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June 28, 2011

Prospectus Hit List

NL: Rising to the Top in Cream City

by Tommy Bennett

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Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor



A Stutes Observation: Rookie reliever Mike Stutes vultures two more wins in relief for the Phils as the pitcher of record in both a 1-0 squeaker versus Oakland and a 10-2 blowout in St. Louis. Despite the 4-2 week, the offense can't shake the doldrums and scores just one run in two games and two in another. Ryan Howard has just four home runs in June, Chase Utley fails to record an extra-base hit in eight straight games, and Shane Victorino goes to a Dave Matthews Band concert, where they don't even allow power chords. All is okay, though, since Sunday-past, like Monday-next, is a bank Halladay (9.0 8 1 1 0 4).


Alliterative Athletic Alternation: As if Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor weren't directly comparable, they win back-to-back 5-1 games against the Blue Jays. Beachy (6.0 4 1 1 2 11) has the strikeouts but Minor (7.0 5 1 1 1 8) pitches deeper into the game. With Tommy Hanson set to come off the DL today, the latter goes back to Triple-A Gwinnett with little to prove. Others with little to prove: the run-prevention engine that allows zero or one run in five of the previous seven games: International League Pitcher of the Week Julio Teheran, and Brian McCann. Even McCann's chief competition for starts at catcher doesn't want him to start fewer games at the position.


Stacking the Aces: A sweep in Minnesota puts the Brewers at a season-best three games ahead in the NL Central. Best of all, they keep Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke up their sleeve for the Yankees series, after which they will travel from the Bronx to face the Twins for another three games. Greinke gains momentum from a vintage start (7.0 4 1 1 0 10 with 12/4 GB/FB) against the Rays. Prince Fielder leads the charge (.375/.500/.625) on offense, with Corey Hart (.286/.524/.571) not far behind. Mat Gamel gets recalled from Triple-A Nashville, where he had been hitting .321/.380/.577, to serve as an extra righty bat in consecutive series with a designated hitter.


Heisey Ho!: An even split in the won-loss column belies the Reds' strong run differential on the backs of three victories by five runs or more. Despite outscoring both the Yankees (15-11) and the Orioles (19-17), they lose both series. Leading the lone victory over the Yankees is leadoff man Chris Heisey, who blasts three home runs to increase his OPS by 88 points. Johnny Cueto (7.0 2 1 1 3 6) continues an improbably great season with his ninth quality start in as many tries. Johnny Gomes has a memorable return to Tropicana field by hitting a home run off the catwalk against his former team in the Reds' victory over the Rays.


Yahtzee!: There is nothing like a five-game winning streak to erase a five-game losing streak. The Giants temporarily lose first place in the NL West only to retake it by winning a trio of close games at home against the Indians. Marquee pitchers Tim Lincecum (7.0 3 0 0 2 12), Matt Cain (7.0 4 0 0 1 6), and Madison Bumgarner (7.0 6 1 1 1 11) have the hot hands. Even Ryan Vogelsong, in his mysterious way, continues to roll a hard eight (7.0 4 1 1 1 3). Keeping the team from completing the five-of-a-kind is Jonathan Sanchez (4.2 2 3 3 6 6), who is on pace to lead the majors in walks for the second straight year. He might not get the playing time to complete the feat, though, as he hits the DL with biceps tendinitis and the Giants give the ball to Barry Zito. Make no mistake, though: Sanchez is the better pitcher when healthy.


Thank God For the Other Guys: The Cardinals lose another three straight and fall to 3-12 in their last fifteen games. The offense is shut out twice on the week by Cliff Lee and Ricky Romero. The team's biggest outburst, 12 runs against the Phillies, comes off a pitcher whose future in baseball is now in question. With Albert Pujols still likely out until August (unless he isn't) and the pitching staff in shambles—they hold teams to three runs or fewer in just two of their last 18 games—the Cardinals are grateful for their biggest asset: their division.


But the Offense, Though!: A losing week has the Rockies going in the wrong direction and leaves them with questions about their rotation. Disappointing starts from Jhoulys Chacin (5.0 9 6 6 3 4 and 6.2 2 1 1 6 7) (who has lost his command), Jason Hammel (6.0 5 4 4 5 4) (same), and Aaron Cook (5.2 12 6 5 1 1) (who, let's face it, was never very good to begin with) more than offset improvement from Ubaldo Jimenez (7.0 4 2 2 4 7). Carlos Gonzalez hits a pair of homers to dispel fears he might be cooling off, though, and Troy Tulowitzki hits a home run to show signs of breaking from his brief midsummer slump (he has hit just .268/.286/.415 from June 15 through June 26).


Live by the Putz, Die by the Putz: The Diamondbacks win four straight, putting them briefly in first place, before dropping three straight to fall back out again. In the middle of it all is J.J. Putz, who records saves in three consecutive games by pitching scoreless frames before yielding the lead to the Indians on Monday night. He ought to take solace in the fact that the fate of teams in one-run games takes more than a Kirk Gibson team meeting to determine. Justin Upton (.396/.481/.549 in June) knows enough Yiddish to know he can't do it alone, but Dan Hudson (7.0 6 3 3 1 1) and Ian Kennedy (6.0 8 1 1 2 4) come away with victories saved by the 'pen.


Gee, Wouldn't it Be Niese?: Jon Niese (5.2 6 2 2 2 7) and Dillon Gee (6.0 8 3 3 2 1) each survive home runs and Arlington to post effective starts yet again. The pair grows to be a reasonable facsimile of a pair of workhorses. When combined with Chris Capuano (6.0 5 0 0 0 7), this is a low-cost rotation unlike those of Mets teams passed. Winning series against the Athletics and Rangers put the Mets back at .500—what does a team have to do to get a positive back-page headline?


The Ultimatum Game: Jim Riggleman learns a valuable lesson about leverage and the importance of reputation in iterated games as he walks away from a potentially career-rejuvenating season by resigning while under contract. His departure will prove conspicuous in hindsight as the Nationals are almost certain to decline from here on, but don't confuse Riggleman's smarts, such as they were, for luck in one-run games. Pythagoras comes to claim his pound of flesh in the third-order win column and on Monday, when the Nationals blow one in 10.


Gather Ye Jack McKeon Gifs While Ye May: The Marlins entered June 10 games above .500. They now sit 10 games below .500. It looks bleak: Josh Johnson is out through the All-Star Break, Hanley Ramirez is still hitting just .218/.309/.309, and there is nowhere else to turn. But beneath the surface, signs of improvement emerge. HanRam hits .333/.360/.375 in his last seven games, Javier Vazquez rediscovers his velocity and something like his effectiveness (5.1 10 0 0 0 4), and the team leads the league in Wes Helms.


A First-Priority Lien on Hits: The Dodgers file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which gives the team some breathing room from its creditors and allows it to meet its payroll obligations. Like many bankruptcies, this one is sure to engender lengthy litigation: Jamie McCourt has hired one of the nation's most prominent litigators, David Boies. Meanwhile, the Dodgers still play baseball! They hit an MLB season-high 25 hits en route to a 15-0 drubbing of the Twins. Trent Oeltjen uses his four hits to buy some vowels, and Matt Kemp's four give him 10 on the week.


The Very Model of a Modern August Fizzle Squad: A team that's a game above .500 at the end of June undoubtedly qualifies as a contender in the modern NL Central, so the Pirates have to start looking around and taking stock of their situation. The Hit List Factor sees through the fog to a mediocre team that has overperformed in nearly every aspect of the game. As long as Paul Maholm (5.1 6 1 1 3 2) defies gravity and Jeff Karstens wins despite allowing three (solo) home runs, the team will be all right. Far be it from us to deny Pirates fans their first joy in a while, though. The bright spot that can remain illuminated is Andrew McCutchen, who is hitting .373/.470/.494 and has five steals in June.


The Mystique of the Padre Bullpen: After an ugly 1-9 skid, the Padres turn things around with a 5-1 week. Even with those victories, the team hits just .245/.327/.345 in June and is well below-average even after adjusting for park. Highly rated prospect Anthony Rizzo, called up at the beginning of the month, manages just 8 hits, but seven of them are for extra bases and he adds in 11 walks. Luckily for the Padres, the bullpen has been as superlative as the offense has been lousy: in 249 2/3 IP, it has held hitters to a .225/.300/.311 line on the season.


Bear the Brunt of It: The Cubs suffer the shame of a series loss to the South Siders before doubling down with a series loss to the Royals. Randy Wells (6.0 10 6 6 2 2) has yet to find his momentum or his fastball velocity since returning from a forearm strain. Jeff Samardzija suffers a rough week as he loses two games in three tries, but Carlos Pena hits four home runs and .280/.280/.800 on the week. Better yet, Alfonso Soriano hits the least-likely line he'll ever post: .222/.417/.278.


I Will Not Win on a Boat: The worst team in the NL by every variety of winning percentage we can come up with, the Astros proudly find new and interesting ways to lose. In being swept by the Rays, they lose while scoring one, two, and even ten runs. They lose in games they deserve to, like bad Bud Norris starts (5.0 6 3 3 3 5), and games they don't, like good Jordan Lyles starts (7.0 7 3 3 2 6). They lose when Matt Downs and Jeff Keppinger both hit home runs, and they lose when the entire team is limited to three hits. What kind of guy would want to buy this team?

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.

Related Content:  The Streak,  The Who,  10 Runs To A Win,  Hits

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