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April 4, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Opening Day Beatdown

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Yankees (2nd) @ Oakland Athletics (1st)

There have been worse Opening Day beatings than the one the Yankees inflicted on the A's last night, but not many. Since 1901, in fact, I can count only three, with two more that were equally as bad in terms of run differential. They are:

15: New York Giants 18-Brooklyn Dodgers 3 (April 11, 1912)
14: Chicago White Sox 17-St. Louis Browns 3 (April 17, 1951)
14: Pittsburgh Pirates 14-Cincinnati Reds 0 (April 12, 1911)
13: New York Giants 16-Brooklyn Dodgers 3 (April 14, 1915)
13: Chicago Cubs 15-New York Mets 2 (March 31, 2003)
13: New York Yankees 15-Oakland Athletics 2 (April 3, 2006)

There is a game that trumps them all, but it comes with an asterisk. On April 13, 1955, the Yankees beat the Washington Senators 19-1 in New York's first game of the year. It was not the Senators' first game, though, but their second, having played their traditional season opener at home two days earlier. Should this game be included on the list above which contains only mutual openers? I believe a blue ribbon panel should be formed to determine the viability of such a premise.

As bad as last night's beating was, it could have been a lot worse. With a couple of two-out hits, the Yankees would have put themselves at the top of that list. New York left at least two baserunners stranded in six innings. If the Yankees don't improve their clutch hitting soon, they're going to start hearing about it.

If the baseball season weren't so long, I don't think you would have seen Barry Zito still in the game to face Alex Rodriguez in the second inning last night. It was apparent to even the most inebriated observer that Zito did not have what it took to keep his team in the game, yet manager Ken Macha let him soldier on until he, inevitably, surrendered the big blow that made a comeback unlikely against the likes of Randy Johnson. Why not pull him after the two walks to open the second (after he'd walked two in the first)? Because it wouldn't look right on Opening Day to yank your starter so early. It's all about face.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Tampa Bay Devil Rays (29th) @ Baltimore Orioles (26th)

It's time for you and your friends to organize your annual Orioles Dead Pool. That's the contest where you must identify the day the O's go under .500 for good this year. Remember--don't hand out the prize money until they are mathematically precluded from ever getting back to .500. They have rebounded to even in the past before finally sinking below it once and for all later on.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Washington Nationals (28th) @ New York Mets (5th)

Baseball: A Game Without Honor, part 69,242:
Why is it so hard to get up the collective dander of the world over baseball's steroids situation? It is because baseball is a game that has made deception a tradition. Take, for instance, new Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca's performance in yesterday's game. He deftly jobbed umpire Tim Tschida big time, a ploy that saved the game for his new team. Not only did Lo Duca never control the ball, it is unlikely that he truly made a tag. We know for certain the ball was on the ground just prior to him holding it aloft in the grand gesture that announces a play has been made.

For this, he is feted; feted like thousands before him who pulled similar ruses with the full knowledge that they were openly lying to an official designated by the league to determine the truth of events. Had he not done this, had he, instead, let the ball stay on the ground as an admission that Alfonso Soriano had prevailed, he would have been roundly criticized for taking advantage of the fact that the umpire was blocked from seeing where the ball was in relation to the runner, and using that positioning to deceive him.

This is the world we have made, the environment in which we operate, so let's not be too surprised that deception on a larger scale is not making bigger waves.

Jose Vidro's run to glory with two out in the ninth inning--in which he tried to stretch a single into a double--was wonderfully ill-advised. A certain analyst who shall remain nameless said he liked the play because "with Billy Wagner in there, you're not going to get many chances." Of course, with the game over, you're not going to get any chances. It's not quite Babe Ruth trying to steal second to end the 1926 World Series, but it's an idea taught at the same dojo.

Speaking of Dead Pools, what day do you have in your Brandon Watson Watch? That would be the day the Nats come to their senses and get him the hell out of the starting centerfield job. That is probably a bit misleading in that we don't have a lot of evidence right now that the Nats have any senses. Watson is probably going to have to ring up numbers so maddeningly inferior that the Washington braintrust has no choice but to remove him. Another analyst who shall remain nameless stated yesterday that he was "expecting big things from Brandon Watson." That's actually not an indefensible statement in that he did not add "on a baseball diamond." By leaving it open-ended like that, the analyst could mean any number of things. Perhaps Watson will become a record producer after his baseball career and do "big things" in music. Perhaps he will enter the field of medicine or the clergy and heal bodies and/or souls. The possibilities are limitless.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals (8th) @ Philadelphia Phillies (7th)

There are those who don't believe Jimmy Rollins' pursuit of Joe DiMaggio's consecutive-game hit streak is legit because it stretches over two seasons. If you buy this line of reasoning, that means that once the season gets to Game #107, the record is safe for another year. That's silly, really. At no time ever was DiMaggio's record qualified with the prefix "single-season." Not only that, but the rules make no mention of it. In fact, if you look at the text of the rule governing streaks (10.24 of the Major League Baseball Official Rulebook), you'll find that it allows for stoppages in play of all kinds:

"Consecutive Game Hitting Streaks: A consecutive game hitting streak shall not be terminated if all the player's plate appearances (one or more) result in a base on balls, hit batsman, defensive interference or a sacrifice bunt. The streak shall terminate if the player has a sacrifice fly and no hit. The player's individual consecutive game hitting streak shall be determined by the consecutive games in which the player appears and is not determined by his club's games."

Doesn't this last sentence open up all sorts of gaps in play? If John Paciorek--a player famous for getting three hits in his only big league game in 1963--had managed to revive his playing career ten years later and had gone on a 56-game hitting streak to start the 1973 season, the record would be his and not DiMaggio's. Is there any other way to interpret the phrase "determined by the consecutive games in which the player appears?"

I also think that had a player of greater obscurity held the record, not as many people would be questioning the validity of Rollins' challenge. Because DiMaggio is one of the iconic figures of the 20th Century, there are those who want to see him keep the signature mark of his career. If Willie Keeler or Tommy Holmes had managed to hang in there longer and set the record, I'm guessing this wouldn't be an issue.

Related Content:  The Streak,  The Who

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