Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 10! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- San Francisco Giants (4-2 last week, 40-21 overall) → As Buster Olney proffered on the Baseball Tonight podcast earliest this week, the Giants are official ridiculous. At 40-21 overall, they’re on pace for a 106-win season, and unsurprisingly have the best playoff odds of any NL team (95.7%). And while they’ve largely done it with pitching (they rank 3rd amongst all ML teams in ERA and BAA, and second in WHIP), their offense has kicked it up a notch of late too. Pablo Sandoval, who was hitting .171 heading into a May 10th game against the Dodgers, has been on fire ever since, batting .340 with six homers and a .932 OPS in a 105 plate appearance sample size. Buster Posey meanwhile, looks to be finally getting back to his MVP-level usual at the dish; his two-run homer (his eighth of the year) off reliever Carlos Torres broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning yesterday, not only gave the Giants the lead for good, but extended his hitting streak to five games and concluded his second three-hit effort in less than a week. Every single everyday player in fact, now has an OPS+ over 100 (league average). The moral as always: beware the Bay in an even-numbered year.
- Washington Nationals (5-1, 31-28) ↑ Doug Fister‘s stats in the five games he has started since his disastrous Nationals debut: 32.1 innings pitched, 25 hits allowed, 2 walks permitted, opposing batters line of .212/.236/.347, 2.23 era, 5-0 record. Hold on, I’m busy getting flashbacks of my feelings circa 2010 about the robbery of Pau Gasol by the Lakers. What a steal.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (3-3, 32-30) → Jonah Keri did a fantastic job yesterday breaking down the Matt Kemp quandary, and the Dodger’s unenviable outfield problem: in Keri’s words, “They have four outfielders making too much to sit on the bench, and, despite the seemingly impossible math, Kemp is the fifth-best option.” And that doesn’t even factor in the team’s top prospect, Joc Pederson, who is raking at Triple-A at the moment and would immediately be their best defensive center fielder if he were to be called up to the majors. The Giants are now 8 games ahead in the NL West by the way.
- Atlanta Braves (3-2, 32-27) → Congratulations to Craig Kimbrel, who at the tender age of 26, yesterday surpassed John Smoltz as the Braves’ all-time leader in saves, notching no. 155 in a 5-2 win over Arizona. Since debuting in 2010, his 43.1% strikeout rate leads all relievers, as does his 1.41 ERA. During that span, he’s been worth 10.3 WAR (the next highest is Greg Holland at 8.4), and blown just 17 save opportunities. Without question, the best closer in baseball.
- Milwaukee Brewers (3-4, 36-26) →
- St. Louis Cardinals (2-4, 31-31) ↓
- Miami Marlins (4-3, 32-29) ↑
- Colorado Rockies (0-6, 28-32) ↓ Did I, or did I not say regarding Eddie Butler‘s debut, “He’ll be going up against Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Dodgers when he makes his debut at Coors Field on Friday, so perhaps don’t rush out to add him in your fantasy leagues just yet.” 5.1 Innings, 13 base runners, and 6 earned runs later, you can’t say you weren’t warned. The Rockies are in the mire right now, and looking at their upcoming schedule (they’re facing Greinke and Kershaw this weekend, before series vs. Atlanta, at San Francisco, at L.A., vs. MIL, vs. STL, at MIL, at WASH, vs L.A.) there’s not much relief on the horizon. Oh well, Colorado: Contenders, was fun while it lasted.
- New York Mets (3-4, 28-33) →
- Pittsburgh Pirates (4-2, 29-31) ↑ Cannonball coming! Since losing the first game of a doubleheader to the Yankees back on May 18th, the Bucs have walked away victorious in 12 of their last 18 outings. Josh Harrison has been a minor revelation in that time, batting .325/.366.519 while playing some nice defense out in right field, putting some pressure on Starling Marte out in left. Though an excellent defender, Marte has batted just .234 with a .665 OPS this year, and has been banished to the bench by Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle for the Pirates’ last three games. With Gregory Polanco presumably on the way in the very near future, could it in fact be Marte most at risk of losing playing time? Just two games behind the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central, and with an extremely favorable schedule over the next month, the Pirates have a real chance to make a push for the postseason at the moment. Playing their best guys would be a good idea (#FreePolanco!).
- Cincinnati Reds (3-3, 27-32) ↓ I’d have laid big money on Johnny Cueto notching another shutout against the hapless Phillies offense yesterday. Instead, it was the Reds who were anemic on O, and Cueto gave up four runs on six hits, walking one and striking out five over five innings in the 8-0 loss. Can we tie this Cincinnati season in a bag, weight it down, and toss it overboard yet? Please?
- San Diego Padres (2-4, 27-34) →
- Philadelphia Phillies (1-6, 25-34) → As much as I like Aaron Nola as a pitching prospect, I’m still struggling to figure out why the Phillies popped him at no. 7 overall in the 2014 Amateur Draft. The LSU junior projects to have one of the quickest progressions to the majors, á la Michael Wacha, which would make sense if the Phillies were in the pennant race this year and needed immediate back-end rotation help, or expected to contend in 2015. Unfortunately, Philadelphia are neither, and having gone 5-12 in their last 17 games, are in imminent danger of being surpassed by the Diamondbacks in these rankings.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 26-37) →
- Chicago Cubs (5-1, 24-34) → After the selection of Kyle Schwarber, a catcher at Indiana, but likely left fielder or first baseman in the majors, as the no. 4 overall pick on Thursday, a trade of some of the Cubs’ ultra-stocked position player crop for some young pitching talent (or perhaps, David Price) has to be on the horizon right?
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 10!
Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 7! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- San Francisco Giants (4-3 last week, 27-16 overall) → Bruce Bochy‘s gang continue to quietly roll on atop the NL West, but the injury bug that they had mostly evaded for the first 6 weeks of the season has begun to bite; after losing Brandon Belt for six weeks after he underwent surgery to repair his fractured thumb, Tim Hudson missed his Friday start against the Marlins with a strained hip.The 38-year-old should be back in time for his next start, but probably won’t be too miffed if he’s held out again – he’ll otherwise be taking on the Rockies at Coors Field.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (4-2, 23-20) → Yasiel Puig so far in May: 67 plate appearances, .421/.507/.772 triple slash line, 10 walks, 12 strikeouts, and five home runs. The wild horse is loose, and bat-flipping like his life depended upon it.
- Milwaukee Brewers (5-1, 27-15) ↑ In his 152 plate appearances this year, Khris Davis has 3 walks, good (bad?) for a 2.0 BB%. In his 152 plate appearances this year, Khris Davis has 42 strikeouts, good (bad?) for a 27.6 K%. And yet by OPS+ (he has a disgusting mark of 73, 13th worst among Senior Circuit qualifiers) the artist formerly known as Khrush is by far Milwaukee’s best option to play left field. Dear Lord do the Brewers need a outfield bench upgrade from the pitiful trio of Logan Schafer, Elian Herrera and Kaleb Gindl.
- Colorado Rockies (2-3, 24-19) ↓
- Washington Nationals (3-3, 22-19) → Doug Fister‘s second start as a National went a lot better than his first, as he allowed just five hits over seven innings, striking out six and walking none, in Wednesday’s win. Then again, he was only facing the Diamondbacks.
- St. Louis Cardinals (4-2, 22-20) → After playing 26 of the first 38 games on the road, the Redbirds returned home to Busch Stadium on Monday and were promptly hammered 17-5 by the Cubs. They’ve won 3 straight since though, and remain the sleeping giants of the NL in my eyes. With Trevor Rosenthal struggling in the closer role of late, keep an eye on Jason Motte‘s imminent return in your fantasy leagues.
- Atlanta Braves (3-3, 22-18) ↑ The Braves released renderings for their new $672 million stadium in Cobb County this week. In other news, aside from Freddie Freeman and his dancing, Atlanta’s offense still stinks.
- Miami Marlins (2-4, 22-21) ↓ I’m still not ready to write about how I feel regarding Jose Fernandez‘s Tommy John surgery, but thankfully Bill Barnwell has moved on already. In his Friday post for Grantland, Barnwell astutely illustrated how Fernandez was the perfect prototype for aggressively calling up stud young pitchers – demonstrating how he was basically the same guy in High-A ball as he was in the major leagues. By promoting him straight from Class-A ball however, the Marlins extracted over 200 innings of Cy Young worthy pitching from Fernandez before his injury, while fellow heralded prospects Dylan Bundy and Jameson Taillon lingered in the minors before blowing out their arms. A great piece, and an interesting future strategy, though being labeling Fernandez a prototype rather than a cautionary tale does little to soften the blow of losing the most exciting pitcher in the game.
- Cincinnati Reds (3-3, 19-21) → I hate to think about where the Reds would be this year without Johnny Cueto; with Mat Latos yet to make a start, Homer Bailey scuffling, and Tony Cingrani ineffective, not to mention an offense already without Jay Bruce and perhaps now Joey Votto too, Cueto has been carrying Cincinnati almost single-handedly thus far in 2014. This week apparently, everyone else aside from Reds fans like me also caught on to how good he has been; amongst many other pieces, the Dominican Republic native was most notably given the spotlight treatment from Dave Schoenfield on the ESPN Sweetspot blog, and the subject of a brilliant PitchCraft feature from Shane Ryan on Grantland. Sam and Ben on the Effectively Wild Podcast too, noted how Cueto’s ERA+ since 2011 is second only to Clayton Kershaw amongst all qualified starters during that time. Knowing Cincinnati’s (lack of) injury luck this season though (the Reds are second only to the Rangers in DL assignments thus far), he’ll be down within the next week now.
- San Diego Padres (4-2, 20-23) ↑ With Carlos Quentin back from injury, the battle for outfield playing time is officially on. Considering how Seth Smith‘s recent tear will likely grant him a corner spot, that leaves 2 positions to be filled by either Quentin, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, or Cameron Maybin. With the Padres ranking last among all teams in the majors in batting average (.219), on base percentage (.274), and slugging percentage (.342), you would have to think manager Bud Black will prioritize offense when filling out his lineup card.
- New York Mets (3-4, 19-22) ↓ Both Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom were more than solid in their big league debuts on the mound this week, limiting the Yankees to just four runs in 13 innings between them. They received absolutely zero run support though, the offense behind them tallying only 7 cumulative hits in those two games. deGrom however, did finally end the Mets pitchers’ streak of futility at the plate – the group are now 1-66 on the season.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (2-3, 17-23) ↓ Jason Grilli reckons he’s ready to return from the DL, and wants to step straight back in as closer. He probably will too given Mark Melancon‘s performance on Thursday; the 29-year-old failed to record an out, and allowed two hits and two walks en route to his second blown save in seven opportunities, bringing the Pirates’ blown save total to 10 already this season. After nailing down 55 of their 70 opportunities last year, Pittsburgh are currently on pace for the most blown saves ever, a record currently held by the 2004 Colorado Rockies (34).
- Philadelphia Phillies (1-4, 17-22) ↓
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 16-28) → Jonah Keri made the point here somewhat, but when will the Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks accept their fate and start to sell off some of their few desirable players?
- Chicago Cubs (1-5, 13-27) → As good as he’s been so far this year, if the Cubs could get Jon Gray for Jeff Samardzija, as proposed by Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post here, they should pull the trigger in a millisecond. Sounds pretty darn unlikely though.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 7!
Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 6! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- San Francisco Giants (5-2 last week, 23-13 overall) ↑ I’ll leave this one to Tom the Intern.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (2-5, 19-18) ↑ Though the Giants may own them (they’re 2-6 against their NL West rivals this year, after going 8-11 in 2013), and they’re currently behind the Rockies, I’ve a lot of faith in the Dodgers eventually winning their division. Not exactly a bold prediction I know, it’s the freakin’ Dodgers and their immensely deep pockets after all, but I can’t imagine their listless play continuing much longer – especially considering how they’ve now got Clayton Kershaw back. Their lefty ace went seven innings strong in his return on Tuesday, striking out nine Nationals while throwing only 89 pitches, providing some welcome relief for an exhausted bullpen that began the day leading the majors in innings pitched. In other news, Yasiel Puig is still being Yasiel Puig, and it’s glorious.
- Colorado Rockies (4-3, 22-16) ↑ The Rockies are scoring 1.27 more runs per game than anyone else in the National League, and rank first in all of baseball in average (.303), on base percentage (.351), and slugging percentage (.499). Troy Tulowitzki meanwhile, has a 228 OPS+, has already amassed 3.9 WAR in just 35 games, and a heat map that Jonak Keri described as “a nuclear blast that’s threatening to wipe out Western civilization.” With so many crazy offensive stats to keep track of, perhaps it’s a good thing Nolan Arenado had his hit streak ended on Friday night.
- Miami Marlins (5-1, 20-17) ↑ After winning five straight, and nine of their last ten heading into Fridays game against the Padres, it was of great surprise that having sent staff ace Jose Fernandez to the mound the Marlins were crushed 10-1. Of course, this whole Miami season has been a surprise so far – who saw Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Casey McGehee and Derek Dietrich being valuable offensive contributors, or Tom Koehler being the top performer in a rotation containing the aforementioned Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez? You would have to think the wheels will fall off this week, with a trip out West to face the Dodgers and Giants on the slate, but these ain’t your normal Marlins anymore.
- Washington Nationals (2-4, 19-16) → Doug Fister finally made his debut against Oakland yesterday, but got shelled for 9 hits and five earned runs in just 4.1 innings as the Nats dropped the first meet of their three-game interleague series. Things will presumably get a little easier in the nation’s capital over the next even days – Washington have favorable matchups against Arizona and the Mets on the docket – but their season is beginning to feel a little 2013-ish; full of injury, unfulfilled promise, and eventual disappointment. New manager Matt Williams seems to have a cool head on his shoulders at least.
- St. Louis Cardinals (3-3, 18-18) →
- Milwaukee Brewers (1-5, 22-14) ↓ They might only be one game out of leading the entire Senior Circuit in record, but boy have things come back down to earth quickly in Milwaukee. Without Ryan Braun, the Brew Crew’s on-field performance has quickly regressed (since losing the Hebrew Hammer, they’re 4-8), each passing day he spends on the DL the club looking more and more like the average team their pythagorean win/loss expectation dictates. Thankfully for Milwaukee fans, Braun is due to return on Tuesday – whether he can singly lift them back to their lofty April perch however, remains dubious.
- Atlanta Braves (2-4, 19-15) ↓ Yes, the Braves have gone 2-8 over their last ten, but their schedule was brutal – a trip to Miami, followed by series against San Francisco and St. Louis at home? No thank you. What that ugly stretch did do was establish that the Braves are in a very similar position to that of the last two years; they’re a good team, but not a great one, and can certainly be pitched too. Predictably, the second base position has become a black hole offensively, with Dan Uggla‘s already tiny offensive value (his occasional power, and ability to draw a walk), completely falling off a cliff thus far in 2014, and Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky little better in relief. How soon will it be until Tommy La Stella‘s phone rings?
- Cincinnati Reds (3-2, 16-18) ↓ Literally hours after the discussion that he was too passive was rekindled (He has a .409 OBP thus far, but only a .262 average), Joey Votto belted a huge leadoff home run (437 feet apparently) on a 3-0 fastball from Boone Logan to lift Cincinnati to their second straight win over the Rockies. With Jay Bruce out for a month recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, the Reds will need their leader more than ever to carry them on offense if they’re to remain competitive in the NL Central; to wit, batting ahead of Votto yesterday were Skip Schumaker, Bryan Pena, and Brandon Philips – not exactly the ’27 Yankees. But hey, at least Todd Frazier has the longest home run of 2014 now, so there’s that at least.
- New York Mets (1-5, 16-18) ↓ Is it time to worry about David Wright? He’s generally been one of the most valuable players in the league when healthy, but in his age-31 season (in which he’s making a cool $20 million), he’s only been marginally better than average (he has a 103 OPS+, and 0.3 WAR value thus far). With only 1 home run, and an uncharacteristic .362 slugging mark, his power looks to have evaporated in the early going. Maybe he’s simply just injured, again, but the decline of their captain is not an encouraging line of thought for Mets fans to pursue.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (4-2, 15-20) ↑
- Philadelphia Phillies (3-4, 16-18) ↓ A.J Burnett had been utterly fantastic through his first seven starts as a Phillie, boasting a 2.06 ERA with his hernia and all. He’d been so good in fact, I even was beginning to come round on Ruben Amaro‘s incredulous decision to hand him such a large contract considering Philadelphia wouldn’t be contending. Naturally, he got blown up by the Blue Jays for six earned runs in his next start, and for hours afterwards I cursed myself for being even partially complementary of Amaro’s management.
- San Diego Padres (3-4, 16-21) → If he keeps up his current pace, Everth Cabrera is one day going to be a fascinating case study concerning the effects of PEDs on a person’s eyesight; after walking at a 9.5% clip between 2009-2013, then subsequently being busted, the 27-year-old shortstop has only drawn five free passes so far this season, good (bad?) for a 3.2% BB rate. Not-so-coincidentally, he’s only on pace for 39 stolen bases this season, after an per-162-game average of 89.5 the prior two campaigns. If I had some knowledge of Biology, I’d be heading the study, I swear.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 13-25) ↑
- Chicago Cubs (2-5, 12-22) ↓ The Cubbies may have dropped 3 of 4 to their crosstown rival White Sox last week, but at least the Wrigley faithful had the pleasure of ESPN broadcasters Dan Shulman and John Kruk singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch while broadcasting from the bleachers on Sunday night.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 6!
Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 5! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- Milwaukee Brewers (4-3 last week, 21-9 overall) ↑ As so succinctly put by Jonah Keri, “The lineup the Milwaukee Brewers fielded against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night looked like it belonged in a split-squad spring training game.” Everyone’s favorite Canadian wasn’t wrong either – behind Joey Votto‘s All-Star nemesis (Carlos Gomez) in the leadoff spot, the Brew Crew trotted out the following order; Elian Herrera (1 career HR), Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis (.257 OBP this year), Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds (both of whom are first basemen, and could well be playing in Japan), Jeff Bianchi (career backup, .222 hitter), and Martin Maldonado (a part-time pitcher now). Naturally, they won – and now stand a full 6 games clear of the Cardinals in the NL Central race. With Ryan Braun now on the DL and their paper-thin lineup already exposed, the load will continue to be on their pitching staff to keep up the pace, but with a surprisingly stocked rotation, and shutdown relief corps, I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if they did. It’s shaping up to be just that kind of year in Milwaukee*.
- San Francisco Giants (5-1, 18-11) ↑ Worryingly thin in terms of starting pitch depth by the end of last season, the Giants went out and grabbed the 38-year-old Tim Hudson from the injury scrapheap (a nasty fractured ankle had needed his 2013 season), signing the veteran to a two-year, $23 million contract in the hope of landing some solid back-end production. So far, the move is looking like a steal; after completing his first month in the Giants’ rotation with a 2.17 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 31:2 K:BB across 45.2 innings, Hudson clearly has plenty left in the tank, and has already contributed 1.1 WAR to the club. He’ll unfortunately miss pitching against his former Atlanta mates this weekend, but will have a nice opportunity to bump his stats further on Tuesday, when he is scheduled to face the anemic Pirates. An NL West showdown with the Dodgers will round out the week.
- Atlanta Braves (2-4, 17-11) ↓ After being swept by a combined score of 23-7 this week, Aaron Harang and manager Fredi Gonzalez hilariously voiced suspicion that the Marlins’ offensive explosion could only have been caused by them stealing signs. Sure, it’s a tad odd that after striking out 11 times against him last week, Miami this time touched up Harang for 10 hits and a career-high nine runs, but how about this: it’s not cameras, the bullpen, or sneaky men lingering around the center-field sculpture in red hats – Harang, who entered the game with the best ERA in the major leagues at 0.85, but the owned a career mark of 4.28, simply (finally) turned back into a pumpkin. Or an orangutan, whatever. The April shine is off either way.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (4-2, 17-13) →
- Washington Nationals (4-1, 17-12) ↑ Bryce Harper hustles his way to third, tears the UCL in his thumb, and is now out until July. I wonder how #smrtbaseball proponent Matt Williams feels about this outcome, after sitting his star 21-year-old, one of the most intense players in recent memory, for his effort in a what looked like misguiding attempt to establish some new managerial authority.
- St. Louis Cardinals (2-4, 15-15) ↓
- Colorado Rockies (5-2, 18-13) ↑ Meet the major leagues’ best offense. Ranking first in runs (174), batting average (.297), slugging percentage (.484), and second in on-base percentage (.346), the Rox offense and their 115 OPS+ are legit. Troy Tulowitzki has been his usual top-five-player-in-baseball-when-not-injured self (1.217 OPS), and big contributions from Justin Morneau and Charlie Blackmon have more than made up for Carlos Gonzalez‘s sluggish start (CarGo is apparently battling a finger injury), but it’s perhaps been the continued emergence of Nolan Arenado in his second year that has most impacted Colorado’s early season success. As per usual, the California native has been an absolute vacuum at the hot corner (teaming up with defensive player of the month Tulowitzki to form the most impenetrable left side of an infield in the bigs), but has also stood out at the dish in so far in 2014; the 23-year-old is working on a 22-game hitting streak, and is hitting .309 with four home runs and 16 RBI entering today’s games. Though he still can’t take a walk (having an 86% contact rate does offset the problem somewhat), if Arenado can continue to give Colorado the production of a third offensive star, perhaps we’ll see Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray a little sooner than expected, as the Rockies push for the playoffs.
- Cincinnati Reds (2-4, 13-16) ↓ Aroldis Chapman reportedly clocked in at 101mph during his first minor league rehab start. I won’t say anything too positive though, after I apparently cursed Billy Hamilton on Thursday.
- New York Mets (2-3, 15-13) →
- Miami Marlins (5-1, 15-14) ↑ It’s incredible how different this team is at home compared to on the road. In front of approximately no one, the Marlins are 13-4, and have scored 105 runs while allowing only 54. Meanwhile, on the road, the Fish are 2-10, and have a -26 run differential.
- Philadelphia Phillies (2-2, 13-14) → For one glorious moment this week, the entire NL East were all above .500. Of course, the Phillies had to go and wreck the feel-good story by dropping their next two games, but still… who would have seen that statistic coming at the start of the season in a division that featured the Mets, Marlins, and a team employing Ryan Howard?
- Pittsburgh Pirates (2-3, 11-18) ↓
- San Diego Padres (2-4, 13-17) ↓ If you ever wondered what happens when the league’s worst offense meets the worst defense, well, you got your depressing answer on Friday night: San Diego (70 OPS+**) fell to Arizona (72 ERA+) 2-0, notching only three hits against Bronson Arroyo. After many (including this guy) thought the Friars would challenge for a Wild-Card berth this season, their woeful offense looks set to doom them to yet another disappointing year; the club ranks last among Senior Circuit teams in all three traditional slash line categories – batting average (.213), on-base percentage (.266), and slugging (.320) – and have managed to score 20 fewer runs (77) than the 14th-ranked Braves despite playing two more games. Literally no one is hitting; Jedd Gyorko is bordering on unplayable (.155/.222/.216), Will Venable has predictably regressed after his unsustainable FB/HR rate of last year (.190/.229/.260, with no homers), Yonder Alonso has failed to build upon any of the positive signs he once offered (.172/.202/.232, -0.7 WAR in 103 PAs)… The list goes on and on. Maybe the imminent return of Carlos Quentin will boost the floundering offe… Ha.
- Chicago Cubs (3-2, 10-17) ↑ Hired with an aim to resurrect the careers of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, Rick Renteria has done just that. Rizzo is currently hitting .295/.419/.495 and Castro .306/.336/.463 (the latter being on pace for a 198-hit season). As the only two projected holdovers of this team when the top prospects eventually arrive, the Cubs long-term plan is looking good right now.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (2-4, 10-22) ↓ I’m so sick of these guys.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 5!
* For more on the Brewers, I have to recommend Thursday’s excellent Effectively Wild Podcast from Baseball Prospectus, in which Ben and Sam speak with J.P. Breen about Milwaukee’s hot start.
** OPS+ is adjusted for ballparks too, so the Padres can’t even blame their struggles on the admittedly pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 4! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- Atlanta Braves (4-2 last week, 15-7 overall) → The Atlanta rotation continues to amaze, and will only be getting stronger this week when Mike Minor returns. Minor will likely supplant David Hale, who owns the highest ERA of the starting crew (2.93), but his status as the team’s top lefty might well be in danger; fellow southpaw Alex Wood looked like Chris Sale on Tuesday, allowing only four hits and one run with no walks and a career-high 11 strikeouts in eight innings against the Marlins. Jose Fernandez however, was somehow even better, saddling Wood with the tough-luck loss. In other news, B.J. Upton wore prescription glasses for the first time in his major-league career on Friday, and noted an improvement in his vision. Perhaps the benefit of some visual clarity will help him boost his horrific .207/.286/.293 season line and ignite the Braves offense.
- Milwaukee Brewers (5-1, 17-6) ↑ The Brew Crew rolled against a weak schedule last week, beating up on the lowly Pirates, Padres, and Cubs, and now have a 4.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central lead. Even if they regress to the .500 form that many predicted for them before the season, the wins they’ve banked already will mean they’ll end up with a 86.5-win season; that wouldn’t have been enough for a Wild-Card berth last year, but Milwaukee are showing no signs of slowing down – Baseball Prospectus‘ Effectively Wild podcast with Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh did an excellent job of breaking down how the Brewers have the most improved playoff odds since the start of the year. Francisco Rodriguez by the way, who was only meant to be covering for Jim Henderson as closer for the first few games, may now have locked down the ninth-inning job; K-Rod now has 10 saves and hasn’t allowed a run in his 13 innings, striking out 20 in the process.
- St. Louis Cardinals (2-4, 13-11) ↓
- Los Angeles Dodgers (2-4, 13-11) ↓
- San Francisco Giants (3-3, 13-10) → After missing a great portion of 2013 with a particularly bad hamstring injury, the rerun of Angel Pagan has been huge to the Giants thus far. Batting .337 atop the lineup, along with the production of fellow outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Morse (who has 4 HRs in the last week), the 32-year-old’s contact skills have been especially crucial in masking the early struggles of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, and thus keeping the San Francisco offense mildly respectable. It was worrying then, when an MRI this week revealed a slight tear in Pagan’s patella tendon – he should be able to play through the injury, though of course now there is the inherent risk that the tendon could completely tear, and the Giants could be without their spark plug center-fielder for an extended stretch once again.
- Washington Nationals (3-4, 13-11) →
- Cincinnati Reds (4-3, 11-12) → Aroldis Chapman threw some BP, Johnny Cueto had another complete game. Aside from Devin Mesoraco‘s inevitable BABIP regression hitting soon, things are looking up in Cincy (YES!).
- Colorado Rockies (4-2, 13-11) →
- New York Mets (5-2, 13-10) ↑ Faced with a seemingly tough series against St. Louis this past week, the Metropolitans naturally took 3 0f the 4 games. Jenrry Mejia was particularly fantastic in Monday’s game, tossing 6.2 scoreless innings while striking out 7, lowering his ERA to 1.99 on the season. He’ll get another good chance to lower that number against the Marlins today. Elsewhere in Flushing this week, Daisuke Matsuzaka racked up the first save of his career on Thursday with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Having already seen Bobby Parnell, Jose Valverde, and Kyle Farnsworth in the role, perhaps Terry Collins has found someone to his liking.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (1-6, 9-15) ↓ Of their last 15 games (all against NL Central foes), the Pirates have won… 3. Things have got ugly in Pittsburgh fast; aside from their poor recent record, the Carlos Gomez brawl last Saturday led to both Travis Snider and Russell Martin receiving suspensions, and now key cogs Martin (hamstring) and closer Jason Grilli (left oblique) have been placed on the DL. With upcoming games against the Cardinals, and then interleague sets with the Orioles and Blue Jays, it’s likely going to only get worse for the Bucs in the next week or so.
- Philadelphia Phillies (4-3, 11-12) ↑ The Phillies last week went to L.A. and came away with a 3-1 series win. More significantly however, was the return of Cole Hamels; after recovering from biceps tendinitis, the 30-year-old southpaw made his season debut on Wednesday and threw 6 very solid innings of 2-run ball. Along with Cliff Lee, the presence of Hamels will once again give the Phillies one of the most-envied top of the rotation combinations around the majors – whether the pair can lift up the rest of the pitching staff and keep the team in contention however, will, like last year, be the burning question around Citizen’s Bank Park all season long.
- San Diego Padres (3-4, 11-13) ↓ Josh Johnson will be out for the season after his recent elbow injury necessitated Tommy John surgery. *Yawn*.
- Miami Marlins (3-3, 10-13) ↓ The Jose Fernandez Show should carry a R rating. HE IS FILTHY.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-4, 8-18) → Even when the Diamondbacks win, they somehow lose; after staging a stunning ninth-inning rally to win at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, it was announced newly-added slugger Mark Trumbo will be out for an extended period of time with a stress fracture in his foot. Trumbo suffered a similar injury back in 2011, an ailment which took 5½ months to heal. If it takes that long this time around, he might have a new manager to frustrate upon his return.
- Chicago Cubs (3-4, 7-15) → The Cubs celebrated Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary on Wednesday with not just a loss to Arizona, but a 400-pound cake. Naturally, the amazing-looking Wrigley Field replica was later found ingloriously disposed of in a dumpster outside the real stadium. Because #Cubs.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 4!
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 3! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- Atlanta Braves (5-1 last week, 11-5 overall) ↑ Without Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, or Mike Minor, the Braves are somehow rolling on the strength of their starting pitching; led by Ervin Santana (1 ER and a 17/2 K/BB rate in his first 14 innings with the team), and Julio Teheran (9 shutout innings of 3-hit ball in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Philadelphia), the rotation has also gotten valuable contributions from Alex Wood, David Hale, and perhaps most surprisingly, Aaron Harang (who has now taken no-hitters late into games twice, and has a 0.70 ERA through 25.2 innings pitched), and currently owns a ridiculous 1.47 cumulative ERA, garnering a quality start in 13 of Atlanta’s first 16 games. Even with their scuffling offense*, such tremendous pitching has the Braves atop the NL in run differential (+22), and after securing an early sweep against NL East rivals Washington, heading my rankings.
- St. Louis Cardinals (5-2, 10-7) ↑
- Los Angeles Dodgers (3-3, 10-7) ↓ X-rays came back negative after Hanley Ramirez was hit on the back of his hand by a 90mph Ryan Vogelsong fastball, but the scare brought back ugly reminders of the Dodger’s fate without Han-Ram in the 2013 NLCS. For all their money, L.A. haven’t since acquired much of an insurance policy should injury once again strike their star shortstop, meaning every Hanley wince should be a significant cause for Dodger fan’s concern.
- Milwaukee Brewers (4-3, 12-5) →
- San Francisco Giants (3-3, 10-7) →
- Washington Nationals (3-4, 10-7) ↓ When you are so comprehensively swept by your division rivals, you drop. Throw in Ryan Zimmerman’s broken thumb, Wilson Ramos‘s fractured hamate, and Stephen Strasburg‘s and Bryce Harper‘s continued struggles, and that drop becomes a lot more precipitous all of a sudden.
- Cincinnati Reds (4-2, 7-9) ↑ After a murderer’s row of an opening schedule in which they faced St. Louis twice and Tampa Bay, the Reds finally got on track this week against the Pirates. Joey Votto‘s move up the lineup has so far paid off nicely, and the return of Devin Mesoraco has certainly helped things too, but it has mainly been the Reds’ pitching which has served to propel them up the rankings; Alfredo Simon and Johnny Cueto have been dominant in the early going, covering up well for the loss of Mat Latos (out a while longer with a forearm strain), and the April struggles of Homer Bailey. With a slew of upcoming games against Pittsburgh and the Cubs, as well as my inherent bias, there’s a good chance for Cincinnati to have further climbed the rankings this time next week.
- Colorado Rockies (4-3, 9-9) → They might be at .500, but the Rockies have so far played one of the easiest schedules in the league (@ MIA, vs ARI, vs CHS, @SF, @SD, vs PHI). The slate will get a lot tougher this week though, with a tough home series against San Francisco and a trip to Chavez Ravine to face the Dodgers on the docket. Poor Brett Anderson meanwhile, lasted only 3 games in a Colorado uniform before getting injured.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (2-5, 8-9) ↓ The Pirates yesterday attempted to fill the black hole they previously had manning first base by trading for Ike Davis. Now if only they had a stud prospect to come up and plug the void in right field to further aid their woeful offense… They do you say?! Neal Huntington – call up Gregory Polanco already!
- San Diego Padres (4-3, 8-9) ↓
- New York Mets (4-2, 8-8) ↑ If you’re after a deep fantasy sleeper, what with the aforementioned trade of Davis, 1B Lucas Duda might be worth a look.
- Miami Marlins (2-4, 7-10) ↓ A healthy Giancarlo Stanton is a sight to behold. Over the past seven days, the 24-year-old has hit .417 and slugged four home runs, including a walk-off grand slam last night against the Mariners – a shot which more than atoned for his costly error earlier in the game. The fish may only have 2 wins in their last 10 games, but thanks to Stanton, they remain eminently watchable.
- Philadelphia Phillies (3-3, 7-9) ↑
- Arizona Diamondbacks (1-5, 5-14) ↓ Normally this picture is exclusively reserved to sum up seasons involving the Cleveland Browns. After the week Arizona has had however, it should probably now be a shared resource.
- Chicago Cubs (0-5, 4-11) →
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 3!
It has been 8 games worth of surprises for the Atlanta Braves. After losing Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm to free agency over the offseason, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery in consecutive spring starts, and being forced to choose between Aaron Harang and Freddy frickin Garcia for the fourth, let alone the fifth, spot in their Opening Day rotation, the club currently leads the majors in starter’s ERA – their mark of 1.37 more than half a run better than the second-place Detroit Tigers. On the other side of the coin however, their offense – aside from the newly minted Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons – has so far been abysmal; The Upton brothers have cumulatively struck out 24 times in 62 plate appearances. Jason Heyward is batting .188. The team ranks 27th in slugging percentage (.331), 28th in OBP (.264), and last in runs (19). Things haven’t exactly been helped by Fredi Gonzalez‘s questionable lineup construction, but it’s clear something needs to change – in a much more competitive NL East than the walkover the division was last year, the rotation simply won’t be able to keep such a flailing offense afloat for much longer.
Speaking of flailing, Atlanta’s much-maligned second baseman Dan Uggla might well be the first to be sacrificed should the #Barves’ offensive woes continue. Signed to a 5-year, $62.5 million deal back in December 2010 after being acquired from the then-Florida Marlins in exchange for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn, the burly keystoner’s numbers have worsened in every year in ATL. After launching 27 home runs or better in each of his four years in Florida, notching a cumulative wRC+ of 118, and accruing 15.6 WAR (all while being paid just $14,286,000 total), Uggla has since hit only .213/.321/.401 as a Brave, and thus become one of the fans’ two whipping boys (along with B.J. Upton), the pair emblematic of Atlanta’s endemic failure to make consistent contact on offense, and frequent miscues in the field – both of which have doomed in the playoffs the past two seasons.
It is at this point I should point out that Uggla’s 2013 was so particularly disastrous, even with his $13 million salary, he didn’t actually make the postseason roster; during the regular season, he had been an abject disaster at the plate, striking out 31.8% of the time on his way to hitting just .179 – the second lowest average for any Brave in Atlanta’s near 50-year history (Jody Davis, a catcher, notched the lowest mark – .169 in 1989), all whilst similar struggling in the field – not even his vaguely playable 2013 OBP of .309 could save Uggla from getting bench splinters when you factored in his -5.9 UZR. By the end of the year the 34-year-old had acquired -1.3 WAR in just 136 games.
Perhap to be expected of someone seemingly sliding down the aging curve so precipitously, not much has improved in 2014 thus far – Uggla is hitting just .194 early on, with a truly horrid .188 OBP and 15 wRC+. Even his trademark power has disappeared, his isolated slugging mark of .065 a disaster when considering how the slugger has also yet to take a walk in his 32 plate appearances. Small sample size be dashed, it’s truly apparent that Uggla is toast, in need of replacing – and pronto – if Atlanta are ever going to kickstart their potentially above-average offense into gear. Fortunately, should they eventually recognize that the $26 million they still owe Uggla over this year and next is a sunk cost, they already have just the man for the second base job.
Down in the minors at Triple-A Gwinnett, Tommy La Stella is drawing rave reviews from scouts – per Baseball Prospectus‘ ‘What Scouts Are Saying: April 10th, 2014‘ one talent evaluator noted of the 25-year-old:
One of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues and yet you don’t hear many people talk about him. I get that he’s older and not going to win a Gold Glove at 2B, but what stops him from becoming the next Matt Carpenter? Look at the numbers, recognize the approach, and watch the swing, and it’s clear he is something special.
That’s a pretty ringing endorsement considering how Carpenter finished fourth in NL MVP voting last year in his first season as a full-time regular. But it’s true; the pair profile extremely similarly through their minor league careers, La Stella’s four-year average line of .328/.412/.495 actually comparing favorably to Carpenter’s .299/.408/.450 triple slash over the same span. Judged by Fangraphs to have “fringe-average” defensive skills, the 25-year-old would be a considerable upgrade over Uggla in the field, and with “a strong left-handed swing with good bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination… a good eye and a patient approach,” a welcome contact-conscious addition to the whiff-happy Braves*.
It’s somewhat incredible already that he wasn’t called up to replace Uggla last year given his production, nor made the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but after 8 games it should be clear; this shouldn’t even be a matter of whether the Atlanta offense needs a boost (which it most certainly does) – At this point, Uggla needs to find himself a seat, it’s Tommy La Stella’s time to surprise.
*Awesome geeky stat of the day: in La Stella’s four minor league seasons, he has accrued 1012 plate appearances, and walked 113 times compared to just 89(!) strikeouts. Uggla had his 90th strikeout by June 19th last year – in his 67th game of the season no less.