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August 23, 2012

What You Need to Know

Thursday, August 23

by Daniel Rathman

The Wednesday Takeaway
There are different levels of hot hitting. Level one: collecting 34 hits in 88 at-bats. Level two: going deep in three straight games. Level three: getting Skip Bayless to imply that something unnatural is fueling your torrid bat.   

The White Sox cooled off the Yankees—who had won nine of 12 coming into this week’s series at U.S. Cellular Field—with a three-game sweep, but they could not stop Derek Jeter from reaching level three on that rudimentary heat index. And they certainly did nothing to change Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers’ mind about the Yankees shortstop being the American League’s most valuable player.

Jeter, coming off a 3-for-4 outing in Sunday’s win over the Red Sox in the Bronx, went 6-for-14 on the South Side of Chicago with a double and three home runs. Through 122 games, nine fewer than his 2011 total of 131, the 38-year-old Jeter has amassed 170 hits—seven more than he had all of last year—and 13 homers, more than double his 2011 output of six.

The sixth-inning long ball on Wednesday—the only run the Yankees scored off White Sox starter Chris Sale—marked the 3,257th hit of Jeter’s career, good for 11th on the all-time list and two better than Eddie Murray’s lifetime total, which Jeter eclipsed on Tuesday night. Yet even with all those hits and 2,548 major-league games under his belt, Jeter is doing things he’s never done before.

The club of shortstops that have produced an OPS over 800 and at least 10 homers in their age-38 season is exclusive. In fact, it contains only one member: Jeter, who has 15 points of OPS to spare over the Yankees’ remaining 38 games.

Jeter dismissed Bayless’ comments before Wednesday’s series finale, quipping that the host of First Take should take a drug test himself. And, just like any other player, hot or cold, star or scrub, Jeter is innocent until proven otherwise. For all we know, he’s getting hitting tips from the assistant to the traveling secretary. 

Jeter has been worth 2.7 WARP to date, his best output since a 3.9 WARP 2009 campaign, which at the time seemed a renaissance, but by 2010 appeared to have been his last stand. Three years later, Jeter is once again playing like the “young man” he claimed to be back then.

Jeter is not the most valuable player in the American League. He’s not even the most valuable player on his own team (Robinson Cano, 3.9 WARP). But one thing is now certain: Jeter is not done yet.

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • It’s tough to maintain a .500-or-better on-base percentage over the course of three weeks, but Prince Fielder—thanks in part to four intentional walks—has done just that, reaching base in 41 of his 82 plate appearances this month. The 28-year-old first baseman now has a .406 OBP for the season, good for third in the American League behind Joe Mauer and Mike Trout. Fielder will try to keep up that pace in this afternoon’s series finale against the Blue Jays and J.A. Happ. He is 6-for-16 including three doubles in 19 career meetings with the 29-year-old southpaw, who brings a two-game winning streak—against the Yankees and Rangers, no less—into Thursday’s duel with Justin Verlander (1:05 p.m. ET).
  • Tonight’s series finale between the Reds and the Phillies features the first matchup of the season between pitchers with 30 combined wins. Johnny Cueto, who at 16-6 is tied for the major-league lead in wins with Gio Gonzalez and David Price, will lock horns with Cole Hamels, who is tied for sixth in that category at 14-6. The 26-year-old Cueto has taken home a victory in seven of his last eight starts and 11 of his last 13, while Hamels is riding a three-game surge that includes back-to-back complete-game shutouts on Aug. 7 and 13. Hamels is a perfect 7-0 with a 1.44 ERA in nine career starts against the Reds, while Cueto has sputtered to a 1-2 ledger, a 5.65 ERA, and only nine total strikeouts in his five tries versus the Phillies (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • The A’s are on their way to Tampa Bay for an American League wild-card showdown with the Rays, but Bob Melvin’s team is traveling a bit lighter, because Bartolo Colon—who was scheduled to start Thursday’s series opener—received a 50-game ban after testing positive for testosterone. Tyson Ross, who last pitched in the majors on June 28, will take Colon’s place in the rotation for now, after logging a 2.74 ERA and 62-to-28 K/BB in 75 2/3 innings for Triple-A Sacramento. Tampa Bay will counter with Alex Cobb, who earned a win over the A’s with seven innings of one-run ball on Aug. 1, but was thumped for eight runs in just 2 2/3 innings at Angel Stadium on Saturday (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • How do you complete a sweep in which your division rivals trail every time they come to bat? Well, 20 2/3 innings of two-run ball from your starting pitchers is a good first step. But you also need a 4-for-7 effort from your scrap-heap shortstop and a catch like this from your minor-league veteran left fielder. And, with two of your best hitters out of the lineup—one with a steroid suspension, the other nursing a tight hamstring—having your number-one, -two, and -three hitters combine to go 16-for-34 doesn’t hurt either. The Giants, who now enjoy a 2 ½-game lead over the Dodgers in the National League West, will try to ride the momentum from their sweep at Chavez Ravine into their four-game set with the Braves at AT&T Park (10:15 p.m. ET).

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

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