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June 21, 2011

Prospectus Hit List

NL: June Swoons

by Jay Jaffe

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Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor



Back in the Saddle Again: Cliff Lee throws a two-hit shutout at the reeling Marlins, running the Phillies' winning streak to seven. Lee, who collects two hits (including an RBI double) himself, has surrendered just one run in 24 innings over his last three starts while whiffing 21. His latest run gives the staff the top three spots in the NL SIERA rankings; no points for guessing the two guys ahead of him. On the offensive side, Shane Victorino is a searing 18-for-42 in his last 12 games, hitting .333/.410/.536 since coming off the disabled list on June 3, while Chase Utley is batting a reasonably Utley-like .267/.382/.477 this month as well.


A Call to Arms: A 1-5 skid costs the Braves ground, and worse, they lose Tommy Hanson to a bout of shoulder tendonitis on the heels of his 14-strikeout effort preceding the slide. Hanson has emerged as a much more dominant pitcher in his third season; he's whiffing 9.6 per nine—second only to Cliff Lee and well up from the 7.9 mark of his first two seasons—and yielding an NL-low 6.0 hits per nine thanks to a .245 BABIP, which ranks second. In his absence, the Braves recall four-star prospect Randall Delgado from Double-A simply because he's on turn; he's roughed up by the Rangers. Between Delgado and Julio Teheran, well-regarded novices have provided the team just 12.2 innings in three turns while yielding nine runs; the Braves are 0-3 in those games, which isn't helping their playoff chances any.


It Gets Worse: A seven-game losing streak knocks the Cards out of first place in the NL Central, and just as they claw their way back into a tie they lose Albert Pujols to a forearm fracture; he'll be out four to six weeks. Pujols had only recently begun hitting his stride; after batting just .267/.336/.419 with nine homers through May, he had hit .317/.419/.778 with eight homers in 17 games in June to go with an unreal 3/10 K/BB ratio in 74 PA. The injury comes just as Matt Holliday homers twice in his first four games back from a quad strain, but predictably, Lance Berkman is in a June swoon, batting .222/.300/.574 with six homers offset by a .167 BABIP.


Brewsed: Having charged to the top of the NL Central standings by sweeping the Cardinals last weekend, the Brewers find maintaining their perch much more difficult. The Cubs and Red Sox batter the Milwaukee staff for 47 runs, reaching double digits three times as Zack Greinke (5.1 8 8 6 2 10) and Yovani Gallardo (3 9 8 5 2 4) are particularly roughed up. Also of concern is Shaun Marcum (1 4 2 2 1 1) departing after a 44-pitch inning and a hip flexor strain, though he'll make his next turn—and then there's the bullpen, rocked for an 8.88 ERA over the past eight games, further exposing the unit's lack of depth. Oy.


CarGoing: Carlos Gonzalez homers and drives in four runs as the Rockies rout the Tigers. While his overall numbers (.281/.343/.452) are still well off last year's breakout, Gonzalez is hitting .377/.409/.574 since moving to the leadoff spot, a span during which the Rox are 9-5. He'll remain atop the lineup for the moment, but the longer-term plan involves rookie Charlie Blackmon taking over; he's hitting a slappy .354/.380/.375. Lost in the shuffle is Dexter Fowler, whose .238/.340/.348—primarily from the leadoff spot—wasn't cutting it before he went on the DL due to an abdominal strain. He's fated to work on his stroke in Triple-A for the moment.


Winner of the "You're Still Here?" Award: Miguel Cairo's two-run homer helps the Reds avoid a sweep by the Blue Jays. Cairo's hitting a not-terrible .271/.336/.393, which doesn't look bad next to Scott Rolen's .257/.300/.417 line, particularly when you consider that the futilityman has the same number of walks in about two-thirds the number of plate appearances. Rolen's still capable of the occasional big day, but his 4.7 percent walk rate is less than half his career mark (10.7 percent); he's actually been above the magic 10 percent just once in the past six seasons.


One-Two Punched: Tim Lincecum can't hold back the mighty A's offense as the Giants fall in the first game of a Bay Bridge series sweep by the green and gold. While Lincecum yields just three runs in six innings for his first quality start in three weeks, he walks five; over his past four turns, he's allowed 19 runs in 21.1 innings while walking 12. Lincecum's loss follows that of the team's true ace, Ryan Vogelsong. We kid of course, but the former palooka, who has gone eight straight turns without allowing more than two runs, has stifled opponents by pitching inside and generating a whole lot of weak contact en route to a .278 BABIP.


Heating Up(ton): Justin Upton's walkoff homer against the Giants helps the Diamondbacks avoid a sweep and remain within striking distance in the NL West. It's Upton's first homer of the month, but he's been plenty hot, hitting .412/.500/.588 in June with four three-hit games in a seven-game span. The Snakes aren't exactly tearing up the pea patch; they're 9-9 this month while being outscored 80-74, though at least their roster is providing answers to burning questions like, "Whatever happened to Sean Burroughs?" "Mommy, what's a Wily Mo Pena?" and "Didn't I tell you this was going to happen to Zach Duke?"


Reyes of Hope? Johan Santana, David Wright, and Ike Davis remain on the shelf, but Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are giving Mets fans their money's worth. The former clubs a 460-foot homer and drives in three runs as the team avoids a sweep by the Angels; he's hitting .288/.375/.500 for a .310 True Average, 13 points higher than his career mark. The latter smokes his 12th triple, putting him on pace for 27, which would be the majors' highest total since 1925. He's hitting .341/.385/.517 for a .321 TAv, good for seventh in the league. Everyone from dyed-in-the-wool fans to cynical media types are calling upon the Mets to retain the star shortstop, who at least gives Scott Boras the high hat.


Boutiful Boppers: Ryan Zimmerman doubles to start a six-run rally as the Nationals come from behind against the Cardinals. The game is Zimmerman's first back in the lineup since missing over two months due to abdominal surgery, while the win is the fourth in what becomes an eight-game streak: the Nationals' longest since August 2009.  The Zim goes on to collect a double and just his second homer of the season in that eighth win, which pulls the team within one game of .500. Homering with more frequency are Danny Espinosa (three in five games) and Michael Morse (four in nine games), now tied for the team lead at 13. Espinosa hit just .193/.296/.356 through May 15, but he's hitting .288/.351/.602 over the past five weeks. Eleven of Morse's dinger have come in that span, during which he's hit .356/.415/.729.


Rotting From the Head Down: A 1-17 record in the month of June leads manager Edwin Rodriguez to resign, with 80-year-old Jack McKeon—who led the team to its 2003 World Series win after taking over midseason—re-taking the helm; he's the oldest manager in history aside from Connie Mack. Unless McKeon can hit for the still-struggling Hanley Ramirez (2-for-18 since his return from the disabled list, and now down to .201/.300/.296) and pitch for the missing Josh Johnson (out until after the All-Star break), the Marlins don't stand a chance, but then unless you're a Florida taxpayer bilked for stadium money, why root for the stinking Fish given their meddlesome ownership?


Litigation is the Last Refuge of a Scoundrel: A 2-8 skid drives the Dodgers to a season-high 10 games under .500, but the on-field action can hardly compare to the off-field drama. While the squabbling McCourts reach a conditional divorce settlement, the ink is barely dry before Bud Selig nullifies the agreement by rejecting a proposed television deal between the Dodgers and Fox on the grounds that it undervalues the team's TV rights and would thus be "mortgaging the future of the franchise to the long-term detriment of the club and its fans." Without an immediate cash infusion, Frank McCourt is said to have no chance of making the team's June 30 payroll due to the additional burdens of some $15 million in deferred payments to Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre (dear sweet irony!). That would leave the team open to seizure by MLB, but you can expect McCourt to sue Selig and threaten to expose other owners' finances. What a charmer.


Buc the Trends: A four-game winning streak carries the Pirates to two games over .500, but they're swept by the Indians to fall back below the line. This team isn't winning because of its offense (14th in the league at 3.69 runs per game); they're staying afloat thanks to their pitching and defense, which is holding opponents to 3.92 runs per game, sixth in the league. Four of the team's five starters—including Charlie Morton, the Most Interesting Man in the World—have ERAs below 3.70 despite middling strikeout rates; the team ranks fourth in Defensive Efficiency at .703. Tops is Jeff Karstens at 2.54; despite losing to Cleveland, he hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his last 11 starts and has an 0.65 mark in 27.2 innings. The last time the Pirates had four qualified starters with ERA+ better than 100 was 1991, amid their NL East threepeat.


No Offense: When the Padres called up Anthony Rizzo, they were hoping for an infusion of offense from their top hitting prospect, who was batting .365/.444/.715 at Triple-A. Alas, since tripling in his debut (a win), the kid is just 4-for-29; furthermore, the displaced Brad Hawpe is 1-for-13 while battling an elbow problem. The Padres have lost nine out of 10 while scoring a grand total of 25 runs; five of the nine losses are by one run, and until Monday's blowout, the team was six games under .500 despite being outscored by just four runs.


The Multi-Hitman: Starlin Castro's walkoff single helps the Cubs take three out of four from the Brewers, the first series they've won since May 24-26 against the Mets; they're 8-16 since then. Castro's hit is one of three on the night, and in turn one of six multi-hit games in a seven-game span; the young shortstop is hitting .318/.346/.441. In fact, he's fourth in the majors in multi-hit games behind Jose Reyes, Adrian Gonzalez, and Ichiro Suzuki. He'll be without double play partner Darwin Barney for awhile due to a knee strain, which at least lets folks ponder one of life's burning questions: "Is it necessary to say gesundheit when D.J. LeMahieu comes to bat?"


Loser Alert: Discrimination? War profiteering? Breaches of fiduciary duty? No, we're not talking about the ill-fated Brandon Lyon's contract, which is only getting worse given his latest trip to the disabled list and his potentially unique surgery. No, it appears prospective new owner Jim Crane—whose approval is still at least a month away—is the perfect loser to take over a club that's dropped 12 of 16. In the rare bit of happy news, Wandy Rodriguez returns from a DL stint and throws nothing but zeroes against the Braves and Dodgers; the Astros are 6-1 in his last seven starts, in which he's allowed just seven runs in 48 innings, but they're 12-28 otherwise during span.

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

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