In Need of Relief
The Montis are rounding the final corner into September, and on paper they’re looking the strongest they’ve been in years. They’re 109-26 (.807) and with a 33 game lead over the 2nd place Microsoft Longhorns (76-59, .563, second-best in baseball), they’ve already clinched the division. They’re on pace to blow away their records the past two seasons (125-37, .772 in 2005 and 119-43, .735 in 2006), and they’ve even got a fair shot of beating out their second-best 131-31 (.809) record from their inaugural 2003 season.
But the Montis have hit a roadbump that threatens to derail their season – while staying virtually injury free all season (save for a broken rib injury that allowed Tina Quach to play in only 17 games between July and August), the Montis lost two critical players right at the end of August – on the 30th, setup reliever Alvina Chu suffered a devastating ruptured tricep tendon that will leave her out for 4-5 weeks, likely leaving her out for at least the first round of the playoffs. The very next day, star leftfielder Ted Kwong injured his back running the bases on a double, and is out 1-2 weeks. While a condensed 3-man rotation of Yan-Esguerra-Chin (a combined 64-5 over 609 innings with 1.88 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 918 K’s (13.57 K’s/9) will likely be able to hold for the playoffs without too much bullpen support, the offensive machine will need Kwong to come back at full strength if it expects to continue humming at its league-leading 6.81 runs per game pace.
The rest of the league is starting to shape up as well – the Microsoft Longhorns seem to have a firm grip on 2nd place as they’ve done all season, backed by their murderer’s trio of sluggers (Jango Fett – .376-.455-.669, Boba Fett – .346-.411-.612, Jabba Desilijic Ture – .251.396-.609), and the Caribbean Pirates have reversed their 2006 last-place fortunes by staking themselves to a 66-69 (.489) record and 7 game lead atop the UL Terran Division.
The race in the SWL is a bit more interesting – while Pentax (led by .349-.438-.971 Skywalker and no one else) and Nikon seem to have secured playoff spots for the Photomaker division, the World Cities division will come down to the wire, with Las Vegas, Tokyo, and Paris all within 3 games of each other.
Tina “Experimental Error” Quach, Catcher/Third Basewoman: Quach hasn’t done much at all the past couple months, playing in just 17 games since July after breaking several ribs in a collision at the plate. As such, her numbers haven’t changed much – Quach went an unremarkable .274-.338-.306 and hasn’t been all that impressive since her outstanding April.
Marco Paz, Catcher: After a blistering first-half performance, Paz has regressed mightily, hitting a terrible .214-.290-.325 in July-August, and with Quach healthy and spot starting behind the plate (albeit not hitting all that well either), Paz will need to fight to maintain his current position. Paz has worked much better on his defense, however – he’s thrown out 10 of 22 runners since the season’s midpoint, finally fulfilling the potential of his cannon arm.
Derek Lew, First Baseman: Derek Lew is nothing but consistent, and while other hitters have had flashed terrific parts of seasons, Lew has been content to continue plugging along near his career averages – so far he’s put up a .288-.342-.559 line on the year. Lew won’t have any earth-shattering developments this year – he’s on pace to put up 74 doubles, 12 triples, 27 homers, 144 RBIs, 136 runs (great but no career bests) – but one area of encouraging improvement is Lew’s improved walk rate – he’s already set a career best for walks with 47, and his walk rate of 7.7% is a vast improvement over the 4.6% rate he put up last season.
Cristian Ortiz, Second Baseman: Ortiz has continued his torrid June pace into the blistering Indian Summer, propelling Ortiz to career bests in almost every category, with a full month left to go. Ortiz has already set a career high in homeruns (26), doubles (36), RBIs (106), Runs (130), walks (74), and has already broken last year’s stolen base record with 95 so far this season. He’s batting .309-.396-.532, all career highs, and should have no problem achieving the lofty goal of 100 steals on the season (he’s on pace for 113).
Henry “Mr.” Nghe, Shortstop: The oldest player on the Daly City team may finally be showing his age – at 30 years old, Nghe is putting up career lows in almost all categories, with a replacement-level .263-.324-.404 line. While attributed to poor luck early on, Nghe hasn’t been able to get good contact on the ball at all – his BABiP has plummeted from to .425 to .457 to .304 this season, which has been terrible news for a player who built his on-base and slugging rates on good batting averages.
Joanna Maung, Saung-gah-basewoman: Written off in the first half of the season after compiling worse than replacement level .250-.320-.288 batting, Maung has finally begun to heat up, hitting .308-.390-.385 and .385-.417-.477 in July and August. She’s even refound her clutch intangibles, hitting .563-.611-.750 in close/late situations.
Salgu “Swissmath” Wissmath, Utility Infielder: Swissmath has gone through significant growing pains as a rookie, but she’s done fairly well for a #9 hitter, raking .420-.474-.620 in July and raising her line up to .302-.371-.413 on the season, and even stealing 21 bases to boot (on just 315 plate appearances). With the continued struggles of Nghe at shortstop, and Maung only now finding her stroke, Swissmath has a decent shot at playing herself into a solid infield starting position by the time the postseason rolls around.
Ted Kwong, Leftfielder: If the slight cool-down heading into the all-star break cast any doubts on the young rookie’s skills, Kwong answered them authoratatively in July and August, hitting a monstrous .393-.480-.749, with 20 homeruns, 52 RBIs, 53 runs, and 34 walks in that span. He’s vaulted himself into the leading position for the Batter of the Year award, with a .364-449-.713 line, 43 homeruns, 123 RBIs, and 130 runs on the season. His 1.162 OPS, .713 slugging, 13.1 RC/27, and 130 Runs lead the field of candidates, and opposing managers have come to fear him, intentionally walking him a UL-leading 17 times (just one behind Pentax uber-slugger Skywalker).
Jessica Kuo, Centerfielder: The fleet-footed Kuo didn’t blaze the basepaths quite as fast in August – she nabbed just 11 bags after pacing the league (including league-leader Ortiz) every month from May through July. With Ortiz’s increased power pushing him back to the #2 slot in the lineup, Kuo has taken most of the starts at leadoff, where she’s produced mixed results – her speed has been impressive, but she’s gotten on base at a league-average rate of just .340.
Francis Chen, Rightfielder: After his monstrous June performance won him an All-Star nod for the very first time, Chen’s BABiP regressed back to normal as he saw his batting average plummet to .235 over July-August. Still, between walks and hit-by-pitches (12th and 6th in the league, respectively) Chen has pulled things together enough to make him serviceable at the plate (a .362 OBP for the season), which has given him enough chances this season to develop and display his prodigious power – and oh what power! Chen is slugging .656 on the season, and ranks second in the league behind Microsoft’s Desilijic Ture in homeruns. He’s already tied Norman Ho’s record of 49 homers, and has still got a month to go! Needing only another 11 homers (which he’s already done in 3 of 5 months this season), Chen even stands a fair shot of becoming only the second player to hit 60 homers since the 2005 league reboot.
Tiffany Ho, Utility Outfielder: Perhaps the most consistent of all the young centerfielders, Ho still lags behind both Kuo and Reid in starts but has demonstrated her versatility by playing at least twenty games in all three outfield positions. While she’s still learning to take a walk (just 14 walks in 305 plate appearances – fewest on the team by far), she’s smacking the ball at a much better rate (.330 batting average), and putting a little more power on it as well (she’s raised her bases per hit from 1.32 to 1.40). It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out, as all three players will be competing fiercely to gain a foothold on the starting job for the postseason, and 2008.
Skyler Reid, Designated Hitter: After leading the field of standout rookie centerfielders, the rookie Reid has been finding success in patches. Reid stumbled out of the gate in the second half, batting an abysmal .065-.121.-065 in July, but then followed up with a fantastic .373-.431-.644 August. With better defenders Kuo (or occassionally Ho) establishing themselves in the centerfield position, Reid has mostly been delegated to designated hitter duties, but he’s performed well enough there to carve out a sizable majority of starts.
Jonathan “The Cheet” Chee, Designated Hitter/Emergency Catcher: Chee isn’t quite sure what position he plays these days – he’s started just 8 of 58 games in the field, none of them in the outfield where he has most experience. In fact, the lack of positional flexibility and his defensive liability in the outfield has probably hamstrung Chee the most in his search for consistent playing time to establish himself this season. Nonetheless, while Chee continues to struggle with an abysmal slugging percentage (just .322 – set to be the second-lowest on record of any Daly City season with at least 250 plate appearances), he’s refound some of his ability in his area of strength: walks and hit-by-pitches and on-base percentage. Since July Chee has reached base at a .439 pace, behind only LF Kwong in that span.
Nathan Yan, #1 Starter: The second half of 2007 has been marred with inconsistency for Yan, who has put together 10 complete games, 7 without earned runs, in 12 starts over July and August, yet came away with a solid but not awe-inspiring 0.95 ERA to show for it. Despite a dominating stretch (complete games in 17 of his past 19 starts, including his second PERFECT GAME of the season), he’s also been hit hard, giving up his first non-quality start of the season – 4 runs over 7 innings against the United States Patriots, and the brilliant control he demonstrated in the first half of the season seems to have regressed (he walked 9 batters in July alone, after walking just 8 in the three preceding months). Nonetheless, Yan’s peripherals remain strong, and with his aggressive start schedule he could break several records – he can make up to 6 more starts in September, which currently projects to give him new career highs (and league records) in innings (294 IP), strikeouts (595), complete games (28), and shutouts (16).
Whitney Esguerra, #2 Starter: Esguerra has truly evolved into a lights-out phenom in just her second year, and has shown no signs of letting up – behind Yan, she’s second in baseball in nearly ever pitching statistic, from ERA (2.19) to Wins (20) to Quality Starts (23) to K’s per 9 (11.2). For the year she’s 20-1 in 25 starts, and has been immensely consistent in her dominance – she hasn’t gone a single month with an ERA above 3.00 or a WHIP above 1.00. If she can maintain the same level through September, Esguerra has a chance to set several Daly city marks – with 4 more wins she’ll have put up the best Wins mark of any pitcher not named Yan or Fong, and her current K-rate would put her at 283 K’s and 11.2 K’s/9 – both non-Yan Daly City records for a starter.
Samantha Chin, #3 Starter: While Esguerra has captured all the headlines and imagination with her potential, Daly City’s other young phenom starter has quietly continued her steady season-on-season improvement. While none of her numbers jump off the graphs, she’s set to put up career bests in almost all categories, and put together a dominating July stretch in which she pitched shutouts into the 9th inning in four straight starts, completing two of them. Chin had a forgettable August however, giving up a 4.24 ERA and managing less than 7 innings per start.
Terrence Zhao, #4 Starter: While the dominance of the 2005 Zhao may be long gone, he’s quietly turned around his abysmal first half with solid performances in the second half, winning all eight starts with a 2.10 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, and even finishing out August with a pair of complete game shutouts. With a 3-man rotation a strong possibility going into the playoffs, Zhao will have to reach back for some of that 2005 magic to displace Chin for that #3 slot.
Alfred Vong, #5 Starter: Vong entered the season with high expectations for himself, and for four months it looked like he was destined become another lights-out ace in the loaded Daly City rotation. Through the end of July, Vong had compiled a 7-2 record in 12 starts, with a 2.83 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. Things came crashing down for Alfred in August, however, as he put up ugly starts and a 5.97 ERA en route to a 1-3 record in 5 starts. Vong’s lone gem in that span was a complete game, 1-run win. For now the bullpen convert will struggle through some consistency issues, and with the knockout of setup reliever Chu, may find himself resuming his old relief duties for the month of September.
Sean Wade, #6 Starter: Bad has turned worse for Wade, whose pitches have looked like homing missiles for bats this season. With a 5.23 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, Wade is having one of the worst seasons on record for a regular starting pitcher in Daly City – no one who has thrown more than 50 innings has ever fared worse (and Wade has been given 105!).
Kelley Cox, Long Reliever: Cox has struggled of late, although her problems are partially due to rust – solid starts by the Daly City rotation in July meant almost no work for Cox, who made just two appearances and pitched 1+1/3 innings that month.
Bernadette Dugtong, Middle Reliever: Dugtong hasn’t been flashy (her numbers are 3.46 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 5 holds against 1 blown save), but she’s been adequate and durable stopgap in middle relief.
Alvina Chu, Setup Reliever: Chu’s farewell tour ended early as she ruptured her tricep tendon at the end of August, leaving Daly City’s most experienced reliever out for the rest of the regular season, and possibly into the playoffs as well. Up to that point, Chu had been putting together a solid second half – she sported a 3.04 ERA and 0.98 WHIP through 26+2/3 innings of work. Her loss means an already thin bullpen (down to just three relievers, including closer Leong) will have to work overtime over the last month.
Josiah Leong, Closer: After months of dull perfect innings and few save opportunities, Leong was back to his thrill-seeking ways in July and August, going 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA and both blowing and saving critical leads. On the whole, however, Leong is having his best season yet as a closer – he’s blown just 2 save opportunties (21 for 23 – 91.7%, tops among relievers with at least 20 save opportunities) and has dominated with a 2.12 ERA, though he hasn’t had many opportunities to protect close leads for the overpowering Daly City offense.