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July 27, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

A Very Bad Division

by Jim Baker

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WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Cincinnati Reds (26th) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (22nd)

Any intradivision matchup in the National League West has a shot at Worst Matchup status. The division is now the Mississippi public school system of baseball. All five teams are currently ranked below #20 on the weekly Prospectus Hit List compiled by Jay Jaffe. The Padres seem bound and determined to keep this race close in spite of their divisionmates playing unselfishly and trying to hand them thing on a silver salver. Due to the recent unpleasantness of an eight-game losing streak, the Padres now find themselves outscored by their opponents for the season.

As you can imagine, this has never happened before except in what is commonly known as "Baseball's Golden Year": 1994. The combination of an aborted season (just 112 to 115 games each) and a four-team division created the perfect Petri dish for humiliation testing. You can try to argue that had the rest of the season played out, one of AL West squads was bound to pull even in scoring. The problem is, none of them were really close when the giant, mutated katydids emerged from the outfields of all 28 stadiums and made playing major-league baseball impossible. (That was the reason the season ended, right?) This is how they were arrayed when it crashed:

1st: Rangers: down 84 runs
2nd: Athletics: down 40
3rd: Mariners: down 47
4th: Angels: down 117

Had all 162 games been played, it is certainly possible that Oakland or Seattle could have made up the difference and allowed the division to save face. Teams outscore their opponents by 40 runs over a 48-game period all the time. For instance, in the first 48 games or so of 1995, three teams did so (Atlanta, Cleveland and Seattle). Ironically, through June 17 of '95, when all four American League West clubs were right around 48 games, they had all outscored their opponents.

We're a little short of where we were in '94 when the Endtimes came down upon us, but let's look at the where the five National League West teams are in terms of their deficits (these numbers are through Monday night):

  • Down 121 - Colorado: It just isn't done. Even if the Rocked got to play the remainder of their schedule at home--where they at least resemble a functioning entity--they would have to outscore their opponents by an average of two runs per game to break even. That is not baseball as we have come to know it, except that the 2004 Red Sox did just that last year. After their 100th game, the World Champions outscored their opponents by 128 runs. I don't think anyone would mistake the '04 Rockies for that team, though. E-Z Prediction: Under.

  • Down 90 - Arizona: Even if the D'backs rally and win the division, they cannot hope to overcome a 90-run deficit in their 60 remaining games. Here's why: in order to make up their deficit, they'd win about two-thirds of their remaining games, outscoring their opponents about 5.8 to 4.2 on average per game. That would give them an approximate record of 40-21 the rest of the way, provided they don't under- or over-achieve. Sound plausible? I thought not. E-Z Prediction: Under.

  • Down 75 - San Francisco: From right about this juncture last year, the Giants outscored their opponents by 63 runs. The difference is that they had already outscored them to that point, so it wasn't a great leap forward like it would be this year. They're also missing their main offensive weapon. If Barry Bonds showed up tomorrow with a little tag on his hat that read "100%," then we might be able to get some odds on this. Otherwise, no way. E-Z Prediction: Under.

  • Down 42 - Los Angeles: Apart from the aforementioned Red Sox, six other teams outscored their opponents by at least 55 runs from this approximate point forward in 2004. Of those, every one had outscored their opponents up to that moment. How does this sound for a plausible scenario? The Dodgers average five runs per game from here on out (as opposed to the current 4.4) and knock a half-run off their runs allowed per game. This would put them at about 35-30 provided they played it pretty straight with the WARP and would give them just about enough runs to cover their deficit. Lacking J.D. Drew, however, it just doesn't look likely. E-Z Prediction: 10% chance of matching their runs scored and allowed.

  • Down 10 - San Diego: No team looks as hopeless as it does when it's in full retreat. Think of the French hightailing it out of Moscow in stolen women's clothing in 1812; not a pretty sight. The Padres don't look capable of covering the small bit of red ink on their ledger, but appearances will change soon enough. When things normalize in the next couple of days, they'll cover at least some of their losses. E-Z Prediction: Over.

BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Cleveland Indians (8th) @ Oakland A's (7th)

It is possible to lose with dignity. It is even possible to get your ass kicked with dignity, although that's a little harder. One thing is not possible, though: doing either with dignity when you dress like C.C. Sabathia does. Understanding that Sabathia is a large gentleman, and that it is often difficult to meet the visual expectations of the sports fan when one is that way, he does not have to look as ill-kempt as he does. There are tailors out there well within the budgets of players who make seven figures who can streamline the appearance of even the most ample frame. If Sabathia were going well, his askew cap and sloppy uniform would be seen as colorful and individualistic. When it looks as though he's auditioning for a pitching role in next year's Home Run Derby (as he did on Monday night against the A's), then the individuality of his appearance is replaced by something more humiliating.

He looks very much like a rodeo clown impaled on the bull's horns.

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (3rd) @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays (29th)

With the Red Sox in the midst of intense trade rumors, it might be time to examine the trade deadline and its relevance to modern baseball. With every team but the Devil Rays, Hollywood Stars, New York Knights and Ruppert Mundys still in contention for some sort of playoff spot, should we wonder if the July 31 deadline is too early? Why not let things shake out a little longer until we can better separate the Maybes and the Nots into more distinct piles. The wild card and three-division baseball has served to cloud the minds of general managers, making them not sure of their rightful place vis-a-vis the cash register. Are they patron or merchant? Perhaps another two weeks would help them better know.

THE FADING TRUMPETS MATCHUP (opponents on the downside of glory in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Texas Rangers (12th) @ Baltimore Orioles (9th)

The Battle of the Solid Gold Infields ("Where even the weakest of the eight players involved has 3,500 combined hits and home runs") is, unfortunately, being overshadowed by the sound of the hydrogen catching fire on these two lighter-than-air ships. Looking beyond the big picture for a moment, which of the Solid Gold Infields has performed better at the plate in the first two games of the series?

Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro have eight singles and four walks (.258/.343/.258), while Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, Hank Blalock and Alfonso Soriano have seven singles, three walks, a stolen base and a homer (.250/.314/.344). OK, so it's not very hype-worthy. Give me a break. I'm just trying to keep your mind off the fact these teams are a combined 7-18 since the All-Star break.

We are but a tiny number of games away from seeing the American League East revert to its traditional NY/BOS/TOR/BAL/TB alignment, copyrighted in 1998 and perfected in the ensuing five seasons.

Is this Year Six of the Orioles Achieve/Deceive/Recede policy? Below is a list of the day in each of the past five seasons upon which they went under .500 for good:

2004: June 2
2003: June 4
2002: August 24
2001: May 28
2000: May 10

Did last night's victory over the Rangers simply delay the inevitable? We are all prisoners of what we know: the A's rally every year, the Pirates don't and the Orioles have probably spent more time fooling people than any other team in recent times. You can't blame us for thinking they're at it again.

For fun, see if you can figure out the meaning of the all-time team listed below. (Note: the position in which they are cast is not necessarily the position they were playing when they earned their way onto this team.)

LH Pitcher: Rube Waddell
RH Pitcher: Pud Galvin
Catcher: Ernie Whitt
First Base: Rich Reese
Second Base: Pat Meares
Third Base: Tracy Woodson
Shortstop: Orlando Cabrera
Outfield: Dale Mitchell
Outfield: Harvey Kuenn
Outfield: Chris Gwynn
Manager: Ned Hanlon

The nature of this mystery team will be revealed in Friday's Matchups.

Related Content:  Managers Of The Year

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