Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Halfway to the Playoffs!

Eleven weeks of regular season play are in the books. Only 11 more to go. Yep, you read that right; we're halfway to the HARL Playoffs already! 
It's been a really weird year. The standings were in extreme flux for the first 8 weeks or so. There are still teams experiencing significant point-swings each week, but the view from the top has settled down of late. Here's the current scoop: 
  1. 98.4 = JOKERS
  2. 93.2 = COBRAS
  3. 87.9 = ASSASSINS 
  4. 85.3 = MUDHENS 
  5. 79.2 = GRILLERS 
  6. 78.2 = RHINOS 
  7. 78.1 = GAMBLERS 
  8. 67.8 = BREWSKIS 
  9. 58.9 = STAMPEDERS
  10. 52.3 = MAYGAMERS 
  11. 42.9 = LEMMINGS
The Jokers and Cobras are currently 1-2, while the Assassins and Mudhens sit roughly 8-10 points behind the leaders and round-out the Top-4 teams in the HARL standings. 
Without a doubt, the loss of Alfonso Soriano for 4-6 weeks with a broken hand is going to hurt the Joker's offense. But Jack's club has one-hell of an offense, so he can absorb this blow a lot better than most clubs. Still, the Jesters have to be feeling a wee bit uncomfy with the Snakes striking at their heels.   
Can the Cobras catch Joker Jack's team? Well, they've certainly weathered some major injuries already (Tulowitzki, Gallardo, and Dave Roberts have all hit the DL for very long stretches), so it looks like they have the staying power to remain a bonafide contender for 1st Place. If they could just address their holes at SS (Gomez is a bum) and Catcher (Paulino got sent to the minors), they would have a legitimate shot at overtaking the bell-jangling Jesters.
The Assassins need to ride out boo-boo's to Ryan ChurchTad Iguchi, and Nick Johnson. So far, so good, as they've still got the 3rd best offensive output in HARL right now. Their pitching is middle-of-the-road, and they could probably use another solid SP and a valuable middle reliever -- but then, can't we all!
The Hens seem poised for a big push, especially now that Jake Peavy and Pedro Martinez are healthy, and Jim Edmonds has finally started to put things together and garner more playing time. They look like a team on the rise from where I'm sitting. The only thing that might come back to bite them in the tookus is AGE. Six of their key players (Delgado, Kent, Griffey, Edmonds, Pedro, and Izzy) are 35 years old or older. Guys at that age are more prone to injury and time off. When your team is built like that, you pray a lot.
The race for 5th place is WIDE with three teams (Grillers, Rhinos, and Gamblers) all within a gnat's eyelash of each other. Things could change here in a hurry, and you can bet that injuries and trades will play a huge factor in the 2nd-half as these three clubs try to climb up the point standings ladder.
Despite Gasser Geoff's griping about how lousy his team has been, the Grillers are still in the hunt. Sure, they've got some infield issues and the bullpen isn't going to blow anyone's socks off, but they're pretty solid elsewhere. A little more run production (Runs and RBI), another power bat in the OF, and a viable Closer would do them a world of good. And we all know Geoff likes to trade, so I'm sure some deals will be coming. I got snookered a bit on my earlier Sean Gallagher / Odalis Perez -for- JR Towles swap with him. Towles has been an utter bust so far this season. Maybe he''l turn it around, but it sure hurts to see Gallagher throwing well for another club when my pitching staff blows more than the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleading squad.
I've got to be honest, I'm flummoxed, bedazzled, and stupefied all at the same time. Several short days after analyzing post-draft rosters in early April, I thought my beloved Rhinos were poised to go all the way this year. But a combination of key injuries, underachivement, and unexpectedly god-awful pitching has me stuck in the middle of the pack. Hitting-wise, the Horned Ones are just fine. The 2007 NL MVP, J-Roll, is back. Ryan Doumit, Jayson Werth, and Ty Wigginton have recently returned to action. But just when you think all is well, Rickie Weeks goes down with a knee injury. Weeks wasn't doing as well as I had hoped, but was still a key  contributor in Runs and SB. And Andruw Jones... don't get me started. He flat out stinks and now his fat ass is on the DL. But the #1 problem in Rhinoland has been a horrid starting rotation. My projected top-3 starters (Jeff Francis, Oliver Perez, Tom Gorzelanny) are nowhere close to repeating their successes of 2007. And that has really killed me. Couple that with the absence of Noah Lowry, a fragile Joel Pineiro, and a somewhat mediocre Big Unit who is nearing the end of a great career, and you've got nothing to cheer about. Bottomline, I need to put a sign in the front-yard that says WILL WORK FOR PITCHING.
My rascally brother and his Gamblers team is keeping me company in the middle-standings logjam. It's not a spot that he's used to being in most seasons. Much like the Rhinos, the Gamblers bugaboo has been pitching. Edinson Volquez has been lights out (damn, if I just would have gone another few cents at the draft!) and is surefire All-Star. Tim Hudson and Greg Maddux have been reliable, and so was Adam Wainwright before he landed on the DL. Everyone else has either been bad (Snell, Jimenez) or too marginal to make much of a fantasy impact. I'm also not sure why Joey traded a power-hitting, everyday 3B in Kevin Kouzmanoff for a platoon OF in Skip Schumaker. Skip has been surprisingly decent, but I still think Joe got the short-end of that deal. Maybe it's just not the Severino's year this year? 
Nobody else is out of the running yet, but everyone is certainly facing a real uphill battle. 
The Brewskis still have hope, but they desperately need their good young prospects (Maybin and Rasmus) to come up in the 2nd-half and boost a moribund offense. Ian Stewart also appears to be getting a shot at the Rox 2B job, so maybe he'll stick and Kev will call him up soon to fill the Utility slot. Where would this club be without Chipper Jones and his .400 batting average? I think it's high time to deal one of the Closers and perhaps a good Starting Pitcher like John Maine in return for some top quality bashers at 1B and OF. Sure that's scary. Sure, people can be unreasonable in their trade demands. But it pays to knock on as many doors as possible when you're dead last in Hitting or Pitching and don't have anywhere to go but up. 
As for the Stampeders, their outfield is a total mess. Maybe swapping Ryan Howard could yield 2 pretty good guys? The call-up of phenom Chase Headley should also help. Maybe trading a Closer would also be a good way to bolster the offense? Just sayin...
Much as I suspected, it has been a re-learning year for the Maygamers. You just can't step away from rotisserie baseball for a decade, then come back in and be intimately familiar with all the players like you were years ago. That said, Mayer found several surprise performers this year, and for that he can be very proud. Mike Jacobs, Xavier Nady, and Jorge Cantu have been excellent underappreciated power sources. Cantu is a major sleeper that flew beneath most of our radars. I was very high on Nate McLouth prior to the draft, and he has certainly justified that enthusiasm with an All-Star quality 1st-half. As Geoff and I discussed earlier, we figured he would have more SB's than HR's at this point, but the flip-flop isn't anything to be disappointed about. And I simply love Johnny Cueto. His excellent control coupled with a strikeout arm gives him Volquez-like potential to be sure. If I was Mayer, I'd start analyzing the potential core pieces of my 2009 club (Jacobs, Cantu, Ramirez, Kendall, Bay, McLouth, Nady, Cain, and Cueto), and consider trading away anyone else for another inexpensive, good quality keeper. 
Richie Lemming, where have you gone? Off a cliff with the rest of your little furry friends perhaps? The last 2 years have not been very kind to the younger of the Hetrick clan. On paper and when healthy, the Lemmings appear to have a solid lineup. But take a look at that Disabled List. It's hard to compete when Furcal, Zimmerman, Alou, Willingham, Freel, Estrada, and Chad Cordero are in the roto infirmary. I won't mention Nomar, because, well you simply expect to see Nomar here. To make matters even worse, Rich has had a Sevy-like experience with his top hurlers. Roy Oswalt, Brad Penny, and Barry Zito have all collapsed into relative suckitude compared to their usual fine selves. At least there's uber-phenom Jay Bruce to make a little lemming smile. That's something.

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