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September 3, 2010

Prospectus Hit List

AL: A Slight Opening

by Ben Lindbergh

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Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor


After dropping their opener against the White Sox last Friday, the Yankees strung together six wins in a row, even with their Captain seemingly absent from the helm (Jeter went just 3-for-29 with three walks and no XBH during the seven-game span). Much of the Bombers' offensive firepower was supplied by Marcus Thames, who channeled turn-of-the-century Glenallen Hill by clouting four big flies to complete a stretch of six homers in six days. By virtue of their winning ways, the Yankees pulled ahead of the division-rival Rays (who've gone 4-2 since last week) by a game and a half, marking the first time that the two teams have been separated by more than one game in the win column since August 14. That kind of proximity would make for a heck of a pennant race, if both teams' October odds weren't currently standing over 95%.


After another winning week for the Rays, manager Joe Maddon's record as Rays skipper now stands only a single game below .500. That he's about to break even after languishing 70 games below par through his first two seasons in Florida serves as another reminder of how far the Rays have come since 2007. In a week during which ascendant ace David Price struck out 15 and walked just two in 15 frames, the September roster expansion offered a glimpse of an even brighter future, as Jeremy Hellickson returned this time in a relief role), while Desmond Jennings made his MLB debut, giving the Rays one of the fastest outfields in recent memory.


The Twins took two of three from both Seattle and Detroit, maintaining a 3.5-game lead over the White Sox in the AL's sole remaining make-or-break race. After acquiring Matt Capps at the non-waiver trading deadline, Minnesota picked up another closer at the waiver deadline for good measure, bringing in Brian Fuentes to bolster the southpaw side of a bullpen thinned by injuries to Ron Mahay and Jose Mijares. Third baseman Danny Valencia stroked the hit that helped the Twins walk off on Wednesday, and after a 3-for-5 Thursday night, boasts a .455 average since last Friday. Despite the third baseman's efforts, the Twins dropped their finale against the Tigers, a 13-inning affair that forced them to use seven relievers after starter Scott Baker experienced elbow pain and couldn't come out for the third. Gerald Laird brought a merciful end to the reliever conga line by launching a pinch-hit homer off Nick Blackburn, who was making his third appearance since being recalled from Triple-A.


Red Sox
The Sox dropped two of three at Tampa Bay before taking two of three in Baltimore; treading water won't keep the lights on in Fenway Park beyond October 3, and the club's playoff odds have fallen well into the single digits after sinking over 10% in the last seven days. Clay Buchholz went 7.1 strong in Tampa to polish off an award-winning month, and the Sox did well to steal Chris Balcom-Miller from Colorado for a replacement-level performer in Manny Delcarmen. As second guesses swirl around the Red Sox medical staff, another player succumbs to injury: the latest loser of Boston's ongoing game of medical musical chairs is the surprisingly effective Felix Doubront, who strained a pectoral muscle in the process of allowing two solo shots on Tuesday.


The Cliff Lee watch continues in Texas: after failing to finish the fifth against the Royals on Tuesday night, Lee's Rangers ERA has entered the realm of normal-pitcher numbers, though his K:BB ratio remains otherwordly. Lee's seven complete games lead the AL, but he hasn't lasted six innings in a start since August 16. With a comfortable 10-game cushion in the AL West, Texas can afford to take it easy with their ace's sore lower back; he'll be joined in the rotation by Derek Holland, who subs for bullpen-bound Rich Harden. Josh Hamilton has hit .526/.591/.789 in the last week and leads the AL field by more than a win above replacement; he'll be joined in the outfield on occasion by Jeff Francoeur, who can begin anew the process of ingratiating himself with certain segments of a team's fan base, while earning the ire of its more sabermetrically oriented circles.


White Sox
The Sox dropped two of three to the Yankees, but recovered to sweep Cleveland, which is as close to a gimme as one can get in the AL Central. In a week which saw Frank Thomas' No. 35 retired, the Sox put a big hurt on their opponents offensively, batting .303/.378/.491 as a team. Their middle-of-the-pack offensive attack (sixth in the AL in TAv) should be augmented by waiver-wire acquisition Manny Ramirez, who went 1-for-3 and got plunked in his first start for Chicago. Regardless of whether Don Cooper has taught him any new tricks, Edwin Jackson remains undefeated in his latest uniform after striking out 11 Indians and falling an out short of a complete game in his most recent outing, and the South Side pen should receive two welcome reinforcements in Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz before the end of next week.


Blue Jays
It wouldn't be Blue Jays baseball without a home run or two from Jose Bautista, and the right fielder obliged by adding two dingers to his league-leading total during a .450/.577/1.000 six-game stretch that saw him add also a third Player-of-the-Week Award to his 2010 tally. He was matched homer-for-homer by newly minted pull hitter John McDonald, whose total of five home runs in 115 at-bats is almost as surprising, in its own way, as Bautista's 43 in 465. Brandon Morrow shut down Detroit for six innings in his most-recent outing, and he'll try to end 2010 on a high note in the Bronx this afternoon before being shut down for the season in order to limit his workload. After fanning nine Tigers last Saturday, Morrow's strikeout rate stands at 28.5%, which leads all pitchers with a minimum of 70 innings pitched.


Remember when a blistering second half was an annual tradition in Oakland? Those sustained hot streaks often went hand-in-hand with playoff appearances, another early-century staple that won't be reprised on the AL side of the bay this season. The A's have played at a .500 clip since the break, but dropped five of seven to the Rangers and Yankees in the last week. Dallas Braden earned Dallas Braden earned one of those victories with a complete-game shutout in Arlington, though given that he managed to strike out only a lone ranger (Michael Young) ,much of the credit for that outing goes to the Athletics' sterling defensive unit, which leads MLB with a .714 Defensive Efficiency rating (4th in PADE). Braden held the Yankees to one run through five-plus on Thursday, but was forced to leave Bradenia unguarded in the presence of a disabled Alex Rodriguez when felled by leg cramps that made him feel as if he had "pulled [his] hamstring 20 times in a row." Daric Barton can't take much blame for Oakland's rough week; the first baseman amassed seven hits (three of which left the park) and 10 walks in 28 plate appearances, and now ranks eighth in the majors in OBP.


The Tigers lost two of three to both Toronto and Minnesota, but the big news is that, well, uh, there has to be some big news, right? OK, maybe not, unless you count the fact that Johnny Damon still plays in Detroit, or Miguel Cabrera's recent bout with biceps tenderness. To see the effects of that injury, one need look no further than the woeful .300/.417/.650 rates Cabrera posted from August 27-September 2, which sent his seasonal line plummeting to a paltry .338/.433/.638. Brennan Boesch watch: .203/.280/.286 since June. Thinking man's pitcher Max Scherzer, on the other hand, owns a 1.25 ERA since July 31, a stretch of seven starts and 50 1/3 innings.


Six weeks or so down the road, how's that Haren trade working out for the Angels? Through 54 innings, Haren has a 3.50 ERA and 1.2 WARP for the Halos; thus far, the Diamondbacks have been snake-bitten, since Saunders has managed only a 4.70 ERA and .2 WARP. Of course, both pitchers sport identical 2-4 records, so Jerry DiPoto might not know what he's missing (kidding, kidding). The Angels are much too far back for a WARP to make any difference this season, but the 22.2 innings (featuring three runs, three walks, and 23 strikeouts) mustered by Haren, Jered Weaver, and Ervin Santana in the last week make them feel better about their prospects for 2011.


Since coming off the DL on August 15, Travis Hafner has been mashing more or less like it's 2004, putting together a .333/.429/.521 line. That kind of line might make us nostalgic, but Pronk's chronic shoulder issues will likely keep him from sustaining that sort of production over any appreciable length of time. For performance you can count on, look no further than Shin-Soo Choo, who has batted .310/.412/.517 in the last week, driving in five of Cleveland's six runs with a double and a homer in Thursday night's victory over Seattle. Finally, while he's not an active player (though one suspects that he still feels he could be), we wish Rapid Robert a rapid recovery from his battle with leukemia.


Mike Moustakas' near-.600 slugging percentage in Omaha might be more interesting than anything transpiring on Kansas City's major-league roster, but the Royals did upgrade at catcher when Jason Kendall went down with extensive rotator cuff damage, forcing the big club to call up Lucas May, a converted shortstop acquired in the Scott Podsednik deal who's hit .291/.355/.501 in the PCL this season. Kendall failed to hit a triple or a homer in 2010, but he did make Ned Yost proud by avoiding medical treatment and continuing to catch despite lacking a functioning right arm. Given that the Royals' playoff odds have zeroed out, Kendall might've been taking that old "It ain't over till it's over" saw too literally. In other Royals news, Kila Ka'aihue has hit just .190/.261/.238 in 21 at-bats in the last week, which might hurt Rany Jazayerli more than it hurts him.


The Mariners are 2-5 over their last seven, averaging 2.7 runs per game over that span. Russell Branyan's two-run shot on Thursday broke a seven-game homer drought-not just for Branyan, mind you, but for the Mariners as a team. However, exploratory surgery revealed that Shawn Kelley would not require Tommy John surgery, so the news wasn't all bad. That the Mariners managed to add to their win column at all is a testament to the fine pitching of Luke French, and, as usual, King Felix, who struck out eight Angels without allowing a run on Tuesday


The Orioles actually swept the Angels last weekend, but that dead-bird bounce couldn't prevent them from earning the distinction of becoming the first AL team to be mathematically eliminated; congratulations are in order for being first in the league, which isn't something we've had a chance to say about the Orioles often this season. The O's are 17-12 under new manager Buck Showalter, which is mildly interesting, but far more interesting are the faint signs of life emanating from a few of his youthful charges. Matt Wieters has hit .262/.333/.437 since the end of June; that's hardly Wieters-Fact-worthy, but it's an improvement of his anemic early-season line. Brian Matusz looked the part of a future star in August, recording a 2.43 ERA with a K:BB ratio near 4.00. And hey, while this doesn't fall under the "youthful charges" heading, you know who's pretty good? Luke Scott. Pretty, pretty, pretty, good.

The Prospectus Hit List rankings are derived from Won-Loss records and several measurements pertaining to run differentials, both actual and adjusted, from Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings through the close of play on every Thursday.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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