The Aftermath.

Notice the bridge and notice the lack of me standing on the ledge. Don’t worry, I’m just swimming on the other side and I’ll dive headfirst into that rock on the right if we drop 3 of 4 to Tampa Bay. Seriously though, I am at least still a little frustrated with some of the losses the team suffered in games they could’ve easily locked down in the win column. I don’t have quite the rosy outlook of some of the spin doctors, but I’m far less angry than I was at the time of the collapses. It is tough to be too critical given the fact that the team has emerged from the hellish stretch with their league-best record intact. In fact, they are the league’s first team to 40 wins and are in a tie with the New York Mets for the fewest losses at 23. Next up is Tampa Bay for four including a game tonight against one of the best young pitcher’s in baseball in Scott Kazmir.

The problems during past 13 games are directly related to the hitting, or lack thereof. That isn’t to say the pitching (namely the bullpen) is faultless, but I’ll get to them in a moment. Looking at the June numbers, which cuts off the first two games of the New York series that closed out the month of May, the team is hitting a dreadful .256/.312/.413. Sadly, it isn’t much worse than their May totals of .264/.319/.436. A team that relies on the home run isn’t hitting them anymore. Though yesterday’s 10-5 victory over Toronto featured just one home run, the team’s reliance is still evident as Brandon Inge and Marcus Thames home runs on Saturday accounted for all five runs in a 5-3 win. I’m not overly concerned with the home run mentality as I am the awful team on-base percentage. If you want to go for the 3-run homer Earl Weaver style, you still have to get two guys on base.

Don’t Blame Granderson
Leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson did the best he could to set things up for the lineup in the last two weeks. During the 13-game stretch, Granderson went .275/.420/.429 with three doubles, a home run, 10 walks and 16 strikeouts. The .420 on-base is especially encouraging. Unfortunately, he was cashed in just eight of 21 times he reached base. BBP hero, Marcus Thames, also stepped up in his expanded role as he has clubbed four home runs with a team-best 1.165 OPS in June. Both Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez have also continued to swing the bat very well. After those four, the dropoff in June production is huge. The highest OPS outside of those four belongs to Placido Polanco at .797 and that is only because four of his eight hits have gone for extra bases. He is part of a large group playing below expectations lately. Chris Shelton remains mired in a colossal slump and seems eager to draw even with Dan Johnson in terms of production despite Johnson’s painfully slow start. Carlos Guillen wasn’t as bad as some of the others, but his OPS is low because just one of his nine hits during the stretch wasn’t a single. Several of his eight runs batted in proved key to the team. Alexis Gomez, Inge, Omar Infante, Craig Monroe, Ramon Santiago, and Vance Wilson have combined to hit .204 in June and have more or less been an smorgasbord of crap.

Starting Off Well
Of the starters, only Justin Verlander has struggled of late allowing 10 runs in his last two starts for an 8.18 earned run average. He earns at least a partial pass if not a full freebie given that he’s been tremendous in his rookie season and was due for a rough patch. Jeremy Bonderman, Zach Miner, Nate Robertson and Kenny Rogers put together six quality starts over their last eight absolving them from any significant blame in the 5-8 stretch. The bulk of the blame, as we all know, falls on the shoulders of the bullpen. Both closing candidates, Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney, did more harm than good allowing 12 runs in a 8 1/3 innings of work. Jason Grilli and Bobby Seay also struggled to get batters out adding to the pen problems. Only Jamie Walker and Joel Zumaya were consistently effective out of Chuck Hernandez‘s bullpen. Zumaya’s excellence may have earned him a shot at the closer’s job, but frankly I prefer him in the 7th and 8th inning high leverage situations.

So what now? After Tampa Bay, the team starts a big interleague stretch against the NL Central in which they should find themselves in position to win plenty of games (as with the 13-game stretch), but if the bullpen doesn’t straighten itself out and more than half of the lineup doesn’t start hitting or at least getting on base, then they will have their share of problems. Nothing in the 13 games screamed that this team is dead. There were times they lost their poise and subsequently the game, but I don’t think they were exposed as early season frauds. I will say this, if we as fans expect them want to contend through the Summer and into the Fall, a few moves are in order, especially at the plate. No part of me wants to see the Barry Bonds whispers come to fruition. I’d much rather acquire just about anyone else. Not only are his personality and attitude questionable at best, but his levels of production aren’t what they used to be as pitchers are learning that he is no longer the “must-walk” batter he used to be. Other quality candidates available via trade will emerge as the season pushes closer to the July 31st deadline and before even knowing who they may be, I already know I’m more comfortable with the team pursuing them over Bonds.

Tomorrow, we’ll play the second installment of the Pace Game.

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