The Baseball Notebook

May 19, 2010 2:19 PM

Looking For Scapegoats

The White Sox, Mariners and Braves had reasonable expectations of making the playoffs when the season began. And they still might. But not they way they’ve played these first 6 ½ weeks. Let’s find out why…

Chicago: The White Sox have four spots in their lineup that are deader than dead. Juan Pierre, Geoff Beckham, A.J. Pierzynski and Alexi Ramirez have done next to nothing at the plate. Ramirez is capable of much more and the other three need to stop being dead weight. The starting pitching was supposed to be what separated this team from the rest of the AL Central, but other than John Danks, it’s been a nightmare. Jake Peavy joins New York’s Javier Vazquez is the latest pitcher unable to translate National League success into the AL. Mark Buerhle is off to a rough start, and Gavin Floyd has been a complete disaster with a 7.00 ERA. The bullpen isn’t much better, with only Matt Thornton pitching well.

The positive side for the Southsiders is that these are pitchers with a proven track record who can be expected to improve, especially Buerhle. Even allowing for an NL-AL transfer problem, Peavy’s ERA should improve from its current 5.37. The question is whether there’s enough turmoil in the White Sox organization to prevent any real improvement. I suspect this team will play better, but I may have to take a mulligan on my preseason expectation of a division title.

Seattle: The pitching’s been pretty good for the Mariners. Doug Fister’s been one of the big surprises in the league and has Cy Young numbers. Feliz Hernandez has been having a decent, if unspectacular year and Cliff Lee coming back from the DL with all the dominance he showed in Cleveland and Philadelphia. But the on-base percentages on this team are awful, with the venerable Ichiro being the only consistent producer and no one really hits with any power. The bullpen hasn’t been bad, but nor is it a strength. There’s a lot of improvement that has to be done, but the M’s can rest on this—they are 4-15 in games that had one-run margins or went extra innings. A little extra luck alone should pick up a few games in the standings.

Atlanta: The Braves have started to play better the last couple weeks and have started to nudge their way back into the race. Offensively, Melky Cabrera has to become the kind of pesky offensive player he was with the Yankees, lest we start to think that maybe his success in the Bronx was a byproduct of pitchers losing concentration at the end of that fierce New York lineup. Nate McLouth is not producing at the level he did in Pittsburgh. Atlanta stalwarts Brian McCann and Chipper Jones are getting on base, but they need to hit for the kind of power they’re capable of. On the mound, Kenshin Kawakami and Jair Jurrjens have been nothing short of a disaster in the rotation, combining to lose all nine of their decisions. The bullpen trio of Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito and Eric O’Flaherty have done very well, but they need to have more games delivered to them to preserve. I picked Atlanta to get the wild-card berth and I'm not ready to throw in the towel on them yet.

Be back tomorrow with quick looks at Cleveland, Milwaukee, Arizona and Florida.

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