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May 12, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Sweeper and Sweepee

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Detroit Tigers (2nd) @ Cleveland Indians (7th)

The Indians retreat from Kansas City after getting swept by the Royals. Can the Tigers count on meeting a demoralized team or one that is hell bent on getting up from the blow? In other words, is there any discernable effect on a team that tanks against a team with an extraordinarily bad record? Checking the worst teams of the expansion era, we, not surprisingly, find few sweeps to go on for purposes of precedent. Looking at the .333 and worse clubs, the 2004 Diamondbacks, 1962 Mets and 1965 Mets had no series sweeps at all. The rest are listed here along with the sweepee's record in their very next series and in their next games following the sweeping. All series are three-game sweeps unless otherwise indicated.

Year Team: Opponent, Dates           Next Series  Next 10 games
                                         W L        W L
2003 Tigers: Orioles, May 5-7            2 2        3 7
2003 Tigers: White Sox, July 8-10        2 2        7 3
1996 Tigers: Angels, July 30-August 1    1 2        2 8
1979 A's: Mariners, April 16-18          0 2        3 7
1979 A's: Indians, August 17-19          2 1        7 3
1979 Blue Jays: Indians, September 14-16 3 1        5 5
1969 Expos: Phillies, September 12-14    2 1        5 5
1969 Padres: Astros, April 8-10          2 2        3 7
1969 Padres: Phillies, June 2-4          0 3        5 5
1969 Padres: Dodgers, September 4-7 (4)  1 1        7 3
1964 Mets: Pirates, August 17-19         1 4        2 8
1963 Mets: Braves, April 19-21 (4)       1 1        6 4
1963 Mets: Phillies, May 7-9             3 1        6 4
In all, the clubs went 20-23 in the following series and 61-69 in the next 10 games. While the '69 Padres sweep of the Expos and the '79 Jays sweep of the A's were not counted for obvious reasons, it must be remembered that a couple of these opponents weren't very good teams themselves. The '69 Phillies, who were swept by both expansion clubs, won just 63 games. The '79 Mariners, double sweepees as well, won 67. The '96 Angels won 70 and the '03 Orioles 71. On the other hand, every other club won at least 80 games--although it might be worth noting that none of them won more than 86 games.

So, there is no discernable humiliation carry-over. Baseball is, after all, the official S**t Happens Sport. No matter how hard we try to place cause and effect on matters, it just doesn't work that way.

Worst National League Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Florida Marlins (25th) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (29th)

The Pirates have to feel kind of silly watching the Marlins come into town. After all, Florida has been shedding higher-priced talent while Pittsburgh reached down into the lint at the bottom of their pockets and came up with extra dough to chuck at PVs Sean Casey, Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa. Where have those Proven Veterans gotten them? Right: meeting the Marlins to battle for the top spot in the 2007 Rule IV Draft. It's like two kids who end up in the same math class in high school. One of them shows up every day, does the work, never gets it and fails. The other one skips out to cadge smokes from the hobos who live by the creek behind the school. In the end, they both end up with an 'F.'

A couple ways to tell your baseball team might be moving:

  • They've put a lot of stuff in storage to make the stadium look bigger to prospective new tenants.

  • They're always baking chocolate chip cookies to give it that homey atmosphere.

  • They're repainting everything in neutral colors.

  • They're always hanging around the back of liquor stores asking if they have any empty boxes.

  • You bought both of their championship trophies off the two-for-one table at a yard sale in the stadium parking lot.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Colorado Rockies (11th) @ Houston Astros (13th)

Maybe it's because I've seen The Natural one too many times, but now, whenever I watch a baseball game played in a downpour, I am convinced the game has transcended the routine and approached the epic. That was certainly the case during the Rockies game in St. Louis on Wednesday afternoon. The dark, ominous sky, the soaked players, the rain slashing--it all looked pretty cool. The field was so sloppy I almost expected John Facenda to start narrating the proceedings like some 1967 Browns-Cardinals mud bowl contest.

During that game, Cory Sullivan hit his big league-high sixth triple and it got me to wondering what percentage of triples occur because a fielder misplayed the ball. Sullivan's hit occurred when Cardinals centerfielder Jim Edmonds took a rather curious route to the ball. He probably should have circled around it and held him to a single or double. Instead, he went at it at an odd angle and never got there. I'm not calling Edmonds out here, just pointing out that so many triples occur when a fielder does something ill-advised. (Inside-the-park home runs have a higher percentage of fielder assistance, but they're so rare they barely count.) With so few cavernous ballparks in use these days and fast artificial turf nearly a thing of the past, the opportunities for splitting the defense and running 270 feet are greatly diminished.

Thanks in great part to Sullivan, the Rockies are leading the bigs in triples. The team with the fewest to this point is a something of a shocker. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have the second-most three-baggers in each of the last two seasons. This year, they have just two so far. The main cause for this has been Carl Crawford's dearth of three-sack action. The league leader for the past two seasons has only one.

Sullivan, along with Clint Barmes and Jamey Carroll, is also leading the team in sacrifice bunts. The Rockies, as is manager Clint Hurdle's whacky wont, have the most sacs in baseball. They've got 29 total, 23 by non-pitchers. 15 of those have come at home and 14 on the road. One-run strategies at Coors Field are pretty crazy, although not quite as crazy as it has been in the past. So far in 2006, the Rockies have been living in a world where dogs are aloof and cats crave attention, where sugar is sour and lemons are sweet and where water runs uphill:

Year Away R  Home R  Away R/G  Home R/G  % Road/Home
1993  269     489     3.32       6.04       0.55
1994  256     317     4.27       5.56       0.77
1995  300     485     4.17       6.74       0.62
1996  303     405     3.74       5.00       0.75
1997  378     545     4.67       6.73       0.69
1998  300     526     3.70       6.49       0.57
1999  334     572     4.12       7.06       0.58
2000  335     633     4.14       7.81       0.53
2001  369     554     4.56       6.84       0.67
2002  280     498     3.46       6.15       0.56
2003  336     517     4.15       6.38       0.65
2004  337     496     4.16       6.12       0.68
2005  289     451     3.57       5.57       0.64
2006  100      72     5.56       4.24       1.31
Not only have the Rox never scored more runs on the road than at home, they've never even come close. As the last column indicates, you have to go back to 1996 to find a season in which they got even 75 percent as many runs away from Denver as they did while playing there. Colorado's road drop-offs have been infamous for years. If they could somehow maintain an average of five runs per game for the entire season, then they would have overcome one of the great bugaboos of this franchise. It would help if they could also elevate their scoring at home--even if it's to the relatively modest-for-Coors level of last season. Those things, combined with continuing to win the close ones (9-4 in one-run games so far) would make this a breakthrough season.

A question regarding the Roger Clemens situation: if the Astros slide their way out of the top half of the division by June 1, will his interest in them wane? Conversely, will the team think its money would be wasted on him at that point? What if all of Roger's favored destination teams tank? What then? It would be very interesting if a team like the Rockies or the Reds suddenly threw in on the Rocket Ride Sweepstakes.

A tip of the cap to Peter Quadrino for help with some data.

Related Content:  The Who

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