July 19, 2006
The Texas Rangers and the Cincinnati Reds Among The Teams To Fade
In last week's column, I looked at the teams that should have value in the second half of the season, rather than the normal upcoming week format. This week it is time for the ďduds,Ē teams that I feel will slide in the second half.
The Rangers finished the first half of the season at two games above .500, which is remarkable to me given the state of their pitching staff. Their offense hasn't even been that great, ranking seventh in the American League in runs scored. The Rangers are actually likely to get better on offense in the second half, as several of their key hitters are below their normal output. Even if they do score more runs, they are going to give up a lot more than they did in the first half, as the Texas heat will begin to take its toll on the pitchers. The Rangers have already used nine starting pitchers this season, and they enter the second half with a rotation of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, two rookies and a stopgap veteran in John Wasdin. This is easily the worst rotation in the division, and the other teams in the American League West have a lot more upside than the Rangers. With Seattle, Oakland and the Los Angels Angels all playing better toward the end of the first half, the Rangers should slide to the bottom of the division by season's end.
The Reds would have made this list even before trading two of their regulars for two middle relievers, but now it will be even tougher on them to stay above the .500 mark. Cincinnati ended the break at 45-44, then swept four games from the Rockies to open the second half, but I donít expect these winning ways to continue. This is another team that just doesn't have enough proven pitching to keep up their current pace. The three new relievers on their roster, Eddie Guardado, Gary Majewski and Bill Bray, are not enough to offset the loss of offense from trading Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo give the Reds two solid starters, but behind those two, there is nothing but question marks with Eric Milton, Joe Mays and whoever is in the fifth spot. Expect the Reds to have their normal second-half swoon and wind up behind St. Louis, Houston and Milwaukee in the National League Central.
The theme of this week's column is teams with a lack of pitching, and Arizona certainly fits the bill. The Diamondbacks had one remarkable stretch in May, winning 23 of 32 games, but they were just 20-36 otherwise in the first half. They are also working with a rotation that is very weak, with just one starter with an ERA below 4.91. Brandon Webb has been tremendous thus far, going 10-3 with a 2.52 ERA, but he can only pitch every fifth game. The rest of the rotation consists of Claudio Vargas, Miguel Batista and two rookies, Edgar Gonzalez, and Enrique Gonzalez. The Diamondbacks have used 10 starters already, and their overworked bullpen has also been in a state of flux all year. Arizona is like Texas in that the Diamondbacks just don't have any other pitching options. There are no prospects in the minor leagues, and no one is coming back from an injury. The Diamondbacks have overachieved to play .500 baseball thus far, and the rest of the season will be a struggle to stay at that mark.
The Orioles are yet another team with three holes in its starting rotation and no one of any promise ready to play. The Orioles finished the first half eight games below the .500 mark, and with three heavyweights and up-and-coming Tampa Bay in their division, it will be tough for them to avoid dropping even more below the .500 mark. Erik Bedard is becoming a star, but behind him only Kris Benson has an ERA below 5.00. Rodrigo Lopez and his 6.77 ERA is the third starter, and Daniel Cabrera has yet to develop any command as the fourth starter. The fifth spot is up for grabs, and no help appears to be on the horizon. The lack of starting pitching has overworked the bullpen as well, with six pitchers appearing in 29 games or more already. The Orioles offense is just average and not capable of scoring enough runs to compete with their poor pitching. The Orioles have a solid core with Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada, but the rest of the lineup contains too many holes, especially compared to the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees. Even Tampa Bay's lineup is much more promising now that the Devil Rays are healthy. There is talk about the Orioles willing to ship just about anyone on the roster for the right price. Teams donít stage second-half rallies when the front office is in that state of mind. It certainly looks like it will be a long second half for the Orioles.