his last 16 starts, lifting his line from .178/.300/.373 to .235/.352/.525 in that span.
Losers of four straight series and 11 out of 14 games, the Braves have never been four games under .500 at this point during the Schuerholz/Cox regime. It’s bad news on both ends as the team has been outscored 71-40 this month. The offense has managed more than five runs just once and is hitting .245/.297/.418; Jim Baker points out that they’ve been facing tougher pitching than anybody else. As for the pitching, remember the final scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, when the Chief smothers McMurphy because he knows he’ll never be the same after the lobotomy? Pass John Schuerholz a pillow.
The Rockies come home to Coors Field and bash out 40 runs for the week–nearly double the number they’d scored (22) in the previous 14 games–while hitting .318/.378/.507. Garrett Atkins (500/.542/.800) and Jamey Carroll–yes, Jamey Carroll–(.458/.458/.833) lead the charge. Truly, it’s a topsy-turvy world the Rox live in, one where their pitching staff leads the majors in fewest HR/9 (0.79). That, at least, is no fluke; if the team appears to have finally learned one lesson about playing at altitude, it’s that keeping the ball on the ground keeps it in the park. Marc Normandin pointed out earlier this month that Aaron Cook, Jason Jennings and Jeff Francis are all doing an above-average job of that and of inducing infield flies (not the kind that happen when a pitcher is left to rot on the Coors mound during a seven-run inning). Better hope first-round pick Greg Reynolds—a lousy choice, according to Kevin Goldstein–can follow that pattern.
They weren’t exactly battling the ’27 Yankees, but the Mariners will take a 6-1 week at the expense of the Royals, Twins and Angels anytime. Felix Hernandez tosses his first complete game in the majors, needing just 94 pitches to post a gem of a line (9 4 2 2 0 9). With three good starts out of four, Hernandez has lowered his ERA from 5.84 to 4.94 while posting an impressive 26/4 K/BB ratio. At the plate, Ichiro Suzuki is hitting like the guy in the catalog; since May 5, he’s hit safely in 33 out of 35 games, a span during which he’s batting .451/.491/.569. He’s already got 102 hits, and is on pace for a staggering 254.
A 2-11 slide threatened to render Roger Clemens‘ return irrelevant, but the ‘Stros right their craft by winning five out of six and allowing just 15 runs on the week. The Rocket’s relaunch is going according to plan; Clemens has dominated the whippersnappers at Single-A and Double-A, and heads to Triple-A Round Rock this week. But elsewhere in the Astro rotation (Astrotation?) the news is mixed. Chris Sampsonfires seven blanks in his major-league debut, but his start comes at the expense of Roy Oswalt, whose hamstring woes have cascaded into mid-back spasms. Oswalt’s now DL’ed with a pain he described as being hit by a sledgehammer. Kids, if there’s one lesson to take from Will Carroll’s Saving the Pitcher and the fine work he does in his column, it’s this: DON’T PITCH HURT. Just ask Eric Gagne when he comes out of the MRI machine.
Every week makes it more apparent that this isn’t the Angels’ year, (a sweep by the Mariners? Ouch) but that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely lost cause. Rounding up the rookies… Jered Weaver continues to impress; he’s lasted at least six innings in all three starts and has posted a 17/3 K/BB ratio to go with his 1.86 ERA… Mike Napoli is hitting .310/.417/.620 through his first 71 at-bats… Kendry Morales is hitting a less impressive .250/.289/.417 though his first 72 at-bats… He’s not a rookie, but Dallas McPherson is back to his all-or-nothing ways, hitting .256/.273/.465 in 86 at-bats, with an atrocious 28/2 K/BB ratio. That may not be a lost cause, but it ain’t going to last long around here, particularly with Brandon Wooddoing good things down at Double-A.
Another respectable week for the Fish as they finish up an NL West roadtrip with a 6-3 record. Thanks to a bit of a Coors bump, they’re showing some thump, with five players slugging better than .600 on the trip (Jeremy Hermida, Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, and Alfredo Almegaza). Hermida’s hitting .264/.339/.472 since returning from a six-week stint on the DL due to a hip flexor, while Jacobs (.260/.359/.453) is starting to hit like the player the Marlins thought they were acquiring from the Mets. Willingham (hand) and Hanley Ramirez (back) are both hurting, but neither is expected to miss much time.
Grand Theft Chicago: free of the scourge of Dusty Baker, Corey Patterson is playing up to his potential. He’s hitting .286/.339/.463 and is tied for second on the team in VORP with 16.6, a figure better than the entire Cubs outfield, and the rest of the O’s meager one, too. Patterson’s also 26/29 on the basepaths, including a streak of stolen bases in nine straight games. Meanwhile, Daniel Cabrerareturns from a three-week stint on the DL and resumes his tightrope act, walking 11 hitters in 11 innings–running his season total to an MLB-leading 50, 8.6 per nine IP–but allowing no runs.
An 11-6 tear has inched the Pirates to just 14 games below the McClatchy Line. Ian Snell has the hot hand, and the mainstream focus is on his five straight wins; that’s overstating the case, but he has had three consecutive quality starts, allowing just three earned runs in 19.1 innings. Similarly, Victor Santos has yielded just four earned runs in 18 innings. That beats Oliver Perez with a stick, a course of action the Pirates should consider after a pair of starts–the second admittedly at Coors Field–in which Perez yields 14 runs while lasting just five frames. No word on whether Boeing will take the artistic license to round down his ERA one hundredth of a run to 7.17 so as to create a potential endorsement opportunity.
Carlos Zambrano has a day to remember, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning and clubbing a three-run homer as well. It’s the second time in three starts Zambrano’s ventured at least 6.2 innings into no-no land, and the extension of a run which has seen him post a 1.54 ERA in 58.1 innings since the beginning of May. Things aren’t nearly so positive for Kerry Wood, who goes back on the DL after just four starts and 19.2 innings of work, but Carlos Marmol‘s first major-league start (6 2 1 1 3 7) offers a good Wood facsimile.
Dayton Moore takes over the GM spot, but his introduction reveals that there’s still tons of horse manure in this here stable when the Glass-jawed regime revokes the credentials of two reporters who dare ask tough questions. On the field, the Royals continue to lose with nearly as much predictability as an eastern sunrise, but their use the draft’s first pick to tab last year’s holdout, Luke Hochevar, is a rare instance of something they don’t screw up.
The Prospectus Hit List rankings are derived from Won-Loss records and several measurements pertaining to run differentials, both actual and adjusted, from Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings through the close of play on every Sunday.