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September 9, 2010

Prospectus Hit List

NL: Trouble at the Top

by Jay Jaffe

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RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Comment

1


Braves
80-60
2-5
.581
Flat
Bumped: After more than three months atop the NL East, the Braves surrender first place amid a slide which sees the offense score just 16 runs in seven games-a situation so frustrating that even injured Chipper Jones gets tossed (who does he think he is, Bobby Cox?). The addition of Derrek Lee (.250/.348/.350 with the Braves) isn't helping much, but the offense is scoring 5.5 runs per game since he arrived. The real culprit is a rotation which has been rocked for a 5.20 ERA and just nine quality starts out of 19 since Lee's August 20 debut, with every starter above the league average (4.08).

2


Padres
79-59
3-3
.565
Flat
Back End Blues: Not even a 10-game losing streak can take the NL West lead away from the Padres thanks to the 16-3 burst which preceded it; after they find a cure for their ailments via a sweep of the Dodgers, their two-game lead is exactly what it was a month earlier. As to what went wrong in the slide, analyst Abe Simpson might say it's a little from column A (2.3 RS/G, .216/.267/.312), and a little from column B (5.5 RA/G, 3.8 BB/9, .325 BABIP). The back of the rotation is becoming a particular concern, as Wade LeBlanc, Kevin Correia and various fill-ins have put up a 6.59 ERA while averaging just 5.1 innings per start since August 1.

3


Rockies
75-64
6-1
.557
Up
CarGo, Indeed: A six-game winning streak pulls the Rockies to within 4.5 games of the NL West lead, nearly quadrupling their Playoff Odds to around 20 percent. Leading the way is Carlos Gonzalez, who's hitting .516/.569/1.065 with seven homers and 18 extra-base hits during a 16-game hitting streak which has suddenly made him the most likely winner of the Triple Crown. He's currently first in batting average (.340) and RBI (100) and third in homers (32) thanks to a drastic home/road split: .394/.441/.795 with 25 homers at Coors, .288/.310/.450 with seven homers elsewhere.

4


Reds
79-60
1-5
.555
Flat
Pulling Away: Aroldis Chapman shows he's human by yielding three hits (two infield ones), a wild pitch and an unearned run in a loss to the Rockies, but even as the Reds lose four out of five, their Playoff Odds remain in the 98 percent range thanks to a six-game cushion in the NL Central. They drop two of three to the Cardinals, with their lone win coming thanks to the arm and bat of Travis Wood, who tosses seven strong innings and connects for his first major league homer, off Adam Wainwright no less. Wood has got a 3.19 ERA and a team-high.573 SNWP in 12 starts.

5


Phillies
81-60
6-2
.546
Flat
Up to Snuff: Cole Hamels tosses seven scoreless innings as part of his second combined shutout in a row as a 9-3 run restores the Phillies to first place in the NL East for the first time since May 30; he adds another seven shutout innings to run his scoreless streak to 22 frames. Hamels and his rotation mates are the key to the team's resurgence; along with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton, he's part of a quartet that's put up a 2.68 ERA since the All-Star break, helping the Phillies to an NL-best 34-20 record. That said, there's reason to be concerned about Halladay; the Doc has yielded 10 runs and seven homers-more than he'd yielded over his previous 11 starts-in his last 21 innings.

6


Cardinals
72-65
3-3
.535
Down
Colby Cheesed: Despite taking two of three from the Reds, the Cardinals' Playoff Odds slip below 6 percent thanks to a 5-14 record since their sweep of the Reds in Cincy. Amid such joy, a Tony La Russa/Colby Rasmus feud goes public, with Albert Pujols siding with his boss/fellow Whitestocker. Rasmus is hitting just .230/.315/.372 while starting 30 of the team's 49 games since the All-Star break after hitting .284/.369/.545 and starting 71 out of 82 first-half games; the team is 57-44 in his starts, 15-21 otherwise. Not helping matters in the bigger picture is the fact that Jon Jay's oh-so-predictable come back to earth (.263/.323/.360) since the Cards dealt Ryan Ludwick to the Padres at the July 31 deadline.

7


Giants
78-62
4-2
.535
Up
Coming Back: A 6-2 run pulls the Giants back to within striking distance in the NL West. The best news comes via Aubrey Huff, who goes 6-for-17 with a double and a homer to break a 2-for-27 drought, and via Tim Lincecum, whose two strong starts (four runs 14.2 innings, 20/1 K/BB) snap a string of four consecutive non-quality starts. Alas, Barry Zito is still getting tarred and feathered via a 9.53 ERA, 1.9 HR/9 and 13/14 K/BB ratio over his last five appearances (including one relief inning), pushing his SNWP down to .505, worst among the team's starting five.

8


Marlins
70-69
3-4
.512
Flat
We Don't Like To See It, Either: Striking Impressions: The Marlins' season is adrift on an ocean of indifference-their Playoff Odds are below 1.0 percent-but Logan Morrison is certainly making waves. He is 13-for-29 with nine extra-base hits thus far in September, and is batting a crisp .318/.431/.497 despite hitting just one home run in 181 PA thus far. Connecting for homers isn't a problem for Mike Stanton, who rips them in three consecutive games; he's got 18 now while hitting .244/.312/.509. As you'd expect, strikeouts remain a problem; he's whiffing in 31.1 percent of his PA.

9


Dodgers
69-71
1-5
.509
Down
Dodgers Blew: Manny Ramirez is gone, but the idiot wind still blows. And so does the Dodgers' offense: they've hit just .236/.305/.342 since the All-Star break, with Andre Ethier (.232/.3035/.387), Matt Kemp (.235/.300/.369) and James Loney (.210/.281/.326) competing for the title of the Ultimate Vortex of Suck. This season can't end soon enough.

10


Mets
69-71
4-3
.482
Down
We Don't Like To See It, Either: Another year, another Mets team staggering towards an ignominious finish while exhibiting a special talent for turning minor nicks and cuts into gangrenous wounds. As the team meanders along with a 21-31 second-half record, Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo-three disappointing, immovable players owed $36 million in 2011-skip the annual trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center; Beltran says it's due to commitments to his own charitable foundation, but Perez refuses to answer questions about the snub, while Castillo admits to squeamishness: "Sometimes when you see people with no legs, no arms, to also be in the hospital like that, I don't like to see that." Fans watching Castillo's declining play at second base and at the plate can certainly relate.

11


Nationals
60-80
3-3
.460
Up
Be the Ball, Danny: September callup Danny Espinosa collects four hits and bops two homers including a grand slam in a rout of the Mets. The 23-year-old shortstop came into the year ranked as the team's fourth-best prospect and racked up 25 HR and 22 SB but just a .208 TAv split between Double-A and Triple-A (his Harrisburg stint makes for some brutal translations), but he's 9-for-22 with three doubles and three homers since arriving. Meanwhile, MLB hands down an eight-game suspension to Nyjer Morgan for his brawling and a pair of other incidents, this on top of a previous seven-game suspension for his interaction with fans in Philadelphia. He's still in the lineup as he appeals the rulings; no word on whether he'll serve as enforcer for the Capitals if he's iced for the remainder of MLB's season.

12


Brewers
65-74
3-3
.459
Up
Now Can He Go Home? Trevor Hoffman becomes the first pitcher in baseball history to rack up 600 saves. While his ticket to Cooperstown is already punched, Hoffman's 600th is a rather empty milestone given his performance this year; he's got a 6.17 Fair Run Average and -2.1 WXRL, the second-worst total in the majors. At least clearing the mark should mean more high-leverage work for John Axford, who's eighth in the league in WXRL despite not debuting until May 15.

13


Cubs
60-80
3-3
.439
Down
Waiting in Wrigleyville The Cubs are lining up managerial candidates for next year, with Ryne Sandberg presumably leading the pack; the Hall of Fame Cubbie recently won PCL Manager of the Year honors while guiding the franchise's Triple-A Iowa affiliate to a division title, and he's finished above .500 in three out of four years in their system. Meanwhile the team is a respectable 9-6 under interim manager Mike Quade. Leading the way is Carlos Zambrano, who has a 1.98 ERA in six starts since returning to the rotation, having not allowed more than two runs in any of them. Elsewhere in the rotation, Carlos Silva is roughed up in his return from a heart procedure, but at least he's back on his feet.

14


Astros
66-73
4-2
.431
Down
Not Happless: J.A. Happ whacks the Snakes for his sixth straight quality start, as things are quietly coming together for the starless 'Stros, who are now 22-14 since the July 31 trade deadline, good for the second-best record in the league. Elsewhere in the rotation, Wandy Rodriguez sees his own string of eight straight quality starts come to an end at the hands of the same team that last roughed him up, the Cubs. Even so, Rodriguez has a 1.91 ERA and 92/19 K/BB ratio over his last 14 starts, good enough to pare his overall ERA from 6.09 to 3.77 and raise his SNWP to .505.

15


Diamondbacks
57-83
2-4
.430
Down
Shouldering the Load Ian Kennedy gets the short end of the stick despite pitching eight innings of two-hit shutout ball against the Giants. It's the fifth straight start in which Kennedy has yielded three runs or less, and he actually doesn't have much to complain about having received 31 runs in his previous four starts. He's got a 4.01 ERA in 173 innings, and the Snakes have decided to let the 25-year-old pitch beyond his initial target of 180 innings. Meanwhile, Justin Upton is on the shelf with a shoulder strain; he's missed seven games after collecting 17 hits in his previous 46 at-bats to lift his rather disappointing line to .275/.359/.447.

16


Pirates
47-92
3-3
.319
Down
Old McDonald Had Some Zeroes, E-I-E-I-O: James McDonald knocks the Braves out of first place in the NL East via a combined shutout. Acquired from the Dodgers at the July 31 deadline for Octavio Dotel, McDonald has pitched well in his seven starts for the Pirates, with a 4.17 ERA, 8.8 K/9, and a team-high .533 SNWP. In the lineup, Neil Walker is riding a 15-game hitting streak while connecting for five homers-half of his season output-in a nine-game span. Walker's .297 TAv is tops on the team, and just six points shy of cracking the league's top 20-not too shabby for a former first-round pick (2004) essentially written off coming into the year.


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.

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

Related Content:  The Streak,  The Who,  Four Homers,  Playoff Rotation

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