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August 22, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Sweepers and Sweepees

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago White Sox (5th) @ Detroit Tigers (1st)

Any lingering doubts Tigers fans may have had about their team fading down the stretch were put to rest when Detroit acquired Neifi Perez from the Cubs. We learn, once again, that a veteran player is always preferable to someone within an organization or someone from another organization that might be stuck there. Players with career EqAs of .219 don't grow on trees, you know.

At this time a year ago, the White Sox were coming off a seven-game losing streak and it looked for all the world like they were going to derail. Ozzie Guillen was talking about quitting and was generally freaking out. The only thing more entertaining than Ozzie Guillen when the White Sox are going well is Ozzie Guillen when the team is losing. In fact, if Ozzie ever does quit, our The Week in Quotes will probably have to become a monthly rather than a weekly feature. One of the wasps in his wig this week is an accusation of cheating by Red Sox owner John Henry. What is the nature of this cheating? It's sign stealing.

Here's a question we've been knocking around a little at BP the last couple of days: is sign stealing really cheating? I'm not talking about the elaborate spy mission thing the '51 Giants pulled off by putting a man in the scoreboard; I'm talking about honest to goodness, eyeballing of signs or indications (like where a catcher is setting up) by players and personnel on the field or in the dugout. What are your thoughts on this? Does this constitute cheating in your eyes?

Best National League Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals (15th) @ New York Mets (3rd)

It's so rare to find a National League series that matches two teams playing above .500--let alone sporting a third-order record over .500--that attention must be called to this series, if only to point out that it is occurring and that its parameters are unique in this year of deflated National League expectations.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Yankees (.605) @ Seattle Mariners (.463)

Five-game series are rare enough these days, but five-game sweeps? Rarer still. How about five-game sweeps on the road? Even rarer than that. Yesterday's completion of the cinquivexation of the Red Sox by New York marks just the 10th time this has occurred since 1960. None of the previous victors ever managed as many as 49 runs like the Yankees did, although none of them allowed as many as 26, either. Let's look at the previous nine:

1996 - Pirates sweep Giants in San Francisco, September 12-15: If revenge is a dish best served cold, this five-game wipe of the G'ints had a thin veneer of ice on it. Touting it as payback for signing Barry Bonds away from Pittsburgh is a bit of a stretch, though. Bonds had a single in eight at bats in this series, but walked six times, four times in the last game. Three of the five Pirates starters have gone on to better things elsewhere. Jason Schmidt held down the fort in the first game, Esteban Loaiza threw a six-hit shutout in the second and Jon Lieber did good work in the fourth game. The Giants offense did what they could to wreck the sweep. They scored four in the ninth to tie the last game 5-5. When the Pirates got six in the 10th, back came San Francisco with four more. With the tying men on, Kim Batiste was struck out by Joe Boever to end it.

1990 - White Sox sweep Brewers in Milwaukee, August 2-5: Say one thing for this Brewers team: they had a very interesting lineup. Paul Molitor, B.J. Surhoff, Gary Sheffield, Dave Parker, Robin Yount, and Rob Deer were one-six in a couple of the games. A diverse collection of talent, but one that got outscored 29-14 in this case. Jack McDowell held them to five hits in the last game without striking out a batter.

1984 - Braves sweep Reds in Cincinnati, May 31-June 3: The Reds were actually ahead of the Braves when this series began but, after hitting just .173 in the five games, they were soon trailing them in the National League West. The Reds also went 0-5 in a home series against the Mets that year.

1983 - Braves sweep Reds in Cincinnati, June 24-27: Yes, it happened two years in a row. The Reds were very slow on the uptake in this series. They were shutout in the first game. They were down 10-0 in the ninth before they scored in the second game. They were down 6-0 in the fourth game before scoring and 5-0 in the fourth game before denting the scoreboard. They finally managed a tie in the last game but eventually succumbed to the charms of Pascual Perez and lost 2-1.

1982 - Cardinals sweep Mets in New York, September 17-19: This is the last of the three most-recent World Champions to pull off this stunt. Will the Yankees become the fourth? The Cards were just 1 ˝ games ahead of the Phillies when they began this series. Rain earlier in the season had forced doubleheaders to be scheduled on consecutive days. The Cards took the opener of the opener in the 10th inning when Keith Hernandez walked and later scored on a double by rookie Willie McGee. From there it was all St. Louis as the Mets never held a lead and were outscored 21-6.

1980 - Phillies sweep Mets in New York, August 14-17: The Phillies, who would go on to win it all, and the Mets, who would go on to win just 11 more games the rest of the season, were only 2 ˝ games apart when this series began. It didn't take long for Philadelphia to initiate separation motions. Former Met Nino Espinosa shut down New York in the first game and Larry Christenson and Tug McGraw followed suit in the second. In hindsight, the Steve Carlton-Ray Burris matchup in the fourth game seems unfair. Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and Bob Boone each had nine hits in the series with Schmidt poling two homers. Even Randy Lerch, who posted one of the worst won-loss records ever for a World Champion (4-14), got into the act, winning the fifth game, 4-1.

1970 - Mets sweep Cubs in Chicago, June 22-25: Doctor Ron Taylor picked up the victories in the first two games of the series with 4 2/3 innings of shutout relief. The Mets blew out Fergie Jenkins in the first game and withstood a big day from Billy Williams to win the second, 12-10. New York then swept a doubleheader behind Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, the latter walking and striking out only two. In the final game, the Mets won going away 8-3 in spite of striking out 14 times. They outscored the Cubs 44-24.

1964 - Cardinals sweep Pirates in Pittsburgh, September 24-27: While the Phillies were rolling over and playing dead, their two primary pursuers were simultaneously pulling off the only five-game road sweeps of the decade. The Pirates managed just one lead in the series and it lasted just one inning early in the fourth game. Ray Sadecki had a complete-game shutout in the second game (beating a guy named Butters for you South Park fans) and Roger Craig and Barney Schultz combined for a whitewash in the fifth game. Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, the core of a fairly decent Pirates team, were held to seven singles in 32 at bats.

1964 - Reds sweep Mets in New York, September 25-27: The Mets closed out their inaugural season at Shea Stadium by cratering against the hard-charging Reds. Jim Maloney opened the Friday doubleheader with a one-hit shutout. The Mets grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the second game but never had another. New York, which already had 100 losses when the series began, didn't put up much of a fight. They were outscored 20-4 and only managed two doubles while batting .150 on the series. Unfortunately for the Reds, they followed this up by dropping four of their last five games to hand the pennant to the Cardinals.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Arizona Diamondbacks (20th) @ San Francisco Giants (19th)

The D'backs were chucking balls all over the yard last night. They would have lost anyway, but it began to look like an epidemic. On one of the miscues, the rightfielder Carlos Quentin made one of the niftier backup plays I've seen of late. He got over to backup first base so fast that, when Livan Hernandez's throw went wide of first base he was able to scoop it up like it was a ball hit down the line. In fact, he got to the bullpen so fast I thought he was a reliever interfering with the ball. For you youngsters out there…oh never mind…

Closest American League Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (6th) @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (10th)

So, what happens to teams that get torched in five-game series? Bad things. Good things. Things in between. Since 1960, 42 previous teams have been fried as the Red Sox just were. Their combined record in their next 10 games is 198-212. Considering that a lot of the teams that were swept in this fashion weren't especially good, that's not an especially revealing statistic. It is better than their average record, though: .483 to .453. Here are the worst-case scenarios. These sweepees did not rebound well from the treatment:

0-10: 1975 Tigers (post Boston)
1-9: 1969 Padres (post Houston)
1-6: 1978 Mariners (post Texas, season nearly over at time of sweep)
2-8: 1984 Reds (post New York)
2-8: 1976 Rangers (post Milwaukee)
2-8: 1970 Cubs (post New York)
2-8: 1963 Senators (post Cleveland)

Of course, this isn't a very robust group. Four of them lost 102 games or more and only one, the '70 Cubs, had a .500 record. These are the five-game sweepees who turned it around immediately after their greatest humiliation:

9-1: 1976 A's (post Minnesota)
8-2: 1966 Twins (post Baltimore)
8-2: 1973 Tigers (post New York)
8-2: 1983 Cubs (post Pittsburgh)
7-3: 1966 White Sox (post Boston)
7-3: 1978 Astros (post Pittsburgh)
7-3: 1982 Astros (post San Francisco)
7-3: 1982 Mets (post St. Louis)
7-3: 1989 Tigers (post Boston)

Four of these teams were over .500 and only two--the '89 Tigers and '82 Mets--could be characterized as truly awful. The '06 Red Sox are definitely one of the best teams of the expansion era to undergo this particular brand of humbling.

98-64: 1964 White Sox, swept by Yankees. June 12-14
96-66: 1962 Yankees, swept by Orioles, August 24-26
89-73: 1966 Twins, swept by Orioles, July 1-3
87-74: 1976 Athletics, swept by Twins, July 30-August 2
87-75: 1982 White Sox, swept by Brewers, July 15-18

This year's Red Sox should land right in the middle of this list, appearances of the moment to the contrary. There is no reason to expect their slide to continue based on some misguided notion about momentum. A well-guided notion about the state of the majority of their pitching staff though? That might be acceptable. Also, as Joe Sheehan points out, this was an especially grueling series in terms of elapsed game time and is being followed by a trip to the opposite coast. This no-rest-for-the-weary scenario is not a guarantee of failure, but it sure looks pretty daunting from the outside.

Boston must now try to become just the third team to be swept out of a five-game series and still make the postseason. The '62 Yankees, seen above, did it as did the 1984 Royals, champions of the bargain basement Western Division with an 84-78 record. While the wild card is still within Boston's reach, the '64 White Sox had no such fallback position. They entered their series with the Yankees that year in first place with a five-game lead over New York and a 1 ˝ game lead on the Orioles. When the dust had cleared two days later, the O's were in first and they were tied with New York, one game back. They finished the year two games behind the Yankees. The '76 A's finished just 2 ˝ games behind the Royals, so dropping the fiver to the Twins certainly didn't help them, either.

Thanks to Keith Woolner for his research.

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