It's not too early to write off these five struggling ballclubs
Posted: Monday May 17, 2004 2:11PM; Updated: Monday May 24, 2004 11:19AM
Barry Bonds doesn't get to hit often enough for the Giants to climb out of an early season hole.
Bandwagon jumping is the No. 1 spectator sport at this time of the season. It's bigger than Barry Bonds-baiting. It's more popular than Bud Selig-bashing. If fans aren't wildly springing off bandwagons just yet, they're at least peering over the side, scouting out a soft place to land.
Remember all those boo birds in Yankee Stadium a couple of weeks ago? Yeah, they've settled down. And the paint wasn't dry on new Citizens Bank Park before those infamous Phillies fans were giving their team the what for. Now Philadelphia has closed to within one game of first place in the National League East.
But not everybody's wrong in the urge to bail on their ballclubs. There are teams out there that you know aren't going to be worth the effort this season.
The wheels already are coming off for ...
San Francisco Giants
The Giants (15-23, 8 games back) were just swept by the Pirates. At home. I feel like ending the argument right there.
But how's this? Despite having the best hitter on the planet in the lineup, the Giants' lineup has a .740 OPS, 23rd in the majors. It doesn't help, of course, that the guys hitting behind Bonds -- if that's what you want to call it, "hitting" -- have a measly .606 OPS, which is 28th in the league. San Francisco hitters in the No. 5 slot are scuffling along at a .231 average (tied for 23rd), which is a whopping 129 points behind No. 1 Milwaukee. It's worthwhile to point out here that the Brewers have a winning record, so don't smirk.
As if San Francisco doesn't have enough problems with the sticks -- oh, one more: they're hitting .152 with runners in scoring position and two outs, worst in baseball -- their starters have a 5.29 ERA (24th), their relievers have a 4.83 ERA (28th) and closer Robb Nen just went on the shelf for at least another month.
If I were Bonds, I'd have back spasms, too.
The Mariners (13-24, 11 1/2 GB) can't hit; they have one regular (Ichiro Suzuki) batting above .300. Edgar Martinez, a lifetime .314 hitter, is hacking along at .248. They had to send down their backup catcher (Ben Davis) because he was hitting below .100, replacing him with a 41-year-old journeyman (Pat Borders). The Mariners have a team OBP of .324 (24th).
Their rotation, the one that stayed intact all of last year, is just so-so this season with a 4.76 ERA (18th). The strength of this team, at one time, was its bullpen. With a 4.51 ERA (24th), though, that strength has turned into a weakness.
Not to rub salt into a broken collarbone, but what in the heck is Marcus Giles doing that far out in center field in the first place? Yeah, I know, he's playing aggressively. Heat of the moment. But that was way too deep for any second baseman to go, and certainly way too deep for one who has a guy behind him (Andruw Jones) who can cover so much ground. After that teeth-shaking collision Saturday, we're liable to see Giles play a lot differently next time out. In six weeks or so.
Earlier this season, I raved about a 13-pitch at-bat from Atlanta's Julio Franco. Well, we can now officially call Franco a slacker. Wednesday the Dodgers' Alex Cora faced down the Cubs' Matt Clement and won an 18-pitch at-bat with a two-run home run in a 4-0 L.A. win. Cora fouled off 14 straight pitches at one point -- which is about a game's worth of pitches for most hitters, and about three weeks' worth for Bonds -- before connecting on a hanging slider. Many of his teammates called it the best at-bat they had ever seen.
"It's a lot of money to come out to a ballgame and lately, it's probably better spent going to the movies than coming to watch the Diamondbacks."
-- Arizona's Randy Johnson, a day after losing a 1-0 decision to the Mets and Tom Glavine
The M's have had three losing streaks of at least five games already this season. They're 4-7 in one-run games. They play in the stacked American League West, making it an uphill climb -- to say the least -- just to get back into contention.
Kansas City Royals
Last season's Rookie of the Year, shortstop Angel Berroa, is in the Mount Everest of sophomore slumps. Heis hitting only .194, and he's swinging at everything. He has two walks to go with his 19 strikeouts. Manager Tony Pena recently dumped him out of the leadoff spot, where K.C. (11-24, 10 1/2 GB) ranks 29th with a .255 on-base percentage.
Berroa isn't alone in his ineptitude. Nobody's doing what was expected of last year's AL Central darlings. The team is 27th in OBP (.323). As for the Royals' pitching, all you can say is that when Brian Anderson (1-5, 6.97 ERA, .353 batting average-against) is your ace, you know something's amiss. The Royals have a 5.98 ERA among starters (27th) and a 5.28 ERA overall (28th).
Need more? The Royals rank 28th in fielding percentage. The wheels barely were on this wagon before they started spinning off.
Injuries have hurt the Braves (17-19, 3 1/2 GB) badly, specifically those to left fielder Chipper Jones, shortstop Rafael Furcal, second baseman Marcus Giles and right fielder J.D. Drew (big surprise there). Furcal and Giles, in particular, make the lineup go.
With so many bats on the shelf, the Braves are relying on guys like Dewayne Wise, Jesse Garcia and Mike Hessman, and this is the result: In the past month, Atlanta has won at least two straight games only once (the Braves had a modest three-game streak stopped Sunday at Milwaukee).
Mark DeRosa (.206) is in a major funk and Andruw Jones is still striking out too much. The Braves' OBP is .324 (26th). If it weren't for catcher Johnny Estrada (.342, .928 OPS) and a top-10 bullpen, this team would be hurting worse than it is.
The bullpen is a mess. The defense is terrible. The Diamondbacks (14-23, 8 1/2 GB) don't know where to hit anyone. Richie Sexson, the guy who was supposed to carry the offense, has missed 16 games after injuring his shoulder. On a check swing. How perfect is that?
The Diamondbacks can't get on base. Their leadoff hitters have a .277 on-base percentage (ranking them 27th) and, overall, the D'backs have a .324 on-base percentage (25th). They can pound the ball once in a while (.438 slugging, 7th), when Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, Sexson and Danny Bautista are on. But all the scoring seems to come in bunches. They've been shut out three times, scored one run in a loss three times and scored less than five runs in 17 of their 23 losses.
Their starting pitching, led by the increasingly frustrated Randy Johnson (3-4, 2.83), is mediocre (4.84 ERA), which is to say its been better than the Matt Mantei-led bullpen. Arizona relievers have a combined 5.23 ERA (29th). The whole thing is a long way from the magic of 2001.
Word is that baseball's owners won't make any decisions on the fate of the Expos during meetings Wednesday and Thursday in New York. But the subject will be talked about plenty. If it were up to me, I'd say put them in Portland. At least it's not Milwaukee.
As messed up as the Expos' situation is, the team itself is getting better. Jose Vidro, a class act at second base, signed a four-year extension worth $30 million late last week. He's either really loyal or he really needs a new batting helmet.
This from STATS, Inc.: Minnesota lefty Johan Santana has gone 20 consecutive regular-season starts without a loss. That's the third-longest streak in the past 25 years, behind Roger Clemens (30, 1998-99), Randy Johnson (24, 1995-97) and Kirk Rueter (22, 1993-94).
I'm thinking Yankees newcomer Tanyon Sturtze probably won't be the difference-maker in the AL East.
Since breaking out of that 0-for-32 skid with a home run off Oakland's Barry Zito, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is 17-for-72 (.236). He's still hitting below .200 on the year. Alex Rodriguez was 21-for-62 (.339) with six homers and 14 RBIs in that time. After a slow first two weeks, he's hitting .290.
The Phillies are back, too. They led the NL East after Saturday's games by percentage points and have won seven of their past 10. Told you so.
Greg Maddux at San Diego on Friday: eight innings pitched, 88 pitches, career win No. 292. Yeah, the guy's finished.
These last two weeks are a great example of why you have to wonder if Bonds will get to 755 home runs. Sinus infections, back spasms, crummy teammates, intentional walks, depression, slumps ... it's not a foregone conclusion, you know.
We run the full E-Bag every Friday. Here's a mini-bag, just to whet the appetite.
Take small bites, please ...
Why isn't anyone saying it was Jorge Posada's fault he got hit Wednesday? He was out of the baseline and standing up. Why wasn't the batter called out? Isn't that the rule? I guess the Yankees can bend them. Remember when Reggie Jackson hip-checked the ball? The ball hit Posada's hand and he deflected into his face. The shortstop can't be blamed for that. -- Tom L., Rochester, N.Y.
Comments, questions or obviously unfounded criticism? To e-mail Donovan, use the form below.
Now, Tom, I don't think anyone was blaming Alfredo Amezaga, the Angels' shortstop who gave Posada a facial with the throw. Well, Joe Torre complained a little, but I'm not sure he was really all that serious about it. Posada was fine with it. Or so he said. Fact was, he slid late, and he was wide of the bag. And Amezaga was just doing what all middle infielders are trained to do -- come sidearm with the ball to make sure the runner gets down. I've seen the runner occasionally called for interference on that -- but never after taking one on the schnozz. The ump, if he thought about it at all, probably figured the hardball to the face was punishment enough.
I despise Pedro Martinez's mouth as much as anyone, but while I agree with you about his value, you should have mentioned him in response to the "best season" question. He didn't win 20 games or pitch 250 innings in 2000, but wins are out of the pitcher's control and a handful fewer innings can't undermine that amazing year. His 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings average dwarfs everyone else on your list, while his ERA fits right in that group. Factor in the era, especially when you compare his numbers against league averages, and Pedro's 2000 season stands alone. With all due respect to Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, it isn't even close. -- J.D. Bolick, Denver, N.C.
J.D., I got plenty of mail from people who pointed out their favorite great pitching seasons. Lots of them mentioned Pedro in 2000. I had to have some criteria. He didn't meet them. But, yeah, he had an awesome year. For those who missed it, Pedro went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA that season, with 11.78 strikeouts per nine (a Top 10 all-time performance) and only 1.33 walks per nine.
John, you ignorant slut. In discussing great pitching seasons, how can you possibly exclude Steve Carlton in 1972? Koufax was the greatest pitcher I ever saw and Gibson was remarkable in his prime. But for one season, I don't see how anyone can top Carlton. And to leave his 1972 season off the list completely is absurd. -- Andy Long, Brooklyn
Thanks, Andy. Have no idea how I missed that. In 1972, Carlton was 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA. He struck out 310 in 346 1/3 innings. Awesome. Blew right past me. Sorry.
"Chris, I'm sure that the fans in Milwaukee are great, and they'd support a decent team. But there are just not enough of them. It's that simple." WRONG. The 2001 attendance at Miller Park: 2.8 million fans. That compares favorably with most other markets. The farm system is loaded, the team is playing better and better days are ahead. -- Scott, Milwaukee
Scott ... come on. You're right. The Brewers drew a little more than 2.8 million fans in the first year of Miller Park. In the second year of the new park, it dropped to 1.969 (No. 19 in the majors). Last season, attendance was down to 1.7 (25th out of 30). This year, they're averaging about 17,900 (No. 28). And this for a supposedly up-and-coming team. (Actually, I agree with you there.) Look, for you and all the Milwaukee fans out there, I hope better times are ahead for the Brewers. Nobody -- nobody -- wants to continue seeing what we've seen out of this team for the past 11 years. But the market size is the market size, and the numbers just aren't there. The Brewers will be fighting to make money, and draw fans, for a long time.