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May 18, 2008
Sunday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Indians (22-21) at Reds (20-23), 1:15 p.m. ET
Volquez had a rough ride on his way to the majors, but after a stint in High-A in the Rangers organization to begin 2007, he began to turn a corner. He pitched well at Double-A (58 1/3 IP, 3.55 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9) and Triple-A (51 IP, 1.41 ERA, 11.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, zero homers allowed) to finish out the season, and then the Rangers dealt him to the Reds for Josh Hamilton in an exchange of top young talent. Though he wasn't eligible for the Reds Top 11 Prospects List thanks to losing his prospect status with major league time, Kevin Goldstein ranked Volquez fourth in the organization for players under the age of 25, saying, "He finished the year with a solid big-league run, and should fit in just fine at the back of the Reds' rotation; his stuff still allows for some star potential." If anything, that analysis was understated, because through eight starts Volquez is leading the majors in K/9 at 10.6 while limiting his homers to 0.2 per nine despite pitching in one of the top homer-friendly parks. That's thanks in part to a 55 percent ground-ball rate. Unfortunately, the Reds defense is last in the majors, which makes you wonder how long Volquez can keep up the low hit rate, but in the meantime he's a must-watch pitcher.
Matchup: Nationals (18-26) at Baltimore (23-19), 1:35 p.m. ET
If there's solace you need, Nats fans, look to the pitching. Though it isn't flashy or particularly good, it's a clear cut above their offense. The bullpen ranks 11th in the NL in WXRL and 19th in the majors. Via SNLVAR, the Nats rotation is right in the middle of the pack at #16, and would probably be better if their defense wasn't ranked 25thin Defensive Efficiency. Thanks to those like today's starter, the Nats should be able to avoid historical ignominy on the level of the '03 Tigers, even with a lineup that might have trouble in the International League.
Matchup: Rays (25-18) at Cardinals (25-20), 1:15 p.m. CT
This isn't meant to say that the Rays are going to fall off the map and back into mediocrity soon. In fact, what we have are three players who are well under the production their talent level suggests they are capable of. Longoria should adjust to the majors with some more experience-check out Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Kouzmanoff's awful starts last year before you pass judgment-and both Crawford and Pena have played much better than this in the past. An improvement from two of these three would do wonders in bumping this team up from a league average offense to the top-third in the majors, which would in turn make them (somehow) more exciting to watch than they already are.
Matchup: Astros (24-20) at Rangers (22-22), 2:05 p.m. CT
Miguel Tejada has performed admirably with a .337/.369/.514 showing, but that's going to get ugly when he stops hitting 30 percent of his batted balls for liners and falls towards a more normal 20 percent, right around his career average. Carlos Lee is hitting a solid .287/.331/.527, and we may even see his average bounce up a few points given his initial liner tendencies, but Lance Berkman has been the offense so far: .399/.478/.816 in 186 plate appearances, with a league-leading 45.7 VORP. The rest…well, it hasn't been pretty, and the same can be said about the pitching staff, where Geoff Geary (a reliever) and Wandy Rodriguez, who has been on the DL since April 20, lead the team in pitcher VORP.
Texas' lineup is led by this winter's acquisitions, Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley. Neither has disappointed: Hamilton has improved on last year's return to baseball, making this trade worthwhile for the Rangers so far. He's hitting .320/.372/.600, and while he's lost a few walks (down from 10 to 9 percent), he has made serious strides in cutting down on strikeouts (22 to 14 percent). One way for Texas to outperform their PECOTA forecasted standings is for Hamilton to obliterate his forecast of .283/.349/.481; right now he's outperforming even his 90th percentile projection (.306/.375/.538). Milton Bradley is also outperforming expectations with a .323/.437/.569 line, but the portion of his forecast that's most important for him to beat is the playing time of 407 PA. Bradley has played in 36 of his team's 44 games so far, and just by coming back from that ACL tear in time for 2008 surpassed Will Carroll's expectations, so there's hope.
Matchup: Mets (21-19) at Yankees (20-23), 8:05 p.m. ET
Year AVG OBP SLG 2000 .265 .335 .440 2001 .269 .327 .413 2002 .277 .357 .477 2003 .279 .365 .474 2004 .251 .345 .427 2005 .279 .356 .449 2006 .285 .373 .457 2007 .274 .351 .423
So, while 2001 comes close, this season is far from what we are used to out of the Bombers. Most of the problems came about when Jorge Posada left the lineup at the same time that Alex Rodriguez exited it for the second time. From Opening Day to April 27, the first day without Posada, the Yanks hit .263/.331/.429; since then, .250/.315/.381. Posada's return is still shrouded in mystery, but Rodriguez should be back in time for the Orioles series that's next on the Yanks schedule. It won't help the rotation, but at the least the Yankees can focus on improving their .258 Team EqA, 16th in the majors.
The Mets have their own set of problems to focus on, or at least manager Willie Randolph does, if you've watched the news wire. A series win against their cross-town rivals should soothe the anger of the torch-bearing masses, considering being two games back of the division leader was reason enough to go head-hunting in the first place. The Mets defense is above-average, and their lineup is right around there with a .264 EqA, and the pitching, in both the rotation and the pen has been solid. What's the problem then? The Mets have been average in so many ways that their record shows it, as does their Pythagorean one, and that won't change until the lineup or the rotation start to excel, especially given the divisional competition they have to deal with.