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Curve midseason report card: Disappointing record, stats lead to poor grades

June 24, 2012
By Cory Giger, , The Altoona Mirror

Take away doubleheaders and games against Akron, and this season would be rolling along smoothly for the Curve at the midway point.

That's just wishful thinking, however, for a club that's in last place in the Western Division and entered play Saturday with the third-worst record in the Eastern League at 33-38.

The key for any team is to minimize the damage, which generally refers to pitchers getting out of jams and not letting a bad inning turn into a terrible one.

The difference between this being a good season versus the disappointment that it's become is basically the Curve's inability to minimize the damage in two key areas:

* They are 2-10 in doubleheaders. Nothing buries a team in the standings like losing twice in one day, and Altoona has done that four times in six doubleheaders.

* They are 1-8 against Akron. Many of the games have been close against the EL's best team -- the Aeros are 46-27 -- but there are no points for close losses in baseball.

Fact Box

Best of the bunch

The Curve's midseason individual distinctions:

Best all-around: Brock Holt

Best hitter: Brock Holt

Best starting pitcher: Brandon Cumpton

Best reliever: Duke Welker

Biggest surprise: Brandon Cumpton

Biggest disappointment: Robbie Grossman

Best comeback: Tony Sanchez

Unsung hero: Quincy Latimore

MVP: Brock Holt

Had the Curve split all their doubleheaders, they would be 37-34 and in second place in the division.

Had they gone merely 4-5 against Akron, they would be 36-35 and a half game out of second.

The bad news is that the Curve have underachieved in many areas and have let opportunities -- and victories -- slip away because of their inconsistent play.

The good news, though, is that the team is only 3 1/2 games out of a playoff spot in a mediocre, jumbled division, plus the Curve have proven they can compete with and beat every team in the league except Akron (see records vs. EL opponents to the right).

So while the first half has been disappointing, there still could be plenty to play for during the next 2 1/2 months if the club finds some consistency and gets on one or two hot streaks.

Still, to be in last place at this point in the season and languishing near the bottom of so many overall statistics, the club simply doesn't deserve a good grade. D+

SUBHD: Offense

The Curve are last in the EL in homers (31) and steals (39), meaning they don't have much power or speed. That's a bad combination, but one that can be overcome if the lineup has a lot of good hitters. Well, that's not the case, either, as they rank 10th out of 12 teams in batting average (.252). All those factors have contributed to the club scoring just 280 runs, which also ranks 10th in the EL.

The top of the lineup was expected to be productive, and Brock Holt has done his part as he ranks sixth in the league in hitting at .314. But leadoff man Robbie Grossman (.227, 5 HRs, 21 RBIs) and No. 3 hitter Jarek Cunningham (.226, 2 HRs, 21 RBIs) haven't proven they can hit Double-A pitching consistently enough.

Grossman's on-base percentage is nearly 100 points higher than his average (.320), which is a good sign, but it's going to be tough for the offense to succeed with him hitting in the .220s. He also didn't help matters when he was suspended a week for what the Pirates would only call an "internal issue." Cunningham hit 15 homers in only 80 games last season for high-A Bradenton, and while he missed a month with a wrist injury, he just hasn't driven the ball as expected (.348 slugging percentage).

Matt Curry (.286, 2 HRs, 27 RBIs) is a quality hitter, but he will have to hit the ball out of the park much more if he's going to reach his potential and make it to the majors. It's been good to see Quincy Latimore raise his average up to .249 after a miserable start, and he's on pace to lead the team in homers and RBIs for a second straight year (8 HRs, 33 RBIs).

Holt deserves a promotion to Triple-A, and if he gets one, it would leave a big void in the offense. Everyone needs to pick up their play in the second half if the club is going to make a run at a playoff spot. Grade: D-

SUBHD: Starting pitching

The starters have kept the team in a lot of games despite the weak offense and terrible defensive play early. Still, the Curve are just ninth in the league in overall team ERA (3.90), and there are only two starters with an ERA under 4.00.

Brandon Cumpton (7-6, 3.43) looks like a future major leaguer and should continue to get even better as the season goes on. Tim Alderson (3-3, 3.38) was outstanding as a reliever early on and has a 3.74 ERA since moving into the rotation.

Nathan Baker (3-6, 5.34) has been a disappointment and has gone into the bullpen, and Phil Irwin (0-4, 4.35) also has failed to reach expectations after missing the first two months with a shoulder injury.

The rotation got a huge boost with the addition of prized prospect Gerrit Cole, who should be in line for a lot of success the rest of the season. And if fellow prized prospect Jameson Taillon can overcome his recent struggles at high-A Bradenton, he too could be with the Curve at some point.

The rotation has pitched better, for the most part, than its overall numbers and has had to carry the load most nights, so we'll give it a little benefit of the doubt. Grade: B

SUBHD: Bullpen

The Curve are 26-1 when leading after the seventh inning and 28-0 when leading after the eighth, so there hasn't been a repeat of last season's costly blown saves.

Duke Welker (2-1, 2.31, five saves) was the best major league prospect on the team before his promotion to Triple-A. Before Cole joined the team, that distinction may have shifted to Vic Black, who's been terrific (1-1, 1.50, three saves, 40 strikeouts in 30 IP). Mike Colla struggled as a starter (0-4, 5.15 ERA) but has been exceptional in 11 relief appearances (2-1, 0.49 ERA).

There may not be many major league prospects in the bullpen, but the relievers usually find a way to protect leads. That means they deserve a higher grade than their collective ERAs probably would indicate: Grade: B-

SUBHD: Defense

The defense was a disaster the first six weeks or so but has made some strides, and it's no coincidence that when the club plays error-free baseball it has a chance to win most games. Catcher Tony Sanchez made big strides after a slow start, which was good to see and helped earn him a promotion to Triple-A.

However, the Curve are 10th in the league with 69 errors, and that's just not going to cut it. Grade: D-

SUBHD: Coaching staff

This is the exact same position manager P.J. Forbes found himself in last season, when the Curve were four games below .500 at 34-38. That team, though, was in the midst of having the season collapse as it lost nine in a row and 12 out of 13.

Forbes is a good baseball man and has two very good coaches around him in pitching coach Jeff Johnson and hitting coach Ryan Long. Minor league coaches are only as good as their personnel, though, and are the toughest to grade.

For instance, Long was the hitting coach on the fantastic 2010 EL championship team that finished third in the EL in hitting (.268) and was never out of a game. Has he forgotten how to teach hitting in two years, or are the hitters on this team just not as good as the ones in 2010? Clearly the answer is the latter.

Johnson deserves the highest grade of any of the three because the pitching staff has carried the team. Long has worked tirelessly with the hitters, but unfortunately, the results just haven't been there. Forbes is in charge of the club, and he's passionate about seeing his players perform well and improve every day.

There were high hopes for the club entering the season, and no one would say they're happy with having the third-worst record in the league. But because the team does have that record and hasn't shown much consistency, the coaches deserve at least some of the blame. Grade: C

SUBHD: At the ballpark

Attendance is down slightly from this time last year (3,674 compared to 3,732, or 1.5 percent), but that can be made up easily with one or two great turnouts.

While some people still may slip up and call it Blair County Ballpark or BCB -- and yes, I've done it a few times myself -- the transition to Peoples Natural Gas Field hasn't been any big deal at all. The big blue flame at the ballpark's VIP entrance is actually kind of cool, and the new name hasn't been shoved down our throats by the franchise.

The franchise has continued to do a great job using the popular Steamer, Diesel Dawg and Al Tuna as focal points, and the new Curverogie sandwich is very good (although the pierogie could be a little bigger because once that's gone, it's basically just a ham and cheese sandwich).

This sometimes gets taken for granted, but the ballpark is always exceptionally clean, and as long as that remains the case, it will continue to be a fun place to take friends and family. Grade: B+

Cory Giger has covered the Curve and done his annual midseason report card every year since the inaugural 1999 season.

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