Dog days of summer (cont.)
Posted: Thursday August 30, 2007 2:22PM; Updated: Thursday August 30, 2007 2:45PM
Basically the minimum that most people would ask of a starting pitcher at the beginning of the season is for him to take his regular turn in the rotation while posting an average ERA in the process. Of the pitchers used last week, 53 -- just one-third -- had made 20 starts this season with an ERA+ (that's the ratio of a pitcher's ERA, adjusted for park effects, to the league ERA) of at least 100 (that's average), according to Baseball-Reference.com. That's not even two quality pitchers per Major League team.
The really stout-hearted or detail-minded can scan the chart for strikeout rates or walks and hits allowed per nine innings. No doubt, your hopes will be dashed there as well.
You can see the dearth of pitchers affecting teams from top to bottom if you look at the snapshot that last week's games provides:
Atlanta pursued the wild card with two pitchers whose ERA+ marks were practically grotesque: Reyes (49) and Lance Cormier (43), while NL East rival Philadelphia turned to Fabio Castro (37) for his first start of the year when Cole Hamels had to miss his turn.
Seattle fought to keep up with the Angels and keep down the Yankees while sending out Ramirez (57) for his 15th start of the season. Los Angeles and New York, meanwhile, were having their own problems: The Angels tried again to trot out Ervin Santana (72 and falling), and the Yankees learned they had to at least temporarily shelve Mike Mussina (90 and falling).
Cleveland and Detroit, battling in the AL Central, each used starters fresh off the farm. The Indians went with Aaron Laffey (76), while the Tigers, who have seen Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson (86) falter, had Jair Jurrjens make his second start of the season on Aug. 21 -- then put him on the disabled list after he couldn't finish his third on Aug. 26.
The Dodgers all but flowed an entire rotation through their premises in a week, replacing Brett Tomko (79) with David Wells (74), along with giving Eric Stults (97, but since demoted to the bullpen for newly acquired Esteban Loaiza) his third start of the major-league campaign. Despite boasting ERA title contenders Jake Peavy and Chris Young, NL West rival San Diego was hardly going to sympathize, not when it was throwing Clay Hensley out there despite a 62 in eight starts.
Milwaukee's slide in the NL Central was underscored by the fact that it had no starters above 100 in any of its games last week. And yet, there was Colorado using Elmer Dessens (61), despite his having pitched in the Brewers bullpen for most of the season.
Even teams in the driver's seat in their divisions were scrambling for insurance -- though some were having better luck than others. The Mets were trying to get by with Brian Lawrence (83 after three starts, now 67). Arizona was still trying to fill the Randy Johnson void, turning for the ninth time to Yusmeiro Petit (90). Boston, one of the better teams, even used Julian Tavarez (90) and Jon Lester (87 in five starts).
Perhaps the playoff contender that could feel best about its starting pitching is the one with the worst overall record: the Cubs. All five Cubs starters last week had an ERA+ over 100, and all but one (Sean Marshall) had made 24 starts or more. For a team that still mourns the disappearance of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior from the starting rotation, that's pretty impressive -- and could be the key to Chicago holding off St. Louis.
When it comes to the postseason, the pressure to fill out a five-man rotation will give way to matching up aces with aces. But on the cusp of September, it's a long way to the playoffs. Even buoyed by additions that come when rosters expand on Friday, even buoyed by struggling arms that suddenly get hot -- pitching staffs are simply in tatters.
So when you start complaining about the guy taking the hill for your team, remember: Sometime during the week, pretty much every other baseball fan will be moaning, too.
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