By The Common Man
When the ESPN Power Rankings come out, we're restricted to just a couple of quick sentences with each team. TCM's a lot more long-winded than that, so he's compelled to expand on those comments some more, and provide some context. So, without further ado, here are the Diamondbacks, Pirates, and Marlins.
Arizona Diamondbacks: "Man, if there's one thing Kevin Towers knows how to do, it's assemble a bullpen. 2.93 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 2.69 K/BB. Now, if someone other than Ian Kennedy could get a lead to them!"
JJ Putz, David Hernandez, and Juan Gutierrez have all been strong and carried the bulk of the work though Joshua Collmenter and Esmerling Vasquez have also done strong jobs in middle relief roles. So has Sam Demel.
I'm actually fairly interested in what usage patterns might have to do with this, as D-Backs relievers are averaging under an inning perappearance (117 G, 113.2 IP). For instance, tasked with shorter outings, perhaps Arizona relievers are finding success by coming in and firing as hard as they can, knowing they'll be out of there soon. It's a theory.
You know what's not a theory? The starters behind Kennedy and Daniel Hudson stink. Hitters are posting a 115 OPS+ off of the staff as a whole. Joe Saunders has seen his velocity dip below 90 MPH and his strikeouts have dropped to 4.9/9 innings. Opponents are hitting .301/.380/.503 off of him. My guess is he's hiding an injury. Armando Galarraga is allowing 2.9 homers per nine innings. And Barry Enright is awful, just awful. If there was a team that needed a Kevin Millwood, simply to come in and make sure the bullpen doesn't get overused, this might be that team, because they don't have anybody stashed in the minors that's good to go either.
Pittsburgh Pirates: "I continue to be blown away by Charlie Morton's start (4-1, 3.13, 24 Ks and 24 BB in 46 IP) and how he's getting 3.5 grounders for every ball in the air. That's just...well, that's crazy. Oh well, I'm gonna stop worrying and enjoy the ride."
Morton and the Pirates may think he looks like Roy Halladay, but he's not pitching like Halladay. This is not an affront to Morton, just an acknowledgment that Halladay strikes guys out by the bunches and has a ton of excellent secondary stuff. Morton is succeeding because of his two-seam sinking fastball, which other teams are absolutely unable to lift (3.56 GB/FB ratio) and that he's throwing 82.3% of the time. To put that in some perspective, that's roughly as often as Tim Wakefield throws his knuckleball. He's essentially become a one-pitch starter. It's remarkable, and I don't know if we've ever seen anything like it before in our lifetimes. The sheer gaul to try and succeed on a single pitch, and for that pitch to be a fastball is unbelievable. And yet, here is Morton. I suspect he can't keep this up much longer. But I really, really hope he does because it's just fun to think about.
Florida Marlins: "2nd in the NL East, 4th in the NL in scoring despite playing in the cavernous Dolphins Stadium, and now they get LoMo (.333/.427/.651) back? You know what, I might be a believer in the Fish in 2011, especially if they can solve their Javy Vazquez problem."
Bill wrote about the Marlins pitching here over the weekend, and he's absolutely right that the Marlins look far more able to competete than I figured they would be. Sanchez is healthy and dominant and Nolasco has been very strong as well. And, fo course, Josh Johnson has been Josh Johnson. And the lowest ERA+ in that revamped bullpen is 125.
And the offense has been terrific, backed by Gaby Sanchez (.331/.412/.541) and Mike Stanton (.246/.329/.508). Aside from Sanchez, the lineup has not had any real standouts, but has gotten better than anticipated results from Greg Dobbs (.350/.393/.500), Emilio Bonifacio (.284/.349/.388), Chris Coghlan (.253/.322/.416), and John Buck (.226/.304/.419), which has allowed them to weather slow starts by Hanley Ramirez and Omar Infante, and an injury to Logan Morrison. Dobbs and Bonificio are due for some regression, but Infante and Hanley will see their play improve as well, and Morrison has come back from the DL hot (so hide your wives and your (attractive) daughters).
But what's been most surprising has been the team's excellent defense. They're third in the NL in defensive efficiency so far in 2011, a team stat that simply shows how many balls in play fielders turn into outs. Coghlin, in his first season in CF, has been a huge surprise and has shown excellent range, even on his surgically repaired knee. Omar Infante has made up for his atrocious hitting by being very solid around the keystone, a big upgrade over Dan Uggla. And Bonifacio has been excellent wherever he's been asked to play.
It's nice to see the Fish winning, and to be doing it with such a well-rounded squad. They'll do well to identify a starter to pick up soon for the rest of the season, since Javier Vazquez is beyond done, but otherwise this is shaping up to be a very tough club to face come October.