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September 27, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Four-Way Tie

by Jim Baker

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BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Tampa Bay Devil Rays (28th) @ Cleveland Indians (1st)

There exists a small possibility that the Indians could rank as the best team in baseball in 2005 and still not make the playoffs. I don't think that will happen, but it could. As it is, one of baseball's very best teams will be shut out this year, whether it be Cleveland, New York, Boston or Chicago.

The good news for the Indians is that, while a passable team at home, the Rays are the second-worst road team in baseball, with only Kansas City being worse. When you consider that they have taken six of nine games at Yankee Stadium, that's saying something. Also, consider that on their last trip into Cleveland they swept the Indians. That couldn't happen twice in the same season, could it?

BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Houston Astros (9th) @ St. Louis Cardinals (2nd)

I'm not a fan of conspiracies, although this fellow has some pretty sound ideas. I, too, have often wondered why the weather changes or why some baseball games are rained out and some get played under clear skies. Now, after reading this Web site, I understand the situation completely.

Anyway, speaking of conspiracies: Phillies or Padres (or Giants)? You make the call.

People in Wisconsin know that the real story in the National League Central this week has nothing to do with the Cardinals heading to the playoffs or the Astros trying to nail down a wild-card spot. The real attraction is the Brewers' battle to reach .500 for the first time since 1992. Here's a moral question: does finishing right at .500 count, or do they need to go 5-2 against the Reds and Pirates this week to truly end the streak at 12 years?

A thought occurred to me about the Brewers while watching them play at Minute Maid Park the weekend before last. My friend Jack Moulds (the originator of this brand new Web site) and I were discussing the Astros team colors. Jack was bothered by the abandonment of the space-age motif and the adoption of an old-West style. He reminded me that, when they moved out of the Astrodome, there was actually discussion of changing the team's name to the South Texas Diesel. That's as fine a misguided marketing idea as I've ever heard but it got me to thinking about the Brewers and their lack of identity beyond their region. What can be done to change that?

Looking around the ballpark, I noticed that, after baseball memorabilia, the most-common items of dress originated in Milwaukee and had nothing to do with baseball. See where I'm going with this? If you were to process all the Harley-Davidson licensed products in the world into fuel, there would never be an oil shortage. Orange and black stuff is popular well beyond what the company's motorcycle production would seem to warrant.

With that in mind, and, inspired by the South Texas Diesel recollection, I came up with this clever plan to put the Brewers on Park Place and Boardwalk in the marketing game of life (a gaming mixed metaphor if ever there was one): have the team start wearing Harley-Davidson colors and change the name appropriately. They could be called the Harleys, the Hogs, the Fatboys, the Choppers--as long as it's related to the building of motorcycles in Milwaukee. The important thing here, though, is the iconography and colors of the firm used to market the baseball team. It's rich, I tells ya--rich!

The Milwaukee Knuckleheads: "Live to play--play to live."

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (7th) @ Oakland A's (5th)

Man, don't you hate when the pursuing team gets turned back in the first game of a key series at this time of year, therefore rendering the rest of the week anticlimactic?

The A's need to find themselves a Scary Monster for their lineup. Every lineup should have at least one Scary Monster--a guy who wrecks things in a hurry and from whom small children and substandard pitchers flee in fear. Clearly, Eric Chavez--the would-be Scary Monster of the lineup--is not that guy. Chavez is fine as an adjunct to a Scary Monster, but he isn't one in and of himself. I don't know that there are 30 true Scary Monsters out there so that every team can have one and some teams insist on hogging more than one at a time.

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings but that, through the vagaries of geography, still have a shot at the postseason): San Francisco Giants (25th) @ San Diego Padres (18th)

Unlike their Bay Area buddies, the Giants did not spit the bit in their first encounter with their prey. True, their prey is more dysfunctional than the Angels. Amazingly, Barry Bonds went 0-for-5 and the Giants still found a way to win. This is pretty amazing, actually: Bonds getting credit for five official at-bats in a single game. He rarely even gets four. Here are the games, since 2001, in which he got five official at-bats:

2004: three (two extra-inning games)
2003: two
2002: one
2001: ten (three extra-inning games)

It's been four years since he went 0-for-5 in a game. The last time was on May 29, 2001, but that game (against Arizona) went 19 innings and he also had three walks. His last pure 0-for-5 came earlier that year against San Diego on April 10. Oddly, he had done the same thing the game before against the Dodgers. Our collective image of recent Bonds baseball does not include two-game stints with 10 completely unproductive trips to the plate, but, it's all there in blue and white on retrosheet.org.

The Giants have a slight edge in the starting pitching matchups, at least in terms of VORP:

Tuesday: Brett Tomko, 18.1 - Adam Eaton, 9.6
Wednesday: Jason Schmidt, 18.6 - Pedro Astacio, 12.4
Thursday: Noah Lowry, 31.6 - Brian Lawrence, 10.2

These are not pillars upon which to build a great tower, but, for a team that has been moribund for 80 percent of the season, they represent something positive.

ANOTHER RELEVANT MATCHUP WHICH FITS NO PREDETERMINED CONCEITS: Toronto Blue Jays (17th) @ Boston Red Sox (4th)

How's this for a stone gas: the Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox and Indians finishing in a four-way tie? It could happen and it wouldn't take anything too far out of the ordinary to make it so.

95-win scenario:
New York splits with Baltimore, takes two of three from Boston
Boston takes three of four from Toronto, one of three from New York
Chicago takes one of four from Detroit, is swept by Cleveland
Cleveland is swept by Tampa Bay and then sweeps Chicago

96-win scenario:
New York sweeps Baltimore, takes one of three from Boston
Boston takes three of four from Toronto and two of three from New York
Chicago takes one of four from Detroit and one of three from Cleveland
Cleveland takes two of three Tampa Bay and two of three from Chicago

There are a couple of other variations that will get all four teams there as well.

What happens then?

Firstly, the teams would play off for the Divisional titles. Boston would head to Yankee Stadium and Chicago to Jacobs. The losers of those games would then play for the wild-card slot. That would be an interesting turn of events. It would be slightly more interesting if the Angels were to go 6-1 and finish with 95 wins as well.

Tom Gorman contributed research to this column.

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