Mailbag: 2009 MLB Midseason News and Notes

morgan spoknyContributor IJanuary 26, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 19:  Manny Ramirez #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after he scored on a RBI single by Casey Blake #23 in the top of the sixth inning against of the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Four of the NLCS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Citizens Bank Park on October 19, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

1. ” If the cubs don’t turn it around in the second half of the season, could Lou Piniella be in trouble?”

Sweet Lou is absolutely on the hot seat. I personally don’t think coaches make all that much difference in terms of win and losses but unfortunately someone has got to become the scapegoat for the cubs lackluster year. The cubs posted the best record in the league last year and then subsequently got bounced in the 1st rd. Piniella is considered an elite manager despite never winning a championship, but the excuse has always been that he has been stuck with mediocre teams (Seattle and Tampa Bay). He has always been considered a baseball man, but personally I don’t think his track record and reputation will save him if the team continues to stay around the .500 mark.

Is it Pinellas fault that the teams best hitter entering the year and leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano is hitting .231, has a .294 OBP, a team leading 80 strikeouts and only 7 stolen bases. Is Soriano’s poor performance a question of motivation, or have his skills just started to deteriorate? I personally feel that he has started to slow down physically and has lost a few steps. Soriano has always been a free swinger with a bad eye at the plate. Do I think he’s a .231 hitter? No, but I think he’s closer to a .250- .260 average now at this point in his career.

However it’s not just Soriano who has been slumping this season. Milton Bradley has been another huge disappointment in limited at bats posting a .236 average, and this may be attributed to a lack of motivation and a strained relationship with Piniella, but that comes with the territory when you sign Milton Bradley. Aramis Ramirez has played solid ball when he has been healthy, but has been plagued with injuries for the majority of the season. which has really left them with a gaping hole at 3b. Geovany Soto has completely disappeared and honestly I wasn’t that high on him even last year when his stock was really high as a rookie. He had a huge first half last year but then totally disappeared in the 2nd half, and the bad production hasn’t changed this year. It sure looks like the pitchers have figured him out and he hasn’t made the necessary adjustments. In terms of pitching, Pinella has also been hurt by inconsistency and injuries. When Harden pitches he has the lowest era of any sp in the game the last few years, but he doesn’t stay healthy! Bringing in Harden this year was a risky move that could potentially pay big dividends, but unfortunately for Lou he started on fire but has seen his era explode to 5.47. Harden’s surge in era sure seems like a red flag to me and if Harden ends up on the DL for a prolonged period this year, you can count the cubs out of September, and Lou will be fired and blamed for the teams demise.

2.” With Manny back in the lineup and his replacement Juan Pierre sitting on the bench after playing on fire in his absence, could this cause problems in the clubhouse?”

Well have to see what transpires in the coming weeks, but I’d have to say that it wont hurt the clubhouse. Manny is publicly perceived to be well liked by his teammates and I am sure they will all welcome him back. In terms of chemistry I don’t think the addition of Manny and subtraction of either Pierre or Either will negatively affect the team. Pierre is a quality ballplayer who adds a different dimension to the club and I would like to see him get more playing time this year. Pierre is a career .301 hitter, with 4 seasons of 200 + hits under his belt. He’s not a bum, and its too bad he got buried on the bench last year behind the younger prospects Ethier and Kemp. His speed and ability to get on base and not strike out probably makes him more valuable to the dodgers than Ethier, but that is no knock on Ethier whose swing reminds me a lot of Bernie Williams. There is a delicate balance between having too much talent and having guys get upset about playing time and roles and having too little talent. Personally I believe that the Dodgers have a really solid and complete team and are the team to beat in the NL this year.

3. ” Is Albert Pujols the best hitter in baseball in the past decade?”

It’s not a popular choice but if I had to pick one guy, I’d go with Bonds. He is the best hitter I have ever seen play the game. He’s the only guy I have watched where I actually expected a HR every AB. If you pitched to him, he jacked it, and if you didn’t pitch to him, he would take the walk. You couldn’t beat him with any pitch and he had no holes in his plate coverage. Managers actually thought it was a good idea to walk the bases loaded rather than pitch to him. Bonds was so well respected that he had 120 IBBS in one year, and led MLB 12 years during his career in IBB. Bonds resume features 14 years where he posted a 1.000 OPS or higher and 5 years where he posted a 1.100 ops or higher, and of course his pinnacle year where he sported a hefty 1.421 ops. A 7 time MVP, Bonds was a complete ballplayer that excelled in every facet of the game. He had power but also understood the strike zone. He took walks, didn’t k, and of course had the speed and D to compliment his bat.

5.” Is their a Middle relief pitcher out there to help the yanks bullpen?”

Sure. Middle relievers are a dime a dozen and the Yankees shouldn’t have any problem finding another pen arm if they really need it but I’d only make a move if it was a really great deal that didn’t cost too much. A lot of news has been made the last few years of the Yankees rocky pen, but I actually feel like this year they have the pieces internally to patch together a pretty decent pen. After Mariano Rivera there are most certainly question marks, but David Robertson has been coming on lately and is posting an impressive 31 k’s in 21 innings so far this season after being promoted from AAA where he was dominating. He has filthy stuff and I think we can pencil him in as an fixture in the pen. Alfredo Aceves has less stuff but he’s got great control and while he probably wont continue to post a 2.49 era, I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to find success in the Yankee pen and stays close to the 3 era mark. Of course if those guys begin to falter there are always Ian Kennedy and Phillip Hughes who can work into the pen or try their luck again in the starting rotation. While the team needs to work on defining roles for everyone, at least this year there are ample options.

6. Can Texas hold on to the division lead?”

Absolutely they have a chance to win the division. if they can get Hamilton back and hitting up to his potential they have a great shot at stealing the West! I’ve been on the Rangers bandwagon all year and definitely think they have the talent to win the division. Nolan Ryan and Ron Washington have done a great job leading this organization and I feel like they are a studly pitcher away from being a WS contender. As with every year for the last decade the only thing that can hold this team back is the pitching. However, this year they have more talent to work with and it doesn’t hurt that the Angels have been totally decimated by injuries and the death of their best sp prospect Nick Adenhart. This is a guy with huge value who they could have bundled for a guy like Miguel Cabrera a few years ago. It was the Angels division to win, but things have not gone the way they wanted.

The Ranger’s pitching has been a pleasant surprise so far this year. Kevin Millwood is finally pitching up to his potential after a few sub par years where he flirted with a 5 era. It was really puzzling why all of the sudden he became a stiff but it looks like he has figured things out and has found his form of old. The park might not help, but he shouldn’t be sitting above a 5 era like he was in 07 and 08. He’s leading the big leagues in innings pitched and they will need him to keep up the work if they are to win the division. After Millwood, the staff is still a patchwork quilt of projects. Padilla, Harrison, Feldman and Holland will obviously have to pitch well for this team to have any chances but at least they have some upside and have shown glimpses of promise. Not too mention that they could possibly bring up a young stud pitcher like Neftali Feliz in September who can give the team a needed boost. The lineup is in my opinion the best in the league and if Hamilton can bounce back from his groin injury it will become even far more potent. However, injuries and health are becoming a concern for Hamilton and if he can’t make it stick this year, you can count out the Rangers.

By: Morgan Spokny

Scouting The Sports Contributor