- What an entrance into the majors for Reds Outfielder Jay Bruce. The 21-year-old Bruce came in considered by most as the top prospect in baseball, and has not disappointed in his 6 games so far. He's hitting a robust .591, with 2 homers, 6 RBI, and an OPS of 1.690. He's walked 6 times and only struck out once. He has multi-hit games in 4 of those 6 games, and an extra-base hit in all but one. Oh, and his first homer came in walk-off fashion to beat the Braves on Saturday. Reds fans hoped to see Jay Bruce make the club out of Spring Training, but Dusty Baker's loyalty to Corey Patterson left Bruce in the minors. Then to nobody's surprise, Patterson struggled(.180 BA with only 1 extra-base hit in 61 May AB's), Bruce tore up minor league pitching(.364 BA, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 1.023 OPS), and finally got the call to the bigs on Memorial Day. The Reds(28-29) are 8 games behind the sizzling Cubs in the NL Central, but 5-1 when Bruce plays. Who knows where they would be had they called him up out of Spring Training? Regardless, this kid looks like he is going to be a special one.
- One trade that is looking tremendous for both clubs which is rare these days, is the Josh Hamilton-Edinson Volquez deal between the Rangers and Reds(I'm not going to get into the whole story of Hamilton's battle with drug problems and his incredible comeback, you can read about all that on his Wikipedia page). Hamilton hit .292, with 19 homers, and a .922 OPS in 337 plate appearances for the Reds last year. He was used primarily in CF, with Adam Dunn in LF and Ken Griffey Jr. in RF. With Jay Bruce waiting in the wings, there was an obvious logjam in the outfield and somebody had to go. Furthermore, with the Reds main problem being starting pitching over the last decade, they wanted to get a good young arm for one of their outfielders, and they were able to do just that in acquiring 24-year-old right-hander Edinson Volquez. Volquez was inserted right into the starting rotation, and his numbers thus far are absolutely ridiculous. In his 11 starts, he's yet to allow more than 2 earned runs in a single start. He's 7-2 with a league-best 1.46 ERA, an opponent's batting average of .197, and has a league-leading 83 strikeouts in 68 innings. Volquez has an electric arm, throwing a fastball consistently in the low to mid 90's with plenty of movement, a quality slider, and a devastating change-up that looks very similar to the one Pedro Martinez has used to dominate hitters for years. So, the Reds are quite happy with their acquisition, but the Rangers certainly can't complain about their acquisition either. Josh Hamilton is the AL MVP right now. He has 15 homers, and his 63 RBI are 15 more than anybody else in the AL. Hamilton, still only 27 years old, looks like he will be one of the best run-producers in the league for years to come. It's amazing that a trade this past off-season could have the 2008 NL Cy Young and the 2008 AL MVP.
- The Cubs haven't had the best record in the MLB at the beginning of June since, gulp, 1908, the last time they won the World Series. The Cubs have many reasons for their success. They have the best run-differential in the league, the most runs, the best batting average, the best on-base percentage, the best on-base+ slugging percentage, etc. Their offense is terrific top to bottom, and they have a solid pitching staff. Speaking of the pitching staff, maybe the MVP of the team, but one guy you won't hear talked about as much as guys like Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, and Carlos Zambrano, is setup man extraordinaire Carlos Marmol. Marmol, 25, was a catcher at first in the minors, but the Cubs liked what they saw in his arm and thought he had a better chance to make it to the majors as a pitcher. Well, they were right. In 2006, the Cubs used Marmol mainly as a starter, and he struggled with a 6.08 ERA in 77 innings pitched. In 2007, they moved him to the bullpen, and he instantly became maybe the best setup man in baseball. He had a 1.43 ERA, with 96 strikeouts in 69.1 innings pitched. He's continued his dominance this year, with a 1.75 ERA, 54 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched, 16 holds, and 3 saves. To me, the most impressive stat is opponents batting only .125 against him. Manager Lou Piniella brings in Marmol to get out of just about any mess in the 6th-8th inning, and Marmol almost always does the job. I'm talking bases loaded no outs messes, and Marmol will come in and strike out the side. He's bailed the Cubs out many times and they would not have the best record in baseball without him. He has maybe the nastiest slider in the baseball, to go with a fastball that he will get up to 96 mph. He throws both for strikes and gets plenty of hitters to strikeout looking. Although Kerry Wood is in the closer's position right now, Marmol is definitely next in line.
- The Rockies are a mess right now. They are currently on pace to win just 57 games , which would be the least for a team that was the NL champions the previous year since the Marlins won 54 games in 1998 after their firesale. Injuries certainly are a big reason for that, but they were still struggling before the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, and Clint Barmes were injured. The starting pitching is the main problem. The starters currently have an ERA of 5.61, which is the worst in MLB. Lefty Jeff Francis was the ace of the staff last year, and he's currently 1-5 with a 6.12 ERA. Young starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales were terrific down the stretch for the Rockies last year in their historic run to the World Series. This year, Jimenez is 1-6 with a 5.37 ERA, and 36 walks in 63.2 IP. Last year, he had only 37 walks in 82 IP. Morales has been even worse, and was sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs after just 5 starts. He was 1-2 with a 6.39 ERA. Like Jimenez, Morales has had serious command issues this year. Last year, Morales walked 14 hitters in 39.3 IP. Compare that to 17 walks in 25.3 IP this year. He wasn't fooling anybody either with only 9 strikeouts this year. Being 12 games out of the NL West, it's probably too late for the Rockies to make a run this year even if they get healthy soon. It's possible they will trade Matt Holliday and/or Garrett Atkins before the July 31st deadline, and they need to get top prospect Ian Stewart playing at a corner position full-time.
- It will be difficult for the Marlins to stay near the top of the NL East for much longer. The Phillies are red-hot and just moved into first place. The Braves and Mets are still hanging around, each only 3.5 games back. The Marlins have the worst fielding percentage in MLB at .977. Their young team can certainly hit, led by superstar Hanley Ramirez. However, I'm still not buying into that pitching staff. Mark Hendrickson had been their best starting pitcher up until last week, and we knew his success wouldn't last. Finally, on May 25th, he allowed 5 runs and 9 hits at home in 5 innings to a terrible Giants lineup. He followed that up with 3.2 IP at Philadelphia on May 30th, allowing 10 earned runs.
- The NL West was supposed to be the most exciting division in baseball this year, and maybe one of the most exciting divisions in years. Instead, it's been the worst division in baseball. Nobody could have seen this coming. The Diamondbacks are the only team playing like we expected, as they are 32-25, 4.5 games ahead of the 2nd place Dodgers. The Dodgers problems are greatly related to injuries, and they have a very good pitching staff which should keep them in the race if they can get shortstop Rafael Furcal back soon. It's doubtful getting centerfielder Andruw Jones back will help them much though after he hit .165, with 2 homers, and 7 RBI in 43 games, looking like one of the biggest free agent busts in MLB history. Incredibly the Giants, who I thought might be the worst team in baseball this year, are in 3rd place. That's how bad the Padres and the Rockies have been. The Padres lineup is pathetic, their once terrrific rotation is not very good right now with Chris Young and Jake Peavy landing on the disabled list, and closer Trevor Hoffman's looking old. General Manager Kevin Towers is making it sound like a firesale could be in the works.
- The Rays are good, no doubt about that. However, I still expect the Red Sox to win that division and comfortably. With all of this talk about the Rays, the Red Sox are still only 1 game back, and have yet to really get it going like they can and will. The Rays can definitely win the AL Wild Card though, and would currently have a 5 game lead in those standings if you take out the Red Sox. The Matt Garza-Delmon Young swap between the Rays and Twins is looking to be very much in the Rays favor so far. The 24-year-old Garza is a right-hander with electric stuff, throwing a fastball in the mid 90's consistently. He's currently 4-1 with a 3.78 ERA, and is looking very good in that rotation behind Scott Kazmir and James Shields. Meanwhile, Delmon Young has yet to homer in 212 at bats for the Twins. He's only 22 and his likely to develop plenty of power in the future, but as of right now the Twins might be regretting this trade.
- Fantasy Sleeper: Taylor Buchholz. The former starting pitcher is thriving in his new role as a setup man for the Rockies. Buchholz is still only 26 and has a fastball that will get up to 95 mph, along with a great 12-to-6 curveball. He has a 1.78 ERA, and a WHIP of 0.86. With Manny Corpas failing as the Rockies' closer this year, Brian Fuentes got his former role back as closer. However, there's a very good chance he will be traded by July 31st, and Buchholz will step in as closer. He likely wouldn't get a ton of save opportunities on that Rockies team, but still, he'd be a closer and if you need saves, he'd be a quality acquisition.
Posted by Matt Clapp | 6/02/2008 05:15:00 PM | Around The Bigs, Carlos Marmol, Chase Utley, Delmon Young, Edinson Volquez, Franklin Morales, Jay Bruce, Jeff Francis, Josh Hamilton, Mark Hendrickson, Matt Garza, MLB, Taylor Buchholz, Ubaldo Jimenez