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ESPN: Woes for NL contenders...

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by Uprising, Aug 18, 2003.

  1. Uprising

    Uprising Contributing Member

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    Updated: August 17, 5:23 PM ET

    By Buster Olney
    ESPN The Magazine

    Wide-ranging weaknesses for NL contenders

    Some players refer to the National League Central Division as Comedy Central because of the general mediocrity of the six-team division. The Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are separated by 1½ games, and the winner of this race might be determined by the acute nature of their problems, rather than the strengths of the team.

    These are the greatest weaknesses of the three contenders:

    1. The St. Louis bullpen
    Closer Jason Isringhausen provides at least a semblance of stability, but the Cardinals have blown 22 of 51 save opportunities, more than any team in baseball, and there is a general lack of stuff in this group.


    Steve Kline continues to struggle in his relief role with the Cardinals.


    The St. Louis relievers have a collective ERA of 4.95, which ranks 26th in the majors, and have allowed 362 hits and 151 walks in 338 innings. Only two other bullpens have generated fewer strikeouts per nine innings, which means that when manager Tony La Russa calls on his relievers with runners on base, the opposing hitters will probably put the ball in play. Middle men Cal Eldred, Jason Simontacchi, Esteban Yan and Steve Kline will not be confused with The Nasty Boys. Pedro Borbon's recent numbers (a 40.60 ERA over his last three appearances) are indicative of what might go wrong: Hitters have seven hits in their last 11 at-bats against him, with three doubles and a home run.

    What makes this issue more acute for the Cardinals is the tenuous nature of their starting rotation -- Matt Morris is coming back from a broken hand, Woody Williams is pitching well but has shown signs of wearing down. The Cardinals are filling three other starting spots with Jeff Fassero, Brett Tomko and Danny Haren.

    There was some surprise around baseball that St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty did not add a couple of pitchers before the trade deadline, but when you're filling holes on this staff, where do you start? The Cardinals have the look of a losing horse, and it might be Jocketty was not ready to swap commodities until he saw some improvement from within.

    In examining the bullpens of the three contenders, Houston clearly has the strongest 'pen, although the Astros relievers have logged far more innings than those of the Cardinals and Cubs.

    2. The Cubs' hitters against right-handed pitching
    Chicago plays in a division that is overwhelmingly inhabited by right-handed starters, and they really struggle against righty pitching. The Cubs rank 15th among the 16 NL teams with a .250 batting average against right-handers (and a .313 on-base percentage and .406 slugging percentage). Compare that with St. Louis, which ranks second in the NL with a .282 batting average, .348 OBP and .447 SLG. It's not really a surprise -- the Cubs are overwhelmingly right-handed, having been hurt by the season-ending injury to left-handed hitting center fielder Corey Patterson.

    Opposing managers, including the Astros' Jimy Williams, can run out their right-handed relievers and have potentially favorable matchups against the Cubs' string of righties -- Alex Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez, Eric Karros, Mark Grudzielanek and Damian Miller. Left-handed hitting Kenny Lofton also scares no one.

    3. The Astros' rotation
    The Astros would love it if Roy Oswalt made a miraculous recovery and avoided surgery on his problematic groin, but they can't count on that.


    With Roy Oswalt sidelined with a groin injury, the Astros have been unable to adequately replace him.


    Jeriome Robertson has been a surprise, and Wade Miller is capable of good things. But Williams works hard to get to his bullpen. Houston has only one complete game this season, which ties them with the New York Mets for fewest in the majors, and only two starting staffs have posted fewer innings pitched than the Astros (635) -- the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (625) and the Texas Rangers (590.2). The X-factor for the Astros in the weeks to come will be right-hander Jared Fernandez, who was recently added to the rotation.

    Among the three contenders, the Cubs have an extraordinary advantage in starting pitching, with a healthy Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and an increasingly reliable Matt Clement. This month, Chicago pitching has compiled a 2.42 ERA, with 97 strikeouts in 93 innings pitched; run support is their problem.

    4. The Cardinals' schedule
    Each of the three contenders has played virtually the same number of home and road games. But the Cardinals might face a tougher test in the last weeks of the regular season, with five of their last eight series on the road -- including a final three-game series in Arizona, against a veteran Diamondbacks' team that might be fighting for a wild-card spot.

    Compare that with the marshallow finish of the Cubs, who will play their final 21 games against the Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. In addition, the Cubs' road schedule in September is a bit soft -- in Milwaukee, a series against the fading Montreal Expos in Puerto Rico, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. If the Cubs can rope-a-dope their way through a difficult road trip in the middle of this month -- at Houston, Arizona and St. Louis -- by surviving without getting knocked out, they could be in excellent condition for the stretch drive.

    The series that could apply a mortal blow to the Cardinals, or propel them on to a strong finish: five games in Wrigley Field, Sept. 1-4.
     
  2. JayZ750

    JayZ750 Contributing Member

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    People continue to point to the rotation when it seems that the whole year, minus a few weeks here or there, it has been the lineup that has been the main problem. Whoever makes it out of the Central ain't going all the way anyway.
     
  3. RunninRaven

    RunninRaven Contributing Member
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    Exactly. You can look at all the injuries to our starting pitchers, and the overall inconsistency of Wade Miller, and they immediately assume our starters are losing the games for us. But for those that watch the games, it is readily apparent that the batters haven't been getting the job done. But I guess all the ESPN guys do is see the names Bagwell, Berkman, Kent, Biggio, etc and assume it couldn't possibly be the offense. I really don't like ESPN much.
     
  4. Uprising

    Uprising Contributing Member

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    True
    There have been many games by our starters that were not picture perfect, but they never get the run support that is needed for a win. So many losses have been low scoring games.
     
  5. rockets-#1

    rockets-#1 Contributing Member

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    Totally not true. Whichever team heats up at the right time (playoffs) is the team that goes far. Just look at the Angels, a wild card team and a club that isn't even going to make the postseason this year. All it takes is for a team to play good when it counts. If the Astros can just make it in, we have just as good a chance as anyone of winning it all....not too likely though considering how the Astros bats freeze up in the postseason, but you get the point.
     
  6. JayZ750

    JayZ750 Contributing Member

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    You could be right, and definitely in football where all it takes is one game, but more often than not, in baseball, this hasn't happened. The Padres got hot in 98, but still lost in the end. The Angles are the exception, imo.

    Plus, if you look at this year in particular, the chances are very slim for a team from the Central, imo.
     
  7. rrj_gamz

    rrj_gamz Contributing Member

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    Dude, we need pitching...Roy won't come back...correction, he shouldn't come back and make it worse...
     

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