The Tenth Inning – Week 3

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The Tenth Inning – Week 2 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>


By Mike Ivcic

This week’s edition will once again feature three teams, only this time it’s three teams that have all experienced legitimate postseason success over the past few seasons and were expected to contend again this year. All three of these teams – National League – are offensively challenged, each for a different reason, so all three figured to rely on their pitching to sustain their playoff hopes. Now, a week and a half into the season, all three teams are under .500 and have a lot more questions than they did before Opening Day. The National League sure will be a lot of fun this season.


1. San Francisco Giants (4-5)
By now, you know all about the dominance of Tim Lincecum, the huge new contract of Matt Cain, and the tremendous “upside” for Madison Bumgarner. What you may not know is that prior to this weekend, the Giants were dead last in the NL in team ERA, and their best starter through the first two turns of the rotation has been none other than Barry Zito, who has already thrown a shutout this season and sports a 1.13 ERA. Compare that to Lincecum’s 12.91 ERA, and the fact that Timmy’s only managed to throw 7.2 innings in his two starts – combined. Then add in closer Brian Wilson’s likely season-ending injury, and suddenly this vaunted Giants pitching staff is looking more and more mortal.

Offensively, this was always going to be a team expected to struggle scoring runs, unlike the other two teams on this list. The Giants have gotten great starts out of Pablo Sandoval and Melky Cabrera, but everyone else has been average to sub-par thus far. Offseason pickup Angel Pagan is batting a whopping .171 – not exactly what San Fran was hoping for from its new leadoff hitter. Aubrey Huff’s .217 average isn’t much better, though as a team the Giants are averaging one home run per game through the first nine games of the year. The issue here is that, despite having the same amount of runs scored as runs allowed (43), the Giants team ERA is 4.21. It’s going to be extremely hard for this offense to stay afloat if they’re being asked to score 5 runs a game to win.

2. Milwaukee Brewers (4-6)
Obviously the overriding story here is Prince Fielder’s signing with the Detroit Tigers, but just like the Giants, this is another case of a starting pitching staff that really hasn’t totally rounded into form just yet – as evidenced by the three game sweep at the hands of the Braves. Milwaukee’s staff has allowed 57 runs through the first 10 games, and teams are hitting .283 against Brewers pitching. Individually, the first three starters in the Brewers rotation – Gallardo, Greinke, and Wolf – have ERA’s of 5.91, 6.75, and 10.61, respectively. Closer John Axford has also been terrible, throwing just 2.2 innings in his first four appearances with 3 hits, 5 walks, and a 10.13 ERA. Every pitcher that has thrown a pitch this season has been charged with at least one earned run, and only Shaun Marcum (1-1, 13 IP, 2 BB, 12 K, 3.46 ERA) has produced a season line worth touting out of the rotation. Even K-Rod has walked five in just four innings of work. Not exactly the way Milwaukee was hoping to open their first season without Fielder.

The problem for the Brewers isn’t necessarily their offense as a whole – Corey Hart and Ryan Braun are producing big numbers, and have been joined by the hot starts of Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy. Instead, Milwaukee’s basically had “all-or-nothing” from the guys in their lineup. Aramiz Ramirez, expected to help replace the departed Fielder, is batting .114 and has still yet to hit a homerun. It would be unfair to single out just Ramirez, though, because Rickie Weeks (.184) and Nyjer Morgan (.143) have also failed to produce. It’s basically a lineup that alternates between red-hot and ice-cold all the way through the order, and pitchers have been taking advantage. As a result, the Brewers have been unable to put together a big inning and are instead relying too much on the long ball (14 homeruns, just 43 runs scored) because of the paltry team batting average that currently sits at .228. Prince may not have been able to help correct the pitching flaws, but it’s going to be a long season for the Brew Crew if they don’t start getting production from the rest of the order – especially Ramirez and Weeks.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (4-5)
Out of the three, this is, perhaps, the hardest team to figure out. A glance at the schedule prior to Opening Day would have left Phillies fans thinking of starting strong even without injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. After all, the Pirates and Mets are still weaker ballclubs, and the series at home against the new-look Marlins would still feature Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay. Philadelphia did win that series – even after losing the opener with Hamels on the hill – but dropped two of three in Pittsburgh and at home to the Mets to put themselves in a small hole to start the year. This is one team where there really isn’t any blame to be placed on the pitchers. Every hurler has an ERA under 4.00, with the staff ERA sitting at 2.55. Halladay’s allowed just one run in 15 IP, and save for a mistake to Ike Davis in the first inning Sunday, Hamels would have thrown a shutout to go along with his NL-leading 19 K’s. Yes, once again the Phillies are pitching at a level that is simply better than everyone else.

And yet they still find themselves under .500. Some of the raw offensive numbers would support a better record, too – a .260 team average, 10/11 stealing bases, and outscoring opponents through the first nine games. But that last number is perhaps more a product of their stellar pitching that any sort of offensive prowess. Having played six of their first nine games at home, this Phillies team has still managed just 5 homeruns all season, and no one has more than one. Scoring 28 runs in 9 games is certainly not a recipe for success, no matter how good the pitching is. And while the averages certainly look respectable, the Phillies lost a game on Saturday to the Mets in which they had a runner on base in every inning, but never more than two. A lineup that was once feared because it could put up a big inning at any time needed under the eighth inning of the ninth game of the year Sunday to finally score more than 3 runs in any one inning. Such is life without two All-Stars in the order.

The bigger question for each of these teams is how to fix their problems. For my money, Milwaukee just needs their guys to hit, whereas the Philly and San Fran may ultimately need outside help. Waiting for Howard and Utley is a dangerous proposition for the Phillies. Everyone that’s ever torn an Achilles’ tendon says it takes a full year before returning to full strength, while it’s becoming more and more likely that Utley will never be the player he was from 2007-2010. The Giants could certainly use another bat, especially in the outfield to push Huff and Pagan, but now have to deal with losing their closer as well. All three of these teams were expected to be contenders for their respective division titles and compete for the NL pennant, and it’s certainly too early to write off any of the three. But unless there’s a dramatic change with each ballclub, there could be three preseason favorites that play a grand total of 0 postseason games in the National League.

*Three series to watch this week…
1) PHI @ SFG (4/16-4/18) – As if these two teams didn’t already have problems scoring runs, now they face each other’s pitching. How about Halladay-Lincecum, Blanton-Bumgarner, and Lee-Cain for a three-game series? First team to score wins!
2) NYM @ ATL (4/16-4/18) – The Braves rebounded from their 0-4 start by winning 5 straight to close the week. Now they get a chance at redemption against the Mets, who swept Atlanta opening weekend. Both teams need this series to continue early-season momentum.
3) TEX @ BOS (4/17-4/18) – The Red Sox are suddenly red hot, and come off their Patriots’ Day game facing an early season showdown with the AL favorites. The rotation sets up nicely for Boston, too – Lester and Beckett on the hill for the short, two-game series.

*Note: For this and all future columns, this feature will focus just on weekday series. For three weekend series to watch, check out the “Power Rankings” column every Friday.

Check out my weekly column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday and the weekly “Power Rankings” every Friday, only at

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