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NL Central: Midseason Grades
No doubt about it: The Milwaukee Brewers were the story of the division in the first half. But does this budding Brew Crew have staying power? I spoke to several National League general managers for a GM poll for our magazine’s midseason report, and a number of them liked the Brewers to go far … in 2008. “They still might be a year away from making that big jump,” said one GM. “It’s going to be interesting to see how they perform under the pressure of a pennant race.”
Added another, “I’m not convinced they’re going to run away with it. It’s hard to imagine that all their young guys are going to keep doing what they’ve been doing. I think we’re already seeing them come back to earth”
The team to watch? “I’m telling you,” said a G.M., “the Cubs are a sleeping giant.”
So will the Cubs’ summer soap opera end happily? Can the defending champ Cardinals rise from the dead? Will Junior hit 50 bombs? Is this the summer Adam Dunn and Brad Lidge finally get traded? Will Derrick Turnbow finally get a haircut?
Record: 49-39, 1st place
Runs Scored: 430 (2nd in NL)
Runs Allowed: 388 (6th in NL)
What went wrong: Not much to gripe about when a team is off to its best start since the first term of the Reagan Administration. Rickie Weeks, however, failed to make the leap that young teammates Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, and Ryan Braun made. And the rotation aside from Ben Sheets was unspectacular -- Dave Bush, Chris Capuano, Jeff Suppan, and Claudio Vargas all posted ERAs north of 4.50.
What went right: Ask anyone in the Brewers clubhouse, and they’ll tell you: the key to their incendiary start was their mighty pen, anchored by Francisco Cordero and Derrick Turnbow. Hardy, Hart, and Braun were also revelations, and Prince has arrived as a bona fide star.
What's next: The Brewers may fall short of 90 wins but they'll still be tough to topple. They are, however, making a big mistake if they keep phenom Yovani Gallardo, who made three strong starts in June, in the bullpen. He’ll be one of Milwaukee’s key players in the second half. Prince and Hardy need to keep raking, but more importantly, oft-injured Ben Sheets has to stay healthy, and their eighth and ninth inning relief combo -- nicknamed C-squared -- has to continue to shine after showing signs of vulnerability down the stretch.
Record: 44-43, 2nd place
Runs Scored: 396 (9th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 368 (4th in NL)
What went wrong: There were more meltdowns in the North Side than in an episode of Hey, Paula, and yet the Cubs are still alive. Carlos Zambrano was a disaster in April and May, and with Alfonso Soriano looking like a big-time bust over two months, Chicago struggled to score runs. Chicago still has bullpen issues -- will Ryan Dempster be reliable when he makes his return next week? Rich Hill, after a hot start, has been sliced up over the last month.
What went right: Soriano, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez are putting together splendid seasons. Most importantly, Zambrano has rediscovered his curve and his swagger.
What's next: The Cubs will make the Brewers earn first place in the division, and they also have a team that seems to be built for October if they can get that far. "The lineup is scary, maybe as good as the Mets' when it gets going," says a GM. "I don't think anyone wants to see them in the playoffs."
St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 40-45, 3rd place
Runs Scored: 368 (13th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 432 (10th in NL)
What went wrong: It’s been disastrous first half for the defending champs. Injuries to Chris Carpenter and Jim Edmonds were devastating. Scott Rolen is hitting .267 and on pace for eight home runs. Dave Duncan hasn’t been able to work his magic on Kip Wells, Adam Wainwright hasn’t had the breakout season many predicted, and Anthony “0-10” Reyes is, well, 0-10.
What went right: Don’t blame Albert Pujols: the MVP is still on pace for another .300, 30 home run, 100 RBI season. Chris Duncan (.288, 16 home runs, 47 RBI) is for real.
What's next: If the Cardinals don’t fall too far out of it in the next two weeks, Walt Jocketty -- who has a brilliant summertime trade record -- could swing a blockbuster deal. But of top concern is the return of their ace. Most likely the only thing worth watching in St. Louis, however, will be the return of Rick Ankiel.
Record: 40-48, fourth place
Runs Scored: 367 (14th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 427 (7th in NL)
What went wrong: Where have you gone, Zach Duke? Where have you gone, Jason Bay? The Pirates’ other big masher, Adam LaRoche, is hitting .239 with a .329 OBP but has shown signs of life in recent weeks.
What went right: Freddy Sanchez wasn’t the best Tony La Russa could do for his obligatory Pirates pick in the All-Star game. Either Tom Gorzelanny or Ian Snell -- and not Sanchez -- should have been in San Francisco. Matt Capps has been a revelation as a closer.
What's next: The Pirates aren’t gonna make a run at first but with their young pitching there is, for the first time in a decade, reason for hope in the Steel City. If their big boppers get going, Pittsburgh has a legit shot at its first winning season since ’92.
Record: 39-50, fourth place
Runs Scored: 402 (7th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 441 (13th in NL)
What went wrong: A few years ago it appeared that Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane, and Chris Burke were the future of the Astros. Now none of them deserve a place in the lineup. Dreadful for two months, Lance Berkman has at last awakened.
What went right: Carlos Lee is living up to his $100 million contract. Hunter Pence has arrived as the next great Astro. Brad Lidge has rediscovered his slider. Craig Biggio got his 3,000 hit -- but his OBP is barely .300.
What's next: GM Tim Purpura is an anti-Monty Hall when it comes to making a deal, but even he will realize that trading Brad Lidge makes sense. The Astros have a knack for making miracle runs in the second half, but they don’t have the starting pitching to even break .500 this year.
Record: 36-52, sixth place
Runs Scored: 418 (5th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 454 (14th in NL)
What went wrong: Same old story in Cincy: all hit, no pitch. After a brilliant 2006 in Cincy, Bronson Arroyo has been bombed, and Kyle Lohse hasn’t amounted to much after a promising April.
What went right: Josh Hamilton was one of the best stories of the first half. Brandon Phillips has established himself as one of the league’s top hitting second basemen. And all smiles this summer, Ken Griffey, Jr. continued his rise on the career home run leaderboard.
What's next: Closer Eddie Guardado is scheduled to return soon, but it won’t be enough to save the Reds from a 100-loss season. Now the big question is how aggressively GM Wayne Krivsky shops Dunn and Griffey as the trade deadline nears.
Labels: NL Central
posted by SI.com | View comments |
Don't blame Pujols? He's having a subpar season. If he can do no better than .300 BA, 30 HR & 100 RBI, the Cards will continue to flounder.
these actually seem fair, but for the money the cubs spent that grade should be lower. and how can "Josh Hamilton was one of the best stories of the second half." when the 2nd half hasn't happened yet?...GO BUCCOs
Yay, you have posted each team's total runs scored and total runs given up alongside their record, which means you can, if you can work excel, plot correllations. Or, if you're me, and lazy, you can just do the following half-assed exercise to determine, once and for never, whether pitching really is key to the pennant.
Okay, so I added the total runs scored, for or against each team, and also noted the total number of games over or below five hundred for each team. Then I gave each team a rank from 1 to 16 (I only did three divisions, ALC, NLC, and NLW because, again, I am lazy, and the exercise is pointless and stupid) based on how many games above five hundred they were, where 1 was the most above five hundred, and 16 was the most below. Then I assigned ranks from 1 to 16 based on total runs scored or given up in the teams' games, where 1 was the team that played in the highest scoring games and 16 was the team that played in the lowest scoring games. Then I determined the absolute value of the difference between each team's ranks in these two statistics, i.e. if a team were ranked 1 in games above five hundred and 1 in total runs involved in their games (like the Tigers) the result would be an absolute value of zero (1-1=0). But if a team were first in games above five hundred but last in total runs involved in their games, the absolute value produced would 15 (1-16=-15, the absolute value of which is 15). To try to see whether teams that tended to play in high scoring games tended to win more or less than teams that tended to play in low scoring games, I then calculated an average absolute value and looked to see whether it was closer to the average absolute value that would occur if rank in games over five hundred were perfectly and positively correllated with rank in runs involved in the team's games or closer instead to the average absolute value that would occur if rank in games over five hundred were perfectly and negatively correlated with runs involved in the team's games. If teams that tended to play in high scoring games always finished better than teams that tended to play in low scoring games, you would get an average absolute value of zero (team ranked 1 in the standings would be ranked 1 in total runs scored by and against, producing an absolute value of zero, team ranked 2 in the standings would be ranked 2 in total runs scored by and against, etc...). On the other hand if every team that tended to play in low scoring games wound up better in the standings than every team that that tended to play in high scoring games, I think the average absolute value would 8.
It turns out the average absolute value was 4.875, which, if this exercise had any validity, and weren't screwed up six hundred ways to Sunday, would suggest a small and almost certainly statistically insignificant tendency for low scoring teams to do better in the standings. Note however that the sample includes both AL and NL teams, including the Tigers and Cleveland, who have the best two records in the group and play in the highest scoring games of any teams in the group, which you would think would bias the stats in favor of hitting. The AL is just a better league this and, sigh, every year, so you would think that the interleague play would depress the NL teams rankings, thereby tending to show, perhaps speciously, that teams playing high scoring games do better. So the fact that the pitching still appeared to exert the stronger influence says something. I mean, says something?
Pitching it is then!
The careful observer will also note that this data clearly shows that the Astros deserve the unrelenting loyalty of every human being that has ever or will ever exist since the dawn of time.
you give the Reds too much credit. they're a good home run hitting team, not a good hitting team. worst batting average with runners in scoring position in the NL
Cardinals consistently sell out, could afford better players. They can't always rely on just Pujols.
Anyone else find it funny that when giving out grades they fail to not the expectations of the team they are grading? I mean for example if you expected a team to be 4th in it's division and they actual are 4th in their division, wouldn't that indicate something like a C, you know meeting expectation?
I am all for praising the team that was expected to be doing poorly and they are doing well, but come on. Remember the Marlins last year, everyone thought they would be dogs, but they had some bite. To me that is an A.
Now take the Astros who everyone said would finish 4th behind the Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals; Look they are 4th... to me that is meeting expectation, so a D is rather harsh... Did anyone expect Woody Williams and Jason Jennings to replace Clemens and Pettitte? Did they expect Carlos Lee to make them so much better offensively to counter balance the change in pitchers? I find all this grading laughable when you have teams doing what you said they would prior to the season starting. I thought you were "experts"!
Dude ... the Astros could be playing GOOD baseball and be in fourth place ... the fact is that they are playing (mostly) pathetic baseball and hence, that is the grade they received.
anonymous gm says no one wants to see cubs in post-season. i don't know about that. if i were an opposing team, they would be exactly who i wanted to see in the post season. everyone knows they'll find some ridiculous and unprecedented way to lose. god bless 'em. baseball wouldn't be the same without them.
You're an IDIOT! You give the CUBS the same grade as the METS. The CUBS spent more money than GOD this winter and are only playing .500 ball. Meanwhile the METS are 1 game off their pace of last years 97 win season which was tied for best in the bigs in 2006. You give the BREWERS an "A" why? Because they're finally playing up to their ability? Big Deal! Wait until the PLAYOFFS until you start handing out RINGS. I LOVE how you media freaks love to prematurely crown PAPER CHAMPIONS! And YES, I enjoy CAPITALIZING WORDS for EMPHASIS!
hey anonymous @ 5:40, he put "one of the best stories of the first half" so what are u talking about? and robafry, what do u expect from pujols? .300 ba, 30hr, and 100 rbi's tags any player as an mvp candidate. what more do u want, 20 wins and a 2.50 era?
i want on pace to finish with .283 ba 60 hr and 142 rbi's thats my mvp candidate
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