April 10, 2008
Thursday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Reds (5-4) at Brewers (6-2), 12:05 CT
For the Brewers, what's especially frightening about the quintet that could potentially be together by midseason in the Queen City is that all of them are right-handers. As Joe Sheehan recently discussed, and as was also outlined in this space on Tuesday, Milwaukee is murderous against left-handers but susceptible to righties because of their heavily right-handed lineup. Arroyo beat the Brewers twice last season, going more than seven innings and allowing three runs in each game, and Harang also had a strong season against Milwaukee, with a 3.42 RA and 1.06 WHIP in three starts versus the Brewers. Last July 23 at home, Harang pitched 10 innings and gave up just one run on seven hits to Milwaukee, striking out 10 while walking none in a game the Reds eventually won 2-1 in 12. If Cincinnati ends up battling Milwaukee for the NL Central title or a wild-card berth, the Reds' right-handed starting staff could give them an important edge in their head-to-head matchups with the Brewers.
Matchup: Braves (3-6) at Rockies (4-5), 1:05 MT
Another pitcher on the Braves staff with extreme groundball tendencies is reliever Peter Moylan, who threw 90 innings last season with a groundball percentage of 64, just slightly better than Tim Hudson's 63. Before 2006, when he was signed by the Braves following a strong showing for his native Australia in the World Baseball Classic, Moylan spent nine years away from professional baseball, having last pitched in the Twins' minor league system in 1997. All of a sudden, however, the 29-year-old right-hander finds himself at the center of the Atlanta bullpen, due to closer Rafael Soriano going on the disabled list yesterday. The Braves relief core has been shaky thus far, having allowed 24 runs in 33 innings, which is the main reason why Atlanta has started off 3-6 despite ranking second in the NL with 50 runs. The Braves have already lost five one-run games on the young season, and performance in one-run games is sometimes indicative of how strong a teams' bullpen is. In three of those five losses the bullpen blew the save, and in one other it gave up the winning run in a tie game (on opening night in Washington, when Ryan Zimmerman homered off Moylan).
Matchup: Phillies (4-5) at Mets (3-4), 7:10 ET
The Mets have not hit for much power to begin the year, with just three home runs in their first seven games. One of those homers belongs to Carlos Delgado, who went deep off Jamie Moyer on Tuesday and has gotten out to a .357/.419/.536 start through his first 31 plate appearances. Delgado is the Mets hitter perhaps most in need of a fast start, as last year he began the season terribly, finishing April with just one homer and a 522 OPS. It was not until a two-hit performance on July 1, in fact, that Delgado got his OPS above 700 for good. Last year was Delgado's worst full season in the major leagues, as he was beset by a number of physical ailments on the road to settig career lows in home runs (24), batting average (.258), OBP (.333) and SLG (.448). PECOTA does not predict much of a bounceback for the 36-year-old Delgado, with a weighted mean forecast of .265/.343/.471 with 21 home runs in 491 PA, and a collapse rate of 46 percent, as compared to a breakout rate of just five percent. Mets fans should be terrified to see a former Amazin' at the No. 2 spot on Delgado's list of top comparables--Mo Vaughn, who like Delgado was a leaden-gloved first baseman with classic "old-player skills" who was beset by injuries late in his career.
Matchup: Orioles (6-1) at Rangers (3-4), 4:05 CT and 7:05 CT
Suffice to say, it's a long season. Despite their good start, it will be difficult for Baltimore to keep from finishing last in the AL East for the first time in the wild-card era. After a rainout last night, the O's will look to extend their strong opening in a doubleheader with the Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington. Sound familiar? Remember back to last August 22, when these same two teams also played a doubleheader in Baltimore's Camden Yards. The Rangers scored 30 runs in the opener, becoming the first team to score 30 in 110 years, then scored nine more runs in the nightcap to earn the sweep. That first crushing loss for Baltimore came the same day the team announced that manager Dave Trembley would return for 2008. Entering that fateful day, the O's were just seven games under .500, but the doubleheader sweep produced the first two of nine consecutive losses, and the beginning of an 11-28 stretch to close the season. The 30-3 loss was absorbed by three Baltimore relievers--Brian Burres, who gave up eight runs in 2/3 of an inning, Rob Bell, who was tagged for seven in 1 1/3 IP, and Paul Shuey, who closed out the game with nine runs allowed in two frames. All in all, the Baltimore bullpen, which was expected to be the team's major strength in 2007 after the team handed out big contracts to relievers Danys Baez, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker in the offseason, finished second-to-last in the majors in WXRL, with a -0.11 mark, meaning that Orioles relievers as a group were actually worse than replacement level.
Surprisingly, this season it is the bullpen that has been driving the team's success. Baltimore relievers have allowed just two runs in 24 1/3 innings (0.74 RA) on 11 hits, to go with a 19/5 K/BB ratio. Gone are the three pitchers who were beat up in the 30-run game (Burres to the O's rotation, Bell to the minors and Shuey to retirement). The O's have two of the three high-priced middle relievers they brought in before last season in Walker and Bradford (Baez is out for the season after Tommy John surgery), but none of the other five relievers in the Baltimore pen pitched for the Birds last season. Closer George Sherrill came over in the Erik Bedard trade from Seattle, and has converted all four of his save chances thus far. Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate arrived from Houston in the Miguel Tejada deal; Albers has tossed 6 1/3 shutout innings with a 7/0 K/BB ratio in the first week, and Sarfate hasn't give up a hit in 3 1/3 frames. Randor Bierd was a Rule 5 pick from Detroit last December who has stuck with the Orioles. An extreme groundball pitcher, Bierd tossed 67 2/3 innings between Class A and Double-A for Detroit last season, with an 81/16 K/BB and just two home runs allowed. Greg Aquino, claimed off waivers from the Brewers last December, has given up the only two runs that the Orioles pen has allowed so far.
Matchup: Cardinals (7-2) at Giants (3-6), 7:15 PT
Tonight the Cardinals begin a four-game series at San Francisco, the continuation of St. Louis' soft opening schedule (St. Louis opened the season with six at home, including three against the Nationals, then traveled to Houston for three). The Cardinals play the Giants seven times in the next 10 days, the only times they face San Francisco this season, so St. Louis will have plenty of opportunity to fatten up its record and solidify its position at the top of the NL Central against the league's leading candidate to lose 100 games. Adam Wainwright gets the start tonight, looking to build upon a strong first official outing: eight innings of eight-hit, two-run ball in a win over Washington. Wainwright will be facing a Giants offense that has scored 20 runs over its first nine games, the fewest in the majors, and which has yet to break the four-run barrier in any game. With just four home runs so far--three coming off the bat of catcher Bengie Molina--the Giants are on pace for 72 over the course of the full season, which would be the lowest total since the 1992 Dodgers, who also hit 72.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.