Midsummer Mishmash

I'm ashamed to do this, but I couldn't come up with an innovative format or cute theme to organize my thoughts, so I'm just going to resort to a Larry King-style stream of conscious format for today's notes.  I'll punish myself later.

Good Reading
If you are looking for a place on the internet for good baseball info, the Baltimore Sun baseball page is a must.  Three writers - Peter Schmuck, Roch Kubatko and Joe Christiansen - are particularly good. 

Schmuck, the top dog of their baseball staff, gives fine overviews of what's going on in baseball.  I disagree with his take of the effect of DC baseball on Baltimore, but he's got the pulse of the owners and commish; not much that MLB does ever surprises his readers.  Amidst a chorus of cutesy sameness from the vast majority of sports columnists, his wry tone and clear vision through baseball's fog of clichés is refreshing.

Christiansen does some of the most well-researched interviews with players I've seen.  His interview with Rafael Palmeiro this year running the gamut of growing up a Cuban-American, his days at Mississippi State as a collegiate All-American and his perceived break-out from "having gap power" to becoming one of the best power hitters in the last 30 years is seamlessly woven and a perfect example of his craft.

Kubatko is wickedly funny.  In addition to regularly covering the minors, he writes the weekly "Team Rankings", appraisals so sharp and witty they'd make H.L. Mencken chuckle.  Some examples from this week are:

(7) Cubs -Sammy Sosa used as designated hitter against cross-town rivals. Forgets how many outs there are from the bench.
(8) Athletics - Team decides Arthur Rhodes isn't a closer. Also discovers the earth is round.
(12) White Sox - Place pitcher Scott Schoeneweis on disabled list with inflammation of his last name
(18) Devil Rays - Lou Pinella would be enjoying this more if he hadn't sold his soul to the devil.
(25) Mariners -Major league team in Portland? How about one in Seattle?

One of my favorites from last year highlighted Pat Burrell's struggles - and could well be applied to Kevin Millar this year:

Phillies - Pat Burrell promises sick kid in hospital that he'll hit a pop-up to short.

Great stuff!

Frank Francisco
Speaking of great stuff, the Ranger's bullpen has it in spades.  It seems like just about every guy they send to the mound in the late innings is throwing in the mid-90s.  Carlos Almanzar is having a great year setting up closer Francisco Cordero, as is Brian Shouse.  Both of those guys have been around a while and both have had decent success recently so they haven't been huge surprises.  I have been a bit taken aback by the dominance of rookie Frank Francisco.  He's posted eye-popping strike-out numbers so far, better than what he posted in his two years in the minors.  His walk rate and hits allowed are consistent with what he's done previously, but the big difference is that he's not giving up as many homers - zero so far this year - and thus not as many earned runs.  This is probably due to the fact that he's being used in the pen rather than as a starter.  He doesn't have to pace himself and as a result he can let fly with the 97-mph heat and 88-mph slider for an inning or two and not have to worry about what happens next.  His ERA in May was 6.14.  In June it was 3.38 and the way he is pitching, it's going to keep going down.

Orlando Cabrera and Grant Balfour
Cabrera has been a big disappointment so far, but there doesn't appear to be anything physically wrong with him.  My guess is that he's putting too much pressure on himself to produce.  The Expos have talent, and in fact when healthy, they can put a decent line-up on the field with Brad Wilkerson, Nick Johnson, Carl Everett, Jose Vidro, Cabrera, Tony Batista, Brian Schneider and some combination of Termel Sledge and Juan Rivera.  It's not great and, ok, Tony Batista doesn't provide much other than an occasional home run.  But given a regular healthy season from those guys and it should be a middle of the pack offense. 

I suspect with Cabrera's reluctance to re-up with the Expos that he will be traded to a contending team.  The Cubs seem to be the popular choice among columnists and rightfully so.  They have the necessary high level prospects that would interest Omar Minaya, who has stated that he'd like to keep the Expos as viable as possible should they be moved this offseason.  I doubt the Yankees will be able to pull anything off with him, simply because they don't have the prospects and any money they could offer simply won't help at this point.  However, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Marlins as players for Cabrera.  Their version of Alex Gonzalez hasn't been nearly as productive as last year and with Philly finally playing to it's talent level, the Marlins might be prompted to make a move.  LHP Scott Olsen or OF Jeremy Hermida would fit nicely into the Expos long-term scheme if they are allowed to have one after this year.

The Twins would be an interesting play, but they would be trading for virtually the same proposition they face with Cristian Guzman: a shortstop ready to make good money on the open market.  However, Cabrera would be a significant upgrade both offensively and defensively and if the Twins aren't going to play guys like Mike Cuddyer or Justin Morneau regularly, why not let someone else?  With the White Sox making the move to fix their starting pitching, the Twins will need to counter with a better offense.  Trading for another pitcher when they are once again mis-using their pitching resources would just be a waste of money and personnel.

Just like last year when they were reluctant to put Johan Santana in the rotation despite Joe Mays' 6.00+ ERA, the Twins seem wary of putting Grant Balfour into the rotation, instead preferring lesser talents like Seth Greisinger (6.18) and Matt Guerrier (6.00).   Not that either one of those guys is useless; it's just that Balfour is much better than they are.  Now that is shoulder is completely healthy, Balfour is pitching lights out, having allowed 1 run in his last 9 appearances covering 11.1 innings.   During that stretch, he's allowed 6 hits, 3 walks and struck out 11.  Can we please get this guy a rotation spot?  Pretty please.