Who’s this Berkman character?

Who in their right mind thought Lance Berkman would be leading the NL in OPS and SLG through the first 30 games of the season? I honestly thought it was a horrible signing for the Cardinals. I thought the 35-year-old had nothing left after watching him at the plate last year, plus I couldn’t imagine his legs being back in the outfield after a couple of years at first base and DH. Turns out, he’s been the best hitter for the Cards. Heck, for the entire NL and may also just be one of the best free agent signings of the year. I would have never of thought that prior to the season.

Berkman enters Friday’s game hitting .392/.462/.775 slash line with 10 home runs and a league-leading 32 RBIs in just 29 games. To put this into perspective, he hit 14 home runs total in 122 games with the Astros and Yankees combined. Even in the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium, he connected for just one longball in 106 at-bat with the Yanks. Overall in 2010, he hit a homer about every 29 at-bats. But this season, he’s belting one dinger about every 10 at-bats. What a difference a year makes.

Obviously, I think Berkman is just more comfortable in the NL, especially in the NL Central where he knows a lot of the pitchers. Not to mention that hitting in the lineup around Albert Pujols doesn’t hurt matters. His home run total last year was the lowest of his career besides his rookie year and he last blasted 20+ home runs in 2009 (25 with Houston), he’s well on his way to eclipsing that total. Of course if he can stay healthy, which is always the question mark for an aging veteran.

Yankees fast start

The Yankees are tearing the cover off the ball so far this season, propelling them to an early one-game lead in the AL East. The offense easily leads the league in home runs with 46 while ranking fourth in runs scored. That’s all fine and dandy, it’s the Yankees and we have come to expect that from them. But at some point this year (playoffs or before during pennant races), the bats will cool off or run into better pitching and will the Yankees be able to rely on pitching?

They are currently getting by with AJ Burnett, who’s having a bounce back year so far, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Phil Hughes has been horrendous (13.94 ERA), Nova is posting an ERA above 5.00 and Colon has been a nice story in April, but I don’t see him staying right for the entire season. CC Sabathia hasĀ  been solid and he’s their ace no question, but their pitching depth is very thin and they can’t afford a midseason injury or a Hughes type blowup again if they are going to compete in the AL East come September and beyond.

Runs at a premium

I shouldn’t have surprised to find out that two teams are actually scoring fewer runs than the A’s. The A’s are scoring 3.4 runs per game while hitting a slash line of .237/.304/.355. I thought that was bad, but can you name the two teams that are worse? It’s the Twins and the Padres. One playoff team from a year ago and the other a division leader for most of the season before falling behind the Giants yet still winning 90 games.

The Padres are scratching out runs at a 3.34 per game with a .218/.299/.327 slash line, but the Twins take the cake with 3.1 runs per game and a pathetic .230/.292/.323 line. When you are getting on base at a .292 clip, that is awful. With those numbers, it shouldn’t surprise anyone of the Twins 11-18 record and the Padres 12-19 record. The 16-16 A’s are getting by on stellar pitching, something the Padres and Twins (minus Liriano’s no-hitter) lack this season. How bad has it been for the Twins? Liriano’s no-hitter dropped his ERA to a 6.61 mark.

I was just about to work on a post on the biggest move this offseason being that of the White Sox signing slugger Adam Dunn when the Red Sox go out and acquire Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with San Diego.

The whole Gonzalez trade rumors have been discussed for a couple of years now at every trade deadline, but a move was never made until now. The Padres surprising success this year had something to do with them holding onto him throughout the season. But now he is a Red Sox, and we finally get to see what he can do is a ballpark outside of Petco.

Details on the trade are not official yet, but obviously the Red Sox will have an immediate return with a A+ power bat to plug into the lineup next to Big Papi and Kevin Youkilis. I just can’t wait to see what Gonzo can do going from an extreme pitcher’s park to a hitting haven like Fenway Park. Let’s break down Gonzalez’s career in San Diego…

In his five years with the Padres, Gonzalez hit a total of 161 home runs, an average of 32 bombs per year. This was coming out of a park that is considered one of the worst hitter’s park for homers in the league. Out of the 168 home runs in his career, 64 percent of those have come on the road. Plus, his average is 40 points higher away from Petco.

According to park factors.com, Petco Park is a -74 rating (76R, 72 HR), meaning that in the years 2007-2009 Petco produced 76 runs for every 100 runs scored in an average MLB park and 72 home runs for every 100 home runs. Petco’s ranking is dead last among all ballparks. On the flip side, Fenway plays close to neutral with a +101 rating (111R, 90HR).

Not only is the ballpark change going to be a huge factor, but Gonzalez rarely had any protection whatsoever in his seasons with the Padres. Add that up with him being in his prime (29 years old next year), and we could see a ridiculous 2011 season for Gonzalez in Fenway.

Berkman and Dunn signings
In other news, Dunn signed a four-year deal with the White Sox worth $56MM. This deal isn’t much of a surprise considering it’s no secret that the Sox have wanted Dunn for a while now. They went as far last year to acquire Edwin Jackson from the Diamondbacks in hopes that they could flip him to the Nationals for Dunn. There were plenty of rumors in July at the trade deadline of the White Sox front office being furious with the Nats for apparently backing off of a deal for Jackson after telling them they would deal Dunn for Jackson. Maybe if the White Sox acquire Dunn, their second half of the season would have been different, but anyway they have him on their roster now for four years. Speaking of park factors, Dunn moves into an absolute launching pad at Chicago’s US Cellular Field (+118 rating, 109R, 126HR) so expect to see his home run totals climb at a high rate.

Last up for today is the news that the Cardinals signed Lance Berkman to a one-year deal for $8 million. I’m not sure how much the 37-year-old slugger has left as he’s coming off his worst ML season (.248/.368/.413). He still gets on base a ton, but his power looks to be in serious decline. The weird thing about this pickup is there’s talk that the Cards will put Berkman in the outfield. Who would allow Berkman to touch the outfield? He hasn’t played it since 2007, and while I don’t live by some of the advanced defensive sabermetric statistics, his numbers in the outfield were pretty horrid.

Game 2: Rangers 6, Rays 0
The Texas Rangers moved within one victory of winning their first postseason series in franchise history as they blanked the Rays 6-0 in Game 2 of the ALDS at Tropicana Field. For the second straight day, the Rangers shut down the Rays behind stellar pitching holding the Rays to just two hits in the game. C.J. Wilson tossed 6.1 scoreless frames with just two hits, two walks while fanning seven for the victory. Ian Kinsler launched a solo home run to give Texas a 2-0 advantage while Michael Young delivered the big blow, a three-run homer one pitch after the umpire said Young held up on a ball, but replays show the bat went too far and wasn’t called. Tampa manager Joe Maddon argued the call immediately following the home run and was ejected from the game. Not that it mattered much because the Rangers bullpen shut down the Rays the rest of the way with a 2.2 hit-less innings from Darren O’Day and Darren Oliver. James Shields was not effective for Tampa as he lasted just 4.1 innings after allowing four runs, four hits and one home run for the loss. The Rays have shown zero offense in two games at home and now are forced to travel to Texas and need to win three straight games to advance to the ALCS.

Game 2: Yankees 5, Twins 2
Once again the Twins held a lead at home, and once again the Yankees rallied to defeat the Twinkies to take a two games to none lead with the series shifting back to Yankee Stadium this weekend. Andy Pettitte was his usual boring playoff self…by boring I mean effective as hell, going 7.0 stellar innings with five hits, two runs allowed and four strikeouts for the win. Lance Berkman was the other story for the Yanks last night as he broke a tie twice, first with a solo home run in the fifth inning and then after Orlando Hudson tied the game for Minnesota with a solo blast, Berkman responded in the very next innings with an RBI double to give NY a 3-2 lead. Curtis Granderson had another strong game for the Yankees with three hits, one run and one RBI. Like the Rays, the Twins face the difficult scenario of having to win two on the road just to get back to Minnesota for a possible decisive Game 5. I have a feeling this was the last baseball game played in Target Field in 2010.

Game 1: Giants 1, Braves 0
Pitching is paramount in the playoffs, and the Giants showed that last night in a pitcher’s duel as starter Tim Lincecum was nearly unhittable in a 1-0 Giants victory in Game 1 at AT&T Park. Lincecum fooled the Braves all night with a complete game shutout on 119 pitches. “The Freak” allowed just two hits, one walk while striking out 14 batters. San Francisco’s rookie catcher Buster Posey scored the only run of the game on a single by Cody Ross in the bottom of the fourth inning. But it was all the Giants would need as Lincecum retired the final eight batters to leave no doubt in this game. Derek Lowe took the loss for Atlanta with just one run allowed in 5.1 innings. Brian McCann and Omar Infante each picked up one double, the only hits on the night for the Braves. Atlanta will turn to the young phenom Tommy Hanson tonight in Game 2 against another solid Giants starter in Matt Cain.

There were numerous deals throughout the league on Friday. Let’s recap in the order that they were announced:

White Sox Acquire Edwin Jackson from Arizona
The Diamondbacks fire sale continues and believe it or not, but they may have picked up a better return for Edwin Jackson than they did for Dan Haren.I’m not sure what the D-Backs franchise plan is at the moment, but they seem to love trading for mid-rotation starters and then trading them away.

Jackson was traded for the fourth time of his career for pitcher Dan Hudson (No. 66 top prospect according to Baseball America) and low-level minor leaguer David Holmberg. Hudson is a great pickup for Arizona, but I’m not certain that they didn’t have more with Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth when they traded the two of them to Detroit last December for Jackson. I still think they should have held onto Scherzer. Despite throwing a no-hitter earlier this year with about 45 walks, Jackson isn’t having a very good season with a 5.16 ERA, 7.0 K/9 and a 4.0 BB/9. Forgetting about the deal last year, this stand alone deal was a good one for Arizona. Jackson will provide the White Sox some rotation depth with the loss of Jake Peavy as they battle the Twins for the AL Central title, but I can’t help thinking they gave up way too much in this deal. Though there’s also rumors going around that their plan is to flip Jackson around to the Nationals for maybe Adam Dunn? Crazy shit going down right here.

Rangers pick up Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman
Yesterday, the Rangers dealt for Marlins first baseman Jorge Cantu for two Double-A pitcher (Evan Reed and Omar Poveda) and today they added speedy infielder Cristian Guzman. Texas will send another couple of Double-A pitchers in Ryan Tatusko and Tanner Roark, which begs the question of who’s left at Double-A Frisco?

Guzman could have waived his 10-and-5 rights, but agreed to the trade. Guzman is hitting .282/.327/.361 while playing shortstop, second base and right field. Cantu has 10 home runs, 54 RBI and a slash line of .262/.310/.409 in 97 games. The Marlins may also not be done dealing as it looks like Cody Ross is also available. Neither of these guys (Cantu and Guzman) are going to single-handily win a division title for the Rangers, but they provide the team depth, experience and someone to play first base.

Yankees Bring Berkman to the Bronx
First the Yankees acquired Austin Kearns for a player to be named later from Cleveland. They like his right-handed bat. Ah, whatever. The next deal will make headlines. The Yankees continued to wheel and deal, trading for long-time Astros slugger Lance Berkman. In exchange, the Astros got reliever Mark Melancon and low-level minor league infielder Jimmy Paredes. Apparently after years and years of thinking they were still in the hunt, the Astros have finally given up the fight and are selling, selling, selling.

For some reason the Astros are sending about $4MM to cover part of Berkman’s salary for this year. Isn’t one of the prominent reasons to trade with the Yankees is that they have no payroll and will pay anyone and anything to play for them?

This trade will make big headlines in New York, but it would have been great had it been two years ago when Berkman was hitting like Lance Berkman. He’s currently in mist of a disappointing season with 13 home runs, 49 RBI and a slash line of .245/.372/.436 through 85 games. And I swear most of those home runs and runs batted in were against the Pirates this season. He’ll play DH for the Yankees and is an obvious upgrade over Colin Curtis, who has been playing there. Plus, the big guy still gets on base with 60 walks in 85 games for a .372 OBP. Berkman has the 10-and-5 rights, but waived his no trade clause in this deal, which he did when the White Sox attempted to get him.

There are the deals that went down today with possibly another one on the way with twitter blowing up right now on how the Dodgers are close to acquiring Ted Lilly from Chicago. Now does Paul Maholm go anywhere or Adam Dunn or Jose Bautista? Ah, the trade deadline. Don’t you just love it?