News and Notes from around the world of Major League Baseball.
Boston took the bargain bin approach to free agent starting pitchers this past offseason. While the Yankees were locking up A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia to long term deals costing hundreds of millions of dollars, the Red Sox were signing John Smoltz and Brad Penny to bolster their staff at a fraction of the cost.
After a rough start, Penny has rounded into form nicely in recent weeks, notching his sixth victory of the season against the Marlins Wednesday night. He’s allowed three earned runs or less in seven of his last nine trips to the hill.
John Smoltz started the season on the DL recovering from shoulder surgery. He’s made several effective rehab starts in the minors and is expected to join the Red Sox rotation next Thursday. Smoltz just turned 42 and he made only five starts before he got hurt last year. His ability to be effective in a pennant race down the stretch is very much in question.
Boston has youngsters waiting in the wings if Penny or Smoltz fails. Clay Buckholz has a 1.75 ERA and a 59-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Pawtucket this year. Justin Masterson is languishing in a long relief role in the Red Sox bullpen, despite holding foes to two runs or less in four of his six big-league starts this season.
Perhaps the BoSox are simply stockpiling pitching right now, ready to make a deal for another big bat before the trading deadline. Pittsburgh’s Jack Wilson and Houston’s Miguel Tejada are reportedly very high on GM Theo Epstein’s wish list.
Over the past 31 days, the Atlanta Braves offense has produced a.250 batting average, .327 on-base percentage, .366 slugging percentage and a .693 OPS. Clearly, these are weak numbers from a struggling lineup.
The really interesting thing comes when we examine the Braves offensive numbers on the road during this span. On the highway, Bobby Cox’s squad has hit exactly .250 BA, with a .327 on-base percentage, a .363 slugging percentage and a .691 OPS. Those numbers are remarkably similar to their overall numbers – venue has had absolutely no effect on the Braves’ recent offensive results.
That complete and utter lack of any sort of road/home dichotomy has played out in Atlanta’s overall results. The Braves are 15-17 at Turner Field this year and 15-17 away from Turner Field. They are ranked 27th out of 30 big-league teams in terms of overall profitability.
Bettors who have been laying the price with the Braves at home have paid dearly for their support; Atlanta is more than eight units in the red at Turner Field this year. But those who have taken advantage of Atlanta’s relative success on the road have done quite a bit better; down only two units for the season.
The Los Angeles Angels have the best interleague record in the majors this year, with an 8-1 mark through their first nine games versus National League opponents. Los Angeles is tearing the cover off the ball with its bats, which is the first extended stretch of good hitting for L.A. this season. The Angels have averaged just shy of eight runs per game during their current winning streak, getting production from up and down the batting order.
“All of us are going up there and feeding off each other,” said catcher Mike Napoli. “One guy’s doing it and the others are following. We have a lot of good hitters on this team and we’re showing now what we’re able to do.”
It’s surely worth noting that L.A. is clicking on all cylinders offensively despite the lack of production from Vladimir Guerrero. He’s been relegated to pinch hitting duties as he struggles with the aftereffects of his torn chest muscle. Torii Hunter, another key power bat, has been limited with a rib injury. But both outfielders are expected back in the lineup when the Angels square off against the Dodgers this weekend.
The Cleveland Indians completely revamped their bullpen in the offseason. The Tribe signed Kerry Wood to be their closer, while adding Joe Smith, Luis Vizcaino, Greg Aquino and Matt Herges to round out the bullpen. Despite the changes, Cleveland’s bullpen is the “same as it ever was” - to quote Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.
Cleveland ranks 28th in the majors in bullpen ERA. Manager Eric Wedge has seen his bullpen lose 14 games this year – only the Nationals bullpen has been worse in that regard. They’ve blown 11 save chances and lead the big leagues with 31 homers allowed and 123 walks. Those
The Indians bullpen was on the wrong end of two losing decisions during their recent series with the Brewers. On Monday, the first four relievers that Eric Wedge used were each charged with at least two earned runs, as the Tribe blew a five-run, eighth-inning lead and lost despite a 12-run outburst from their lineup.
On Tuesday, the Jensen Lewis/Rafael Perez duo allowed seven hits, two walks and four earned runs, providing the Brewers with their margin of victory. On Wednesday, Smith, Herges and Vizcaino all gave up runs. Then Aquino gave up the game winning run on a pair of walks, a single and a sacrifice fly.
With the Indians starting rotation unable to produce many seven, eight or complete game outings, this overused and under-performing bullpen is not likely to find their rhythm in the weeks and months to come. Cleveland backers and under bettors beware. This is not a bullpen to trust right now.