Cards, Angels join Phils in having closer woes

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

The Phillies' Brad Lidge is not the only struggling closer for a team likely headed to the postseason.

The Rockies prefer ...

If the Rockies win the NL wild card, they might prefer to play the Cardinals rather than the Phillies. The Cardinals lack a left-hander in their rotation, while the Phillies' two best starters, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, are left-handed. The Rockies' left-right splits are fairly even — their .787 OPS against righties ranks first in the NL while their .770 OPS against lefties ranks fourth. Still, they're 24-24 in games started by lefties, 50-41 in games started by righties. The Dodgers would appear to match up better against the Phillies — their .806 OPS against lefties is the highest in the NL, while their .750 OPS against righties ranks seventh.
  • Twins right-hander Carl Pavano is finishing strong, and one rival executive says that he would be a decent free-agent signing in the $5 million to $7 million range. Pavano, 12-11 with a 4.82 ERA, has made 30 starts, worked 183 innings and issued only 35 walks. In his last six starts — his most meaningful of the season — his ERA is 2.27. Pavano, 33, already has earned $1.95 million in bonuses on top of his $1.5 million base salary and realistically could receive $550,000 more for total earnings of $3.9 million.
  • Maybe the Twins should pass the Tigers — the Twins' run differential is plus-27, while the Tigers is minus-3. In fact, seven of the 13 other AL teams have better run differentials than the Tigers, including the Blue Jays, who are plus-seven. The A's also had a better run differential before losing 10-3 to the Rangers on Monday night. Run differential reflects a team's underlying strengths and weaknesses, and often is a strong predictor of future performance.
  • The A's are not just a September flash. They're 34-30 since the All- Star break, and entered Monday's play ranked fourth in the AL in runs per game during that time. The increased offense is a surprise; left fielder Matt Holliday is gone, and Adam Kennedy's .767 OPS is the highest among the remaining A's with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. While the team lacks above-average offensive players, its young pitching remains the envy of most clubs. The emergence of rookie shortstop Cliff Pennington, a gifted defender who is hitting better than expected, should end any talk about the A's bringing back Orlando Cabrera as a free agent.
  • Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, unsigned beyond this season, could draw interest from Mets GM Omar Minaya, with whom he has a relationship. But why would Jaramillo want to leave the Rangers for the Mets? Jaramillo is a native Texan, and he has held his present position for 15 seasons. The Ballpark in Arlington is one of the best hitter's parks in the majors, while Citi Field is one of the worst. The Rangers also have several intriguing hitting prospects; the Mets do not.
  • For all the talk about the Red Sox's supposed offers for Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay, the player the Jays wanted most — pitcher/shortstop Casey Kelly — has not been mentioned in recent news reports. Kelly, who turns 20 on Oct. 4, is taking an unprecedented path — he pitched in the first half of the season at Class A and played shortstop in the second. The Sox signed him for $3 million after making him their first-round pick in the 2008 draft. The Jays wanted him as a pitcher.
  • And finally, a word from Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald, who initially was alleged to have punched Yankees manager Joe Girardi last Tuesday during a bench-clearing brawl at Yankee Stadium. "It makes me sick to my stomach for anyone to ever think I would throw a punch," says McDonald, who is widely regarded as one of the nicest people in the game. "All I did was grab a hold of Tex (Mark Teixeira)."

    — Ken Rosenthal, FOXSports.com

  • Cardinals right-hander Ryan Franklin suddenly is wobbling, while Angels lefty Brian Fuentes — like Lidge — might not be the best closing option on his own team. Neither Franklin nor Fuentes is a strikeout pitcher comparable to the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton, Twins' Joe Nathan or Red Sox's Jonathan Papelbon. And high contact rates often lead to trouble. Franklin averages just 6.21 strikeouts per nine innings, and his .258 batting average on balls in play reflects good fortune; the NL average is .298. Fuentes' strikeout rate, meanwhile, had declined from 11.78 per nine innings last season to 7.82 entering Monday night's play. His .313 BABIP actually was slightly above the AL average, but his .276-.369-.457 line against right-handed hitters was frightening. Angels setup man Kevin Jepsen is much more effective against righties and much less effective against lefties, so perhaps manager Mike Scioscia will start relying more heavily on matchups in save situations. Scioscia certainly is not managing Fuentes the way he managed Francisco Rodriguez last season. Fuentes leads the American League with 44 saves, but also has blown seven opportunities. Left-hander Joe Saunders, after throwing 101 pitches, started the ninth inning with a 5-2 lead on Monday night and the Yankees' middle of the order due to hit. Scioscia summoned Fuentes only after a one-out single by Alex Rodriguez. Fuentes nearly gave up a two-run homer to Nick Swisher — left fielder Reggie Willits caught the drive with his back to the wall — then walked Jorge Posada before retiring Robinson Cano for the final out. Jepsen is a backup plan for the Angels, just as Ryan Madson is for the Phillies. The Cardinals, however, have no clear alternative to Franklin, who has allowed 24 baserunners in his last 10 1/3 innings and blown three saves since Sept. 6. "I had five really good months," Franklin told me over the weekend. "For me, it was bound to happen, sooner or later." One Cardinals official suggests that the team simply needs to get Franklin more rest. Franklin, however, has pitched only 58 innings after averaging 78 2/3 the previous three seasons. Manager Tony La Russa is rightly giving Franklin the benefit of the doubt, not that he has much choice. Still, as terrific a story as Franklin has been this season, it's reasonable to ask whether his luck is running out.

    WWDD: What will Drayton do?

    Good luck trying to predict which unlucky soul Astros owner Drayton McLane will hire as the team's next manager. General manager Ed Wade and club president Tal Smith will offer significant input, but McLane, as always, will have the final say. The Astros, after firing Cecil Cooper, are more likely to opt for an experienced manager than another first-time selection, according to a source with knowledge of the club's thinking. Such an approach seemingly would rule out former Astros star Jeff Bagwell, whose box-office appeal alone might intrigue McLane. Bagwell would listen if the Astros wanted to talk to him about the job, but accept it only under certain conditions, a friend says. If the Astros indeed opt for experience, they could consider a number of former managers — Manny Acta, who played and managed in the Astros' farm system, plus Jim Fregosi, Buck Showalter and Mike Hargrove, a native Texan. Phillies coach Pete Mackanin, who twice has been an interim manager, would be another possibility. The Astros' next manager must navigate a tricky balance — the team is starting to infuse youth but also includes a number of declining veterans. McLane refuses to permit a complete overhaul, limiting his franchise's upside.

    Et tu, Indians?

    It's becoming difficult to mount an impassioned defense of Indians manager Eric Wedge. The Indians, while depleted by the trades of left-hander Cliff Lee and catcher Victor Martinez and season-ending loss of center fielder Grady Sizemore, have lost 17 of their last 20 games. A change might be best for everyone — even Wedge, who has managed the Indians since 2003. The Indians probably could use a fresh voice, in part to appease their fans. Wedge, who is signed through next season, could sit out '10 and become the hot manager in waiting. Highly competent, he would not be out of work long. Acta, the Nationals' former manager, already is back in demand; some executives already believe that he deserves a second chance, and he only has been out of work two months. Acta could become a candidate not just for the Astros, but also the Indians if they fire Wedge and Orioles if they fire Dave Trembley. Oh, and don't forget the Mets, for whom Acta was the third-base coach in 2005-06. Jerry Manuel does not appear to be in immediate jeopardy, but his long-term future is hardly secure.

    Reds: Staff changes coming?

    Reds manager Dusty Baker continues to invite second-guessing with his handling of pitchers, recently using both closer Francisco Cordero and setup man Nick Masset for five consecutive days. The Reds are out of contention. Cordero and Masset figure to play the same vital roles next season. Yet Baker, who is under contract for about $3.5 million in 2010, appears safe. Some of his coaches might not be, major-league sources say. Pitching coach Dick Pole could be held responsible for the regressions of right-handed starter Johnny Cueto and reliever Jared Burton, but the Reds rank third in the NL in bullpen ERA, eighth overall. Hitting coach Brook Jacoby, meanwhile, presides over an offense that ranks 14th in runs per game even though Great American Ballpark is one of the best hitters' parks in the majors. Yet Jacoby, too, would be little more than a scapegoat — injuries and poor roster construction helped compromise the offense. Never mind the Reds' improved play of late. One scout offers a sobering conclusion: The Reds, headed for their ninth straight losing season, are nearly as depressing as the Pirates.

    Cards' Schumaker: Conversion complete

    The Cardinals' Skip Schumaker says he could not sleep at night during spring training, his mind racing as he thought about all the plays he needed to learn at second base. He found his transition from the outfield so overwhelming, he would get nervous riding his bike to the ballpark in the morning. Schumaker, according to advanced defensive metrics, ranks among the worst fielding second basemen in the majors. His improvement since the start of the season, however, qualifies as one of the team's biggest successes. Manager Tony La Russa came up with the idea to move Schumaker to second, a decision that led to the February release of Adam Kennedy, who signed with the A's and actually has outproduced Schumaker offensively. Schumaker worked in spring training with bench coach Joe Pettini while his normal instructor, third base coach, Jose Oquendo managed Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. He calls the two coaches "miracle workers" and still looks to Oquendo before nearly every pitch for guidance on positioning. "I want (playing second base) to become a habit," Schumaker says. "I don't think it's completely there yet." Schumaker says his biggest fears initially were embarrassing himself and upsetting the Cardinals' pitchers. He had played shortstop in high school, but says that second was "completely foreign" to him. Suddenly, he had to think about his defense, something he never had to do in the past. Only around the All-Star break did Schumaker start to become comfortable at second. No longer was he tossing and turning at night, fearing the worst. He told his wife, "I can do this."

    A most uncomfortable vest

    Think teams will start to learn not to award vesting options to Scott Boras clients — or any players, for that matter? True, Magglio Ordonez has rallied for an .886 OPS since the All-Star Game, but the Tigers surely would prefer to pay him less than $18 million next season. The Rangers, meanwhile, must meet a similar if less costly obligation to right-hander Kevin Millwood, who also is represented by Boras. Millwood, who turns 35 on Dec. 24, guaranteed his $12 million salary for 2010 on Monday night by pitching seven innings and surpassing 180 for the season against the A's. Unlike Ordonez, Millwood had gone backwards in the second half, going 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA between July 1 and his start Monday night. He led the AL with 130 innings before the All-Star break, and his heavy workload may have taken a toll.

    Boy, do the Cubs stink — Chapter 27

    How badly have the Cubs fallen offensively? No Cubs outfielder will finish with even 60 RBIs. In fact, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are the only Cubs with that many — and Ramirez did not reach 60 until Monday. Last season, the Cubs had five players with at least 60 RBIs, including — ahem — Mark DeRosa. The Cubs, of course, do not run, either — they have stolen just 52 bases, tied for last in the NL with the Braves. The Red Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury, Rays' Carl Crawford and Astros' Michael Bourn all have stolen more. The Cubs stole 87 bases last season.
    Tagged: Orioles, Red Sox, Angels, Indians, Tigers, Twins, Athletics, Rangers, Cubs, Reds, Astros, Dodgers, Phillies, Cardinals, Rays, Adam Kennedy, Magglio Ordonez, Brian Fuentes, Ryan Franklin, Francisco Cordero, Kevin Millwood, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Victor Martinez, Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge, Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Skip Schumaker, Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Papelbon, Nick Masset, Michael Bourn, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jared Burton, Johnny Cueto

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