Cards tie Astros for lead; Cubs just 0.5 back
There was no new piece yesterday and I apologize for that. Things got hectic during the day and then at night I went saw the Blue Man Group. I was less than impressed with their act. I usually don't go to these kinds of shows because I think they'll suck. Then, I end up going and come away impressed. This was the opposite, I figured with all the hype this could be good. Mediocre at best.
I was pretty happy with the response to the AOPS reconstruction. A focal point that many made was that power was weighted too little in the equation as evidenced by the fact that Doug Mientkiewicz and John Olerud were rated so highly. I agree with this and I'm currently tweaking the variables again. Those will be released some time next week. I'm thinking of making last year's complete stats the stat pool so I don't have to get an updated copy of the 2003 stats each time I re-work things. Then in October, once I get something set that looks good, we'll run the 2003 numbers.
With all the badmouthing baseball deals with in terms of being top-heavy and favored to the rich teams (valid arguments, to be sure), there are some absolutely awesome races going on here in mid-August. Aaron Gleeman took a closer look at why the Royals have been able to sustain a lead over his Twins in the AL Central. The Senior Circuit's Central Division has arguably the best of these great races as the Astros and Cardinals now sit tied at 64-57 and the Cubs are just a 1/2 game back with 63 wins. Even the Pirates at 8 games back are closer than the 2nd place team in the NL East (Philadelphia, 12) or West (Arizona, 9.5). So who's the favorite in this jumbled mess in the Midwest? Off the bat, I'd have to say those lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs. They are surging winning 7 of their last 10 including 3 straight against the 'Stros. They are 9-4 in August being led offensively by Kenny Lofton and Sammy Sosa, who have posted 1.463 and 1.591 AOPS respectively. Meanwhile, the staff has posted a 2.03 ERA in August which includes four wins in four starts, a combined 0.60 ERA and 33 K's from Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior.
The emergence of Matt Clement came at a perfect time for the Cubs as well as Prior was shelved for most of July. Clement has given up more than 3 runs just once in his last 10 starts after doing so five times in his previous 9. Including in this stretch was a complete game shutout against the San Francisco Giants on July 29th. It's rumored that Clement credits his facial hair (see link) on this success.
Offensively, Sosa came back with strong after the infamous Corkgate suspension and has mashed 18 home runs since July while hitting at a .300 clip. The additions of Lofton and Aramis Ramirez have offered the offensive spark the Cubs were lacking. Lofton much moreso than Ramirez. The rest of August will be a major test for the Cubs, though. Starting with 3 against the Dodgers tonight, the Cubs then head to Houston, Arizona and St. Louis for a trio of 3-game sets. I can only imagine what this team would be doing had Corey Patterson not suffered a season-ending injury.
In Houston, things are completely falling apart. The bats have fallen asleep with just 3.46 R/G leading to a 6-7 August record and just 2.0 R/G in dropping 3 of 4 to the Cubs. Staff ace Roy Oswalt cannot stay healthy and his return from a groin injury is up in the air. In his place, Tim Redding, Wade Miller and Jeriome Robertson have been terribly inconsistent. Ron Villone has been the best starter the Astros trot out every five days and that spells trouble.
The 'Stros were criticized for standing pat at the deadline and not acquiring a Jeff Suppan or a Sidney Ponson, but it's looking like even they wouldn't have helped as they struggle in their new confines. A lineup with Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio and Kent wasn't supposed to be a problem for the Astros. And if Hidalgo could come back, they were set. Well Hidalgo has come back (21 HR, 72 RBI, 1.702 AOPS) and yet there are still problems aplenty in H-Town.
Now tied with the Cardinals, this club must take advantage of the fact that 9 of their next 15 games are against the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres. Then there's the St. Louis Cardinals, who fit into the Mold of Inconsistency built for the NL Central much like their two counterparts. Like Houston, the Cardinals ace, Matt Morris has been sidelined multiple times this year. He currently eyes an August 16th comeback from a finger injury. Although how good that news is has yet to be decided. Aside from his outing of just 2/3 of inning in which he got hurt, Morris has allowed 4 or more runs in 7 of his last 8 starts and has gone over 6 innings just one (7 IP). Where things differ from the Oswalt situation is that his Cardinal mates have picked up the slack.
Garrett Stephenson has lowered his ERA almost an entire run since the All-Star Break (4.58 to 3.68) and has been absolutely brilliant of late with three one-run gems in his last four starts. The first was a complete game and the others were 7 1/3 and 8 innings, respectively. Rookie Danny Haren has been a breath of fresh air, too. After a sizzling first half, Woody Williams has come back to Earth, but has still been a productive pitcher.
Everyone knows about the offense in St. Louis, but I'll comment on it anyway. Superhuman, Albert Pujols, is in the midst of a 28-game hitting streak bringing his average to a blistering .368. Tino Martinez has been quietly surging in the second half, not from a power standpoint, but he's getting on base a bit more. Ken Grif... er... J.D. Drew has been plauged with injuries yet again, playing just 79 games to this point. That hasn't stopped the Cards, though, as Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria and Jim Edmonds have done more than enough to pick up the slack.
With their potent offense, I give the Cards the #2 slot in this race over the Astros. If, a huge if of course, Morris comes back and gives them a few quality starts and they get consistency from Stephenson and Brett Tomko, they can even overtake the Cubs with that offense. Regardless, their three game set from August 26-28 in St. Louis and the five game set (DH on 9/2) to start off September at the friendly and sure to be windy confines should be some awesome baseball.
I'd like to think that I'll be able to check in over the weekend with a piece or two, but I do have NCAA 2004 for PS2 and might go out and buy the recently release Madden 2004 as well, so we'll play it by ear. Either way, check back Monday for sure.