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August 15, 2006

Prospectus Game of the Week

San Francisco Giants @ Los Angeles Dodgers, 8/13/06

by Derek Jacques

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Welcome back for our latest edition of Game of the Week, revisiting one of the oldest rivalries in the history of the Senior Circuit, one which survived the transcontinental transplants of two franchises who originated in New York City--the Giants (maiden name New York) and the Dodgers (maiden name Brooklyn). It's the former Brooklyns who have been making the biggest splash in the news, recently--they've gone on some bit of a streak, if you haven't heard--while the Giants have been most prominently featured in the press due to a certain unindicted person who plays left field for them.

Taking the Dodgers first, they've hit the top of the division after residing in the cellar just a little over two weeks ago, going on an 11 game streak which was broken on Wednesday in Colorado, followed by a three game winning streak coming into today's matchup. Let's take a look at how a few Dodgers have performed during this stretch (courtesy of Dave Pinto's Day by Day Database):

                AVG  OBP  SLG  PA
Rafael Furcal  .381/.443/.635  70
Kenny Lofton   .426/.471/.574  52
J.D. Drew      .271/.364/.479  55
Jeff Kent      .211/.286/.579  21
Andre Ethier   .373/.397/.695  63
Wilson Betemit .311/.367/.644  49
Julio Lugo     .243/.356/.324  46
Russ Martin    .341/.420/.477  50
James Loney    .345/.424/.690  34

                  IP   H  R ER BB SO
Brad Penny        20   15 8  7  2 17
Derek Lowe        20.7 18 8  8  1 19
Chad Billingsley  17   10 3  3 14 15
Greg Maddux       12   7  2  2  4  5
Mark Hendrickson  19   22 8  8 13 10
Takashi Saito     7.7  4  1  1  1 12
Jonathan Broxton  9.3  5  0  0  2 10
During this 14-1 stretch, new acquisition Wilson Betemit led the Dodgers with four home runs, Andre Ethier had three homers and ten RBI and Rafael Furcal belted ten extra base hits and led the team with 12 RBI. The second basemen, Jeff Kent and Julio Lugo, seem to be the ones missing out on the fun on offense. Meanwhile, the Dodgers' starters have all been solid over this stretch, but some ugly peripherals for Mark Hendrickson and Chad Billingsley don't bode well for the future.

Meanwhile, when the Dodgers' winning spree started, the Giants were in third place, 51-51, three games back of the Padres for first in the NL West. They had a comfortable four game lead over last-place Los Angeles. Fifteen games later, the Giants are eight games under .500, last in the division, trailing the Dodgers by six and a half games. It's a complete reversal.

Barry Bonds, the Unindicted Guy, has done a fine imitation of a league-average leftfielder during this stretch, hitting .250/.372/.444, with only one home run and five RBI in 43 plate appearances. Since the All-Star Break, Bonds has only hit three home runs, total. The Giants' hot hitters over the last two weeks are the double play duo of Ray Durham (.474/.516/.632) and Omar Vizquel (.365/.450/.481).

But obviously, we're not here to talk about the past, so here are the lineups for tonight's game:

Giants                              Dodgers
                       EqA    VORP                         EqA    VORP
Randy Winn, CF         .247    2.0  Rafael Furcal, SS      .263   25.5
Omar Vizquel, SS       .280   34.7  Kenny Lofton, CF       .271   21.2
Ray Durham, 2B         .287   32.8  Nomar Garciaparra, 1B  .312   31.7
Barry Bonds, LF        .323   27.1  Jeff Kent, 2B          .274   16.9
Moises Alou, RF        .288   13.0  Andre Ethier, LF       .309   29.2
Shea Hillebrand, 1B    .225*  -2.7* Wilson Betemit, 3B     .298*   5.7*
Pedro Feliz, 3B        .253    2.6  Julio Lugo, RF         .220*  -0.9*
Eliezer Alfonzo, C     .272    8.5  Russ Martin, C         .277   16.2
Jason Schmidt, P      -.062   -0.8  Greg Maddux, P         .190*   0.4*


Starting Pitchers
                    W-L   ERA     IP    SNLVAR   BABIP   RA+    SO/9
Jason Schmidt      9-7    3.15   157.0   5.0     .276    1.44   0.2034
Greg Maddux       10-11   4.73   148.3   2.7     .308    1.02   0.1398
The asterisks indicate traded players' stats with their new teams, only. For the Giants, this is their regular lineup, the only major variation being that sometimes it's Steve Finley in center, rather than Randy Winn. Winn won himself a three-year contract extension after being acquired by the Giants at the trade deadline last season. This season, not only has he not lived up to his 2005 performance with San Francisco (.359/.391/.680), he's not even living up to his career averages (.288/.346/.425). Finley isn't much better.

For the Dodgers, after their deadline acquisitions of Lugo and Betemit, the infield is a crowded place. With J.D. Drew getting a day of rest, Jeff Kent is starting at second and Lugo shifts to the outfield, where he has played 14 career games, all back when he was with Houston, four years ago. Russell Martin and Andre Ethier, the two rookies in the lineup, aren't in the Rookie of the Year conversation because they trail the other contenders in playing time, not performance.

Getting to the game, Greg Maddux's first pitch is an 85 MPH fastball, a strike on the inside corner. A second fastball, trailing away, but over the plate, is delivered by Winn to right field for a hard single. After Vizquel flies out to center, Durham grounds a bullet through the right side of the infield, to put two runners aboard for Barry Bonds.

ESPN has hyped this encounter as the first time a 700 home run hitter has faced a 300 win pitcher. This may be true, but it's less impressive than it sounds. The 700-homer period of his career encompasses August and September of Hank Aaron's last great season, 1973, and all three of his decline years, two of them spent with the Milwaukee Brewers. For Babe Ruth, you get a bit of his 1934 season--the one that got him kicked out of New York--and all five of his homers as a Boston Brave. The 700 home run Barry Bonds is a hitter with bone-on-bone in one knee, who missed almost all of last season and has hobbled around this season, hardly a portrait of the ballplayer in his prime.

Bonds gets no sympathy for his bad knee from the Dodger fans at Chavez Ravine. The boo birds come out in force as Bonds comes to the plate, and lines a 1-0 pitch up the middle, hard, which Maddux jumps and spears, throwing to Nomar Garciaparra to double off Durham and end the inning.

Maddux's opposite number, Jason Schmidt, throws a lot harder than the future Hall of Famer, but he's sitting at 90-91 miles per hour to start the game against Rafael Furcal. Schmidt throws straight over the top, with a high-effort delivery. Since Schmidt is listed at 6'5" and is long-limbed, that delivery must look like he's throwing the ball straight down at the batter. Furcal strikes out on a two-seam fastball sinking out of the zone. Kenny Lofton sends a 2-1 pitch to left field, and the boos rain down again as Bonds settles under the ball. Garciaparra socks one out to deep right field, where Moises Alou fields it for the third out.

After a rough beginning, Maddux settles down in the second. Alou grounds a tough one to Furcal, who in turn gets to show off his cannon arm at short. Shea Hillenbrand and Pedro Feliz follow with a groundout and a pop-up, and Maddux has gotten through two innings on just 15 pitches. Schmidt is no less impressive, his heater picking up steam as the radar readings tick all the way up to 96 miles per hour as he dispatches the side in order, with two strikeouts. After another 1-2-3 inning from Maddux, Russ Martin collects the Dodgers' first hit of the night, with a one-out double in the third. Maddux, following the extra-base hit, grounds a ball to the right side that gets Martin to third base. Furcal follows with a walk, and a quick steal of second base.

Things look ready to unravel when the count goes full on Kenny Lofton. Lofton puts a jolt on one to deep left, which we're already counting as a double when Barry Bonds puts on a burst of speed and stretches to make a catch on a ball that was going over his head, for certain. Again, cue the boos, this time well-deserved.

So far, although the results have been the same for both men, Schmidt is throwing two pitches to each one of Maddux's. In the top of the fourth, the Unindicted Guy comes up again, this time jumping on Maddux's first pitch and golfing a shallow pop-up to Lugo in right field. With one out in the bottom of the frame, Kent hits a grounder deep to third, and Pedro Feliz's throw is down the first base line, taking Hillenbrand off the bag. In a rare proper use of the slide into first base, Kent dives head first under Hillebrand's tag to reach safely on Feliz's throwing error. Schmidt, however, is unperturbed by Kent's acrobatics, again striking out Ethier and Betemit to end the inning.

The pitchers' dominance continues through the fifth inning, as the sides go down in order. Maddux registers another 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth, bringing his pitch count to 51 pitches thrown. The Giants are helping Maddux by not going deep into counts, but then again, that's the story of Maddux's life. Much as he did in his prime, Maddux is mixing in the occasional curve and changeup, but mostly he's dealing in fastballs. Sounds dull, except Maddux's fastball moves like an 85 MPH knuckleball. It dips, it veers, it's all over the strike zone. More than once, the broadcasters mention the rumors that have followed Maddux his whole career, that he's doctoring the ball to get that movement. Those rumors have never seemed to bother Maddux. He just keeps throwing strikes.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers threaten again. With two outs, Garciaparra beats a grounder through the left side of the infield for a single. Kent follows with a grounder almost to the same spot in the shortstop hole, this time Vizquel gets to the ball, but Garciaparra beats Vizquel's throw to second, infield hit for Kent. That brings up Ethier, who has already whiffed twice against Schmidt. Schmidt falls behind 2-1, before coming back in the count, and getting Ethier to chase a sinker out of the zone for the strikeout.

With two outs in the top of the seventh, 300 wins meets 700 homers once again. Bonds takes Maddux's first pitch…which winds up a strike, waist high and middle-in. Having let his pitch go by, Bonds ultimately connects on Maddux's 60th pitch, and drives it to the warning track in left-center where it is caught to end the inning.

In the bottom of the frame, it's time to boo! Barry Bonds is touching the ball again! The hysteria over a routine play in left field is followed by Lugo stroking a liner up the middle, which Vizquel falls on like it was a hand grenade. Two outs. Maddux is on deck with his catcher, Russ Martin at the plate. Dodger manager Grady Little already has Brett Tomko warming in the pen. Should Martin reach base, Little would have to make the hard choice, to pull Maddux for a pinch-hitter or leave him in the game.

Martin apparently realizes that Little doesn't like hard decisions. He grounds out to Ray Durham to end the inning, and send Maddux back to the mound.

In the top of the eighth, Alou hits a hard grounder, but right to Betemit. One out. Hillenbrand comes up, and it's déjà vu! We get the same play, all over again, two outs. Pedro Feliz comes up and relieves the monotony by striking out. So that's 68 pitches, two hits, and four strikeouts for Maddux, through eight. No score.

We usually don't talk about announcers in this space, because for the most part, they don't merit much discussion. There's a lot of mediocrity in the field, and since we usually watch the game in tandem with MLB.com's Gamecast, sometimes the announcers are completely superfluous to the televised baseball experience. Try watching a game with the mute button on--you might be surprised to learn that the thing you miss most is the crowd noise.

But since we have a game announced by Joe Morgan--a controversial figure in sabermetric circles--there are a couple of moments in the bottom of the eighth which bear mentioning. After Maddux leaves the game for pinch-hitter James Loney, Morgan goes on a rant about why this is a good idea--it's a confusing flurry of verbiage about how Maddux wasn't brought in to be the Dodgers' "horse," he used to be a horse but he isn't a horse anymore, and you wouldn't want him thinking that you want him to be a horse when that's someone else's job, and Jason Schmidt, now he is the Giants' horse, so that's different…

Huh? Maddux threw 68 pitches. Morgan knows this, if he's been listening to his announcing partner, Jon Miller, who has mentioned Maddux's low pitch count repeatedly. Where does that fit in with all of Morgan's equine metaphors? Does asking a guy to pitch the ninth inning, even if he hasn't yet thrown 70 pitches, makes him a horse?

Still, it's easy to nitpick, and hard to speak extemporaneously on live television for hours on end. A few moments later, Morgan shows us the other side of the coin. Furcal singles on a hard bunt toward Vizquel. With the speedy shortstop on first and one out, Kenny Lofton comes up and shows bunt, but pulls it back. Miller comments that this is a strange situation for Lofton to be showing bunt, but Morgan points out that showing and pulling back the bunt serves a purpose--it helps the baserunner by preventing the catcher from getting forward momentum to throw.

Now, that's not a mind-blowing revelation, but it is a nice detail to keep in mind when you see someone square up in a non-bunt situation. That, and the occasional funny anecdote, is really all that we ask from a color announcer. When Morgan's not ranting about statistics or "that book that Billy Beane wrote," he's able to put a couple little nuggets like that out there per game.

Back to the action, Furcal doesn't steal the base, but Lofton singles to the opposite field to put two on with one out for the middle of the Dodger lineup. If this should happen to worry Schmidt, he doesn't show it. He overpowers Garciaparra, who becomes Schmidt's ninth strikeout victim, and then pops up Kent to end the inning.

In the ninth, catcher Eliezer Alfonzo singles off the new pitcher, Brett Tomko to start the inning. The Giants pinch hit for their horse, sending veteran utilityman Jose Vizcaino to the plate. Vizcaino shows bunt, only to pull it back and take a called strike. In a rare mid-at-bat substitution, Steve Finley is then sent in to pinch-run for Alfonzo. Vizcaino keeps showing bunt and taking until the count is 2-2. With two strikes, Vizcaino is still bunting, and bunts the ball hard and straight to the mound, where Tomko is able to wheel and get the lead runner at second. Randy Winn proceeds to fly out to Lofton, and Omar Vizquel pops up to Kent. The leadoff hit is squandered.

In the bottom of the ninth, Mike Stanton takes the mound for the Giants, with Todd Greene as his batterymate and Finley taking over for Winn in center. Ethier flies out to Boos--er, I mean, Bonds. Betemit comes to bat with one of those red Mother's Day bats. He grounds to Durham, two outs. Lugo grounds to Vizquel and we go into bonus frames, and one more shot for Bonds.

In the tenth inning, Takashi Saito takes over for Tomko. Saito's quietly become one of the best relievers in the league, 11th in the majors with a 3.586 WXRL. He quickly gets ahead of Durham 0-2. Durham gets hold of Saito's curve, and takes it to shallow center field, where Furcal makes a great over-the-shoulder catch. Saito then falls behind Barry Bonds 2-0, at which point the Dodgers decide to intentionally put the potential go-ahead run on first base with one out.

That's respect. Todd Linden pinch-runs for Bonds. After the intentional walk, Saito's lost the strike zone, and he falls behind Alou 2-0. But Saito hangs in there, bringing the count full before getting Alou to pop out to Kent. Shea Hillenbrand hacks at a 1-0 pitch, flying out to center.

You probably know already what happened in the bottom of the tenth inning, so we'll take the play by play directly from our shorthand notes: "Vinnie Chulk. Hanging slider. Ding-dong, game over. Russ Martin gets hugs."

For those of you who need some translation, that's a 1-0 final on Russell Martin's walk-off homer. Join us next week when Game of the Week will bring you an obscure American League rivalry, as it plays out in an old ballpark in Boston. Obviously, we're very worried that a matchup like that one could fall under the radar and not get the media attention it deserves. As always, we'll keep our eye on the matchups to get you the most interesting combination of pitchers possible.

Derek Jacques is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Derek by clicking here or click here to see Derek's other articles.

Derek Jacques is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Derek's other articles. You can contact Derek by clicking here

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