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August 19, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

They're Going the Distance

by Jim Baker

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BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Kansas City Royals (30th) @ Oakland A's (4th)

What is this obsession we have with eliminating the 19th century from consideration when discussing all-time records? I understand why we do it for certain things, like pitcher wins, but what differentiates a losing streak in the 19th century from one in the 21st? It's pretty simple: two teams go out on a field, one wins, one loses--that's universal. A team stringing together losses 110 years ago is pretty much following the same concept as a team stringing together losses right now.

I bring this up because we are, with the poor unfortunates from Kansas City piling up the losses before our very eyes, seeing references to the teams with the all-time losing streak records. Undeniably, the American League record is held by the 1988 Orioles. Had the American League gotten its start in the 19th century, though, and had some team lost more than 21 games in a row during that time, you would never hear it mentioned. We know this because, the 1961 Phillies are the team mentioned as holding the "modern" losing streak record at 23. This is not to take anything away from that club, but where are the props for the 1899 Cleveland Spiders?

Those Adorable Arachnids (as they were known to fans--no, not really), tore off 24 straight losses between August 26 and September 16 of that year. Should it come with an asterisk? Yes--but not because it missed happening in the modern era by two years. Any asterisk attached to that streak should be there because of the chicanery that left the team in such a state. The Spiders, as you probably know, were denuded of their best players in a kind of pyramid scheme that was perfectly legal at the time.

The 1889 Louisville Colonels of the American Association lost 26 games from May 22 to June 22. It is argued that the AA wasn't quite major league, so, you're free to dismiss that one if you are a fan of that argument, but, again--not because it happened in the 19th Century.

If you're casting about for folks to blame for the streak on the offensive side, here are the Royals' numbers during the 18 losses:

Matt Stairs: .351/.442/.541
David DeJesus: .269/.300/.433
Chip Ambres: .262/.326/.452
Joe McEwing: .263/.364/.368
Angel Berroa: .292/.292/.369
Mike Sweeney: .217/.280/.377
Terrence Long: .238/.273/.381
Emil Brown: .209/.243/.343
John Buck: .214/.233/.333
Mark Teahen: .175/.254/.246

For a lot of these players, it's just business as usual. This is basically what John Buck does all the time. T-Long? Same deal. Chip Ambres has now played in 20 major league games and boasts a career record of 4-16. It can only get better from there for him. Or can it? Isn't it about time that a contender rescued Matt Stairs from this mess?

BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (2nd) @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (5th)

Remember when you were a kid and you first saw the name "Sean?" Unless your name is Sean, you probably tried to pronounce it as "C-ann" or something like that. Lord knows I did. Shawn Green solved the problem nicely by having the courtesy to spell his name phonetically. Then, along comes Chone Figgins. Under no laws of phonetics can that name possibly be pronounced as "Sean" but we must adhere to the wishes of the benamed. That is why I am requested that Mr. Figgins begin pronouncing his name as it is spelled. First of all, it's infinitely more unique and interesting and second of all, 85 years from now, when he is gone and everyone who saw him play is gone, people reading the record books will revert to the phonetic pronunciation anyway, so, Chone--you might as well beat the rush and welcome the inevitable.

Another fine night for the Red Sox bullpen. Already having the worst pen ERA in the league, the Sox relievers turned a simple 6-0 loss into a 13-4 rout. I was about to say that they've been down this road before and nearly lived to tell the tale. As you'll recall, the 2003 team was famous for its shoddy relieving but that team is nothing like quite like this. They had an ERA of 4.88 to this club's 5.41 and the hitting environment was a little friendlier two years ago. That bullpen put it all together in the postseason.

As my great-grandfather John D. Rockefeller once said to me: "Don't wimp it, pimp it." I never quite got John D.'s funny jargon, but, what I think he was trying to say was this: if you've got something to sell, don't be shy about it.

This brings me to Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart and Finally Won a World Series. While it may be the last of the books about the 2004 Red Sox to hit the stands, mark my words: it will be the one that is remembered. Yes, I contributed to the book and this calls my objectivity into serious question, but think about this: what is one of the major obstacles hindering a baseball analyst during a season? Right: time enough to ponder the woods through the trees while the forest is growing around them. Because ample time was allocated for the completion of Mind Game, it therefore has a distinct advantage the other Red Sox books didn't have. In other words, this is not a quick-hitter printed up on recycled J.C. Whitney catalogues so as to take advantage of an exciting moment in sports history. It's much more than a book about the '04 Sox, it's a necessary addition to every baseball library.

WILD CARD MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Washington Nationals (20th) @ New York Mets (11th)

Can you honestly say you know who's going to win the National League wild card? I don't believe you can look at any of the contenders right now and say with any certainty which one of them is going to reign triumphant at the end of play on October 2. Go ahead, do a mini-Predictatron with all the contenders among you and your friends. Chances are, there will be no consensus winner among you, unless you're all in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and you pick the Phillies because you love them.

Take the Nationals--they looked like a deep-fried turkey a week ago but they rebounded seriously against the Rockies and have kept themselves in the picture long since it seemed they were done. After the Astros' great leap forward, they certainly seemed like the team to beat. The Phillies have insinuated themselves back into the top spot while the Marlins are right there, waiting to pounce and you know what happens when the Marlins are the wild-card team.

Then there are the last-place Mets, the team with the best run differential of all of the 'card contenders. Anyone who thinks they know which of these teams will come out on top and give the exact reason why it is so and then have that very scenario play out in reality is sighted well beyond the norm. I do not pretend to be so gifted.

The game to watch in this series is, of course, Saturday's showdown between Mr. Delicate and Mr. Delicatessen. The contrasting usage patterns of Pedro Martinez and Livan Hernandez make for an interesting juxtaposition. So far this year, Hernandez has thrown 3,035 pitches while Martinez has tossed 2,358. In spite of that, they last about just as long:

Martinez: 7.08 innings per start
Hernandez: 7.11 innings per start

Although they exit, on average, at almost the exact same time, Hernandez throws 116 pitches while Martinez throws 98. In fact if you took Martinez's highest pitch total of the season (117 on July 28 against the Astros), it would rate a tie for 14th among Hernandez's highest counts in 2005. So, it is conceivable that both men could leave for pinch-hitters after seven innings thrown with the score tied 3-3 and with Hernandez having thrown nearly a pitch more per batter.

Mr. Delicate then, is something of a misnomer. Mr. Economical would be more like it. For all that economy, the Mets have lost each of his last four starts. He pitched well enough to put the team in as position to win three of them. When a team is in a race and has one of the best pitchers ever in the rotation, it would sure seem the thing to do to take better advantage of that fact.

CLOSEST AMERICAN LEAGUE MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Yankees (7th) @ Chicago White Sox (3rd)

Here's a trivia question for you: what was the last team the Royals beat in a major league baseball game?

Well, let's go way back in time to July of 2005, shall we? George W. Bush was in the White House, gasoline cost only $2.25 a gallon and a spunky little blonde by the name of Gwen Stefani was climbing onto the charts and into our hearts by telling the world that she weren't no hollaback girl. In the midst of all that, the last-place Kansas City Royals played host to the division-leading Chicago White Sox and, after losing to them 14-6, rebounded with 7-1 and 6-5 victories.

Were you watching the Twins/White Sox game on Tuesday night--the one that went 16 innings? Isn't it disconcerting when a guy comes to the plate and the graphic below his name shows a line of 1-for-7? While there were six player substitutions in that game, both catchers--A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Mauer--went the distance. They don't make catchers like that anymore. Wait, that was only three days ago…

Related Content:  The Streak,  The Who,  This Time It Counts

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