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July 20, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

Trivial Pursuits

by Jim Baker

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BEST MATCHUP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Milwaukee @ St. Louis

    When is the last time these two teams met with both parties flying so high? That's right--the 1982 World Series. Here's a quick trivia quiz for you: Of the players who appeared in that World Series, who were the last active representatives from each team? Answer to follow.

    At press time, the Brewers had been outscored by their opponents by a handful of runs. If they can get through the year like that and still manage to stay over .500, I say, "who cares?' When you've been under .500 for 11 straight years, what does it matter if the string is broken by a season that isn't aesthetically pleasing?

    The Brewskers are getting some nice defense these days. In fact, this series features two teams that are among the best in Defensive Efficiency in the major leagues:

    
    Team           DER
    Los Angeles   .7164
    Tampa Bay     .7139
    St. Louis     .7114
    Chicago Cubs  .7069
    Milwaukee     .7050
    
    

    This is a good thing for Milwaukee, too, because they are, essentially, a one-man offense this year. Lyle Overbay is the only Brewers player currently ranked in the upper end of his position by VORP. Here's the Brue Crue and where they rank:

    C: Chad Moeller, 26th; Gary Bennett, 40th (last)
    1B: Overbay, 4th
    2B: Junior Spivey, 11th
    3B: Keith Ginter, 10th
    SS: Craig Counsell, 12th
    LF: Geoff Jenkins, 21st
    CF: Scott Podsednik, 9th
    RF: Ben Grieve, 15th, Brady Clark, 16th

    There's an important lesson to be learned for the Brewers in looking at this list. Let's say they continue on their merry way and break the sub-.500 streak this year. What they cannot go and do is reward the men in their lineup with long-term contracts or place confidence in them as a group that can contend. They should, instead, use 2004 as a cornerstone upon which to place their better young players. They can play the field and they're helping their pitchers look good, but as a group, they're not going to move the big boys off the top of the division.

    Answer to trivia question: First of all, don't you hate trivia questions? I do. They make me feel stupid because no matter how much I might know about the subject at hand, I usually don't know that particular thing they're asking about. This one shouldn't be too traumatic for you, though. It's Willie McGee of the Cardinals (last game: October 3, 1999) and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor for the Brewers (last game: September 27, 1998).

WORST MATCHUP (worst combined record with both teams being under .500): Houston @ Arizona

    Back on Opening Day, I wrote an article that predicted a Most Valuable Player Award for Carlos Beltran. My logic was this: if the Royals were going to do anything in 2004, he would be the main reason and would, therefore, get a lot of push for the award. If they tanked, I reasoned, he would surely be traded to a contender where he could land with both feet and really make a splash. I figured that if certain parties considered Shannon Stewart worthy of MVP consideration for showing up midway through 2003 with the Twins, then a player of Beltran's talent would certainly get noticed come MVP-ballot time if he helped a new team to the playoffs.

    My prediction is not dead yet, although it's looking a little green around the gills. In order for the Astros to make me look good, they need to unload Beltran now--not that the Astros owe me anything. Wait...as a matter of fact, they do owe me something. I predicted that lot to reach the World Series and look at them now. (Memo to self: either stop making predictions or stop talking about them.) There is still plenty of time for Beltran to give a shot in the arm to a team in need. As a side note, one of his big weapons has not been in evidence since he came over to Houston. The most efficient basestealer of all time has attempted just one steal as an Astro. Naturally, he made it. That's why Los Angeles might be the best place for him to fulfill my expectations. He won't have an especially friendly hitting environment going for him, but the Dodgers will certainly cut him loose to work his high-percentage base-stealing magic. Having Dave Roberts (31 for 32) and Beltran swiping would make it hard on opposing catchers to keep their ledgers clean.

    On the other hand, a very interesting move would be for the Cardinals to trade for Beltran and move him to left field where Ray Lankford, So Taguchi, Marlon Anderson and John Mabry have been very so-so. I think my inspiration for this came from their late-season pickup of Cesar Cedeno in 1985. Cedeno was hellfire down the stretch, slugging .750 in 81 plate appearances. Folks always forget that he tanked in the playoffs, but that's beside the point. The addition of Beltran would make the Cardinals the "it" team of the National League--more so than they already are. (It wouldn't help my MVP prediction any, though.)

MISMATCHUP (opponents furthest from each other in won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): Toronto @ New York Yankees

    Not that you should give a damn about my personal emotional well-being, but I seem to have drafted a fantasy team this year that reflects my academic record from back in my school days. In other words: a vast sea of underachievement. Bret Boone, Mike Mussina, Bartolo Colon, Orlando Cabrera, Bernie Williams and, picked up in a late-May trade, Jason Giambi. I didn't give up much for Giambi, and that's about what I've gotten in return.

    Here are the highlights of his season since getting back into the lineup on June 6:

    A double on July 3
    Another double on June 23
    A homer on June 20
    A homer on June 6

    Not counting at-bats, his box score lines look like they're written in binary code. For most other teams, this would be a death sentence or, at best, a long stint in the stocks. (Note to self: get a copy of Welbert's Guide to Better Crime-Related Analogies.)

    We need look no further than these very same Blue Jays for an illustration of what can happen when a key offensive position goes basically unmanned. Carlos Delgado has been a no-show in 2004 and the men assigned to fill in for him are a combined .275/.331/.367. How much has this hurt the Jays? If Delgado had been able to replicate last year's performance, his VORP by this point would be about 50. Given that he's currently right at replacement level and the men assigned to fill in for him are about the same as well, that's about five games the Blue Jays have lost in the standings. Five games would have them back in their familiar third-place hole instead of scuttling along the bottom of the tank where Devil Rays usually tread.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the standings): Cincinnati @ Chicago Cubs

    Starting the week, these were the Runs Scored/Runs Against of the seven National League teams in the Wild Card hunt:

    
    +60: Cubs
    +56: Atlanta (tied for first)
    +29: Philadelphia (tied for first)
    +22: San Diego
    +16: San Francisco
    -8:  Milwaukee
    -52: Cincinnati
    
    

    So, the Cubs look best on paper, at least. The Cubs and Reds are separated by 112 runs in differential yet just 1.5 in games (at press time) in the standings. I'm wondering if the Cubs need to make a bold move right now. Before I discussed the Cardinals acing the field by grabbing Carlos Beltran from Houston. Why don't the Cubs go for him? Yes, it would no doubt damage the psyche of Corey Patterson, but when you're trying to undo 96 years of frustration, a few folks are going to get their hair mussed. Besides, Patterson can have his job back again next spring and he might have a ring to show for it. He'd also give Dusty Baker something he usually doesn't have in the postseason: a decent player coming off the bench.

    Which would you rather be: a fourth outfielder on a World Champion or the starting center fielder on a Wild Card also-ran?

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