This week’s pressing questions (stats through Wednesday’s games):
Who has the best rotation in baseball?
The Phillies, and if you don’t believe it, ask the Red Sox.
Sometimes the most expensive toy is the best. The Phillies spent $66 million on their rotation this year, and it’s the best in baseball, even if Joe Blanton is an expensive accessory.
Six weeks ago it was fashionable to suggest the Braves had the best rotation, and a well-known website did exactly that. By that logic, the Indians were the best team in baseball, and they have as much chance of winning the World Series as LeBron James does of showing up at one of their games wearing an Indians hat.
The Phillies’ starters have an ERA of 2.98, the Braves’ 3.18. The Phillies’ entire staff leads baseball with the same 2.98 ERA, and that’s not because of all the innings Kyle Kendrick is hurling; the Braves are second at 3,07. And none of that takes into account the significant home-field advantage the Braves’ pitchers have.
What’s it mean? The Phillies may need another bat and a couple more relievers, but Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee will be one huge advantage in October.
And, if you want to be contrarian, forget the Braves. Try the Mariners — Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas, and, yes, the Doug Fister. That’s a better rotation than any that has Derek Lowe in it.
Who wins the AL Central?
Whoever gets the most rainouts. This is baseball’s best version of a mid-major conference in college basketball, but there are no Butlers or George Masons here.
After the first day of June, the Twins were minding their own business, 16-and-a-half games out of first place, 20 games under .500, almost as many players on the disabled list as home runs hit. They’re 17-8 since despite a lineup that is less formidable than the ones they offered in March, and they’ve cut the lead by more than half.
The Twins have overcome deficits before — 4-and-a-half games back on July 15 last year, 7 games back on Sept. 6 in 2009 –but it’s hard to see it happening again this year. Their injuries are still too numerous, and their bullpen too porous.
So who wins? The White Sox keep running — pardon the pun — Juan Pierre and his .618 OPS out there every day, and at the top of their lineup. Scratch them.
The Indians are right there with below-average production from Carlos Santana (.226) and Shin-Soo Choo (.244, 687 OPS), and rookie Lonnie Chisenhall can’t do worse than Jack Hannahan (.642 OPS) at third base. But they still fashion Fausta Carmona (4-10, 5.89 ERA) as an ace, when he shouldn’t be trusted with blowouts. So, maybe.
And somehow the Tigers are tied for first despite a pitching staff, in one of baseball’s best pitching parks, that ranks 27th. Of course, their pitching isn’t that bad. It’s worse. The Tigers have one starter — Justin Verlander — with an ERA below 4.47; if the Mets could put up 16 against them, imagine what the Red Sox and Yankees will do down the stretch.
But here’s one very tentative vote for the Tigers. Their bullpen is good, Verlander has arguably been baseball’s best pitcher thus far (17 starts, 128.2 innings, 84 hits, .178 average against, .519 OPS against), and Miguel Cabrera isn’t coming home at 6 in the morning. That we know of.
What’s wrong with Adam Dunn?
Dunn is hitting .173 and slugging .316 — for point of reference, he’s being outslugged by teammate Omar Vizquel by 20 points. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re enough of a baseball fan to know what that means.
Dunn said he’s seeing a sports psychologist — here’s hoping it helps — and the two even went golfing together. No truth to the rumor Dunn swung and missed.
Former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Riccardi once said Dunn didn’t like baseball and didn’t have a passion for it. And that’s when Dunn was hitting home runs; imagine how much he likes it now.
This year he has seven, and 100 strikeouts in 231 at-bats; he struck out 199 times in 558 at-bats last year. At his current pace, he’ll reach that number in about 100 less at-bats. Or sooner — Dunn has now struck out in 7 of his last 8 at-bats and 16 of his last 26 entering play Thursday.
The irony is that Dunn was among baseball’s consistent players for nearly a decade: 40 home runs for 5 straight years, 38 the next two, and 100-plus walks in six of those years. The massive strikeout totals were a necessary side effect.
No way a change of leagues or ballpark should have this impact. No way he should be, uh, done at age 31. You would think there’s a big second half of the season ahead for Dunn, which might spell the difference for the White Sox.
But after the first half, you wonder.
What is MLB to do with the Dodgers?
Move them back to Brooklyn. Quick, before the borough changes its mind.
It’s hard to tell what’s worse — the team the Dodgers put on the field, or the infighting between MLB and Frank McCourt over the team’s ownership. All of this hassling over money and divorce cases and loans and payroll is enough to make you miss the good old days of Dodgers ownership — say, when Fox had control.
Truth is, it’s a shame, because the Dodgers are one of the sport’s great franchises and have been at the forefront of much of its growth and development. They broke the color barrier — and whether their motivation was winning, righting a moral wrong or both is irrelevant — that alone wins them a favorable legacy.
But they’ve done more. Their spring training facility in Vero Beach helped change the month of March, they helped spread the game to half the country which didn’t have it, and they’ve been the subject of more good baseball literature than any other team. And occasionally, they even beat the Yankees.
Now, they can barely beat the Padres.
My solution? Sell the team to someone in baseball with lots of money, nothing to do, a history with the Dodgers, and who won’t mind seeing millions spent on Ted Lilly.
Say, Manny Ramirez?