OK, OK, that's a bit harsh.
Despite a 5-6 record when Maddux pitches, the Braves have won 27 of their past 33 games to take a three-game lead in the NL East. Nobody is "killing" them. But as well as they have done, imagine where they'd be if Maddux was having anything close to his standard season.
Tuesday's start against the Reds was a perfect example of the struggles Maddux has had this season. Cincinnati roughed him up for seven runs (all earned) on nine hits in four innings. As bad as that sounds, it could have been worse.
Maddux was missing over the middle of the plate all night. Many of his pitches looked like they were placed on a tee, especially the mammoth home run by Ken Griffey Jr. in the fourth inning. That he only gave up the one homer may have been more luck than anything else.
He had similar location problems early in the season, when he gave up 14 runs in consecutive outings against the Marlins and Phillies, before putting together a string of seven starts that fluctuated from passable to strong.
A closer look at Maddux's numbers indicate this may be more than just a slow start. In 2001, he walked 1.04 batters per nine innings. That grew to 2.04 last year and is up to 2.42 so far this season, his highest rate since 1990. His strikeout rate has declined as well, the combined effect being an incredibly shrinking strikeout-to-walk ratio: 4.52 in 2000, 6.41 in '01, 2.62 in '02 and 2.41 this season.
The biggest problem for Maddux is gopher balls. He's given up 11 home runs in 2003, only three fewer than all of last season, for a ghastly, career-high rate of 1.56 per nine innings. He's never even allowed 1.0 HR/9 IP in his illustrious career; in '94 his rate was an infinitesimal 0.178. His poor season isn't because of a bunch of ground balls sneaking through the infield -- he's getting hit hard.
Knowing Maddux, he is just as likely to toss 35 straight scoreless innings than keep up this subpar pace. It would be foolish to bet against him, but suddenly there is reason to have just a wee bit of doubt about his abilities.
Who's writing the book on Twins GM Terry Ryan?
Billy Beane turns around a small-market franchise and gets a fawning book written about him by a bestselling author.
Terry Ryan has done the same thing with the low-payroll Twins, and even won a playoff series to boot. Minnesota is in first place again after winning the division last year, so why doesn't Ryan get more credit? He's the Magglio Ordonez of general managers, captain of the all-underrated team.
Cristian Guzman and Eric Milton from the Yankees for Chuck Knoblauch;
Joe Mays from the Mariners for Roberto Kelly.
The scary part for the AL Central is that the best may be yet to come. The Twins' farm system is loaded with studs like catcher Joe Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Michael Restovich.
Rent or buy?
If you are a big league pitching coach and the most experienced starter you have is named Brian Lawrence, the answer is definitely "rent." The injury-riddled Padres gave the heave-ho to Greg Booker on Sunday, much the same way the Marlins got rid of Brad Arnsberg when their young prospects were not panning out. Booker's rotation to start the year consisted of 26-year-old Lawrence, Adam Eaton (25), Oliver Perez (21), Jake Peavy (21) and Clay Condrey, a 27-year-old rookie. Lawrence has been mediocre, Perez was sent down, Eaton spent two weeks on the DL with a groin injury and Condrey has been shelled. It may have been Booker's fault they weren't progressing, but it's tough to say anything with certainty when dealing with pitchers that young.
Is there a dark horse team emerging as a possible contender?
"Contender" may be too strong a word for Toronto, which plays in the same division as the mighty Yankees and Red Sox, but the Blue Jays aren't too far away. Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells anchor a potent, young lineup that can flat-out rake, leading the AL in runs scored, batting average, slugging, OPS and doubles. They were 10-18 at the end of April but are now at .500, thanks to a torrid May in which they've gone 13-5. They scored 41 runs in winning four straight games from the Royals and White Sox before losing to Chicago on Tuesday. Now they just need to find some pitching to support the efforts of Cory Lidle and Roy Halladay.
Where did Mo Vaughn disappear to?
Call off the search party. Vaughn has been found. It appears he was traveling the country in search of second, third, fourth and fifth opinions on his bum knee. His "disappearance" brings to mind the 100-year anniversary of Ed Delahanty's legendary death. Delahanty, a late-19th century star who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945, used to vanish for weeks at a time before falling to his death from a Niagara Falls bridge in 1903. Check out the whole story. Unlike this year's Mets, it's pretty amazin'.
Where in the world is Chuck Finley?
Finley, who didn't sign in the offseason because of his messy divorce battle, was expected to re-sign with with the Cardinals after May 1. But reports say he is asking for too much money from the cash-strapped Cards. And other clubs are hesitant to sign him because they would have to compensate St. Louis with a pick in next month's amateur draft.