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July 11, 2008
Friday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Orioles (44-46) at Red Sox (55-39), 7:05 p.m. ET
Buchholz will be facing an Orioles team that is coming off just about the most demoralizing three-game sweep imaginable, losing all three games to Toronto by one run, in two of which they held multi-run leads heading into the late innings. George Sherrill blew another save last night, his third in his last four opportunities, and has now given up six runs in his last five appearances. The good news for the Birds, however, is that the team's offense has undergone a transformation in the last month and a half. Through the end of May, the Orioles had one of the worst attacks in baseball, with a 708 team OPS and average of less than 4.1 runs per game. From June 1 onwards, Baltimore has bumped its OPS to 820, and is averaging 5.8 runs a game. The major catalyst is Aubrey Huff, who has hit .356/.412/.674 with nine home runs since the start of June, while Nick Markakis, as is his wont, has gradually heated up with the progression of the season (a comely .368/.442/.569 from June 1 onward). Markakis ranks second amongst right fielders in VORP (to his counterpart in this series J.D. Drew) while playing excellent defense (second amongst right fielders with eight outfield assists, with just one error committed and an above-average range factor and zone rating). Through his first two seasons, Markakis slugged over 100 points higher in the second half, so his breakout may well get even better after the All-Star game-a game to which he was unfairly denied entry.
Matchup: Yankees (49-43) at Blue Jays (45-47), 7:07 p.m. ET
While Toronto has no power, its batters at least know how to take a walk, ranking third in the AL with 3.7 passes per game. That ability proved particularly vexing for Chamberlain in his first career start, in which he walked four Blue Jays in 2 1/3 innings on June 3. Chamberlain has now thrown 35 innings as a starter, walking 21, or 5.4 BB/9. Halladay started and won that first meeting with New York's rookie ace, and is now 11-5 lifetime against the Yankees with a 3.03 ERA.
Matchup: Astros (42-50) at Nationals (35-58), 7:35 p.m. ET
The Nationals have gifted Redding with 5.1 runs per game in his starts, while scoring just 3.2 in all other games. Washington ranks last in the majors in slugging percentage at .354, and while it hasn't hit the fewest home runs in the National League-both the Giants and Dodgers have fewer-it is at the bottom of the chart in terms of its long-ball leader's tally. Ryan Zimmerman tops the Nats with eight homers, but he is currently on the DL and not set to return until late July or early August, meaning the National with the highest projected homer total is Ronnie Belliard, who currently has seven-a pace that would lead to all of 12 over the full year. Not many teams have been fronted by a player with a total that low. Since 1960, the lowest team-leading total (in a non-strike year) was nine, by Jose Cruz of the 1979 Astros, while three teams had a leader with 10 homers: the 1963 Astros (John Bateman), 1976 Angels (Bobby Bonds), and 1968 Dodgers (Len Gabrielson). Here are the team leaders with the lowest totals since 1985:
Year Team Total Player(s) 1991 Cardinals 11 Todd Zeile 1995* Phillies 11 Charlie Hayes, Greg Jefferies, Mark Whiten 1992 Angels 12 Gary Gaetti 1985 Pirates 12 Jason Thompson 1986 Cardinals 13 Andy Van Slyke 1992 Reds 14 Paul O'Neill 1989 White Sox 14 Ivan Calderon 1995* Expos 14 Moises Alou, Sean Berry, Tony Tarasco 1990 Cardinals 15 Todd Zeile*144-game season
Zeile and the 1991 Cardinals earn top billing in this contest of damning with faint praise, but thanks to the 15 triples of Ray Lankford, that year's St. Louis squad finished first in three-baggers and consequently did not place at the bottom of the NL in slugging. In addition to having no home run hitters, the Nats this season don't have any speed, either-they've stolen just 41 bases, and are dead last in the NL with seven triples.
Thanks to Jason Paré for database research.
Matchup: Angels (55-37) at Athletics (50-42), 7:05 p.m. PT
Gallagher will be facing a new-look Angels offense, as Los Angeles finally decided to begin sitting Gary Matthews Jr. frequently in order to give Juan Rivera a lineup spot. In the second year of his five-year, $50 million deal, the 33-year-old son of Sarge has slumped to a .235 EqA this season, putting him below replacement level with the bat on the season. Rivera's last full season in 2006 saw him produce 23 homers and a .288 EqA that ranked second on the team to Vladimir Guerrero, but a lost year in 2007 due to a broken leg effectively shoved Rivera to the bench behind the team's bevy of outfielders. He started just 11 of the team's first 81 games, and perhaps understandably struggled to get off the ground during that period, with just nine hits in 55 plate appearances. Rivera has now started six of the last 11 games, however, and has celebrated his newfound freedom by slugging his first three homers of the season and collecting eight hits in 22 at-bats. Giving regular playing time to Rivera at the expense of Matthews and Garret Anderson promises to perk up a listing Halos offense that has fallen from fourth in the league in runs scored last season to 10th so far in 2008.
Matchup: Marlins (48-44) at Dodgers (45-47), 7:40 p.m. PT
Volstad's inaugural start comes one day after Josh Johnson returned from over a year on the shelf to throw five decent innings last night, and these two occurrences should bring the Fish faithful a good deal of hope. Florida's rotational issues have stemmed from the the sub-par work of Mark Hendrickson, who has the worst ERA (6.24) of any pitcher qualified for the ERA title, as well as the fifth starter's spot-without counting Johnson, the Marlins' fifth spot has been occupied by four different pitchers (Burke Badenhop, Ryan Tucker, Rick Vanden Hurk, and Eulogio De La Cruz) who have combined to allow 67 runs in 76 innings over 17 starts, a 7.93 RA. If Johnson can stay healthy, and Volstad's sinking stuff baffles opponents, then the Marlins could remove Hendrickson and the straggling fifth-man crew to create a very young quintet (the elder statesman would be Ricky Nolasco at 25) that could also be very effective-both in the second half of this season and for years to come.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.