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May 4, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Sunday's Games to Watch

by Marc Normandin

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Mariners (13-18) at Yankees (16-16), 1:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Carlos Silva (42 IP, 40 H, 13 R, 9/18 BB/K) vs. Darrell Rasner (31 IP, 18 H, 4 R, 6/27 BB/K at Triple-A)
Pythagorean Record: Seattle, 15-16 (131 RS, 133 RA); New York, 16-16 (140 RS, 143 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Seattle, #19; New York, #21
Prospectus: Silva has been worth the money the Mariners put aside to sign him this winter; he's averaging seven innings per start, and despite his usual low strikeout rates (3.9 K/9), he has succeeded thanks to a low walk rate (1.9 BB/9) and fewer than nine hits per nine innings pitched. He'll need to continue keeping long balls few and far between (0.6 HR/9) in order to stay successful in the long run, but an assist from Safeco, one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the majors, should make things easier on that front.

The Yankees will be throwing Rasner in his first start in the majors in 2008. Rasner has 52 1/3 career innings at the highest level spread out over three seasons, but he has had difficulty translating his minor league strikeout rates to the majors. He'll have difficulty surviving in the AL for a long period of time if he can't strike out more than 4.5 hitters per nine, especially if he keeps giving up homers like he did last year (1.5 HR/9 in 24 2/3 innings pitched). Rasner has been working on a cutter at Triple-A, and the Yankees hope the success he found there translates to the majors as he fills in for the injured Phil Hughes.

Matchup: Padres (12-19) at Marlins (16-14), 1:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Greg Maddux (38 1/3 IP, 36 H, 17 R, 7/21 BB/K) vs. Andrew Miller (25 2/3 IP, 48 H, 27 R, 13/18 BB/K)
Pythagorean Record: San Diego, 12-19 (105 RS, 141 RA); Florida, 13-17 (132 RS, 153 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Diego, #30; Florida, #20
Prospectus: Though a matchup between the 20th- and 30th-ranked teams according to the Hit List would not normally be a must-see event, today there's a historical reason to check out the game: Greg Maddux once again tries for his 350th career win, this time against 22-year-old Andrew Miller, who would just like to win his seventh career game and second of 2008. Miller has seen a drop in his K rate from last year to 6.3 from 7.9 K/9, and he's shed a BB/9 as well. The problem is that 4.6 free passes per is still terrible, and it hasn't helped that when Miller does manage to find the plate, the opposition crushes him. Opponents are hitting .417/.473/.609 against Miller; watch his velocity, as he's averaging only 90.3 mph on his fastball this year according to Pitch f/x, after getting clocked at 92.1 on his typical heater last year.

Maddux hopes Miller and the Marlins are off their game, so he can secure number 350 on the fourth try. The 42-year-old starter is averaging just over six innings per start while striking out almost five batters per nine-standard Maddux performance since 2005 with the Cubs. Maddux is working with an 82 mph fastball this year, and he's also lost a bit of velocity on his cutter. He's still succeeding thanks to 1.6 walks per nine and a 1.12 WHIP. We can expect that Maddux will be the last 350-game winner we see in some time, so catch today's game if you're into the historical side of things.

Matchup: Giants (14-17) at Phillies (17-14), 1:35 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Tim Lincecum (36 1/3 IP, 35 H, 7 R, 15/40 BB/K) vs. Cole Hamels (43 1/3 IP, 32 H, 15 R, 14/36 BB/K)
Pythagorean Record: San Francisco, 11-20 (101 RS, 139 RA); Philadelphia, 16-15 (144 RS, 132 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Francisco, #25; Philadelphia, #9
Prospectus: Thanks to Tim Lincecum, the Giants are bearable once every five days; though their actual record is 14-17, they are already a few games ahead of their Pythagorean record, and were the last team in the majors to cross the 100 run threshold. Their three-run win last night against the Phillies pushed them over that edge, and they hope to add another victory with their best starter taking the mound. San Francisco is well below the major league average line (.257/.331/.400) at .251/.311/.373, with 18 homers as a club. Lincecum is still walking a few too many hitters at 3.7 per nine. His 1.73 ERA isn't as realistic as his QERA of 3.39, but there's nothing wrong with the adjusted figure.

The Phillies find themselves in first place in the NL East thanks to the Mets' struggles and a Braves team dealing with injuries. Hamels is their best starter with Brett Myers struggling to crack 90 mph on the radar gun, and although he has seen his strikeout rate fall (8.7 to 7.5 strikeouts per nine) and his walks rise (2.1 to 2.9), a dip in his homer rate (1.2 to 0.8) has helped to offset these problems. He's averaging over seven innings per start, which has been necessary given the poor performance of the rest of their rotation. Chase Utley has been the star of the offense so far; his 13 homers lead the majors by four, and he's almost 1/3 of the way to Rogers Hornsby and Davey Johnson's record of 42 homers in a season by a second baseman.

Matchup: Mets (15-13) at Diamondbacks (21-9), 1:10 p.m. MT
Probable Starters: Johan Santana (40 1/3 IP, 29 H, 15 R, 8/39 BB/K) vs. Dan Haren (37 1/3 IP, 32 H, 16 R, 7/29 BB/K)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 14-14 (130 RS, 130 RA); Arizona, 20-10 (177 RS, 120 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #12; Diamondbacks, #1
Prospectus: The Mets haven't impressed Pythagoras or the Hit List yet, with an even record in the former and a double-digit ranking in the latter. Defense hasn't been an issue so far, with a .712 Defensive Efficiency rating, but the offense has not performed well, hitting a collective .249/.339/.379. Santana has performed as expected so far, with a 3.12 ERA, 8.7 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, but homers have been a problem-1.6 per nine isn't good, especially when you pitch half your games in Shea Stadium-but Santana has plenty of other positives working for him to help offset an early spate of bombs.

Arizona scored 10 runs yesterday thanks to a five-run eighth inning and five runs off of New York starter Mike Pelfrey. Arizona is #1 on the Hit List, and has a 20-10 Pythagorean record that matches up pretty well with their 21-9 actual record. As a team, they are hitting .271/.349/.463; that 812 team OPS is better than that of all but two Mets' hitters (David Wright, 963 OPS and Ryan Church, 899). Their pitching staff is only allowing opponents a meager .222/.298/.352 line. Today's starter Dan Haren has had a lot to do with that, thanks to 7.0 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, a 1.04 WHIP, and just 0.7 HR/9. He has also dropped his homers per fly ball down to 7.3 percent from his 10.8 career rate, and considering that homers were an issue in the past even though he was making his starts in the Coliseum in Oakland, that current rate would be a huge boost to his performance, as it's one of the few blemishes that previously kept him from achieving true ace status.

Matchup: Cubs (18-12) at Cardinals (19-12), 7:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Jason Marquis (28 1/3 IP, 36 H, 15 R, 10/17 BB/K) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (37 IP, 32 H, 17 R, 12/36 BB/K)
Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 20-10 (186 RS, 132 RA); St. Louis, 19-12 (143 RS, 116 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #2; St. Louis, #3
Prospectus: The pitching matchup may not be ideal, but it's hard to ignore a game involving a historic matchup between two highly-ranked teams. Marquis's ERA is a mystery considering he has a WHIP of 1.62, allows a homer per nine innings, and has a QERA of 5.00. Wellemeyer continues to surprise, thanks to a lofty strikeout rate (8.8 per nine) and a solid walk total (2.9). He's using his slider more than in years past (26.5 percent versus 18.8 percent for his career) at the expense of his changeup, a strategy that has worked for the journeyman over the course of his six starts. It's a pitch to watch for during tonight's matchup, because it's possible Wellemeyer has figured out a way to attack major league hitters consistently and effectively. QERA reflects that he may have figured something out, with a 3.77 mark that bests his actual ERA.

These two teams are evenly matched. Their Pythagorean records and actual records are very similar, though they have achieved their respective marks through different means. The Cubs have relied on their offense; their 186 runs scored is tops in the majors and a .375 team OBP. The Cardinals have their strong pitching to thank so far-their 3.55 team ERA ranks fifth in the majors, and their 3.71 team RA is impressive as well.

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