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May 19, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

The Unnatural

by Jim Baker

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Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals (5th) @ Kansas City Royals (30th)

Sunday's tilt features starting pitchers from opposite ends of the luck spectrum. While a case could be made that any starter who finds himself toiling for the Royals has been cursed by fate at some level, the manifestation of such is much more obvious with Scott Elarton. His LUCK rating is easily the worst in baseball at -5.08. The next-closest pitcher is Jamie Moyer of the Mariners at 4.00. On the other hand, the LUCK rating of his next opponent, Jeff Suppan, is 2.41. Although that doesn't quite put him in the top 10 among pitchers with at least 40 innings thrown, it's fairly close.

Tomorrow, the Cardinals are using the matchup with the Royals to get Anthony Reyes his first combat jump. As you will recall, St. Louis chose to keep Sidney Ponson in the rotation coming out of spring training rather than giving the job to Reyes. It was a decision that seemed faulty at the time but was working out pretty well up until the point Ponson went on the disabled list. If Reyes lives up to expectations, the Cards could have a late-arriving Rookie of the Year candidate on their hands, much as Dontrelle Willis came to the Marlins three years ago. Reyes' most impressive stat at Triple-A Memphis this year was his 40:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. (League K leader Jered Weaver is close at 58:8 while Ryan O'Malley of the Iowa Cubs is at 25:1 in 25 2/3 IP, although he's mostly relieved.)

What do the Cubs get out of interleague play these days? Let's see … they sell out every game anyway, so having the White Sox come over and hang out for a while doesn't do them any good at the box office. Having to play the World Champions six times while the "Natural Rival" (as MLB.com calls them in their latest e-missive) of their arch-enemy in the division is required to play the Royals a half-dozen. Sounds to me like the only people making out on this deal are the scalpers that ply their trade around Wrigley Field during the White Sox series. Oh, wait…

Before we leave the Cubs, I got this email yesterday from reader Jason Brannon just after the Chicago-Washington game ended:

"Bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, Cubs down 5-3, men on 1st and 3rd. Neifi Perez up to bat. He bunted. Game."

Now, I'm glad Jason wrote me this note because even though I was watching the game myself, I didn't believe I had seen what I had seen. There is something very jarring about a guy bunting hard back to the pitcher to end a game with the tying runs on base. As hard as we try to defend his decision to lay one down--and manager Dusty Baker did just that--it just seems incongruous when the means to tie the game are in place. I will also admit that had a player with a reputation for being clever done it, I might not have been so taken aback.

The Washington series could have been seen as a turning point for the Cubs, what with the two shutouts and the return of Kerry Wood. His homer-friendly outing aside, it is good news to have him back. Unfortunately, the team still managed just 12 runs in the series and is last in the league in Isolated Power. In that context, perhaps a game-ending bunt probably isn't that shocking.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Texas Rangers (13th) @ Houston Astros (12th)

If you're going to tout the Natural Rival, then you must also concede that there exists Unnatural Rivals. There cannot be one without the other, really. Even on this weekend where the two handfuls of interleague rivalries that actually make sense are taking place (out of the 224 possible matchups) there aren't enough to cover the entire schedule. So that a few teams like the Astros and Rangers might have their annual dose of geocentric fun, we are treated to a few unlikely pairings. For instance, we've got San Diego visiting Seattle, the best hype for which might be that they share the same time zone. Oh, they were also once rivals in the Pacific Coast League back in the '60s, so there's bound to be a lot of bad blood left over from that. Toronto is visiting Colorado and redemption is the theme there. The Jays have absolutely dominated this series and the Rockies want vengeance. They own the Rox. They've beaten them all kinds of ways: trouncings, nippings and come-from-behindings. (Just don't check to see how many times they've played or you'll spoil the hype job.)

Because they're all over the sports websites, by now you've seen the ads that state, "If 80% of your workday is spent managing your fantasy team, then you're a Mitchum Man." I don't know about you, but I'm sending them a resume straight away. If that's their attitude about their customers, then imagine how cool they must be with their employees!

Mitchum Manager: Higgins, that better not be the monthly sales figures I see on your screen!

Higgins (clicking like mad): Um…uh, no, I was just, uh looking for Lance Berkman's line from…uh…yesterday's game

Mitchum Manager: Higgins, you lying sack of @$&%: the Astros didn't even play yesterday.

Higgins: I…er…uh…knew that, I guess…

Mitchum Manager: You know what--I'll bet you're not even in a fantasy league, are you?

Higgins: Sure I am!

Mitchum Manager: Five-by-five?

Higgins: I don't see how the dimensions of my cubicle have anything to do with this.

Mitchum Manager: That does it, Higgins, clear out your desk. You're clearly not a Mitchum Man and we can't have you taking up space here doing "work."

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Florida Marlins (26th) @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays (28th)

They've topped themselves this time. This is the 15th series between these two clubs and on this occasion, they are meeting with the worst combined record yet. These are the four lowest combined winning percentages on the morning of their annual and bi-annual interleague series commencements:

                    RAYS   FISH     TOTAL
Year (Series)       W-L    W-L    W-L    PCT
2006 (1st meeting) 17-24  11-28  27-52  .350
1998 (home/home)   31-42  24-50  55-92  .374
2001 (2nd meeting) 25-60  42-44  67-104 .392
1999 (1st meeting) 24-29  18-36  42-65  .393
While the Mets and Yankees have never combined to be under .500 at the time of a meeting, the Rays and Marlins have only combined to be over .500 twice. Furthermore, on only one of those occasions--their second meeting of 2004--were they both playing at .500 or over.

What's the over/under on the number of busloads containing Marlins fans trekking across the state to see their boys play the Rays? I'll set it at three, but if I were a bookie I'd probably get killed on under bets. This won't be the worst-attended interleague series in the history of the species. The candidate for that will come in late June when the Rays travel to Miami for the reciprocal throwdown.

Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Yankees (2nd) @ New York Mets (4th)

The Mets and Yankees have met in the past with better records, but they've never been this close before. This is the third-best combined record they've managed heading into a matchup.

                      METS  YANKS     TOTAL
Year (Series)         W-L    W-L    W-L   PCT
1998                 42-32  53-19  95-51 .651
1999 (first meeting) 27-16  30-21  57-37 .606
2006 (first meeting) 24-16  23-16  47-32 .595
They have never had a combined sub-.500 record at the time of a meeting. Last year's second matchup was the closest they came when the Yankees were two games over .500 and the Mets two games under. They've met a game apart before (1997 and the first meeting of last year), but they've never been a half-game apart prior to today's contest. It's usually the Yankees that have the upper hand at the time of these meetings, too. This is just the fourth time in 17 tries that the Mets meet the Yankees with a better record than their elder neighbors.

I realize that I probably don't do enough to tout interleague play. With amends to that end in mind, I offer this to you and my betters in the offices of Major League Baseball, those responsible for this wonderful institution that exists, basically, for purposes of this and a few other series:

All Praise Unto Gotham!

Oh Gotham, pray, be trembling
With these grand foes assembling
For a matchup much resembling
A war amongst the gods

To knees at once be falling
And commence to prostrate crawling
When such like greats come calling
No mortal may set odds

The world must set to quivering
Huddled, humbled, shivering
When titans are delivering
Contestments such as this

Unworthy we: subverting
Such greatness; eyes averting
'tis a theory worth asserting:
Deserve we not such bliss

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