I expect John Smoltz to return to the mound within three weeks and be a top-five closer over the course of the season. Considering his age and balky shoulder, heís certainly not without risk, but his stuff was about as good as ever before going on the DL. He knows how his arm responds best, so I trust his decision to move to the pen will result in better health, even if it comes down to him pitching through some soreness. If youíre looking for saves, might as well see how worried his owner is by making an offer.
Ted Lilly is officially back. A terrible start has left his ERA still sitting at 5.33, but his WHIP is 1.28, and his 8.8 K/9 IP mark is 12th best in major league baseball. Over his last four starts, he has a sparkling 32:6 K:BB ratio. His velocity has returned, and the Cubs field a terrific offense with a solid back-end to the bullpen. Lilly has never been the most durable pitcher, but he needs to be treated like a top-25 starter right now.
Ian Snell, conversely, is someone to worry about. Snellís inability to come up with a third pitch has really hindered his development, and all those sliders are taking a toll on his arm. Heís still young enough to turn it around, but after last yearís second half (4.83 ERA, 1.53 WHIP), this seasonís 5.05 ERA is disconcerting. The sinking K rate and rising BB rate are particularly discouraging.
For a game thatís played on the same exact dimensions everywhere, itís pretty crazy just how important homecourt advantage is in NBA basketball.
Nick Johnsonís trip to the disabled list was about as surprising as someone from ESPN using the phrase ďby the way.Ē Cal Ripken Jr. can now rest easy. Johnson was playing much better than his .220 average indicated too. The worst part is the nature of the injury, as thereís no guarantee his wrist wonít be a major problem even when heís able to return to the field.
Song of the week: ďTime to PretendĒ by MGMT.
Curtis Granderson is hitless during four at-bats against left-handers this season, one year after batting .160/.225/.269 versus southpaws in 2007. Heís the rare superstar who can be benched at times in daily formats. Staying with the Tigers, Justin Verlander has been one of the five most disappointing players in baseball so far. His 6.05 ERA is accompanied by a .291 BABIP, which is right in line with his career mark, so that canít be blamed. His .59 strand rate is sure to improve, but the fact his walks are up and his Ks are so down isnít a great sign at all. After nine starts, his season-high for strikeouts in a game is six. Dating back to last year, heís now served up 13 homers over his past 12 starts, which isnít going to cut it. Heís also hit seven batters this season, which is worst in the league. I wouldnít necessarily be trying to sell Verlander, but I also wouldnít be aggressively trying to buy-low either.
Fun stats: Ryan Theriotís seven caught stealings are by far the most in baseball. David Ortiz has grounded into the most double plays (10) in the league. Albert Pujols has been intentionally walked 12 times, which is almost twice the amount of anyone else. Bengie Molina has been the toughest player to strike out this year, fanning just once every 26 at-bats. Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Zimmerman have recorded the most outs in all of baseball.
Brett Myersí loss in velocity can help explain his league-leading 15 home runs allowed, but that heís also maintained an 8.1 K/9 IP mark is a little strange. Maybe the jumping back-and-forth between the rotation, bullpen and then rotation again wasnít such a great idea after all. Thereís pretty good reason for concern here.
Daniel Cabreraís 3.58 ERA and 1.23 WHIP are great, and so is the fact heís walked just one batter over the past two starts (16 innings). His newfound ability to induce a bunch of groundballs is another encouraging sign. Still, for someone with his stuff, Cabreraís K rate (5.5 K/9 IP) is beyond disappointing, and his .240 BABIP suggests heís been quite lucky. Thereís no doubt heís improving as a pitcher, but as much as I want to believe heís truly turned the corner, itís best to remain skeptical.
Chris Duncan is batting just .258 with three homers on the year, but he can be quite useful in daily formats. Injuries curtailed what was looking like a big season last year, and heís really improved his walk rate in 2008, which could lead to him consistently hitting high in St. Louisí order. Heís unusable versus left-handers, but Duncan has hit 20 homers in 295 career at-bats against righties, so heís a fine option against them. However, hopefully he limits his smoking to just photo day and not game days.