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June 9, 2008
Monday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Royals (24-39) at Yankees (32-31), 1:05 p.m. ET
Coming off a 2007 season in which he was limited to 83 games and a .282 EqA by a foot injury, Giambi got off to a slow start at the plate this year, prompting speculation that the 37-year-old slugger was finished. But May offered up a healthy dose of vindication for aging formerly-elite DHs, and since the sixth of that month Giambi has put up a 1210 OPS and hit nine home runs in 103 PA. That performance has bumped Giambi's EqA all the way up to .316 for the season, the best mark on the team. Giambi has even been playing decent defense at first base, remarkably: at 10.01, his Range Factor is above the league average of 9.51, his .995 fielding percentage is right at the league average, and his FRAA Rate is also at 100, exactly average.
Matchup: Indians (28-35) at Tigers (26-36), 7:05 p.m. ET
While Cleveland has backed up the fine efforts of Lee on the mound, the Indians rank last in the American League with a .241 team batting average. However, their on-base percentage is nearly a full 80 points higher, at .320, because Cleveland's hitters have walked 214 times, and they have also been hit by 40 pitches, the highest total in the majors. That puts the Indians on pace to finish with 103 hit batsmen for the full season, which would set a new AL record, and the modern major league record. The AL mark is currently held by the 1996 Blue Jays, with 92, while Craig Biggio and the 1997 Astros had the highest total in the last 50 years, with 100. Grady Sizemore has done nearly everything for the Indians this year, including taking a few for the team, as he has been hit five times. David Dellucci has also been nailed with five pitches, while Ryan Garko leads the club with six. Since the start of last season, his first full year in the majors, Garko has been plunked 26 times, more than anyone else in the AL, while Sizemore is fourth in the circuit. The Indians would surely appreciate a few more hits coming from Garko's bat, however, as the first baseman's slugging percentage has fallen nearly 100 points from last year, and he has just 14 extra-base hits after totaling 51 in 2007.
Matchup: Giants (28-35) at Nationals (25-39), 7:10 p.m. ET
Clippard will be attempting to help the Nationals avoid an embarrassing four-game sweep at home to the Giants, who have outscored Washington 22-4 in the first three, and who shut Washington out 6-0 on Saturday. The Nationals have now been blanked nine times this season, the highest total in the National League, and tied with Detroit for the most in the majors. Washington now also holds down the bottom spot in the majors in runs scored (3.6 per game), batting average (.232), and slugging percentage (.348), and ranks last in the NL with a .308 on-base percentage, putting the team on pace to have the worst offensive season by OPS since the 1992 Dodgers and Mets. In the absence of Ryan Zimmerman (currently on the DL), the team has called up 26-year-old Kory Casto from Triple-A Columbus to play third base. A third-round pick by the Expos in 2003, Casto had back-to-back 20-homer seasons in 2005 and '06, but slipped to 11 and a 718 OPS upon moving to Triple-A last year, and he was not one of the 14 notable Nats prospects listed by Kevin Goldstein this past offseason.
Matchup: Reds (30-34) at Marlins (34-28), 7:10 p.m. ET
Volquez did not give up an extra-base hit in that game, and held second baseman Dan Uggla in check, who went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts. Uggla has managed to hit just about everybody else in the National League, however. With a pair of doubles in yesterday's 9-2 win, Uggla now has 23 on the season, sharing the major league lead with Lance Berkman, to go along with 18 homers and one triple. Uggla and Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley have been staging a fantastic battle for the title of best second baseman in the major leagues all season, and Uggla currently has a slight edge on Utley in extra-base hits (42 to 41), OPS+ (173 to 169), and MLVr (.499 to .471). Both players are also on pace to set the record for extra-base hits by a middle infielder. Here are the top 10 middle infield seasons by extra-base hits:
Hitter Year Pos XBH Rogers Hornsby 1922 2B 102 Rogers Hornsby 1929 2B 94 Alfonso Soriano 2002 2B 92 Alex Rodriguez 1996 SS 91 Rogers Hornsby 1925 2B 90 Jimmy Rollins 2007 SS 88 Alex Rodriguez 2001 SS 87 Robin Yount 1982 SS 87 Charlie Gehringer 1936 2B 87 Alex Rodriguez 2002 SS 86
The Reds have a remarkable second baseman of their own in Brandon Phillips, who is one year younger than Uggla, and who with 30 homers and 33 steals last season joined Alfonso Soriano as the only two players to post 30/30 seasons while playing at the keystone. Phillips is having a similarly strong offensive campaign this year, but what is holding him back from that next step to the superstar level that Uggla is now exploring is his inability to hit right-handers. Phillips crushes southpaws, and his 1069 OPS against them this season ranks sixth in the majors (minimum 75 PA), but he has just a 688 OPS against righties. Phillips had a similar split last season, though less dramatic, with a 737 mark against righties and 984 off lefties. For his career, Phillips is 7-for-14 with two home runs against the lefty Hendrickson.
Matchup: Rays (37-26) at Angels (39-25), 7:05 p.m. PT
This series features the two best bullpens in the AL by WXRL, as the Angels are tops with 5.8 wins above replacement and the Rays second at 5.5, a far cry from their -1.8 finish from last year. Tampa Bay is also sixth in the majors in ARP, at 26 runs above average, while the Angels' pen has pitched extremely well in high-leverage situations but not so well at other times, as their ARP of 8.6 ranks just 19th. That large gap between WXRL and ARP has been largely due to the performance of closer Francisco Rodriguez, who ranks first in the American League with 3.02 wins added and is lapping the field with 26 saves against only one blown chance. The Rays' bullpen ace has not been their closer, but has been instead their long man, lefty J.P. Howell. Pushed out of the crowded rotation picture prior to the year due to ineffectiveness, Howell has been outstanding in his new role, leading the AL in innings out of the pen (40) and the Rays in WXRL (1.85).
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.