Talk baseball all season long with SI.com's Jacob Luft in Baseball Chatter, a journal for hot topic debates, Sabermetric ramblings and reader-driven discussions.
5/01/2007 12:45:00 PM
Five April Lessons
Adrian Gonzalez leads a deceptively potent Padres offense.
The first month of the 2007 season is in the books, and all I can say is, "thank goodness." It was an ugly month all the way around, and I'm not just talking about John Kruk's perm. From the foul weather (will anybody ever want to travel to Cleveland in April again?), to protracted batting slumps (paging Richie Sexson) to the endless string of closer meltdowns (et tu, Trevor Hoffman?), it's safe to say May 1 couldn't have come soon enough. The month was not without its lessons, though. Here are five things I learned in April ...
The Padres can hit
It's tough to evaluate teams that play in extreme pitchers' or hitters' parks, and the Padres definitely fall into the former category -- PETCO Park is a barn. Not only that, but the rest of the NL West, with the exception of Arizona, isn't overly friendly for hitters, either, especially since Coors Field is now playing under Humidor Ground Rules. Last season, only three NL teams scored fewer runs than the Padres. That's terrible, right? Not really, at least not when you consider that the Padres averaged 5.14 runs per game on the road, the fourth-best in the NL. This year they are once again fourth in the league in road runs (5.00 per game) and rank eighth in overall runs scored. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez (25 RBIs) is an emerging star, and second baseman Marcus Giles (.376 OBP) may have been the best pickup of the offseason. Plus, Brian Giles can still draw a walk and catcher Josh Bard just came back off the DL.
The Nationals are bad, but they aren't that bad
The 2003 Tigers notwithstanding, it's just as hard to lose more than one out of three games than it is to win more than one out of three. The Nationals, tabbed by many heading into this season as the next historically bad team (think '62 Mets), have played right around that .333 level (9-17, .346) despite getting very little from their top two pitchers (John Patterson, Chad Cordero), their best hitter (Ryan Zimmerman) and the continuing absence of injured first baseman Nick Johnson. What they do have going for them is the budding Ryan Church (140 OPS+), the solid Austin Kearns (118 OPS+) and the rebounding Dmitri Young (115 OPS+). Pitching wise, Shawn Hill and Jay Bergmann (who?) have been decent, and the relief duo of Micah Bowie (3.00 ERA) and Jesus Colome (2.45 ERA) have provided yeoman's work.
Playing center field isn't easy
Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, Milwaukee's Bill Hall, Houston's Chris Burke and the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano moved to center field to start the season. Among the four, Burke and Soriano already have washed out as their teams decided to go with highly touted prospects -- Soriano moved back to left as Felix Pie took over center and Burke was benched in favor of Hunter Pence. Hall has struggled in the field and at the plate, batting only .239, raising the question of whether it's worth living with his glove in center if he isn't providing the same type of production at the plate as he did last season, when he hit 35 home runs. Ichiro is the only one who has appeared to make a seamless transition.
Tampa Bay has more than one good starter
If you haven't picked up James Shields yet in your fantasy league, then it's probably too late. The 6-foot-4 right-hander has been the Devil Rays' best starting pitcher this season, even more effective than the cannon-armed Scott Kazmir. Featuring a nasty change-up that already has the league buzzing, Shields has struck out 37 batters in 36 innings while issuing only seven walks. He's 2-0 with a 3.75 ERA compared to Kazmir's 2-1 record and 4.06 ERA.
Barry Bonds still can carry an offense
Can a team win a division with a 35-year-old Rich Aurilia batting third all season? It can if Barry Bonds is batting fourth and Matt Cain pitches every fifth day. It's the rotation that has carried the Giants to a 13-11 record so far -- San Francisco ranks third in the NL in fewest runs allowed per game but 13th in runs scored per game. Whatever offense it does get comes from Bonds. According to The Hardball Times, the controversial slugger leads the club with 25 Runs Created. The difference between Bonds and the runners-up, Ray Durham and Aurilia (12 Runs Created each), is the largest gap between the leader and runner-up on any team in the majors. (Alex Rodriguez has a 12 RC lead on teammate Jason Giambi, representing the second-largest gap.)
no mention of the Braves? Atlanta ended April in first place, a half game ahead of the Mets, and have beaten that heavily favored team from New York 4 out of 6 times already. Kelly Johnson has proved to be an on base machine at the leadoff spot and has transitioned almost seemlessly at 2nd. Tim Hudson is off to the best start in his career, and the accusitions of Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano are already paying dividends. yet whenever the NL east talk comes up, all anyone can mention are the struggles of the Phillies, or how awful the Nationals are, or just all out drooling of the Mets. I'd say that in April we learned that the Braves will be contenders all season long, and that nobody wants to admit it. us Braves fans are getting frustrated with the lack of respect.
I agree, last night on Baseball tonight and they were picking the NL team of the month and guess who they picked? Yep, the Mets.....The Mets? Really? And the same channel sportswriters have them as their #1 in the Power Rankings. #1? In all of baseball. Really? I'm not proclaiming that the Braves are the best team in baseball, but they are very solid all the way around with the exception of the back-end of the rotation. But do the Mets not have the same problem?? And the fact that head-to-head we have beat them 2 out of 3 times. Go Braves!!!!!!
In the same way the previous poster asked about the Braves... what of the D'backs?? We all knew they were going to be good, probably next year, but some of those rookie bats are finally waking up.. rookie Chris Young spots Brandon Webb two homers last night, Webby dominates the previously NL West-leading Dodgers for 7 innings, and not even a mention? And of course there's Orlando Hudson... oh, Hudson.. D'BACKS FANS LOVE O-DOG!!
How many starters have wound up on the DL this young season? Fifteen? Twenty? Is there anyone left who can pitch a complete game anymore without risking a season-ending injury? OK, I don't expect anyone nowadays to pitch 30 complete games in a season like my boyhood hero, Fergie Jenkins, did in 1971, but really, it's gotten to the point where all the pampering and protecting of pitchers has backfired. Instead of preventing injuries, the current trend of pitch counts, six-inning "quality" starts, etc. has yielded more, not fewer, arm troubles.
How can you expect respect when your argument for deserving respect is your leadoff hitter had a career month, your #2 pitcher had a career month, and your two new setup men have been ok and one already went down with a shoulder injury?
One month does not make a season. At least wait until the all star break to consider yourself an all season long contender. Unless you truly believe that the Yankees will finish in last place in the AL East.
WaWaWa....cry me a river Atlanta....are you really so desperate for attention after losing that championship division streak you're gonna cry about not being talked about enough? Yes, in a year where Delgato and Wright haven't even started hitting, and the starting pitching is a mess, the Braves are 1/2 game up on the Mets after April. Which means that will change when the Mets start clicking with their starters and 4-5 hitters. Oh yea, and Pedro is back in June-July.
You can tell how far the Braves have fallen by how much their fans whine. For the better part of a decade, the Braves had been the only team worth talking about in the NL East. Now that the Mets have become such a force, the fans will cry about the lack of attention their team is getting? April ended with the Braves only up a half game on the Mets, yet Atlanta's fans act like it's 1997 and not 2007. No one doubts the Braves are a good team - but lets give it a little time. Hudson will tire, Gonzalez is already having back problems. And the Mets will get better. Remember - NY is only a half game behind, and that has been achieved without the aid of a certain future Hall of Famer who is due back by midseason. The Mets have a better bullpen and a better bench. Now if only Wright and Delgado could snap out of whatever fog they are in...
i agree quiet down braves fans, you guys sound ridiculous...just suck it up, the Mets are the better team at this point...JUST WAIT UNTIL PEDRO COMES BACK...the braves don't hit NEARLY as well as the Mets, don't have as good a bullpen, and the braves' starters 3 through 5 are really shaky...Braves should aim for the wild card...GO METS...wickman sure looks great lately, the big fat chum.. WOO METS
Mets fans hate to break it to you but Pedro wont even start throwing until June, which means he probably wont make his first start until into August sometime and John Maine won't keep this up, and maybe David Wright isn't as great as you thought he would be. I'll give you Jose Reyes is a top 3 player in all of baseball, and the most exciting player to watch, but the Braves are gonna be there all year, whether you like us (the fans) or not.
your not mentioned because you wont be worth mention come july. everything about your team is suspect. your 3b is slowing down, your cf will be leaving you in 6 months (dont deny it, shurholtz isnt), your georgia bred hudson ALWAYS breaks down, your closer is on the DL (the pen lookd great vs. COL by the way) 1b,2b,lf all questions. Francuer and McCann are all you got and the way McCann plays he's gonna find himself on the DL. The best part about the braves is their best prospect Salty. he wont see daylight with mccann so you have to unload him. ANNND even if you do get great value for him you wont be able to sign the guy b/c your broke. the guy you really need is ted turners lawyer so he can try to convince the guy to buy the team back.
The mets are “such a force” that they haven’t take a series from the Braves yet. I know it’s early, but if your Mets were getting ignored the way the Braves are after leading the division so far and beating their main competition head to head, I can only imagine the insane level of whining we would be hearing. Ohh, and on the "PEDRO IS COMING BACK!!!" note, there is another Martinez that had the same arm issues (his brother) and he never pitched the same way again. Don't count on him coming back anywhere near his previous level.
Did someone really say they'd take Maine over Hudson?!?!
Lets see Hudson has, over the past seven years average a 3.57 ERA and close to 16 wins. John Maine has a total of... 12 wins. Also as far as injury concerns, Hudson has averaged 218 innings over that 7 year span. Not really injury prone, huh. Maine has never pitched mroe than 90 innings. He is bound to lose some steam. I'll get back with you after the all star break.... when the Braves are up by 5 games and the Mets are sqarely in our rear view mirror!
"...there is another Martinez that had the same arm issues (his brother) and he never pitched the same way again. Don't count on him coming back anywhere near his previous level."
I'll take Pedro at 65 percent over your 3 through 5 starters any day. To the person who proclaims that Pedro will be back to late, he'll be back in August, which is just in time for the playoffs. That's all that counts. Not division banners.
the mets will get better when pedro returns, delgado starts hitting and wright returns to respectability. but mets fans need to consider that wright wasn't very good during the second half last year (like he is now, too), so he might not be the player everyone thinks he is. that rotation won't continue to be that good and, likely, neither will the bullpen. in sum: the mets will get better, but how much better a lot of people exaggerate.
consider with the braves that andruw hasn't been hitting much, langerhans is no longer sucking up at-bats, and redman and some of the crappy bullpen arms soon will be gone. it's going to be a close one between these two.
I'm definitely not a Braves fan, in fact I hate the Braves, but I wanted to weigh in. The Mets fans around here really need to simmer down and stop talking crap. Their team has spent how many millions of dollars? Yet, the Mets haven't done ANYTHING in the postseason since losing the 2000 Fall Classic to the Yanks in 5.
Before you come back and say "Well, neither did the Braves, and they ALWAYS make the postseason," look at the circumstances. The Braves have been good for years, and they won a WS in the 90s. It also shouldn't make you proud to be comparing your team to one whose payroll is about a quarter the size of yours.
The Mets are like the Washington Redskins of baseball, and that's not a compliment even though I'm a Redskins fan. They both spend millions of dollars on free agents every year. What has it gotten them??
Mets - One losing World Series effort since 1986. Redskins - One postseason appearance since 1999.
The Red Sox and Yankees spend like drunken sailors but at least they win.
People might be drooling over the Mets now, but the lack of reliable starting pitching is going to catch up to them. I don't think they're going to get healthier over the course of the season. The Braves are for real, and it's going to be a battle between them and the Phillies if Charlie Manuel ever figures out that Brett Myers should be closing games.
Honestly, even Braves fans have to know they are overachieving right now. Chipper will find a sore toe, and the run production will plummet. No one picked Tim Hudson in any fantasy league prior to round 8,9 or even 10. Why? Because he's not worthy of such. Braves are going down.
The Mets didn't sign a impact free agent last year. Redskins fan. The Braves are playing well, but you have to think the Mets Lineup will push them into first place. Both teams are pretty close, but I think the Mets will take it in the end.
i'm beginning to think that the current and method of protecting pitchers is incredibly suspect. If Dice-K proves to be great for many years, then we may need to change our methods here. i mean it kinda makes sense, what with all the pitchers that are continually breaking down.
THE BRAVES AND THEIR FANS ARE SUCH HUGE WHINERS!! SHUT UP!! the mets have by far the better team, and the braves are clearly overachieving, but once chipper gets hurt, and with wickman and gonzalez already hurting, the braves are going to sink soon. sorry to break it to you. the braves are through with this division. Mets raise their second consecutive division flag, starting a new streak..
I didn't say that I don't think the Mets will win the NL East this year. I think they will. I don't think the Braves can keep up this pace.
I'm just saying that for a team to spend like the Mets do, and have nothing to show for it, is embarassing. There's no logical reason why that team SHOULDN'T win that division. Heck, if Pedro is up to snuff when he returns, they might make the Series.
Hey, it could be worse. They could be the Phillies... the TRUE "team to beat in the NL East" this year. ;-) Riiight...
Hey wassup. To all the NY mets fans, i got much respect for the team you guys have, but you cant talk to much because you only have one division title, once you guys show some consistency then you can talk, but being on top for one year isnt enough. the braves have shown consistency over the years, and granted they didnt make the playoffs last year, or we havent won the world series in a while, but we have been consistent over the years. kinda like a one hit wonder, they had the one hit but nothing else, so once you guys put together a string of titles, then maybe you can bark a little
mets fans, good team, but not great. to be great you must do it over a number of years ya know, winning once doesnt make ya team great. i mean before last year, you guys were the laughing stock of the nl east.
hey people i am a big braves fan and i am excited about the year we are having so far. the only reason i dont like the mets is because they are in our division. i keep hearing people say that the braves are only half a game up, but the mets are supposed to have one of the best offenses around, and we dont, compare the batting averages, the era, and you would think the mets were in first but they are not, the braves know how to win, and you guys just recently started doing that, so dont get ahead of yourselves. and i know it is early but 4 out of 6 isnt bad either GO BRAVES
i had to scroll the whole way down to see mention of the brewers. i live in nyc so between the pitchless yanks and the look-how-good-we are mets fans, i'm running out of juice. i won't even weigh into the braves-mets volleys going on right now.
instead, i'll comment on how the quiet small market (aka payroll) brewers have amassed the most wins in baseball as of this evening. good for them. the way it should be. a strong farm system producing the likes of fielder, weeks, hardy, and sheets. sprinkle in some smart but not overpriced pitcher acquisitions (suppan, cordero). and you have a team that might not be one you want to play come fall. it's early and their division is soft but kudos to the brewers organization.
Braves, Braves, Braves... If Bob Wickman would have gone to the DL two games earlier, the braves would have ended the month with a 2.5 game lead over the Mets. That's pretty good considering the Mets are #1 in the Power Rankings from ESPN (which is funny in itself). The Mets rotation will fail, just give it time. See you in the World Series. Go BRAVES. Oh yeah...Is anyone playing better than Chipper Jones?
"I know it’s early, but if your Mets were getting ignored the way the Braves are..." I can tell that none of you know what it is like to live in the shadow of the Yankees. The Mets are ROUTINELY ignored by the NY media! Even the Yanks in a 6 game skid gets more press than the Mets taking first place, even briefly. No one is ignoring the Braves. You're just so used to being the definitive team to beat in the NL East that you can't handle it when every sports writer doesn't have you locking up the division by May. Injuries are going to be the deciding factor - Hudson can/will break down, El Duque might break a hip, etc. But a slow April for Wright and Delgado means less chance of them cooling off after the break. And for whoever said that Pedro was held together by duct tape, I have two words for you: Mike. Hampton. Pedro might not be back until August, but all Hampton will be doing in August is working on his tan.
Brave fans need to stop drinking the coolaid. The Mets got nothing from three regulars (Delgado, Wright and LoDuca) and yet only trail the Braves by half a game (despite losing 4 of 6 to the Braves). If the Braves were that good, they'd be 3 or 4 ahead right now, but they have frankly failed to capitalize on a vulnerable Mets team. Now Wright went 3 for 4 last night, be afraid, be very afraid.
It's funny because 2 or 3 Atlanta Fans make the point that the Braves are in fact leading the Mets in the standings and clearly point out that the Braves are a much improved team since last year when their bullpen blew a bunch of games for them (i.e. John Smoltz's starts). And then about 30 mets fans come back and try to Dog the Braves fans into the ground. Lets get this straight, Pedro is a shadow of what he used to be. Glavine is a shado of what he used to be. El Duque is an injured shadow of what he used to be. the back end of the rotation stinks. your guys aren't hitting yet. your team is OLD. Now if you are going to sit there and complain about Braves fans bringing up the point that they are actually BEATING your team thus far into the season, well.....you need to do some looking around. and Don't look now but havent the Phillies woken up a lil bit? 7-3 in their last 10 or something? obviously we are 25 games into the season and ANYTHING can still happen. so while you are all jostling around and trying to put each other down im gonna go watch some baseball and laugh at all of you when none of your teams win anything.....again. My money is on the braves for the NL East though. they are young and very talented. at the end of last season they were playing extraordinary and probably would have all last season but it was a new group meshing together and they had an aweful 'pen. now, not so aweful. at least they have 3 guys who can get saves for them. Atlanta will win the division and the Mets come 2nd.
Phillies!!!!!!!! Now that I broke the Mets/Braves nonsense we can discuss some other teams. Everyone can take pride in knowing that in one city, real baseball fans are being rewarded for their loyalty. Brewers fans out there (the ones who were fans before the last month), let me know how it feels to pull for a team that perennially loses and suddenly is winning? I want to feel that! I am pulling for your guys!