Oh baby! That was a seriously fine All-Star game last week. Sure, the whole “this time it counts” mantra is tiresome, but these past three midseason classics have really lived up to the title and been worth watching. The game has evolved into more than just a stupid fly-by followed by four hours of boredom.
So the unofficial second half is underway in earnest, and that means it’s time to focus on trading deadlines, who’s buying, who’s selling, and who to target for a title run of your own.
Revamped Nats Still Losing
The Washington Nationals made a big splash last week when they acquired Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez while surrendering some of their bullpen depth. If the move was supposed to signal that the Nats are serious about making a run in 2006, it might be a bit late.
Friday night, with their two shiny new acquisitions in the lineup, the Nationals lost to the Pirates, never a good indication that your team is going anywhere. The fact that it was the club’s fifth loss in six games, leaving them 15 games under .500, 16.5 games back in the NL East and nine back in the Wild Card race (with about 75 teams to jump over), does not bode well for any happy ending in Washington in 2006.
The Nats are still plagued with an inability to get runners in, stranding 12 more on Friday. On the plus side, the new guys fit in quite well in this scheme. Lopez, batting second, took an 0-for-4, striking out with the bases juiced. Kearns, Washington’s new clean-up hitter, went 0-for-3, grounding out with the bases loaded and stranding four runners in total. Lopez also chipped in defensively, making an error that ultimately led to a Pirate run when Jack Wilson hit a sacrifice fly. Welcome to the nation’s capital, guys.
Wilson, meanwhile, turned in a solid 3-for-4 game with a run and an RBI, smoking his 15th double in the process. Now over .260 for the year, he is showing signs of shaking a lengthy slump. His name has come up in trade talks, but the Wilson the Pirates are much more likely to part with is 1B/OF Craig. The Yankees, as they are with seemingly every outfielder on the planet, are said to be interested.
Second-Half Closer Watch
Looking for a sleeper second-half closer? Don’t forget about Tampa Bay’s Seth McClung, tattooed so badly as a starter that he was recently banished to Triple-A to begin the conversion process into a closer. So far, the results are phenomenal.
The saves are starting to come, as Friday he earned his second in as many days. But the most promising aspect of this experiment so far is the night and day difference in command McClung has shown pitching out of the pen.
In his 15 starts and 80 2/3 IP with the Rays, his K/BB ratio was an unsightly 38/47. It’s early days in the process, but check out his ratio at Triple-A Durham through 10 2/3 IP: 17 K/1 BB.
We still believe, despite all the trouble their prospects have been getting into, that the Devil Rays are a team of the future. And McClung will have tremendous keeper value if he can wrestle the label of closer of the future from Chad Orvella, who we thought was best suited to be the long-term closer in Tampa Bay.
Pena Doomed to Failure?
Carlos Pena, given a shot by the Yankees after being set adrift by the Tigers, still isn’t performing well enough to get another chance in the majors. Through 75 games at Triple-A Columbus, he does have 10 homers and 41 RBI and is showing super patience with 50 walks, but he’s batting just .251.
At the age of 28, the author of 85 homers in five big-league seasons appears to have less and less a chance of ever fully justifying his selection as the 10th overall selection in the 1998 draft. Given how much the Yanks seem to like Andy Phillips, and that bringing up Pena would likely mean getting rid of Phillips, it looks pretty bleak that Pena will get an opportunity to take aim at the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.
Cubs Let Down by Pitching
Considered the organizational strength in recent years, it is the pitching of the Chicago Cubs that must take its fair share of blame for the disaster that is the 2006 Cubs (34-55, 16 games back in the NL Central).
The club’s ERA (4.86) is better than just three NL teams. We mean, how Glendon Rusch (7.76) has been allowed to start nine games in addition to his work out of the pen is one of the season’s greatest mysteries. David Aardsma has simply not developed as hoped and he had to be farmed out. Roberto Novoa somehow still has a job, even though he’s the king of the gopher ball.
In the ultimate irony, the Cubs pitchers not only lead the majors in strikeouts, but have also issued more walks than any team in the NL. Carlos Zambrano is a prime example. While he’s struck out 124 in 125 IP, he’s also walked almost 70. Sean Marshall has handed out 45 free passes in just over 90 IP.
Of course, the fact that Mark Prior and Kerry Wood have pitched a combined 40 2/3 IP this season tells you everything you need to know about the Cubs’ 2006 campaign.
As for the offense, Juan Pierre’s inability to provide the expected jump start kind of doomed the club.
In fairness, his sluggish start (.289 OBP in April) has been replaced by a recent hot streak (.467 BA over the final 10 games of the first half, including eight multi-hit efforts).
It may be a case of too little, too late to save Pierre’s Cub career, however. The free-agent-to-be is a prime commodity in the trade market and there’s a good chance he’ll be moved at the deadline. The most recent scuttlebutt is that he is no longer on the market, but we’d be very surprised to find Pierre still wearing a Cubbie uni come August.
Our growing legion of Australian fans reached out this week, and Jason Blakely wanted our take on a seriously huge deal.
Your www.RotoRob.com website is coming along nicely. Congrats.
Hey, quickly, in reference to our past e-mail, what side do you favour below?
Nomar Garciaparra (1B/SS)
Mike Lowell (3B)
Marcus Giles (2B)
Jake Westbrook (SP)
Eric Chavez (3B)
Pedro Feliz (3B/OF)
Curtis Granderson (OF)
Chris Carpenter (or possibly Barry Zito if he won’t give up Carp)
Spikes Up Responds
Thanks for the note and for checking out the site.
Regarding your trade offer, wow! That is a major blockbuster. One key consideration that we don’t know is what you’re left with at first, second and short after this deal. But as it stands, let’s break it down to make it more easily digestible (mmm… digestible):
You’re giving up the best current player in the deal in Nomar, but also selling high there and cashing in an injury-prone player who will not qualify at short after this season, thereby diminishing his value to a large extent.
Normally the side giving up the best player loses the deal, but not in this case. Overall, we really like this trade for you for this season and going forward. Even if you have to settle for Zito instead of Carpenter, it’s a major upgrade over Westbrook, whom we have already discussed our dislike for with you.
You’re also selling high on Lowell, assuming he won’t improve his power numbers back to his Marlin days. And Giles is a tough one to lose, but as long as he’s batting leadoff, it appears he will struggle to some extent.
Getting Chavez, despite his current ailment, is a nice piece of buying low. He’s just entering his prime power years and there’s going to be some 35+ HR years in there in short order.
Feliz is a nice run-producing player enjoying a breakout and also about to enter his prime. Granderson is a great coup, as he’s one of the top young outfielders in the AL and will help stabilize that position for you for years to come.
All in all, despite giving up a revitalized Nomar and selling low on Giles, we do like this deal for you, both short term and long term.
You have our blessing!