Monday, May 29, 2006

Mets Week Eight: Cuban arms buildup

After a couple of bad weeks, things got back to normal for the Mets these past seven days. As usual, they beat up on division opponents, won four out of six games and debuted a couple of new starting pitchers. And somehow the Braves still gained ground on them.

The suddenly mortal Carlos Delgado had a bad week, with just two singles in twenty at bats. But the offense continued to produce, scoring thirty-two runs in six games, thanks to big weeks from several other Mets. David Wright's huge .478/.500/.870 week led the way. Carlos Beltran continued to produce, with a 1.178 OPS in these six games. And Cliff Floyd finally showed some signs of life with an 1.147 OPS that raised his season numbers all the way to .219/.320/.374. If Floyd can put up numbers resembling those of his very good 2005 this season, the Mets will have plenty of offensive weapons to survive slumps like the one currently troubling Delgado.

Of course, the more important questions about the Mets continued to concern the pitching. Both Alay Soler and Orlando Hernandez made their Mets debuts this week and each gave up three runs in games eventually won by the Mets. But Soler's outing was clearly the more encouraging of the two. Not only did Soler last six innings as compared to Hernandez's five, but he was much more impressive once he finished giving up runs. Apparently nervous about his first major league start, Soler couldn't find the plate early on and walked the first three batters he faced. That, and an error by Chris Woodward, accounted for the three runs. After escaping the first inning, Soler looked much more comfortable and effective. Hernandez struggled more consistently throughout his start and looked less likely to be a solid part of this rotation in the coming weeks and months.

Pitching uncertainties aside, the Mets keep winning. They now hold a four game lead over those damn Braves in the NL East. Up next is a series with the NL West-leading Diamondbacks, who they've beaten six times in a row. Then the Giants, from whom they took two out of three a month ago, come to town. This will probably not be the week that the Mets lose their grip on first place.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I'm gonna pass out

The Tigers won again Saturday -- eight in a row and 15th in last 16. The Detroiters have a 3.5 game lead over the White Sox in the AL Central. They are 35-14, which isn't quite 35-5 like in 1984, but damn, it's unreal.

They've won with pitching and they've won with hitting when necessary, like Thursday when they rallied from a 6-0 first-inning deficit. Polanco, Pudge, Maggs, Shelton and Guillen all are hitting over .300 and Granderson is up to near .280 in the leadoff spot. Plus, it seems Inge, who is hitting around .220, comes up big when needed. So does Monroe. Even Infante is swinging a magic wand.

As noted earlier, the road gets tougher in the next four series -- NYY, Boston, CHW and Toronto -- but the Tigers got the first hurdle behind them by winning the Cleveland series. And it was nice to see KC, which looked so bad against Detroit, beat the Yankees on Friday. (They thudded back to Earth on Saturday.)

Has the roar been restored? Time will tell. I'm just going to enjoy the ride ... if I don't pass out.

Friday, May 26, 2006


The Orioles won a 2-0 decision over the Mariners yesterday afternoon in Seattle. Rodrigo Lopez won for the first time since Opening Day by tossing 7 1/3 innings of 2 hit, 1 walk, shutout baseball. The lone walk came with 1 out in the eighth, prompting manager Sam Perlozzo to immediately go to closer Chris Ray who closed out the Mariners in what has been his normal fashion thus far.

The defense played errorless ball.

Brian Roberts (2nd game back from a 25 day stay on the DL) scored both runs after lead off doubles in the 1st and 3rd innings.

So, the O's won a baseball game on the road with excellent pitching, excellent defense and "just enough" offense.

Geez, that's what good teams do.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Throwing pitchers at the wall to see who'll stick

In the series that ended today, the Mets took two out of three from the Phillies without sending either of their ace pitchers to the mound. And at the same time, they did a bit to bolster their starting rotation. Yesterday they sent Jorge Julio to Arizona for Orlando Hernandez and today they acquired Dave Williams from the Reds for minor league pitcher Robert Manuel, who is twenty-two years old and has yet to reach AA. Last year across two levels he posted a 2.04 ERA with 54 strikeouts and four walks in 61.2 innings. Neither Julio nor Manuel represents much of a loss for the Mets, so the only question is whether or not the guys they acquired are of any use. Both have certainly struggled this season. Hernandez has an ERA of 6.11 in 45.2 IP and Williams has a 7.20 in 40.

But a closer look at Hernandez's stats is slightly encouraging. His 52:20 strikeout ratio is solid, it's just the eight home runs that are scary. But six of those eight were allowed in Arizona, where he's posted an ERA of 8.16, as opposed to just 2.65 on the road. He was pretty bad last year, too, with a 5.12 ERA in 128.1 IP for the White Sox. But the way he's pitching this year, relocation to Shea Stadium might go a long way toward rectifying his problems.

Williams is another matter. So far this year he has sixteen strikeouts, sixteen walks and nine home runs allowed, all of which is terrible. And he's been significantly worse on the road than at home, allowing seven home runs in nineteen innings with a 12.79 ERA away from the Great American Ballpark. The best thing that can be said about him is that last year he had a 4.41 ERA, which wouldn't be so bad for the Mets' fifth starter. But the Mets got him for basically nothing and he's only twenty-seven, so giving him a chance to remember how to pitch in AAA isn't a bad idea at all.

Neither of these deals is a huge upgrade for the Mets, but both have their strong points. At the very least they give the Mets some more options to plug into the back of the rotation in hopes that one might work out.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The heat is on

Justin Verlander tossed a his first ML shutout (in just his ninth start) last night for the Tigers. He still was hitting 99 mph on the gun in ninth inning. Jim Leyland said he couldn't ever recall seeing a starter doing that.

I heard Leyland on ESPN radio's Mike & Mike the other day. He said he likes his teams to play like they're in first place and prepare like they're in second.

Right now, I'd say Kenny Rogers is the team's MVP for the apparent role he's had on the pitching staff. Maggs is moving up on the list.

The leader for Most Valuable Moment is Brandon Inge. His 15-pitch at-bat on April 20 helped the Tigers rally for a 4-3 win in Oakland. That, even more than Leyland laying down the law on April 17, might be the turning point of the season. Detroit was 1-1 following Leyland's outburst and would have dropped the Oakland series if not for that comeback. The Tigers are 22-7 since Inge's at-bat.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mets Week Seven: Our long national nightmare is over

After a disappointing road trip that saw them lose six of nine, the Mets were able to rebound upon returning home. A series victory over a local team of aging veterans and no-name youngsters helped them extend their division lead. And at long last something was done about the Lima problem.

Having compiled an ERA of 8.79 in 14.1 innings over the course of three starts, Jose Lima was designated for assignment, hopefully never to return. He will be replaced in the rotation by Cuban defector Alay Soler, who was excellent in his brief stay in the minor leagues. In eight starts in high-A and AA ball, he put up an ERA of 2.03 with 54 strikeouts and 11 walks in 47.2 innings. Cuban pitchers and guys who've never pitched above AA are far from sure bets, but it's nice to see the Mets taking a chance on a guy with some potential rather than another washed up veteran. Soler will start on Wednesday against the Phillies. We'll just have to wait to see if he can provide some stability to the back end of the Mets' rotation.

One thing that will be very stable about that back end of the rotation is that it won't contain Victor Zambrano. Surgery on Zambrano's elbow was more severe than expected, leading some to speculate that his career might be over. The elbow was injured the day the Mets acquired him and he was apparently pitching through pain without telling anyone earlier this season. Meanwhile, Scott Kazmir leads the American League in wins and is second in both ERA and strikeouts. Hopefully the current Mets regime can at least learn something from this trade that looked terrible the day it happened and just keeps getting worse. But I'd settle for it haunting former Mets GM and current Orioles VP of baseball operations Jim Duquette until the end of his days.

On a brighter note, the Mets have a three-game lead in the NL East and begin a series with the suddenly struggling Phillies on Tuesday. The Phillies are lucky in that neither Pedro Martinez nor Tom Glavine will pitch in this series. But with Lima gone, even the back of the Mets' rotation holds reason for optimism. It is a new day in Flushing.

No time to let down

My mentor, Sparky Sr. (aka Sparky Anderson), used to call this a reverse lock: The Tigers, baseball’s hottest team, head to KC to play the Royals, baseball’s most dismal squad. So, in other words, Detroit is in big trouble.

The Tigers are rolling right now and the pitching staff continues to lead the way. The starters have gone 7-1 with a 2.61 ERA in the last 10, which explains Detroit’s 9-1 record during that span. The Tigers are 7-2-2 in their last 11 series. They lead the big leagues with a .674 win percentage.

Hopefully, they can keep the pedal down against KC. You don’t want to give away any games against the Royals, especially with Cleveland, NYY, Boston, CWS and Toronto looming on the horizon. Those five teams all are playing .500 ball or better. That will be when we can start to determine how good this team is.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Didn't See That Coming

Two time All Star 3rd baseman Melvin Mora is signing on with the Orioles for 3 more years.

This brings Mora into the fold along with Ramon Hernandez, Miguel Tejada and Jay Gibbons (already signed through 2009), leaving only Brian Roberts as a standout member of the every day lineup not locked in.

It's all moot if the Orioles cannot solve the pitching problem.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Good Game!

The Orioles snapped a 13 game losing streak in head-to-head contests with the Boston Red Sox last night with a 4-3 victory at Camden Yards.

Erik Bedard pitched 7 innings allowing 1 ER, 2H and 3BB earning his 5th victory of the season. LaTroy Hawkins pitched a 1-2-3 8th. Chris Ray got banged around in the ninth, allowing 3 hits and 2 runs, but when the closer gives up 2 runs with a 3 run lead, it's called a Save.

The O's defense played errorless ball. The offense took advantage of the few mistakes BoSox starter Tim Wakefield made, including scoring the eventual winning run on a passed ball with 2 outs in the 6th inning.

I watched the game on TV; and I enjoyed watching the game. It's the first game I've seen this season where the O's looked like a major league team all around from first pitch to last.

With the O's now embarking on a 10 game road trip against the Nationals, Mariners and Angels (all 3 struggling themselves), I'm tempted to become hopeful that the O's might play well enough to get back over .500. A review of the O's starting rotation, however, convinces me that I'd better savor this one.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mets Week Six: At least we've still got Glavine

This past week saw the Mets begin their toughest road trip to date and as a result they had a pretty bad week. Losing two games in Milwaukee and one and a half (if we're being honest) in Philadelphia left them just one game up in the NL East. For once the offense wasn't to blame, as they had a pretty good week, scoring more than six runs per game and at least four in every game that lasted more than five innings. Rather, as one might expect when a team starts both Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez in a week, the pitching was the source of the trouble.

With forty percent of their starting rotation tied behind their back, the Mets really couldn't afford subpar relief pitching or a merely human week from Pedro Martinez. But that is what they got. Pedro gave up seven runs in fourteen innings en route to two Met losses, though the fact that he also struck out twenty makes it hard to be too concerned about his future prospects.

The bullpen was not quite so mediocre, however. Met relievers pitched 13.2 innings this week and allowed 14 runs. The newly touchable Duaner Sanchez was the lead culprit, allowing his first six runs of the season in just 2.1 innings of work. But Heath Bell and Chad Bradford struggled as well. On the bright side, Billy Wagner pitched two innings and allowed just one hit while striking out six.

One encouraging bit of news from the week was the performance of Jeremi Gonzalez. True, if you look at the box score, he appears to have allowed three runs in five innings. But the third of those runs scored after Aaron Heilman relieved Gonzalez. And the second was a clearly blown call by the home plate umpire, awarding Prince Fielder a home run on a ball that bounced off the top of the fence and back into play. Gonzalez isn't going to be anything special for the Mets and he might not even be competent from here on out, but right now he looks like he'll at least be less embarrassing than Lima.

Now the Mets limp on St. Louis and, from there, home to face the Yankees. It is worth noting that even in losing four out of six, the Mets outscored their opponents 37-34 over the course of the week. Despite all of their problems, they're not getting blown out. Still, if they let Jose Lima pitch again, someone needs to sit Omar Minaya down and give him a stern talking to. It's for his own good.

Speak out

The Phillies are 12-1 since Charlie Manuel blasted them for their poor play during a game in Florida.

Meanwhile, the Tigers are 17-7 since Jim Leyland lit into them for their play in failing to take a series from Cleveland in mid-April.

What's impressed me about Detroit so far is the team's ability to bounce back. The Tigers rallied after Leyland's tirade. Then, after losing three in a row this month, all by two runs or less, the Tigers have run off four in a row.

I don't know if that's the sign of a good manager, but it is encouraging.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The view from the top

The Tigers are tied for first place in the AL Central, at least for a few hours until Chicago plays tonight, after sweeping the Indians for the first time in Cleveland since 1990. Detroit’s pitchers shut down the AL’s best hitting lineup, holding the Indians to six runs in three games. The Tigers haven’t been in first place this late in a season since 1993. What a dry spell!

Detroit is 24-13 and is 16-7 on the road. The Tigers are doing it foremost with pitching, topping the AL with a 3.25 ERA, which is a half-run better than the second-place Yankees and more than a run better than No. 3 Chicago.

Maroth, Rogers, and Robertson rank among the top eight in individual ERA. All of Detroit’s starters, adding Bonderman and Verlander, rank in the top 19. Verlander has the worst ERA among them, at 3.77.

Offensively, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Detroit is eighth in the AL in runs. No Tiger ranks first in OPS at his position. Pudge (.776) is sixth among catchers, Shelton (1.041) is third among first basemen, Polanco (.591) is 12th and Infante (.698) is 10th at second, Guillen (.890) is third at shortstop, Inge (.856) is eighth at third, and Maggs (.922) leads the Tigers’ outfielders at 10th.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Aaron Rowand was placed on the DL after breaking his nose last night on a spectacular catch. This is bad news for the Phils, who have won 9 of 10 to climb back to respectability. Rowand was .348-4-12 in last 13 with a 1.083 OPS.

Nobody hustles from base line to dugout better than Sal Fasano.

The Cole Hamels era begins tonight in Cincy. Cory Lidle says about Hamels adjusting to the bigs: "Hey, getting a Triple-A hitter out isn't much different than getting a major leaguer out." In the case of the Royals and Marlins, it's the same thing.

If Barry Bonds really wants to do something memorable that would be, I think, the ultimate thumb to the nose, he should hit No. 714 and retire. That way, his name is connected with the Bambino forever, which really seems to bother people.

No truth to rumor Orioles petitioning to have Cubs moved to AL East.

Albert Pujols is not of this world.

When it comes to triples, today's players don't come close to threatening any records. Steve Finley is the active leader with 119 -- which ranks 98th in history.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

V for victory; V for Verlander

Justin Verlander picked up his fourth win of the season last night. With the exception of an awful start against the White Sox, the 23-year-old has been solid. He has a 3.77 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.

Take out the Chicago start, where he gave up 7 runs in 2.2 innings, and he's got a 2.45 ERA. Not too shabby for the No. 5 starter.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

It never fails

Mention how great a guy is doing -- i.e. Fernando Rodney -- and watch it come to an end soon thereafter. Oh well.

O's Fever? Is that anything like bird flu?

Pudge played his first-ever game at first base, and did well. But his quote afterward in the Detroit News doesn't make it sound like he's planning on staying in Motown beyond 2007, when his contract expires. Said Pudge: "Doing this kind of thing is good because managers, general managers and owners can see that I can play another position and they can have my bat pretty much every day. So it's good for me to do this."

Jim Leyland said he never thought about moving Jones from the closer role, noting that he wouldn't panic that soon.

O's Fever - Catch It!

The Baltimore Orioles snapped a 5 game losing streak last night with a 7-6 victory over the Detroit Tigers. It is more accurate to say the Tigers snapped the O's losing streak.

Daniel Cabrera started on the mound for the O's and turned in a typical performance: 5 IP, 7 BB, 6 K, 1 WP, 1 Balk, 5 ER. Of the 5 runs the Tigers scored on Cabrera, 4 of those runners reached base via the free pass.

O's Fever no longer surprises O's fans, however, I was surprised to see that the Tigers caught the bug (and only in town 1 day!). Nate Robertson started for the Tigers. He's been decent so far this year and he's left-handed. The O's are notoriously weak hitting versus left handed pitching and a decent left hander is usually a prescription for an O's loss. Robertson kept the O's in the game early by walking 5 in 5 1/3 IP, leading the attending physician to become suspicious.

Carlos Guillen displayed the symptoms which confirmed the early diagnosis - he booted two routine ground balls, both with two outs, which led to 3 unearned runs for the O's, including the winning run scored in the bottom of the 8th.

O's fans have become accustomed to watching the Birds perform under this affliction. We've rarely seen it from the opposition. Perhaps this game is an indication that the O's have built up some level of immunity to the effects of O's Fever and have evolved to become a carrier.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It's Worse Than I Thought

Previous Predictions of a 4th place finish for the O's were premature. With the recent spate of injuries, the lousy pitching and the lousier defense, the Orioles are the worst team in the American League (with the possible exception of Kansas City).

While I have been favorably impressed with some of Perlozzo's managerial tactics, the defense is bad and bad defense is inexcusable. The Orioles lead the AL in errors. This statistic does not count stupid plays, such as failing to record an out when a runner is caught in a rundown, or a pitcher not stepping on first base to record an out scored as 3-1.

The outlook is bleak. I can't imagine that any player would want to play for Baltimore. I can't imagine that any player on the current O's roster would want to stick around.

I'm not certain that a house cleaning would do any good either, but maybe the O's should hire Howie Mandel, just in case.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A needed day off

The Tigers lost the final two games of the Minnesota series -- one in tough fashion as Todd Jones failed to preserve a 1-run lead Saturday. Detroit lost back-to-back games for the first time since mid-April, a span of 17 contests. So Monday's day off was a good time to regroup.

Jones leads the team with six saves despite missing time, but also has an 6.14 ERA. Fernando Rodney, who has five saves, hasn't given up a run in 13 IP this year. The Detroit papers are speculating that Leyland won't hesitate to use Rodney more often as the closer, but that Jones probably isn't in immediate danger.

Placido Polanco has been out with a sore back, and Leyland says it might be bad. That's not good news. It's tough to replace a .300 hitter in the No. 2 spot. This will test Detroit's depth, which I've said all along I fear is a weakness.

Curtis Granderson, my star in the making, has been inconsistent in the leadoff spot. He strikes out too often (32) but does have 19 of the Tigers' 77 walks this season. He seems to hit best early in an at-bat, regardless of the count, and struggles the longer the at-bat goes on.

Tigers go to Baltimore for three games. The O's are struggling, having lost five in a row and eight of nine. Hopefully, this is good medicine for the Detroiters.

Mets Week Five: Starting pitchers wanted, any offer considered (Aaron Heilman need not apply)

Due to a rash of recent (and not so recent) injuries, the Mets are down to three starting pitchers not named Jose Lima. Two of those pitchers, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez, are pitching exceptionally well and would not surprise many observers by continuing to do so. Still, that is clearly not enough pitchers, especially given the important stretch of games the Mets are about to embark upon.

Unfortunately, the only options the Mets have to fill these holes, or at least the only options they believe they have, are the likes of Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez. Cuban defector Alay Soler may get a shot at some point if he can keep dominating minor league hitters much younger than himself, but he probably won't get called up before this weekend. Aaron Heilman wants to start and has succeeded as a starter in the past, however briefly, but the Mets don't want to mess up their good bullpen by removing him from it. If someone can explain to me why it matters how good your bullpen is when your starting pitcher gives up five runs in the first five innings, I'd like to hear it. But for now, it appears the Mets' motto should be "Pedro and Glavine, and pray for..." well, if I think of a severe weather phenomenon that rhymes with "Glavine", I'll let you know.

Aside from that, the Mets had a pretty good week. They won four out of six games, including two more against the quickly fading Braves. And the offense came to life by the end of the weak, led by a newly healthy Carlos Beltran. The Met center fielder is now hitting .286/.441/.671, which is apparently enough for New York to stop booing him. Even after he comes back to earth a bit, he appears like he can be the sort of core lineup force that he was signed to be. If he and Carlos Delgado hit well enough to make David Wright the third best hitter on the team, this offense could be very impressive.

And, yes, another Met who had a good week was Jorge Julio. Julio's been very impressive lately, but he certainly hasn't reached the point where I have confidence in him. Even Victor Zambrano had a good month once in a while. It is apparent that when Julio's at his best, he can be very effective, but his career history is not that of a man who's at his best for very often or very long. Last year he had an ERA of 0.71 in April (13.2 innings) and 2.19 in July (12.1 innings). He still finished the year with an ERA of 5.90. This year he has a ridiculous number of strikeouts (29) over a small sample of innings (16.1), which bodes well, but he's also given up four home runs already, which is less encouraging. Maybe Julio has finally turned a corner, or maybe he can catch lightning in a bottle over a small number of innings like Roberto Hernandez did last year. But right now I'm putting more stock in the fact he hasn't posted an ERA under four since 2002 than what he's done over his last ten or fifteen innings.

So now the Mets and their incomplete pitching staff begin the toughest stretch of games they've faced so far this season. The Cardinals and Yankees await them next week, and this weekend they'll try to win another series against the Brewers. But first they must travel to Philadelphia to face the resurgent Phillies. Luckily, the Mets' rotation is properly aligned so that the real major league starting pitchers they have will start all three games. This series should provide a good early test for both teams. But even more importantly, Phillies fans, the Mets will finish this series in first place regardless of what happens.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The saddest of possible words

They are, as we noted earlier this year, Tinkers to Evers to Chance. That will always be true, I suppose, but for Mets fans I believe this could take their place: Lima Time.

You know you're in trouble when your starter shows up looking like Harpo Marx.

I'm interested to hear Mr. Mets take on Jorge Julio. Seems like he's pitched pretty well since his horrible start to the season. I see he's 1-0 with a save (shaky, but a save nonetheless) and a 2.13 ERA over his last 10 games. He's got 23 K in 12.2 IP.

There was an airline commercial during the Mets-Braves game featuring Jeff Francoeur. This makes sense since we know Francoeur never walks.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Maggs to riches

I wonder: If the Tigers had signed Magglio Ordonez during the past offseason, would the move now be hailed as one of the keys to the Tigers' start?

I think: Yes.

Detroit signed Maggs in 2005 to a five-year, $75-million contract despite coming off a serious knee injury. Yes, the Tigers overpaid. But they had to. And the move was well worth the risk given that the Tigers had some "outs" built into the deal.

Maggs was limited to 305 AB last year because of a hernia injury that sidelined him for most of the first half. He still hit .302-8-46. Not great, but not horrible.

Now seemingly healthy, Maggs is hitting like the Maggs of old. Over his last 11 games entering tonight's against the Twins, he was .381-4-10 with 8 runs. For the season, he was .306-7-20. (He was 2-for-4 with a homer and RBI tonight, not reflected in the stats.)

Because of his hernia last season, this really is like a new addition, even if it doesn't show up that way. Timing is everything.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Random thoughts

Well, it couldn't last forever in Tiger Town. No way to complain about a 6-1 homestand on the heels of a 6-3 West Coast trip. Bring on the Birds. If the Detroiters can't draw some walks against this lot, there's no hope for them.

The Phils are 14-14 thanks to a 5-game win streak. They were 12-16 at this point of the season last year. So everyone in Philly should quit bellyaching about the team getting off to a slow start.

Ryan Howard is hitting .323-6-18 and people love to complain about how Uncle Charlie uses him in the lineup. Maybe, just maybe, Howard has been successful because of Uncle C and not in spite of him? Granted, he's hit well in limited action in the No. 5 slot, but I don't think he needed to be rushed into that spot.

The "weak" NL Central has 5 teams playing over .500 and three of the top four records in the league.

Colorado was the wise guy pick entering the season in the NL West. So far, the Rockies have been respectable. And it's good to see a Rockie (Hawpe) on top of the batting leaders in the NL. Isn't that the way it always should be?

Ty Wigginton has 9 HR and 29 RBI. Who does he think he is? Jim Thome?

There is no one more fun to watch with a game on the line than Big Papi.

Hey, this is just Sparky being Sparky.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Faith and/or luck

So this is why guys like playing for Jim Leyland, I guess. Last night, he let Alexis Gomez hit in the bottom of the 8th with runners on first and second and two outs in a 1-1 game. Gomez was 0-for-3 and batting below the Mendoza Line.

Of course, Gomez singled in the winning run.

These are the kinds of things -- which either are brilliant or just lucky -- that can turn a good team into a great one. Leyland has consistently shown faith in his players, whether it's leaving in a pitcher to work out of trouble or a hitter to drive in the big run.

If these moves don't work, then he looks like an idiot. But so far, the players have come through. This has got to do wonders for the confidence of the players, especially on a team that's been down for so long.

And, by the way, the staff ERA now stands at 3.01 entering this afternoon's game.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How low can it go?

The Tigers ERA is now at 3.09. Only six pitchers in the AL have a lower ERA (and, of course, two are Tigers). I wonder when was the last time a staff had an ERA this low this far into the season?

Jeff Weaver, the former Detroiter, pitches tonight for the Angels in Comerica. He will face the rejuvenated Nate Robertson, who has not allowed a run in his last 14 IP over two starts. He’s given up seven hits and struck out 11.

Craig Monroe over his last 10 games is hitting .351 with 4 HR and 8 RBI. He has scored 9 runs. Marcus Thames has 7 hits in his last 10 at-bats. Brandon Inge homered last night to end a 15-game drought. Seems like, as is the case with most good teams, someone different is stepping up regularly.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mets Week Four: All is as it should be

After a rough start to their road trip, the Mets won four out of five against the Giants and Braves to finish April strongly. It may turn out that the Braves really aren't much good this year and the Giants' good start is an illusion, but these teams are still a step up from the competition the Mets were beating in the first couple of weeks. And perhaps most importantly, the Mets 16-8 record includes an excellent 10-4 mark against their own division. Beating up on the NL East is the way to get to the playoffs, regardless of the division's quality.

The foremost reason for the Mets early success has been run prevention. New York pitching and defense has allowed just 89 runs, or 3.71 per game, best in the NL and second only to the Tigers (83, 3.32) across the majors. Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine continued to the lead the way this week with strong outings in Atlanta. The rest of the rotation is pretty troubling as Brian Bannister is hurt and Steve Trachsel was awful on Sunday. But a largely excellent bullpen and good defense have made up some of the slack. Only Jorge Julio has an ERA above 2.63 among Met relievers and both Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner are under 1.00 with Sanchez yet to allow a run in sixteen innings pitched. Defensively, David Wright continues to be inconsistent and Paul Lo Duca is proving that clubhouse leadership alone isn't going to stop a guy from stealing second base. But most Mets have looked at least solid with the glove, and that includes the surprisingly competent Kazuo Matsui.

Offensively, the Mets continue to hover around the middle of the National League pack, having scored 120 runs or exactly five per game. Jose Reyes had a ridiculously patient week by his standards to the point where he is actually tied for the team lead in walks with 12. Carlos Beltran got off to a good start upon his return to the lineup with a double, a home run and two walks in two games. And Ramon Castro, through twenty-six at bats, continues to be the best-hitting catcher on the roster with a 1.082 OPS that is best among Met position players.

The Mets get to ease into May with two short series against the Nationals and the Pirates, both unsurprisingly among the worst teams in the league through one month. But then it's three more against the Braves, who currently trail the Mets by six games in the standings. It's hard to believe any team, let alone the mighty Braves, could be put away in the first week of May, but I think the Mets will give it a shot.

Spring board

April is in the book and it was the best (16-9) for the Tigers since 1993 – which happens to be the last time they had a winning season. If they pick up a victory tonight over KC, they’ll be off to their best start since 1984 when they were 22-4 after 26 games.

The Tigers pitching staff lowered its ERA to 3.22 with its dominance of the Twins over the weekend. Detroit pitchers gave up 1 run. The Tigers have 5 shutouts this year. No other AL team has more than 2. The staff’s WHIP is 1.10 – which would be outstanding for a single pitcher, much less a staff – and opponents’ on-base average is .283. Teams are batting .217 against them.

Obviously, this cannot last, can it? Imagine what the ERA would be if Jeremy Bonderman’s wasn’t 5.04. Bonderman is 0-2 with a 9.28 ERA at home and is 2-0 with a 2.75 ERA on the road. Of course, his home starts have been against CWS and Cleveland, but it’s still odd given Comerica’s reputation as a pitcher’s park.

Carlos Guillen and Marcus Thames have been the catalysts for the offense in recent days. Guillen is hitting .315 with five homers and 17 RBI. Thames was 5-for-7 with two homers and four RBI in the last two games, which came on the heels of an 0-for-18 slump.

Pudge is batting .330 and Maggs is quietly batting .304 with five homers and 14 RBI.

Jim Leyland continues to push all the right buttons.