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Baseball's Stumbling Frauds

   by Jim Feist - 05/25/2009


Every year there are surprises in baseball. There's been plenty of focus on the surprising play of the Rangers, Brewers, Blue Jays and Royals. Less attention has been paid to the busts, those teams that have perplexed and disappointed prognosticators. Here's a look at some teams that have struggled and what has gone wrong.

Indians: After reaching the 2007 ALCS, the Indians have fallen fast. What has happened? The offense has been erratic for the second year in a row, though they are second in the AL in on-base percentage. Mainly, the pitching that carried them to the seventh-game of the 2007 ALCS has disappeared. Fausto Carmona has gone from 19-game winner to bust as teams have sat on his sinker with his walks way up.
The bullpen is terrible, with new closer Kerry Wood stuck with an ERA over 7. Last week he blew a three-run lead in the ninth, turning victory into defeat to the Royals. It was also a dead under the total game -- until Wood collapsed. A year ago they traded ace C.C. Sabathia after a disappointing start, and now ace Cliff Lee and DH/catcher Victor Martinez are rumored to be on the block. Fire sale, anyone!

Twins: A surprisingly bad bullpen and poor road play have been the problems for what should be a better Minnesota team. They have good young offensive players, plus a starting trio of Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano along with ace closer Joe Nathan. But the pitching ranks 12th in the American League with weak middle relief, and they've gotten few quality starts, compounding the problem. They've been very good at home, but a brutal 4-14 start on the road.

White Sox: The White Sox won the World Series in 2005, but have proven to be one-year wonders. They are drooling over San Diego ace Jake Peavy, but Peavy can't hit. Chicago is 13th in the AL in batting average, 14th in runs with little speed. They also lost 14 of their first 21 road contests.
Why are the White Sox so fired up for Peavy? The ace of the Padres' staff started 3-5 with a 3.82 ERA but has 69 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings. Still, San Diego is a great pitcher's park, and notice Peavy is 1-2 with a 4.32 ERA on the road. Last year he had a 1.75 ERA at home, 4.28 on the road. And he will be coming to the American League. Pitcher's don't get better numbers heading to the AL (see Josh Beckett, 2005-06).

Marlins: Florida was the big story the first three weeks of the season, with a sizzling start. But that was a hundred years ago, it seems, as the Marlins have stumbled since. The numbers tell the story: 14th in batting average, 15th in slugging and 12th in team ERA. Despite all the youth and low payroll, this team should be better. They are sixth in the NL in runs scored and have a pair of terrific starters in Josh Johnson and Chris Volstad. That's a nice one-two punch to build a rotation around.
The main problem is that two talented young arms they traded for, Anibel Sanchez and Andrew Miller, have been awful. That makes it tough to get a streak going and puts too much workload on the middle relief, as Sanchez and Miller average 5 (poor) innings per start. There's a lot to be said for workhorse starters who eat innings and rest bullpens.

Rockies: Colorado's miracle run to the World Series in 2007 indeed appears to be a fluke. That season the Rockies were No. 1 in fewest errors allowed and that great defense had a domino effect on the pitching staff. They are middle of the pack in fielding now and the pitching is 14th in team ERA and 15th in saves. Throw in an offense with a .327 on-base percentage, and it's a recipe for failure.
Like Florida, the Rockies just don't have enough quality arms to anchor the rotation. The most glaring problem is free passes: Starters Jorge De La Rosa, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jeff Cook all walk far too many batters. Putting men on base in a park like Coors Field will be disastrous, which explains a losing record for the Rockies both home and away.

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