MLB Teams on the Rise
by Trevor Whenham - 05/10/2007
We're about six weeks into the baseball season and a lot of what we thought we knew before the season started has been thrown into the question. Are the Brewers really this good? How about the Indians? The Dodgers? Other teams that we thought we would see in a dogfight for the postseason have, to this point, been disappointing. Some of those underwhelming teams will, as history has taught us, continue to underwhelm through the rest of the year. Others, though, are going to find form in the second half of the season that will make their fans and their backers forget how the season began. There is one team in each league that , to me, is not only underperforming the most, but has the most explainable, and correctable, problems. I look for brighter days ahead for both squads:
Toronto - It's hard at this point to imagine that the Blue Jays are going to get any better. They are in the midst of a an eight-game losing streak that has seen them outscored 64-27, or about 8-3 each game, and many of the games haven't been that close. Only two teams have a worse record in all of baseball, and the Jays are in the unfamiliar position of looking up at the Devil Rays. Has any team ever had to do that before? It's not all bad, though.
This team has much more talent than it appears to at this time. Lost in the dismal performance is the stellar year that Troy Glaus is having. Unfortunately, he can't do it alone. Vernon Wells has been decent, but he hasn't started as well as he would have hoped. Frank Thomas is having his typical slow start. Lyle Overbay is showing signs of breaking out of the slump that is pulling him down. Matt Stairs is ice cold. Reed Johnson has been out for a month. That's a lot of offensive power that hasn't been producing, and sooner or later it is all going to come together. When that happens this team will win games despite itself.
The same goes for the pitching. Roy Halladay is as good as any pitcher out there, but he has had to do it alone so far. Gustavo Chacin is struggling with a sore shoulder. A.J. Burnett, Tomo Ohka and Josh Towers could all, to be kind, pitch better. They have the talent as a starting staff to settle into themselves and win some games. With some luck, that will happen. The final reason for hope is the eventual return of B.J. Ryan. He's nasty when he's right, and he will be back in a month or so. If he's healthy then this team could finally make bettors some money. They will be hard pressed to make the playoffs given their league and division, but they should have several more wins than losses in them in the long run and they could earn bettors a windfall for those that back them at the right time.
Philadelphia - In hindsight, the early struggles of the Phillies was probably predictable, or at least not surprising. They came on strong at the end of last year, their young talent got a ton of hype and they had a productive offseason that saw some players get fat new contracts. That sounds a lot like a team that could get in trouble if it started to believe its own headlines. Last year there were few expectations for this team and little pressure. This year the team was picked by some to win the division, and Ryan Howard had to live up to MVP expectations. So far, not so good.
Though they've yet to show signs of a reversal, it's easy to imagine how this tea will get better. Howard has been underwhelming, batting just .204. His RBI numbers and his OPS, though, show that the guy clearly hasn't forgotten how to play since last year. He's been so good that it's easy to forget that this is only his third season and that these bumps in the road are inevitable. Something will get him going again. Maybe it was the game winning grand slam on Wednesday. When he does figure it out, look out. The same sentiment goes for Pat Burrell, too.
The pitching has been inconsistent, but it shows signs of improving. Freddy Garcia has had to adjust to a new league, and he will settle in and pitch better once he gets comfortable. Adam Eaton is another arm getting over a change of scenery. Eaton will never be confused with Cy Young, but he's shown that he can be consistently better than he is now. At the top of it all are the two pitchers that fall on the opposite ends of the spectrum who have solidified the staff so far, and who will continue to do so - Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels. Moyer may be 300 years old, but he has been very solid and, at times, spectacular. He can be relied upon to do more of the same all year. His arm certainly won't get worn out given the way he throws. Hamels is a much-ballyhooed youngster that has, for the most part, lived up to the hype. He'll get even better, especially when he consistently gets run support.