|Between the Foul Poles: A Weekly Trek around the Majors V||| Print |||Send|
Written by Robert Democh (Contact & Archive) on May 15, 2009
Remember when the Cleveland Indians downplayed their halting 1-7 start?Â The Tribe expressed unshakable faith that they possessed the goods to contend in the AL Central.Â Four weeks later, though, Cleveland shows no trace of that earlier swagger.Â Through Sunday, the Indians were a dismal 11-21, seven games out and occupying the division cellar.Â The playoffs are no longer a serious consideration. Theyâ€™re merely trying to figure a way to claw back to .500.Â So what happened?Â Initially, the pitching was shaky (2008 AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee is just 1-5) although it has been better of late.Â Other than Victor Martinez and Asdrubal Cabrera, the offense is slumping (the Tribe were shut out twice in a three-game weekend set against the Tigers) with Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta the prime offenders.Â Sizemore has seen his average steadily decline to .227 and is batting just .037 (1-for-27) leading off with a pedestrian .313 OBP.Â The Indians offense is predicated on Sizemore reaching base and when he slumps, the team typically fares poorly.Â Even more puzzling has been Peraltaâ€™s season-long hitting drought.Â He has averaged 20 homers per season the past four years but has just one in 2009 with 10 RBI and an anemic .172 average his last 15 games.
Floundering with an 11-18 mark through Sunday, Oakland is desperately seeking ways to jump start the offense.Â Their .340 slugging percentage ranks last in the ML and only the Giants (16) have cranked fewer home runs (18).Â Â The meat of the order -- Matt Holliday, Jack Cust and Jason Giambi -- are batting a combined .240 with 11 home runs, two fewer than ML leader Carlos Pena.Â Â Another glaring weakness has been their ineptitude against lefties.Â There is no logical explanation for why the Athletics are just 3-11 this season when pitted against southpaws.Â Itâ€™s difficult to fathom that a team with such a rich tradition of starting pitching (Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito) has gone a franchise record 100 contests without tossing a complete game.Â The feat was last accomplished by Justin Duchscherer in July 2008.Â Aâ€™s closer Brad Ziegler has been beset with the flu and an asthma attack, restricting his availability.Â That has led to save opportunities for both Mike Wuertz and Andrew Bailey.Â Ziegler indicates it may be two more weeks before he fully regains his health.Â Given the scarcity of save opportunities in Oakland, thereâ€™s probably no need to rush it.Â Â
Throw a brat on the grill because the Brewers are celebrating.Â Called upon to play 20 games in 20 days through Sunday, Milwaukee rose to the occasion.Â The Brewersâ€™ 14-6 performance during that span enabled them to leapfrog into second place in the NL Central.Â Quite a contrast for a team that opened the season by dropping their first four series.Â Â A big reason for the resurgence is the exceptional play of Ryan Braun.Â Over his past 18 contests Braun has excelled, batting .431 with seven home runs and 23 RBI.Â Although Rickie Weeks, Mike Cameron and Cory Hart all exceeded 15 thefts in 2008, Brewers manager Ken Macha has turned on the red light.Â As a team, they have attempted just 19 steals and were successful only 10 times.Â Â Manny Parra has been giving the starting rotation a much needed lift.Â After stumbling out of the gate (0-3 with an 8.16 ERA in his first three starts), he has bounced back, going 2-1 with a sterling 2.71 ERA his last four starts.Â Journeyman Craig Counsell is receiving ample playing time at Bill Hallâ€™s expense.Â Macha appreciates Counsellâ€™s versatility (he plays third and short) and his selfless approach on offense (drawing walks, advancing base runners).Â
Our recent assessment that the Mets were on life support in the NL East certainly got their attention. New York proceeded to reel off seven straight wins before falling to Atlanta Monday.Â Despite losing, they were leading the division.Â The abrupt turnaround was unexpected but not a complete surprise.Â On those occasions when the stars align, the Mets can compete with the elite.Â Oliver Perez, he of the underachieving 9.97 ERA, was mercifully placed on the DL last week with knee tendonitis.Â Carlos Delgado may soon be joining him.Â Delgado has battled an inflamed hip all season, causing him to miss five games two weeks ago.Â It has not responded to anti-inflammatory meds and has steadily worsened.Â Complete rest may be the only effective cure.Â The distinguished accomplishments of Johan Santana are often taken for granted because of his uncanny consistency.Â For example, in his last 13 starts he has handcuffed opponents, holding them to two or fewer earned runs.Â Santana has made 41 starts as a Met, hurling 280 innings.Â His peripherals have been fantastic (2.25 ERA and 266 strikeouts) making it criminal he has but 20 wins to show for it all.Â Chalk up the limited victories to factors beyond Santanaâ€™s control, namely sloppy defense and a blundering bullpen.Â
On paper, the San Francisco Giants have no business possessing a winning record.Â They rank dead last in the ML in both home runs and runs scored and yet through Sunday were 16-14.Â That paradox is a testament to having one of the NLâ€™s best starting rotations, ranking among the MLâ€™s top ten in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.Â The lone dark cloud has been Randy Johnsonâ€™s monumental struggles on the road:Â In three starts, he is winless and has been rudely treated given his cumulative 11.37 ERA.Â Speedy Emmanuel Burriss is making a strong case to replace Fred Lewis atop the order.Â Burriss paces the team with nine stolen bases and has raised his average more than 100 points this month to .287 through Sunday.Â Bengie Molina has never disputed accusations that he is the slowest player in the majors.Â Despite never winning a foot race, Molina has proven to be a highly productive (and underappreciated) cleanup hitter.Â Dating back to the beginning of last season, he has driven in 122 runs in 174 games while toiling at baseballâ€™s most physically demanding position.Â Although mediocre defensively, Molina is a savvy game caller.
The Weekender: Here are some intriguing pairings this coming weekend (May 15-17).
Angels at Rangers:Â Â Eagerly awaited season debut for John Lackey?
Twins at Yankees:Â Â Â Can Minnesotaâ€™s young arms tame A-Rod and company?Â Â Â
Dodgers at Marlins:Â Manny-less Dodgers are a lot less intimidating.Â Â Â Â Â
Astros at Cubs:Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â How will Chicago cope without Aramis Ramirez?