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July 2, 2008
Wednesday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Tigers (42-41) at Twins (46-38), 12:10 p.m. CT
With Michael Cuddyer placed on the DL on Sunday, Minnesota elected to recall Denard Span from Triple-A Rochester, and Span has started in right field the first two games since making the trip west. Seen as a massive disappointment since getting selected with the 20th pick of the first round in 2002, Span entered this season with a career line of .282/.349/.347 in 2184 minor league plate appearances from 2003-07. Span didn't show any pop, with just seven homers, and he also was unable to turn his excellent speed into an offensive advantage: his 101 stolen bases were nabbed at a 66 percent clip, well below the break-even point on the basepaths, and he even was among the worst in the minors last season at bunting for a hit. While Span's stolen base percentage did not increase this season in his second crack at Triple-A--he was 15-for-23 at Rochester--his more important offensive numbers took off, as he batted .340/.434/.481 in 184 plate appearances for the Red Wings. While the increased batting average could well be a fluke, it is encouraging that Span drew 26 walks down on the farm, or one every 7.1 plate appearances, a substantial improvement on his rate of one in every 11.9 that he carried into 2008.
Matchup: Red Sox (50-36) at Rays (51-32), 7:10 p.m. ET
Matsuzaka has the same problem: he has thrown a whopping 17.9 pitches/inning this season, and has yet to pitch more than seven innings in any of his 13 starts, something he did five times last year. Both of these teams are very patient--the Red Sox are first in the AL with 320 walks, while the Rays are fourth with 308--so whether either starter can work deep into tonight's game is a questionable proposition. When it comes to the bullpens, Tampa Bay, unlike last year, is the team with the decided edge, as it showed last night when J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour slammed the door in the absence of set-up man Dan Wheeler (who had pitched the previous three days) and closer Troy Percival (nursing a hurt hamstring). The Rays rank first in baseball with nearly eight and a half wins above replacement added by their relief corps (8.46 WXRL), while Boston is fourth from the bottom, with 1.89. Rays relievers have also been strong by ARP, at 39 runs above average (compared with last year's record-setting total of 95 runs below), while Boston is one of six teams with a negative ARP total, at -1.3.
Matchup: Phillies (45-39) at Braves (40-44), 7:10 p.m. ET
One of the main reasons manager Bobby Cox has made so many pitching changes has been his usage pattern for lefty-specialist Royce Ring, who was one of the pitchers used last night, throwing 1/3 of an inning. Ring has now made 32 appearances on the season while throwing just 16 1/3 innings. He has been an uber-LOOGY, facing only one batter in 17 of his outings, including a stretch of nine times out of 10 in late April/early May. (It appears that Cox has come to trust Ring to face righties a bit more, however, for he has left him in for at least two hitters in 12 of his past 17 appearances.) If Cox keeps using him for outings of less than one inning, Ring will have the chance to join an exclusive fraternity of specialist relievers. Just five firemen have pitched half as many or fewer innings than games in which they appeared over a full season, minimum 30 outings, all of whom threw from the left side:
Player Year Team G IP Jesse Orosco 1999 BAL 65 32 Mike Myers 2006 NYY 62 30.2 Tony Fossas 1992 BOS 60 29.2 Jesse Orosco 2002 LAN 56 27 Rich Rodriguez 2002 TEX 36 16.2 Jesse Orosco 2001 LAD 35 16 John Franco 2005 HOU 31 15
Matchup: Padres (33-52) at Rockies (33-51), 7:05 p.m. MDT
While San Diego clearly still has trouble scoring runs--as evidenced by Aaron Cook's blanking them last night at Coors Field--the team has managed to find a good patch for second base, one of its biggest offensive holes. Edgar Gonzalez is the second player so named in the NL West and the second Gonzalez on the Padres--his younger brother is first baseman Adrian--but he made a name for himself with a fantastic June, hitting .341/.383/.534 in 94 PA after Tadahito Iguchi got hurt. Edgar was chosen by the Rays in the 30th round of 2000, the same year Adrian went number one overall to Florida, but while the top pick was up in the majors by 2004, Edgar did not receive so much as a cup of big league coffee while hitting .297/.376/.446 over eight minor league seasons through 2007. The 30-year-old entered his sixth organization in 2008 when he signed with San Diego, and after a strong showing at Portland was promoted for the first time on May 12. Less than two months later, Edgar ranks third on the Padres in offensive VORP, behind his brother and Brian Giles.
Matchup: Brewers (45-38) at Diamondbacks (42-42), 6:40 p.m. MST
After stealing 109 bases last season at an excellent 82 percent success rate, the Diamondbacks have nabbed just 27 bags through 84 games in 2008. Last year's leader with 50, left fielder Eric Byrnes has been troubled by hamstring issues all season, and is currently on the DL with only four thefts to his name. Center fielder Chris Young had 27, but he is also down to four, a drop whose cause is more of a mystery. Leading the team in steals is Conor Jackson with six; he entered 2008 with three steals in 310 career major league games. The Diamondbacks did not attempt a theft last night, probably a wise decision considering the throwing prowess that Jason Kendall has exhibited this year. The Brewers' veteran catcher is having his best season in terms of gunning down thieves, as he leads the major leagues with a 46.8 caught stealing rate (nailing 22 in 47 attempts). Kendall has also bounced back at the plate to post a solid .353 OBP. His season represents a major turnaround from last year, when the catcher looked as if he was on his last legs, posting a .301 OBP and throwing out just 20 of 131 runners (15.3 percent). Kendall this year boasts a FRAA Rate of 109, his highest since he put up a remarkable 119 in 1999, the year in which he posted his career high for caught stealing percentage (43.5 percent, 30 CS/69 SBA). Kendall was in the midst of a career year in '99, not only defensively but also at the plate--hitting .332/.428/.511--but a horrific ankle injury suffered at first base cut short his season after 78 games.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.