What We Learned In Week Seven

As we head towards the end of May, the lessons come with some instructive knowledge about what teams may do in the next two months. A losing streak that knocks a team out of contention could change who will be available on the trade market, while a surging player can enhance the chances that they end up on a contender with a strong performance now. We’ve seen both of those things, and more, over the past week. Let’s take a look at what we learned.

The Blue Jays are not the best team in the AL East.

Okay, we already knew this, but reality hit Toronto like a punch in the face this week, as the Jays got swept by the Red Sox and the Braves in consecutive series, and the six game losing streak knocked them out of their first place perch. The stars of the early season offense, which had carried the team through the first six weeks, disappeared during the the last seven days. Only the Lyle Overbay/Kevin Millar platoon provided any offense, and the lack of scoring proved a problem when the pitching managed to keep them close. Now basically tied with Boston and New York, the Jays are going to have a tough time keeping up with the big payroll twins over the rest of the season. It was a nice run while it lasted though.

It’s hard to win when your entire line-up slumps at the same time.

Just ask Cubs fans, who saw a bunch of good hitters simultaneously forget how to swing the stick. Derrek Lee managed to single his way into a decent batting average, but the rest of the offense was MIA. Geovany Soto went 3 for 17. Milton Bradley went 3 for 20. Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano both went 2 for 21, though Fukukome at least walked four times, while Soriano didn’t manged to take a pitch even once. Reed Johnson went 2 for 24. The team managed a whopping six extra base hits the entire week, and the offense totaled five runs in six games. Not surprisingly, the Cubs lost them all. While it wasn’t much fun to watch, Chicago shouldn’t be too concerned – there are some legitimately good hitters on their roster, and the bats will come around.

Clayton Richard doesn’t really want to be traded.

The only major league player who was going to San Diego in the Jake Peavy deal, Richard apparently decided this would be a good week to show Kenny Williams that he might be worth hanging on to. He struck out 11 batters in 13 innings between his two starts, showing an improved breaking ball and keeping hitters off balance without overpowering stuff. Richard has been something of an afterthought in most circles, given his low strikeout rate and average velocity, but he’s now posted a 4.21 FIP over his first 81 major league innings. He’s certainly not an ace in the making, but his fastball has enough sink to make him a decent #5 starter, and the White Sox have to be pleased to still have him around right now.

Adam Kennedy is alive.

After being released by the St. Louis Cardinals, Kennedy had to take a minor league contract from the Tampa Bay Rays in order to keep playing baseball. With no real hope to contribute to the Tampa roster, he was sold to the A’s so they could give him a chance to hold down the fort at second base while Mark Ellis was hurt. He’s done that and then some, hitting .448/.515/.655 last week to bring his wOBA to .454 since joining the A’s. He won’t keep hitting like this, but ZIPS projects a .313 wOBA over the rest of the season, which makes Kennedy a pretty solid player when combined with his defensive skills at second base. Kennedy is just another example of quality players who can be acquired for no cost by teams who know what they’re doing.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

12 Responses to “What We Learned In Week Seven”

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  1. Jack says:

    I have to disagree whole-heartedly with the idea that the Cubs/their fans shouldn’t be too worried about their recent struggles. Even if you don’t think the Brewers or Cardinals can keep up a .591 pace, the Cubs have opened the door wide open for either of those teams by playing .500 ball for a quarter of the year. Simple math says the Cubs will be very fortunate to salvage 90 wins out this year.

    Guys like Bradley and Soto figure to pick it up in the near future, but what about Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot? Lee is slugging a mere .424 over the past 365 days, while Fontenot appears to be overmatched in an everyday role. Aramis Ramirez is out for the foreseeable future, and it’s anyone’s guess how effective he’ll be upon return from a pretty serious shoulder injury.

    Meanwhile, the bullpen is a complete and utter mess, Ryan Dempster is becoming familiar with regression to the mean, and a supposedly healthy Rich Harden is sporting a 4.68 FIP in his first full season in the J.V. league.

    Cubs fans had better strap in because the NL Central race appears to be wide open.

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    • Chris says:

      I wouldn’t rule the upstart Cincinnati Reds out of the NL Central equation either – they’ve played well despite an early slump by Jay Bruce. They’re also very solid defensively, especially in the OF with Taveras and Bruce out there, while Laynce Nix is no slouch on D either. Though it may get a bit tougher for them now with Volquez on the DL, and Brandon Phillips soon to follow.

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  2. Decatur says:

    Dave, do you know if Jack Zduriencik tried to make a play for Adam Kennedy? He seems like the perfect Zduriencik-type reclamation project, but of course trades like this are harder to pull off than free agent signings.

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  3. Harry says:

    Come on Dave when are you going to pimp out a post on Lidge’s poor start?

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      I was wondering when someone would do a post on that as well. His BABIP is high (.400), but he has lost 1 mph on his FB and his FIP is nearly 7. In Lidge’s so called down year his FIP was 3.79, so this is new territory for him.

      Yesterday’s blown save wasn’t exactly a terrible pitching appearance, but Saturday’s appearance was not pretty. Luckily Madson is pitching great. I would rather have Lidge stay closer and Madson pitch in the high leverage situations that occur in innings 7 or 8. Now if only the starters could pitch 6 innings; though thankfully Cole looks back and Myers has been pitching well enough.

      Another interesting article would be to take Madson’s velocity charts (http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfxo.aspx?playerid=1852&position=P&pitch=FA) and add a regression line starting at the beginning of 2008. I want to see the R value on that, and some explanations on what the hell is going on.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Eh, hard to get too mad at Lidge for Saturday. A-Rod’s home run was definitely a Yankee Stadium Special; it’s a lazy FB out in a normal park.

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  4. Nostradamus says:

    I’m guessing the Rays wish they had AK back after losing Iwamura for the year…

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    • JH says:

      I doubt it. They’ve got Zobrist and Aybar – both of whom are above average options at the position.

      The Iwamura injury just underscores how ridiculously deep the Rays are. Their starting 2B goes down for the year, and they have two options on the 25-man to replace him: a guy who currently has a .990 OPS over 100 ABs, and a guy with a career OPS of .775, both of whom are above average defensively at the position and under 30.

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  5. Evan says:

    It is impressive that the Jays needed to lose 6 games in a row (and half of them to a pursuing team) to fall out of first place, but now that they have they’re not likely to see it again all reason.

    They just don’t hit that well.

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    • Torgen says:

      Maybe they don’t really hit as well as they did the first six weeks, but they don’t really hit as poorly as they have the last week, and everyone thought their problem would be starting pitching depth.

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  6. JD says:

    Ah yes, as Skip Schumaker is playing the worst second base in the majors, negating his decent offensive skills, the Cardinals pay Adam Kennedy to play a capable 2B in the AL. I get that it was a ballsy move, an interesting move; and I guess we’ll have to see what it looks like as the sample size grows, but that move is starting to look less interesting and more…well, bad.

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  7. Aaron C. says:

    Middling correction: The A’s sent Joe Dillon to the Rays in exchange for Adam Kennedy.

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