Baseball in 2009… an 80-game review
The National League


Let’s see… could this season start out any better?

The new home field of the New York Mets is a shrine worthy of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Let’s understand something first, before the commentary and opinion (and wiseass remarks) kick in at top speed. It’s definitely not wrong of the Mets to build a ballpark echoing Ebbets Field and celebrating Jackie Robinson. Ebbets Field is a part of the history and mythology of baseball and New York. That’s a wonderful combination for any organization. And Jackie Robinson is… well… geez, he’s Jackie Robinson. Any baseball team would be a credit to the game for involving his legacy in the design of new construction. So I’m not blaming the Mets for including either concept at a significant level in the design of Citi Field.

But would it have been wrong for the New York Mets to include… you know I was just thinking, maybe… a couple of items about the Mets? Because apparently, they thought it was.

The claim from management so far has been that the missing team history is coming in the future. After all, silly us thinking a team would try to open a brand-spanking-new ballpark with stuff already in place about that team. Silly us thinking that should be a day one target. They claim it’s a refinement. And I think we all know that means they messed up… they know they messed up… they’re going to spend more money trying to fix what they messed up… but one thing they don’t think is that we know they messed up. They think all of us are crazy enough to believe that the right thing to do was honor the Dodgers, open it without honoring the Mets, and that this was their plan all along.

Oh yeah… and in the current, modern day, build ballparks with great views because engineering is so advanced… Citi Field also has obstructed and limited view seats.


Ok… ok… full disclosure. I’m not that disappointed with the Mets and the obstructed view thing. I fully understand… some if not all parks… with higher outfield walls… with quirky angles in foul territory… with any number of circumstances and special designs… are going to create problems for fans when it comes to seeing every inch of playing surface. I’ve heard Citi Field has some other obstructed views, but the one I have read enough about to feel comfortable commenting on is at the warning track, where the outfielders disappear from view for the people seated in the outfield sections. And honestly, that isn’t too hideous of a mistake. High walls… tough immediate sight lines along the warning track. It happens. Even in the best of plans.

No… my true problem with the Mets remains building a tribute to the Dodgers without mentioning their own history.

But we have to mention sight lines, because the news from the big city and the troubles with new dives has been even better than just Citi Field. That obstructed view idea brings us to the other new dump in New York… the New Yankee Stadium.

(Dump? Dump? How dare I? Oh… I dare…)

Now… first… I won’t be making lots of jokes based on the idea that the Yankees decided to play on a little league field. (Go ahead, do a search with words like “new Yankee Stadium home run problem” and see what you get. Evidently, they’ll be putting in a bid to bring up the games from Williamsport starting next year. I doubt they’ll get the Little League World Series though. While the increased seating would be nice (and would likely draw more attendees than a Yankees game), Williamsport offers a field where the ball stays in the yard more often than not.) I promise, I won’t be staying with this topic for any more cheap shots right now. Let’s see what happens over a season or two before hammering the place as a haven for wanna-be, light-weight power hitters. You’d think with all of their players taking steroids they would make it harder to hit home runs. (Excuse me, sorry, all of their players allegedly taking steroids. Actually, no, Rodriguez admitted it. I think I’m good the original way. Whatever…)

Instead… how about how they apparently built a bar… and it blocks the view for people… in fact, they even reduced prices because of the complaints.

And overall that’s the thought that I want to bring you. When a casino is apologizing to people because they didn’t know about the obstructed view problems that their name adorns… well… that hardly sounds to me like the model franchise… the organization that claims everyone else wants to be like them.

Don’t buy that critique? Ok… check out this link. Apparently the Yankees organization admits they never told the casino about the creation of obstructed seats, and the casino is looking to run away from being associated with the problem. Does that sound all legendary and pinstripey to you? (And heck… evidently with all the empty seats involved, they’re just having a ball. New park and no one wants to sit next to the field. Epic.)

Me? I love it. Can’t have enough controversy for the Spankees. And unlike some of the Mets troubles… this one sounds like it could have been avoided, should have been avoided, and the organization blew it. If for nothing else than for selling the seats before revealing the obstructed view. (I mean it… classy, classy group. But then again, this is the same group charging some incredible rates for seats they can’t fill.)

Anyway… I’m sure it will all work out. And that’s not why I’m here.

Nope. Today I’m here for a different story. I’m here to take a look over the first half of the season. And in order to let me babble on about a ton of thoughts that have been swimming around for quite some time, I’m breaking it up into two parts.

You know how I feel about the 40 and 80 game marks for teams. If you expect to be in the playoffs, I like your argument that you deserve such consideration if you can hit these markers with at least an even record. I know... I know… 40 is still kind of early. But I think a few teams had figured out how long their season was going to be by mid-May. And I admit that 80 and 100 are kind of similar points. But I like 80 because that one triggers early enough that you still can make solid plans before the no-limits trading deadline of July. If you’re hitting 100 games and trying to figure out whether or not you still have a shot… chances are, you don’t… and good luck making that last second trade.

Because things have been so crazy this year, I’m approaching this a bit differently. First, in each column you’ll see the divisions separated, with where they stand right now, what I thought back in March they’d be looking at for wins, and what the current pace projects out to for the season.

Second, I’m going to try and deliver a few points on each of the teams. In some cases that means going back to the start of the season and what I thought in March and April, in other cases it means digging into stats and observation, and in a few cases it means fighting off nausea. (I’m looking at you San Diego.)

And third… umm… I don’t really have a third. Let’s just go right to Philadelphia, where the Phillies are doing the best they can to play poorly and inconsistently so the rest of the division doesn’t feel too badly about themselves…

National League East
Philadelphia… currently 43 – 37… I thought high 80… projects to 87 – 75
Florida… 43 – 41… low 80… 83 – 79
New York… 39 – 42… low 90… 78 – 84
Atlanta… 39 – 43… low 90… 77 – 85
Washington… 24 – 56… low 60… 49 – 113

Philadelphia ~ I couldn’t tell you why, but the Phillies continue to bore me to tears. It’s kind of strange really… because they have talent all over the place and are the defending champions. In reality they should be a really interesting and fun club to watch.

Ryan Howard… Chase Utley… Cole Hamels… the on-going Mets choking storyline… it’s got all the elements of good stuff.

But try as I might to watch some of their games and really pay attention to them… yawn.

And I blame Cole Hamels as the poster boy for this. After endearing everyone last year with his postseason effort, he still isn’t a threat every time he takes the mound… very reminiscent of Josh Beckett circa 2003 by the way. Playoffs? Light goes on. Regular season? Not so much. (Please keep this in mind if the Phillies waltz into the postseason. Do NOT judge Hamels by his regular season effort. Ok? We good on that? You have been warned. Anyway…)

Halfway through the year, the Phillies lead this division even with no one really creating much in the way of excitement. Unless something unexpected happens in the East, the Phillies have a clear shot to the playoffs. The Mets are dead, and I honestly don’t see the Marlins or the Braves putting together a run not only to pass the Phillies in the standings any time soon, but a two-month long run to pass them and stay ahead of them. And let’s face it, this division may be more of a threat for the wild card than the Central, but I don’t know if that fact says much for their chances of sending two clubs to the playoffs.

Can the Phillies repeat? I don’t think so. Sure… if they win the Roy Halladay sweepstakes… that would change things. But otherwise I just think clubs like Los Angeles and St. Louis will enter the playoffs with stronger teams. And San Francisco… well… we’ll get to the Giants…

Florida ~ Nice story to see them here. It won’t last though. Saw alot of them during interleague play, and there is no depth.

Chances are you still haven’t figured out who Cody Ross is… and I asked you to look him up back in April. (Seriously, you should look him up.) And Kiko Calero? Remember I mentioned what a hidden gem of a signing he was? Ok… actually what I said was that I liked the Florida bullpen because it was improved and contained interesting signings that anyone could have had. Like Calero. And so far my man Kiko has 40 strikeouts in just over 32 innings to go along with his sub-2 ERA. (Of course, you knew that… just like you knew about Ross.)

The Marlins have fooled me before when given the opportunity. They could be here for the whole haul. I just think they are more likely to fade away and be satisfied with 82 to 84 wins.

New York ~ My comments in April…

…the Mets invested in Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz… They form a pretty good end-of-the-game package… provide some depth in case of injury… and allow for some flexibility in giving some rest over the haul of 162 games. The thing is… neither one of these guys is tinkering. For the Mets to be good, both of these guys will need to be good. And for the Mets to be great? Well… let’s list it off… to be great…

Santana having a strong year is an obvious beginning, but they’ll need John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Mike Pelfrey to be consistent all year.

Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado will need to meet or exceed career averages, with at least one being solidly in the MVP hunt. (And I mean solidly in the hunt for MVP. Not “the team is playing better than .500 and since it’s from New York it gets alot of press so one of their players must be mentioned when discussing the MVP” in the hunt.)

Now I ask you… do I need to change a word of that?

The Mets are O… U… T… out of it and done. And in part, I’ll admit that injuries… which will eliminate them on every count I had for them to be good or great… have hit this team hard. But wow, in mid to late June people have started allowing them to claim injuries as an excuse, and once that became acceptable and started making the rounds, tents at Citi Field were being folded up faster than the balls clearing the right field fence at the New Yankee Dump.

Atlanta ~ When I was beginning this effort, Tom Glavine was preparing to go see Dr. Andrews. As I was revising it from a 40-game piece to a mid-season report, he had hopes of pitching again in the slightly near future. And now, he’s been released but hasn’t retired. Atlanta… going back to the Furcal fun and all sorts of other nightmares… has had quite a year in player relations.

Ok… that said… let’s really get started with this. I love… loveLOVE Tommy Hanson. Probably the kiss of death for the guy, but I watched him in back-to-back starts perform well against both New York and Boston. Kid doesn’t seem afraid of the stage. He’s got some great movement on the ball and I watched a few awesome pitches get tossed in both starts.

Beyond that though, I’m not sure what to say. They’ve been bad on the road for several weeks now… which isn’t saying much since many teams struggle away from home… but a few more wins there and they would be fighting for the lead in this division instead of trying to set up a second-half run. Tell you what…

Call me about Atlanta on August 3rd. Returning from the mid-summer coin flip, they play four games at home that should put New York out of its misery and then host the Giants for four. On the road to Milwaukee and Florida for six games follows that. Then back home for 3 with LA. That’s 17 games… 11 at home… against division rivals and three playoff hopefuls. If they come out of that ok, August features six games against San Diego and two against Washington for them to win… and plenty of games against the Phillies to make up ground head-to-head. But first, they can’t drown as they finish July. Stumble there and it will be over.

(By the way… that means we could see alot of strange things from Atlanta heading to the deadline. Think about it… if they struggle then there is no reason to trade away prospects on a risk for this season. But if they can go something like a 12-5 pace against those clubs, they’ll have given every indication they’re legitimately a playoff candidate. And that might make a trade or two more appealing.)

Washington ~ About the only thing I got wrong in predicting a brutally ugly season here was that Nick Johnson has actually played his way into trade talks. I wouldn’t trade for the guy. That’s asking for trouble. But he has played well so far.

National League Central
St. Louis… 45 – 39… mid 80 to high 80… 87 – 75
Milwaukee… 43 – 39… high 80… 85 – 77
Chicago… 41 – 39… mid 90… 83 – 79
Cincinnati… 40 – 41… high 70 to low 80… 80 – 82
Houston… 40 – 41… low 70… 80 – 82
Pittsburgh… 37 – 46… mid 60… 72 – 90

St. Louis ~ Here was my quote about the Cardinals: “…I’m thinking that they could be in the neighborhood of 90 wins. The problem is… the navigation system they are using to arrive at those 90 wins involves Carpenter… and his 21 innings over the past two years. Not exactly the most reliable navigation system to install.” And then, Carpenter went down with an injury. But… amazingly… he’s back and doing very well. (All he’s done wrong actually was take the loss in a late June game against the Mets. Don’t know how that happened.)

They’re not playing way above their heads so far… on pace to finish just below 90 wins. I don’t see any reason to think that the Cards will fall from that kind of pace or, quite honestly, any reason they can’t take this division.

Now… are they dangerous?

With Pujols in place… absolutely. And this club is going to be in position to make a couple of moves in July. In fact, I could see them trying to send Troy Glaus off to a place like Boston. (The Red Sox might… stress the might… be interest if Lowell is down for the season and not coming back. If that happens and Lowrie doesn’t return, the phone should ring in St. Louis. Chances are though, both Lowell and Lowrie will be playing in Boston soon. So look for other moves.) A trade of Glaus could bring them back something for the bullpen… or… maybe return something else from outside of their own system to use in trying to get Roy Halladay.

Given the current rosters though… this is a playoff club for the National League, but they won’t be playing for a championship when the last two teams are facing each other. (Which is probably for the best… because Buck and McCarver are horrible as it is. Give them a stage to tell stories about Pujols and Carpenter for seven nights and emergency rooms across the country had better prepare for a rash of people with ice picks sticking out of their ears.)

Milwaukee ~ For the most part, this club has been healthy, and that’s a good reason to use in explaining how they have managed to stay in the hunt. (Well… that and everyone else playing not much better than .500 ball.)

J.J. Hardy has looked positively horrible, but beyond that I would say this club is getting about what it would expect from its roster. Umm… actually… scratch that… because they seem to be getting more in a few spots.

Prince Fielder is setting himself up for MVP consideration. And I say consideration only because of some guy in St. Louis that is already clearing shelf space for this year’s award. Hitting over .300, cruising toward 45 home runs and 140+ RBIs, and playing virtually every day… if it weren’t for Pujols they could engrave Fielder’s name right now.

Speaking of “if it weren’t for” thoughts… if it weren’t for Yovani Gallardo their starting pitching would be atrocious… which is going to come back and be the rain on this parade when the Brewers fall short of the playoffs by about 4 or 5 games. This is an organization that should call Paul Byrd’s agent… now. (Do you need his phone number? It’s probably in the book. Call… or make a trade for some other pitching help immediately… or wish you had later.)

Chicago ~ If it weren’t for Ted Lilly, there really wouldn’t be a respectable starter on this staff. At least he’s got a winning record and an ERA under 4. Ryan Dempster has been better than I expected… but please… he’s been no gem.

Ok… fine… that opening statement might not be completely fair. Especially since hitting has been the biggest concern. But seriously, this club has never really had a legitimate leader, and did they ever get old in a hurry.

Get this one… out of the list of position players that have been in more than 50 games… and there are eight of them… only three have batting averages above .245.

Go ahead… point to an injury or two. I wouldn’t blame you for that. Dempster just broke a toe… Aramis Ramirez dislocated his shoulder… and even Carlos Zambrano made a trip to the disabled list. Still…

Alphonso Soriano is hitting about .230 with an on-base percentage under .300.

Milton Bradley is getting sent home for his bad attitude.

Maybe they pull it together… they should have the talent to pull it together… but I look at this as a leaderless ship looking for a place to sink. No one is sprinting away to 95 wins and hiding in this division, but this is not where I’d place my money for a second half surge.

Cincinnati ~ This is amazing.

Look up their roster… stats… schedule… and there is just no reason this club should be sitting at an even record. Come on…

Jay Bruce is approaching 20 home runs… and Jay Bruce is hitting about .210. He’s as likely to hit a home run or a double as he is a single.

Micah Owings, Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang and Johnny Cueto have been making all of their starts… which is good. Arroyo has an even record and has looked… honestly… lousy, though he is turning in the innings and lasting deep enough into games to get decisions in virtually every start. Harang has been good… and he’s 3-games under even for the year.

It makes no sense.

There is no reason for this club to be competing for the division crown. And as such… I don’t expect them to stay at these moderately lofty heights.

Other than four games at home against the Padres, the Reds play nothing but clubs with winning records from the break until mid-August. Get ready for the collapse. It’s coming.

Houston ~ Despite the fact that I don’t like seeing anyone get hurt, I love watching the way the Houston Astros declare injuries. Day one… player leaves game with strain. Day two… player goes on 15-day disabled list. Everyone on their injury log is listed like three or four times, and twice for the same injury. You could have four obviously broken bones, leave the stadium in a wheelchair, and the first written team report about it would involve the Astros listing you as day-to-day while hoping a night of rest and trying to walk it off improves things.

After a while of looking over the NL Central, you almost have to chuckle. I could say every team in this division… and I did say it about Cincinnati and Milwaukee… has benefited by the fact that no club is playing good baseball. Every team is average… about even… and that means just a few games separating top from bottom.

Thing is, for the most part, it’s misleading. The Reds have no business believing they have a shot at the playoffs. They’re not as good as Milwaukee, St. Louis or even Chicago.

But… and here we go in Houston… there comes a point when you have to remember that, like St. Louis just a couple of years ago, teams have won divisions in the National League basically by doing not much more than reaching a winning record. The longer they can hang around, the more an underdog has a chance of pulling the upset.

Remember I made fun of Chicago and the hitting of position players that have been in 50 or more games? Here in Houston, they have five guys with over 80 games played that are hitting over .275. And Lance Berkman is having a solid year… with Carlos Lee embarrassing my prediction that he is becoming less reliable (hitting over .300, playing more games than anyone on the club).

The problem is… after Wandy Rodriguez and Roy Oswalt… this club has zero pitching. When they return from the coin flip break, they will have one day off until the first week of August. In that stretch they’ll travel to LA, play six against St. Louis, and host San Francisco.

My advice to Houston fans… don’t blink.

Pittsburgh ~ Is there a reason Pittsburgh likes sending their players to other teams for less in return? (Ok… that isn’t completely true… but they keep getting fleeced by the Yankees.)

The yard sale signs have been posted. This club is going to be sending players away long into August.

National League West
Los Angeles… 52 – 30… mid 80… 103 – 59
San Francisco… 45 – 37… low 80… 89 – 73
Colorado… 43 – 39… high 70… 85 – 77
San Diego… 35 – 47… mid 70… 69 – 93
Arizona… 34 – 49… high 80… 66 – 96

Los Angeles ~ Manny hadn’t been in Los Angeles for a week this season, and he was already talking about how great it would be to head back to Cleveland. Memo to Manny… Cleveland doesn’t want you back. Trust me… I was there last summer… they’re actually kind of happy you’re gone, and they certainly don’t have the light on waiting for you to come home. And that was before the suspension. (And to my knowledge, continues even after that joke called a during-suspension-preparation-to-return-assignment.)

Actually though… things are going swimmingly out in LA. Not much pressure in the division… everyone is contributing… the world is fine.

Folks… Juan Pierre… JuanPierre… is playing pretty darn good baseball.

I can’t help but wondering though… last year the Cubs essentially cruised, and then in the playoffs it turned out they were actually pretty soft and had just never been tested.

Now I don’t think that’s the case here. Joe Torre has too much experience navigating playoff-bound teams in New York to think he’s heading for a collapse with this team. And that thought is especially valid for a regular season run with a big division lead. But… I would like to know what’s going to happen to Kershaw and Billingsley when October arrives. Billingsley threw 200 innings last year… so maybe he’s ok as he heads toward the stretch run of this year and extra playing time that comes with the postseason. But Kershaw is about to cross his career high for the Dodgers this month. And we’ve all seen young pitchers drained by the regular season before.

I also don’t believe this is a 100+ win club. I predicted roughly 85… and I can see it crossing over 90 given the talent of their staff… but 100? No way.

Young pitching. Could be great… might be awesome… but when the playoffs arrive, right now I’m more willing to believe in the pair sent to the mound by this next club…

San Francisco ~ Yes, yes… we all know Tim Lincecum is really good. Anyone noticed his teammate? Because Matt Cain has been great as well so far.

Both have won more than half of their starts… both are staring at possible 20-win seasons… and both are near the top of the league in ERA. And here’s what separates them from LA for me… both of these guys, and obviously I am especially referring to the brilliant Lincecum, have delivered solid, full seasons before.

I just wish someone on this club could hit. Do you know who the best hitter is on the San Francisco club?

Why that’s right… the soon to be 23-year old Pablo Sandoval… who is looking at a season of .325+ / 25 / 100 right now. He’s never played a full year in the majors.

After that you have Aaron Rowand and… well… I’m guessing this locker room hosts alot of prayer meetings, because there really isn’t much else.

Pitching will carry them as far as they go.

Colorado ~ Here’s what’s going on in Colorado… Jason Marquis is having a “what the hell” season. You know the kind…

There’s this hypothetical player with hypothetical talent that never really fully delivers on his hypothetical potential. Oh he teases you… and he has his moments… but he never puts it all together. And then, all of a sudden, one year for some reason your attention is drawn to his stats and your eyes open wide, your jaw drops, and you think “what the hell” when you learn he has been turning in steady and strong numbers that year.

This season we’ve got Jason winning two-thirds of his starts so far, heading for possibly 20 wins, and he’s reaching the seventh inning just about all the time.

Whatthehell? This is not the Jason Marquis that Lou had to remove from the mound in Chicago on average an inning earlier than he leaves it in Colorado.

(Hold on though… his earned runs to unearned runs numbers look surprisingly familiar… as does his weak strikeout to walk ratio. I know this pitcher after all… and me-thinks the law of averages should be about ready to turn against him.)

What has been going right for Colorado is simple if you look though… and Marquis is an example of it… their starting pitching has been pretty healthy and very consistent. The five starters have made all but two starts and kept their combined ERA around 4. And… they’ve even been completing at least six innings of work per start. (I’m not kidding. Colorado starters are going deep into games. Get this one… the Colorado starters have thrown roughly 30 more innings than the New York starters. And yet… Sabathia has thrown more innings than any pitcher on the Colorado staff. In fact, as I write this, Colorado starters have also thrown more innings than the Boston starters.)

And the more things change… well… there’s Todd Helton playing regularly, comfortably over .300 and staring at over 20 homers and possibly 100 RBIs. Yup… the more they stay the same.

Do they have the team to catch the Dodgers? No… no they don’t.

Do they have the team to catch the Giants? Definitely possible… since the Giants are using the game plan of pitching phenomenally well and crossing their fingers. But that mid-80 pace has them fighting with anyone and everyone in the Central and the Florida Marlins as well as the Giants. Who knows what else could happen if Atlanta or New York figures out how to win a couple of games in a row.

They started slow… changed managers… and showed improvement. I wouldn’t jump on board their train, but it’s at least worth paying attention to as it rolls into August.

San Diego ~ No one on this team with more than 8 at bats is hitting over .300.

Heck… realistically no one on this team that has appeared in more than half of their games is hitting over .270. You read that correctly. And if Adrian Gonzalez is removed from the picture, the highest on-base percentage from a player that has more than 45 games to their credit is .330.

Pitching? Ok… Jake Peavy hasn’t pitched since June 8th, still leads the club in strikeouts, and likely will lead them for a few more weeks. On top of that, things in San Diego are so wonderful that he got hurt and the last nail of the we-may-not-be-able-to-trade-this-guy scenario was hammered into place.

Let’s just shake our heads and move on. Ok? Good…

Arizona ~ It took one week for Brandon Webb to go from shoulder discomfort during spring training to shoulder pain after his first start to missing his second start to, ultimately, the disabled list. They hope he’ll return in September. Took a few examinations to decide against surgery. At one point, I seem to recall there was even talk Arizona was tinkering around with declining his option during this time off the field. (Oh yeah… the Webb situation is a doozey.)

Not good.

And it’s a killer not just because his injury is, depending on the time of day and direction of the wind, carrying whispers of career threatening stuff… but because Dan Haren is delivering the way Arizona hoped… and that is depriving us of a division where two teams could have possessed the top four starters in the National League… and arguably in baseball. (Yes… yes… Mr. Halladay would argue that point… heck, Mr. Santana would argue that point… but Lincecum, Haren, Cain and Webb would be an awfully good argument.)

That said, this team has been so bad that I don’t think pitching would have been much of an answer. Webb is not the reason this boat has taken on so much water.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at