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August 31, 2007

Prospectus Hit List

The Chase is On

by Jay Jaffe

RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Red Sox
80-54
4-3
.623
Up
Bronx Bummer: fresh off a four-game murderizing of the White Sox--the first time an AL team has scored at least 10 runs in every game of a four-game set in 85 years--the Red Sox take their eight-game lead into Yankee Stadium and are swept handily, scoring just six runs. In the opener, Daisuke Matsuzaka is hit hard by the Yanks; he's put up a 6.98 ERA in three starts against them despite a modest .253/.349/.413 allowed. In the latter two games, Yankee starters hold the Sox hitless into the sixth and seventh innings; losing Manny Ramirez, whose oblique strain may cost him a week, doesn't help.

2


Yankees
75-59
4-3
.584
Down
Though they sweep the Red Sox in the Bronx, the preceding 2-5 road trip deals the Yanks' hopes of reclaiming the AL East lead a critical blow. That journey concludes with a 16-0 humiliation by the Tigers, marking Mike Mussina's third consecutive bombing (9.2 IP, 25 hits, 19 ER). He's pulled from the rotation in favor of Ian Kennedy, the latest member of a youth movement that's seen Philip Hughes struggle (6.11 ERA in August) while Joba Chamberlain continues to dazzle (11.1 scoreless innings, 17/4 K/BB). Kevin Goldstein examines the decision to start Kennedy.

3


Angels
79-54
5-1
.563
Up
Respect My Authoritah: the Angels reassert their claim on the AL West, sweeping the Mariners by a 24-8 combined score to provide themselves some breathing room. John Lackey fights off strep throat to shut out (9 7 0 0 0 5) the M's, the second time he's done so in four weeks. He's eighth in the league in SNVLAR, while Kelvim Escobar leads the circuit. The latter is also second in ERA; he's allowed three runs or less in 13 of his last 15 starts, and certainly belongs in any AL Cy Young Award discussion.

4


Mets
73-60
2-5
.556
Down
Five losses in a row, including a wild four-game sweep by the Phillies, cut the Mets' NL East lead to two. The offense picks the wrong time to cool off, scoring just two measly, stinking runs for four games in a row, while rotation mainstays Orlando Hernandez and John Maine give up more than their share. The latter appears to have hit a wall; he's put up a 7.77 ERA with 14 walks in 24.1 innings this month and has just one quality start since the All-Star break. Pedro Martinez can't arrive soon enough; he's slated for one more rehab outing.

5


Indians
76-57
6-1
.550
Up
With 11 wins in 14 games, the Tribe open up their widest AL Central lead this year. Thank the pitching staff, which has put up a 3.00 ERA in that run while holding opponents to four runs or less all but three times. C.C. Sabathia's hard luck improves; he's allowed only one or two earned runs in each of his last eight starts, yet the team wins for just the second time because they've provided only 20 runs of support. The big man is sixth in the league in SNLVAR, with Fausto Carmona fifth.

6


Padres
73-60
5-2
.539
Up
A 7-1 run helps the Padres overcome a five-game deficit and reclaim first place in the NL West for the first time in over a month, but they're knocked back into second when their comeback from an 8-0 deficit falls a run short. Off the DL for the eleventy-ninth time this year, Milton Bradley bashes five home runs for the week; he's hitting .345/.441/.655 with 10 jacks in just 136 PA for the Pads. In these surroundings, that's good enough for third on the team in VORP, though we should point out that Adrian Gonzalez (.312/.395/.560), Brian Giles (.304/.373/.576) and Mike Cameron (.272/.395/.515) are all raking this month.

7


Dodgers
70-63
4-2
.539
Flat
Boomer in Blue: David Wells makes a stylish Dodger debut, tossing five solid innings and keying the go-ahead rally with a leadoff bunt single (forget Cooperstown, send that ball to Ripley's Believe It or Not). The victory helps prevent a sweep by the Mets and comes amidst a 10-4 run that preserves the team's narrow shot at the postseason, one that may be incrementally enhanced by their acquisition of Esteban Loaiza. Key in this stretch has been the torrid hitting of Jeff Kent (.308/.400/.590, building on a pre-hamstring injury .447/.500/.737 July) and Russell Martin (.375/.592/.781)--the only Dodger hitters with VORPs above 20.

8


Tigers
72-62
4-3
.539
Up
The Tigers take three out of four from the Yanks, but fall further behind in the AL Central race while losing both Gary Sheffield and Jair Jurrjens to the DL. After hitting a fierce .320/.408/.591 from May through July, the former has slumped to a .185/.267/.278 August amid recurrent shoulder woes, while the latter had done a solid job patching the rotation spot left vacant by Kenny Rogers. A glimmer of hope comes with a return to form from Jeremy Bonderman, who snaps a string in which he'd been torched for an 8.78 ERA over a seven-start span.

9


Braves
69-65
3-3
.538
Up
Selling Aluminum Siding is a Non-Save Situation, Too: the Braves DFA Bob Wickman after he voices displeasure about pitching in non-save situations. No great loss; Wickman's 3.92 ERA belies a 5.42 Fair Run Average, -3.7 Adjusted Runs Prevented and just 0.435 WXRL, fifth on the team and second-to-last among closers with at least 20 saves. With Rafael Soriano and the surprising Peter Moylan both in the league's top 20 in WXRL, the Braves should be just fine without him.

10


Phillies
71-62
5-2
.535
Up
The Chase is On: Chase Utley goes 3-for-5 with a homer in his return from the DL and caps a timely four-game sweep of the Mets with a game-winning hit. Despite a month-long absence, Utley still leads the NL in batting average and is fifth in VORP. There's more good news on the health front, as Cole Hamels is pain-free after a strong bullpen outing; he could start Sunday. The week's major downer comes from bullpen boob Brett Myers, who coughs up a ballgame, then turns on his usual charm with a reporter.

11


Rockies
68-65
4-2
.528
Up
Colorado shakes a 3-6 slump thanks to a makeshift rotation's performance that's less, um, rocky. They get a shutout from Jeff Francis, plus quality starts from the scrubby likes of Elmer Dessens and Ubaldo Jimenez; the latter's allowed two runs and nine hits in his last 20 innings. Meanwhile, Troy Tulowitzki is hitting his stride, batting .339/.402/.565 this month. He's now fourth among rookie hitters in VORP.

12


Blue Jays
67-66
3-3
.526
Flat
Black and Blue Jays: as noted on Tuesday, it doesn't speak well of this team that two of its three most productive hitters are 39-year-old DH types, but aches and pains appear to be having a lingering effect on key Toronto hitters: Lyle Overbay (.250/.337/.356 since returning from a broken hand), Troy Glaus (.172/.278/.273 since July 25 while dealing with plantar fasciitis) and Reed Johnson (.245/.305/.331 in his return from a herniated disc) have all seen better days. Furthermore, shoulder trouble appears to be a factor in Vernon Wells' season-long Underwhelmathon; after a .298/.368/.543 April, he's hit just .246/.295/.403, topping a 707 OPS in just one month.

13


Cubs
68-64
3-3
.518
Flat
The Cubs putter their way through a week in first place; welcome to life in the NL Central circa 2007. Alfonso Soriano returns from a three-week absence due to a quad strain but goes just 2-for-13, though his second hit is a homer that proves decisive in a series with the Brewers. Meanwhile, Carlos Zambrano lays his fourth egg in a row; he's allowed 22 earned runs and 50 baserunners in his last 24.1 innings, not the kind of performance you want from a guy just signed to a $91.5 million deal.

14


Twins
67-66
3-3
.512
Up
Completely lost in the offense's feeble second-half showing (3.75 runs/game) is the performance of the Twins' rotation. They've put up a 3.79 ERA, with Scott Baker (3.30) and Matt Garza (3.74) proving their big-league mettle, offering hope that Terry Ryan won't feel so compelled to seek out next year's version of Sidney Ponson or Ramon Ortiz to hobble the team out of the gate. As for that offense, its plight gets no easier with Joe Mauer sidelined by hamstring soreness.

15


Mariners
73-59
1-6
.512
Down
Six straight losses--including a three-game beatdown at the hands of the Angels--knock the Mariners out of the Wild Card lead and all but end their shot at capturing the AL West; the Postseason Odds report has them at 3.2 percent for the latter and 13.7 percent for the former. Most painful is the middle match with the Angels, in which Jeff Weaver returns to early-season Master of Disaster form by blowing a five-run lead. The team's vaunted bullpen is battered even further; they fall from first to fourth in the WXRL rankings.

16


Athletics
66-69
1-5
.509
Down
And back below .500 they go, thanks to five straight losses that take the shine off an otherwise productive August, all things considered. Having already cut bait on the infirm Milton Bradley and Bobby Kielty, Billy Beane dumps a reasonably healthy Esteban Loaiza despite his allowing just three runs in 14 innings over his first two starts off the DL. It's a bold but questionable move that saves the A's over $8 million, but it puts the onus on the likes of Chad Gaudin, Lenny DiNardo and (ahem) Rich Harden to provide quality innings for next year's staff, since the money saved isn't likely to buy much in a thin free-agent pitching market.

17


Brewers
66-67
1-5
.497
Down
Keg Empty: a five-game losing streak drives the Brewers below .500 and into third place, albeit briefly on the latter front. It's the pitching, stupid, particularly 13 blown three-run leads--oops, make that 14--and a staff ERA of 6.10 in August. Optimism arrives with the return of Ben Sheets, who pitches like the guy in the catalog in his first appearance in six weeks, but the teams' 14-26 record in his absence may be too much to overcome.

18


Diamondbacks
75-60
3-4
.490
Flat
The Snakes barely avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Padres to maintain their grasp of first place in the NL West, but the Postseason Odds Report still thinks they'll be surpassed by the Pads. Micah Owings continues to help his own cause with his fourth homer of the year, but he takes a pair of losses because the team scores just two more runs for him. Better news: Mark Reynolds emerging from an 0-for-16, 13 strikeout skid with a five-RBI night.

19


Giants
61-73
5-1
.481
Up
Matt Cain dazzles the Rockies (7 4 1 1 2 8) and wins his fourth decision out of five; he's put up seven quality starts in a row, with a 2.44 ERA and 47/10 K/BB ratio. Speaking of rotation prodigies, the Giants are apparently considering skipping Tim Lincecum's turn in order to keep his innings down, something Will Carroll surprisingly disagrees with despite the fact that Lincecum's pitched 161.1 innings thus far. And yes, I've finally made it through a Giants entry without mentioning You Know Who for the first time all season.

20


Orioles
58-74
0-6
.478
Down
Still reeling from the 30-run debacle that greeted Dave Trembley's full-time hiring, the O's make like a Perlozzo/Mazzilli squad and go on a week-long bender of stink. The coup de grce of their seventh straight loss is an 11-run eighth inning at the hands of the Devil Rays, and if that's not bad enough, the beating drops them below the Rays in the team WXRL rankings. As for that $43 million trio of bullpen help, they're no relief; Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, and Danys Baez have combined for less than 2.0 WXRL.

21


Cardinals
64-66
3-3
.469
Flat
The Cardinals taste second place in the NL Central for the first time in two months. Alas, Scott Rolen's shoulder woes appear to be getting the best of him. Hitting just .241/.275/.379 this month, he sits out the final two games of the Astros series and may be done for the year. Luckily, the team is getting production from unlikely places; Yadier Molina (.351/.438/.532 this month) is third (!) on the team in VORP, while Aaron Miles (.404/.415/.538), Brendan Ryan (.286/.348/.500) and Ryan Ludwick (.255/.328/.527) have picked up slack as well.

22


Reds
62-72
5-2
.465
Up
The Reds patch together a seven-game winning streak after finally getting quality starts, including one from 29-year-old rookie Tom Shearn, who wins his major-league debut after slogging through 11 seasons in the minors. Batterymate Ryan Jorgensen--a 28-year-old rookie playing in just his eighth big league game--supports him with a grand slam. At the other end of the experience scale, Big Red Machine shortstop Dave Concepcion has his lucky number 13 retired by the team. Before Web Gems were even a twinkle in some ESPN producer's eye, Concepcion's fielding wizardry was the gold standard for shortstops; he deserves better than he's gotten from Hall of Fame voters.

23


Rangers
61-72
5-1
.459
Up
Given that they're 10th in the league in runs allowed per game (5.2) due largely to a rotation that ranks last in the majors in SNLVAR and Fair Run Average, it's more than a little surprising to find the Rangers atop the AL WXRL leaderboard, particularly so since they're shorn not only of Eric Gagne but also of Akinori Otsuka, out since July 1 and likely done for the year. Joaquin Benoit ranks seventh in the league in WXRL (ahead of Gagne), while new closer C.J. Wilson is in the top 25; both have kept their Fair Run Averages under 3.00, an impressive feat in Texas no matter what innings you're pitching.

24


Marlins
58-76
1-5
.455
Down
You Know You're Absorbed in the Baseball Season When... you greet a ticker headline of "Gonzalez Resigns" with a reflexive response that the pitching staff's woes were Girardi's fault. Of course, it was the embattled Attorney General of the United States rather than the Fish skipper who stepped down--my bad, but given the Marlins' 2-13 plunge, can you blame me? While the team's offense has taken a slight downturn this month (4.6 runs per game), the real trouble is in the rotation: a combined 6.31 ERA in August, paced by Dontrelle Willis' 5.73, along with fond recollections of him providing the team's most recent quality start way back on August 19th.

25


Royals
59-73
3-3
.436
Down
Thanks to a 40-38 record since June 1, the Royals escape the AL Central basement, the first time since 2003 that they've done so this late in the year. Zack Greinke returns to the rotation for the first time since May and tosses seven scoreless innings over two starts; the Royals are keeping him on a short leash as he rebuilds his stamina. Still dealing: Brian Bannister, who's cracked the SNLVAR top 20 thanks to a fine August (4-1, 2.90 ERA).

26


Astros
60-74
3-3
.430
Flat
In danger of their worst season since 1991, the Astros fire GM Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner less than two years after the duo led the team to the pennant. Joe Sheehan writes that the GM was limited by owner Drayton McLane's meddling, Bryan Smith points to their draft failures, while Nate Silver believes Purpura failed to manage McLane's expectations in addition to making some bad trades and overseeing the scouting department's decline. Cecil Cooper takes over the skipper's job, and one has to hope that a lifer who's waited for this shot through thick and thin has a longer leash than 31 games given the state of this (dis)organization.

27


Pirates
59-74
4-3
.430
Flat
Buc-ing the Trend: the Pirates embark on a rare hot streak, winning seven of nine and climbing to fifth place in the NL Central. Freddy Sanchez (.467/.515/.900 since August 22) and Jason Bay (.370/.414/.667 in same) lead the way. That's a promising return to form for the latter, who hit just .198/.271/.342 from June 1 to August 15 after his usual .310/.385/.517 over the first two months. He's just eighth on the team in VORP, still stuck in single digits despite leading the team in plate appearances.

28


Nationals
58-76
0-6
.424
Down
With a six-game losing streak and 14 losses in their last 19 games, the Nats play down to initial expectations. But hey, at least franchise futility symbol Robert Fick (.207/.281/.273 to go with a league-worst MLVr) finally homers, right? He's not long for this team, whereas Wily Mo Pea just might be. He's got four homers in 38 PA since being traded from Boston, where he hit just five in 172; his latest adds to his legend when he homers immediately after fouling a ball off his foot, then leaves the game in obvious pain.

29


Devil Rays
54-80
6-1
.410
Up
Delmon Young busts out of a 3-for-35 slump with a 12-hit week, including his first home run in over two months and nearly 250 PA. It's been a less-than-spectacular season for our 2006 Top Prospect; Young's modest .254 EqA is between his 10th and 25th PECOTA projection, and he's drawn just 22 unintentional walks in 557 PA. At least he's playing, which is more than can be said for Rocco Baldelli, whose hamstring woes may shut him down for the year after only 35 games.

30


White Sox
57-77
1-7
.406
Down
Steamrollered by the Red Sox--four losses by a combined score of 46-7, yielding double digits in each--the White Sox flop onto the moldy couch and soiled blankets of the AL Central basement, to say nothing of the dank Hit List cellar. As you'd guess, the pitching is in less than mint condition; the staff has put up a 5.73 ERA since the All-Star break, with Jon Garland (6.91), John Danks (7.46) and Jose Contreras (8.12) all putting up unsightly ERAs. The latter at least stops the bleeding by gaining his first W as a starter in over two months, but no one has done more to put the team into this lowly situation.


The Prospectus Hit List rankings are derived from Won-Loss records and several measurements pertaining to run differentials, both actual and adjusted, from Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings through the close of play on every Sunday.

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

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