Seeing Red

April 27, 2006

Not only are National League teams seeing a lot of “Red” this season but they are also witnessing quite a display of power when they square off against Major League Baseball’s first 15 game winner. The Cincinnati Reds came into this season with out too much support with many people not even expecting them to not pick up their 15th win of the season until mid-May sometime let alone the 26th of April. But why is this team collecting so many wins despite having little or no hope entering the 2006 season?

One reason: POWER.

Entering play today, here’s how the juggernaut Cincinnati Reds offense has faired in the Majors this season:

Runs: 136
Rank: 1st in MLB

2Bs: 54
Rank: 1st in MLB

HRs: 34
Rank: 1st in MLB

RBI: 123
Rank: 1st in MLB

When you lead the Majors in those four categories, chances are pretty good you’re going to win some games and that’s exactly what the Reds have done this season. Players like Adam Dunn (8 HRs) and Edwin Encarnacion (22 RBI) have lead the way to MLB’s most powerful offense. What makes their accomplishments even more amazing is considering they have been without centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. for over half the season. While Ryan Freel has filled in well in centerfield and Brandon Phillips at second base with his bat, Griffey does look to return to the lineup this Friday which will only strengthen this offense.

Speaking of Brandon Phillips, he was awarded the National League player of the week for his outstanding week at the plate which saw him hit .452 (14-31), 3 hrs, and 17 RBI. That’s quite impressive for someone that used to be Cleveland’s top prospect before they traded him to Cincinnati on April 7 for some cash and a player to be named.

Phillips is just one of many great stories on this Reds team this year. The other being Boston Red Sox castoff Bronson Arroyo who was traded earlier this spring to Cincinnati for powerful Willy Mo Pena. Trading Pena loosened up a crowded Reds outfield and brought a starting pitcher in to a staff that has always had issues. In fact, other than Arroyo, the only way the Reds could have won this many games is from scoring a lot of runs considering they are ranked 22nd in MLB with a painful 5.06 ERA. Arroyo is 4-0 with a 2.34 ERA which comes to a delightful surprise to a Reds team that has been desperate for an ace on their struggling staff.

Although the pitching staff has been dreadful this season, as of late they have been holding opposing teams to fewer runs while the Reds offense has exploded more than ever. Over the past ten games, the Reds are 8-2 and have outscored their opponents 100-41. Yes you read that right. That means over the past ten games the Reds are average 10 runs per game and allowing about 4. That will win you some ball games and gain a little attention.

So can this team that wasn’t expected to finish higher than fourth or fifth in their division keep up their pace? We are about to find out as they start facing some more difficult tests. The Houston Astros (who lead the Reds by ½ a game) and St. Louis Cardinals (who trail the Reds by ½ a game) come to Great American Ballpark starting this Friday. We should get a good look at how this Reds team does against some strong pitching and strong offenses.

It seems as if the Reds can get out of the next 5 games with some big wins that it will go a long way in their confidence as they continue to impress and turn heads.

Who knows, if Cincinnati can beat up both Houston and St. Louis this weekend I think we can officially change their run from “Red” hot to white hot.

Advertisements

Manny Finally Being Manny

April 26, 2006

Manny’s box score last night:
3-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Hit go ahead 3-run HR in bottom of the 8th


The Three Wise Men

April 25, 2006

Who would have thunk it? The three most dominating pitchers so far this season have a combined age of 113. Who you ask? The names of Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux should ring a bell. After all, they are three first ballot Hall of Famers that have been dominating for years. In fact, these are 3 of the top 5 best pitchers of the live ball era (the other two being Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson) and they are still continuing to leave their mark on the game. Take a look at these numbers they have put up thus far through their first four starts:

Curt Schilling: 4-0 / 1.61 ERA / 23 SO / .172 BAA / 0.75 WHIP / AGE 39
Pedro Martinez: 4-0 / 3.04 ERA / 28 SO / .162 BAA / 0.94 WHIP / AGE 34
Greg Maddux: 4-0 / 0.99 ERA / 18 SO / .163 BAA / 0.73 WHIP / AGE 40

What makes these numbers even more impressive is all the talk during and after last season about how these three men were on down slides of their careers. Schilling had injury problems that kept him out of the rotation most the season until he came back as Boston’s closer, Martinez has lost velocity on his dominating fastball, and Maddux really didn’t seem to have his magical stuff as a inconsistent season plagued him.

But this season none of those seem to be factors. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of watching two of Maddux’s starts, three of Schilling’s starts, and all four of Pedro’s starts. From a first hand account I’ve loved every inning of it. Schilling doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and has done a great job of getting ahead of hitters, Martinez has lost some velocity on his fastballs but has been doing a great job of keeping hitters off balance with the rest of his stuff, and Maddux’s pitches seem to be dancing again like his days when he was back with the Atlanta Braves.

It’s great to see these guys having success even after all this time so enjoy each of their starts now as there’s really no telling how much longer we’ll get to see them.


Pedro Dominates…Again

April 23, 2006

Pedro’s line last night:
7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 11 SO


Windy City Is Blown Apart

April 22, 2006

The Chicago Cubs luck just got a whole lot worse.

Not only have they continued to have injury issues with two of their aces Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, but there’s that little issue of no World Series titles in a few years (I won’t cause Cubs fans any additional pain and mention the VERY large number of years). Now, as I’m sure you’ve heard, the center piece to their team and franchise player, Derrek Lee is out for upwards of two months. Ouch.

A lot of people are going on and on about how this will effect their team having his great presence and numbers in that lineup. Sure that’s true, there’s no way they can replace him with the likes of Todd Walker at first base, no one is denying that. But what people are missing to see is the effect it will have on others in the lineup. Juan Pierre will be stranded on base more. Aramis Ramirez, Jacque Jones, and Michael Barrett will see fewer quality pitches. Basically everyone in that lineup will have to try and pick up the slack. It’s the equivalent to Boston losing David Ortiz or St. Louis losing Albert Pujols. It’s simply that crushing.

Bottom line is that there will be no giant threat in the heart of that Chicago lineup and that will hurt this team fast and furious. All they can hope to do at this point is hope they can keep it all together for the time he’s out and not completely sink to the bottom of the NL Central.

Unfortunately it’s going to be a long Spring and first part of the Summer for Cubs fans. Good thing they are used to this kind of abuse.


Leading (Off) by Example

April 21, 2006

“YOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUK”

For those of you who have been to or seen a Red Sox home game this season, you know what this means. In fact any Red Sox fan will know exactly what I’m talking about. The rest of you are probably completely confused.

Well that chant has been heard all around Fenway this season as Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis continues to impress fans and players alike. When Coco Crisp went on the DL earlier in the season, the Red Sox were caught in a bind. The man they traded for to fill the empty leadoff spot previously held by Johnny Damon was now empty once more. Most managers would turn towards a “typical” leadoff hitter. Someone with speed, someone with experience, someone who could wreak havoc on the base paths. Well manager Terry Francona decided to try something different. He decided to go with someone who didn’t do any of those things.

Kevin Youkilis is anything but a speed burner. In fact, in 130 career games, he has 0 steals in 2 attempts. But one thing Youkilis does do – that I believe is even more important than speed – is get on base. I took the liberty to calculate how he’s done this season in the 9 games he’s been in the leadoff spot and I think you’ll see what I mean:

.354 (11-31), 8 runs, 6 RBI, 6 walks

That’s pretty impressive for someone who has never had that responsibility. Then I decided to take it one step further for any critics who think it’s more important to have speed at the top of the lineup. So here are five of the “best” leadoff hitters in the game and how they have faired this season in relation to Youkilis:

Carl Crawford
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.262 / .338 / .311 / .649

Juan Pierre
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.271 / .295 / .339 / .634

Rafael Furcal
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.230 / .347 / 246 / .593

Ichiro Suzuki
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.232 / .329 / .304/ .633

Johnny Damon
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.293 / .373 / .466 / .839

Kevin Youkilis
AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
.346 / .435 / .519 / .955

I don’t know about you, but I want a guy who’s actually going to be on base for the middle of the lineup. Just look at what horrible on base percentages Ichiro, Pierre, and Crawford have. That’s not helping at all.

In fact if you want to see some of what Youkilis has brought to that spot this season, find a clip of his first at bat of last nights game. I follow the Red Sox closely and have gotten a chance to see many of his at bats this season, but that at bat last night showed just why he has been so invaluable this season to the Sox.

Scott Kazmir was on the mound for the Devil Rays in last night’s ballgame. Kazmir is one of the brightest young left handed pitchers in baseball today and has always faired well against the Red Sox. Kevin Youkilis stepped up to plate to start the game in the home half of the first inning. He took his normal spot at the very back of the batters box and proceeded to work Scott Kazmir like a 10 year vet. He fouled off tough pitch after tough pitch and drew a 3-2 count. After nine grueling pitches, Youkilis took a 3-2 fast ball and drove it off the Green Monster in left center field for a leadoff double. Not only did this help wear down the young pitcher, but it also gave his teammates a chance to see some pitches before stepping to the plate. A beautiful at bat for a leadoff hitter. You just don’t see that as much anymore.

So you can see what makes him so valuable at the top of the order for the Red Sox while Crisp gets healthy. While Kevin Youkilis won’t send the opposing pitcher into fits having to keep an eye on him on the base paths, he sure will give him a headache at the plate.

In addition to their stellar starting pitching this season and despite Manny Ramirez hitting .259 this season with 0 home runs, Kevin Youkilis is a huge reason why the Red Sox have the best record in baseball this season.

After all, speed doesn’t do any good when you’re sitting on the bench.


Who’s Your Pronkie?

April 20, 2006

“Who’s Your Pronkie?” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it that “Who’s Your Papi?” does. But is that why seemingly everyone has overlooked Cleveland slugger Travis Hafner as one of the best big hitters in the game today? Is that why the man nicknamed by his teammates as “Pronk” has gone without any attention after finishing 5th in the MVP voting last season?

The answer in my opinion is more of a question: “he’s gone unnoticed?”

Today alone I’ve read two separate articles mentioning how Hafner has gone under the radar as a superstar. But is that true? To the casual fan or to someone who keeps watch on only their team, then I can see this being possible since Cleveland isn’t one of the league’s premier markets and Hafner isn’t a flashy personality unlike many of the game’s big time players. But to true baseball fans and reporters across the nation, the news of Hafner being one of the games best sluggers shouldn’t be a news flash at all. In fact his name should immediately pop up in the discussion of feared hitters who can carry his team when needed (as he showed last September as the rest of his team collapsed in the playoff hunt). But why doesn’t it?

As I mentioned earlier, Cleveland isn’t exactly the epicenter of baseball – or much else for that matter – so he often goes unnoticed in mainstream press. If Hafner played in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, or Chicago, you better believe he’d have is name mentioned a whole lot more often. Not only is he not in a large market, but he’s also not a flashy player that demands attention from fans and the press. He’s the type of player who hits a home run, puts his head down, and rounds the bases. No celebration. No show boating. No long gazes at his 475 foot home runs that seem to never land. He just goes about his business like a professional. So does this bother Hafner that he isn’t plastered all over the press the morning after another 2 homer game? Not at all, in fact, he had this to say:

“Actually, I kind of enjoy being off the radar,” Hafner says. “I don’t really crave a whole lot of attention. My main thing is that the team does well. It just seems like it’s easier to concentrate on that.”

And that’s the kind of player “Pronk” is.

As for the name “Pronk”, it is a nickname given to him by his teammates which just happens to be two insults. The word derives from the words “project” and “donkey” together. This doesn’t bother Hafner at all, in fact, he doesn’t even respond to the name “Travis” anymore.

“I don’t see him as a ‘Travis,'” Indians reliever Danny Graves says.

But what Danny and the rest of the young Cleveland team do see him as is a cornerstone to a very strong team.

So why wouldn’t you see him as a cornerstone? After an explosive 2004 season, Hafner still didn’t gain much media attention outside those close to the game. Only after the Indians made a playoff push late last season that he started drawing comparisons to baseball’s best DH and fellow left handed hitter, David Ortiz. While some comparisons can be drawn, is it really fair to make a comparison? While Ortiz is a year and a half his elder, the two had a very similar past two seasons. Take a look:

David Ortiz
Year / HR / RBI / AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
2004 / 41 / 139 / .301 / .380 / .603 / 983
2005 / 47 / 148 / .300 / .397 / .604 / 1001

Travis Hafner
Year / HR / RBI / AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
2004 / 28 / 109 / .311 / .410 / .583 / 993
2005 / 33 / 108 / .305 / .408 / .595 / 1003

Both men have had incredible seasons the past two years. “Big Papi” does have the edge in home runs and RBI’s, but consideration does have to be made on Hafner’s behalf as he does hit in a less hitter friendly ballpark and has less opportunities to drive in runs than Ortiz does in the super charged Boston lineup the past couple of seasons. But take out those two categories and batting average and look closely at the really deep down telling numbers, and you can see Hafner has edged out Ortiz in OPS the past two seasons. Now that is an incredible feat.

But really, what can be gained from comparing these two superstars? There’s only one common denominator that makes these two players so special and that simply is what they mean to their respective teams. Want to know why they should be MVP candidates every year? Take either player out of their team’s lineup and replace them with an “average” DH and you don’t see Boston able to challenge the Yankees for the division and there’s no way Cleveland finishes anywhere near the playoffs.

So Travis Hafner shouldn’t be compared to David Ortiz, but rather, he should be mentioned right alongside last year’s MVP runner up.

Who knows, maybe someday instead of asking “Who’s Your Papi?” we’ll be asking ourselves “Who’s Big Papi?”