Happy Memorial Day everyone. Here's our post commemorating the day and the reason we are free to blog and call Bill Smith a terrible general manager. It's Power Rankings day again on ESPN, so TCM is expanding on his comments on the Mothership this morning. So without further ado, here's a few extra words on the unexpected success of the Pirates and Marlins.
Pittsburgh Pirates: "Don't look now, but after a horrific April, James McDonald had a 3.14 ERA and 30 Ks in 28.2 IP against just 8 BB in May. That's the righty we know and love, and his re-emergence gives the Bucs an intriguing fivesome as they struggle to stay relevant in the NL Central race."
Despite being just three games under .500, The Common Man still doesn't think much of the Pirates' chances to break even in 2011, let alone compete for the NL Central title. But that rotation is looking more and more interesting. We've talked a lot about how crazy Charlie Morton's season has been thusfar, fueled by a GB/FB ratio that would be historic (or would have been, he's come off it recently to 1.74). Kevin Correia and Jeff Karstens are also having strong rebound campaigns after disappointing 2010s. And despite leading the National League in losses, Paul Maholm is having his best season since 2008. And after a terrible April that left him with a 7.66 ERA, McDonald looks to be completely back. He's not an ace, but he's a good 3rd starter who is still very cheap. He's the kind of player who could potentially be a major component on a winning team or an incredibly valuable trade chit at some future deadline.
As an added bonus, his return to form could make any decision to unload Maholm easier for fans and the team to swallow. With a low ERA (3.18 so far) and a reasonable contract ($5.75 million this year, and a $9.75 million club option (with a small buyout) next), Maholm stands to be one of the biggest prizes this summer if the Pirates decide to move him, bringing back one or more MLB ready prospects. As it stands, the Pirates are looking more and more like, while 2011 may prove a bridge too far, they could challenge a weakened NL Central field in 2012.
Florida Marlins: "He's had a couple aches and pains lately (sore back and bruised foot), but I wouldn't be surprised if Hanley Ramirez (.211/.307/.311) has been hurt all year. Just 13% of his ABs are line drives, and 21% are infield popups. Those numbers are usually reversed. He's 1-for his last five games, with just a single."
It's ironic that, during the team's most successful seasons since he joined the franchise, the Marlins' best and most consistent player has actually been a drag on his team's performance. Hovering around replacement level, Hanley has been a shell of his former self. The decline seemed to actually begin last year, when he dropped from a 5-7 win player to worth under 4 wins for the first time in his career. But no one could have predicted this big a falloff. As TCM points out above, he's just not hitting the ball with authority. This kind of weak contact, especially over the first two months, suggests there may be a physical problem with Hanley.
What's remarkable is how well Florida is doing without his help, and with the huge regression of former All Star Omar Infante (.247/.287/.304), who has been almost as bad. But thanks to the emergence of Gaby sanchez, Mike Stanton, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco, and Logan Morrison, the unanticipated solid play Chris Coghlan and Emilio Bonifacio, and the incredible work of the revamped bullpen (2.63 ERA) and the Fish are flying. If they can get Ramirez untracked, or they find something physically wrong and fix him, this is an incredibly dangerous club. But it's probably going to take an extended trip the DL to do it.
Update: Well, this is appropriately timed, but very sad news. We have our answer.