Since the season began, the Notebook has done midweek check-ins on 26 of the 30 teams. Before we start interleague play tomorrow, let's finish the job by checking out Milwaukee, Cleveland, Florida and Arizona.
It's all about pitching in Milwaukee. Yes, Prince Fielder has yet to find his power stroke, but not only is Ryan Braun holding up his share, but rising star Casey McGahee and resurgent Corey Hart have helped keep the offense a threat. But if you've been hearing a lot of media reports about the demise of Trevor Hoffman...with apologies to Mark Twain, these death reports are *not* greatly exaggerated. Hoffman has blown five of ten save opps and has an ERA over 13. Add to that, the Brewers seem to have finally realized they overreacted to Jeff Suppan's postseason success in 2006 when they give him a big free agent contract in the ensuing offseason,
and pulled the subpar vet from the rotation. Only young ace Yovani Gallardo has an arm that Ken Macha can hang his hat on. Right now, Macha is unlikely to survive the summer, but no one is going to win with this kind of pitching.
Cleveland has the opposite problem. I won't say their pitching is playoff-caliber or anything crazy like that, but it isn't the main problem holding them back. The Tribe's issues are at the plate, mainly the complete lack of power. While Travis Hafner's OBP has come back to the levels of his heyday of 2005-07, he's not putting up slugging numbers and that's something the team desperately needs. Grady Sizemore is off to a hideous start and will now be on the DL until the end of June. Matt LaPorta has shown none of the potential that led Cleveland to acquire him from Milwaukee when they unloaded C.C. Sabathia. Shin Soo-Choo, the unheralded rightfielder is the main offensive bright spot, and even that's more for his
ability to get on base than for his power. The Indians need to find ways to pick runners up and get crooked numbers on the scoreboard to compete in the American League.
Arizona was my big darkhorse shot to win a division this year, and if someone would've told me they'd get good hitting and that Ian Kennedy and Rodrigo Lopez would come through in the rotation, I'd have figured for sure I'd be right. But for teams to win big, stars have to play like stars, and the Diamondbacks haven't gotten that. Brandon Webb's been hurt again. Even though CBS Sportsline reports he could be back by late June, the regular shoulder problems makes you think his days as a great starting pitcher have been cut short permanently. Dan Haren's ERA is bloated at 4.83. The bullpen is a disaster area. At 7.5 games back and with all four teams in the NL West ahead of them, the D-Backs hopes of a revival are roughly on a par with the Suns' hopes of beating the Lakers. Yeah,
it's possible, but you have to be a real true believer to buy into it.
Florida is the one team in this group that's a bona fide contender, 22-19 coming into tonight's action and only three games back of the Phils. They've gotten more attention for the antics of Hanley Ramirez, but a four-game sweep of the Mets last weekend triggered a rise up the standings. Ramirez is swinging a good bat, as his middle-infield mate Dan Uggla. This is a very good National League offense, with only one real weak spot in the lineup (Chris Coghlan) and a balanced rotation led by Josh Johnson. The bullpen is still getting sorted out, with the most successful pitchers getting the least amount of innings, but that's not an unusual problem at this time of year as managers figure out who's going to get them outs in this volatile area. I can't see the Marlins catching Philadelphia, but they will be in the playoff race all year.
Today's games mark the end of the
beginning, as Friday ushers in the gala of interleague play. The Notebook will devote tomorrow to a broad overview of what's been learned in the first 6 1/2 weeks and what the focus will be here in the summer.