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July 31, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Thursday's Games to Watch

by Marc Normandin

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Tigers (55-52) at Indians (46-60), 12:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Justin Verlander (140 2/3 IP, 4.67 RA, 1.27 WHIP, 104 K) vs. Fausto Carmona (60 1/3, 4.63, 1.69, 24)
Pythagorean Record: Detroit, 57-50 (546 RS, 513 RA); Cleveland, 53-53 (494 RS, 494 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Detroit, #12; Cleveland, #21
Prospectus: Losing Carmona for a significant portion of the season wasn't a positive for the Indians-though, as has been discussed in this space before, they have issues far greater than their rotation to deal with. In his first start back, he wasn't given a very friendly welcome, giving up nine runs in 2 1/3 innings pitched against the Twins, with one strikeout, three walks, and a homer. Given his tendencies this year, outings such as that one sprinkled throughout his game log shouldn't be a surprise; he's relying heavily on the ball being put into play, but when he's walking as many hitters as he has and the defense can't convert those balls in play into outs efficiently enough, you get starts like his last one.

Today's outing against the Tigers presents the same issues, as Detroit's lineup has some patience (seventh in the AL in UIBB) with power, two things that can spell doom for Carmona. He doesn't give up many homers-just 0.3 per nine on the season and 0.7 last year-but when you're walking 6.1 BB/9 with a league average BABIP, it only takes one home run to ruin your start. There is still a 2.08 run difference between his ERA and his QERA-QERA being the better indicator of future performance than ERA, due to the components (K%, BB%, GB%) involved-meaning that he's not out of the woods yet, even though his 2 1/3 innings the other night jumped his ERA up by almost a run and a third. A return to the more strikeout-oriented Carmona of last year would do wonders for his performance, as he could stop the high-wire act he's working with now.

Matchup: Cubs (64-44) at Brewers (60-48), 1:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Rich Harden (94 1/3 IP, 2.20 RA, 1.10 WHIP, 122 K) vs. Dave Bush (111 2/3, 4.91, 1.18, 71)
Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 66-42 (569 RS, 446 RA); Milwaukee, 56-52 (501 RS, 484 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #2; Milwaukee, #6
Prospectus: The Cubs have taken the first three games of this four-game set from their division rivals, pushing the Brewers four games back in the division and into a tie with the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL wild card. What's been most impressive is that this series is on the road, a place where the Cubs have not been doing their best work, and they did it against both Brewer aces and Manny Parra to boot. This small set is no indication that they are improving their road play as the season progresses though; in June, the Cubs hit just .258/.324/.393 outside of Wrigley, and .266/.322/.423 in July. Compared to the cumulative .290/.377/.477 mark the team put up at home during this same time frame, that road performance is still an issue for the lineup. This home/road issue has been all the lineup's doing as of late as well, with the pitching staff sorting out their earlier issues; overall, they have allowed opponents a .244/.318/.415 line, with very similar home (.242/.311/.410) and road (.245/.322/.417) splits.

Of course, these last three wins against Milwaukee are in the bag already, and regardless of their overarching road trends, they've used that bag to beat the Brewers silly this week, hitting .342/.410/.479 as a club while holding the Brew Crew to just seven runs, four of those in the first game. Even if this recent swing of road success doesn't last-despite the three straight wins, they're still just 25-30 on the road on the season-this was the kind of series the Cubs needed to have to open up some space on the Brewers and Cardinals. With St. Louis winning three straight of their own, this was perfect timing, and the Brewers have been flanked because of it.

Matchup: Angels (67-40) at Yankees (59-48), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Jon Garland (132 IP, 4.77 RA, 1.45 WHIP, 60 K) vs. Andy Pettitte (139, 4.21, 1.29, 107)
Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 59-48 (489 RS, 439 RA); New York, 59-48 (510 RS, 459 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #10; New York, #5
Prospectus: The two teams who have made the most headlines with actual trades during this year's deadline face off for a four-game weekend series. Mark Teixeira gives the Angels the help they needed if they intend to separate themselves from teams like the Yankees-check out those expected records, as the Angels were eight games over their heads, and the equal of tonight's opponent with an inferior actual record. Now we have a Halos club that sports a much better actual record than what's expected, but with the added wrinkle that they're also sporting a new-look lineup that can help them sustain some of their luckier success. Adding Teixeira's .388 OBP to a walk-starved batting order is huge, but you have to also remember that he's a second-half player. Once the switch-hitting first baseman sorts out both of his swings, he's one of the most dangerous hitters in the league: he's hit .305/.397/.585 following the All-Star break from 2005-2007, and this year he even got a head start on things, hitting .292/.423/.584 since June 1.

Pudge certainly isn't the Ivan Rodriguez of old, but he also hasn't been the Ivan Rodriguez of 2007, when he had a .294 OBP and was a drag on the Tigers offense. He's taking 3.7 pitches per plate appearance instead of last season's 3.5, which isn't a significant boost, but it's an extra 120 pitches per 600 plate appearances, and when you're posting OBP numbers as sad as Pudge did in '07, you take what you can get in the improvement department. All Rodriguez needs to do is keep his OBP around the league average while providing the Yankees with adequate defensive play-he has +8 FRAA at present-and he'll be an improvement over two months of Jose Molina.

Matchup: Rockies (49-60) at Marlins (57-51), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Jorge de la Rosa (69 2/3 IP, 6.71 RA, 1.56 WHIP, 75 K) vs. Anibal Sanchez (13, 3.46, 1.31, 12-Double-A)
Pythagorean Record: Colorado, 50-59 (510 RS, 557 RA); Florida, 51-57 (514 RS, 545 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Colorado, #22; Florida, #18
Prospectus: Sanchez makes his 2008 major league debut tonight, as the Fish once again add a young starter returning from injury to their rotation in the hopes that they can keep pace with the stronger Philadelphia and New York teams. Sanchez had five starts at three levels of the minors on his way back to the majors, striking out 25 in 28 innings pitched against 10 walks without allowing a home run. Just 24 years old, those numbers mean a bit more for Sanchez than most rehabbing veterans, and the Marlins will need him to continue that success if they want to stay in the race-unless of course they add Manny Ramirez to the roster later this day, but that's a whole different story we'll be hearing plenty about (maybe analysis, or recriminations, or both).

PECOTA wasn't all smiles when forecasting Sanchez's 2008, with some lower end projections that aren't for the squeamish mixed in with some solid upper-level percentiles. Given the way he was striking out the kids in the minors, there's a chance he retains a bit of that punch and keeps his strikeouts above the league average. He's a guy who walks 3.5 per nine or so, so any extra help on the strikeout front is a plus, especially since he's pretty Joe Average when it comes to GB/FB ratio.

Matchup: White Sox (60-46) at Twins (59-48), 7:10 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: John Danks (124 2/3 IP, 3.32 RA, 1.21 WHIP, 102 K) vs. Scott Baker (96, 3.38, 1.11, 81)
Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 61-45 (533 RS, 453 RA); Minnesota, 56-51 (526 RS, 500 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #4; Minnesota, #16
Prospectus: With the Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox all trying to upgrade out East, it's looking more and more like just one club is going to make it out of the Central for the playoffs. The Twins have improved their run differential since June began, as they were at -12 and now find themselves at +26 thanks to a +38 run over these past two months. That helps explain their 31-21 performance during this stretch, a better showing than their mediocre 28-27 start. They will need to keep that performance up if they want to keep up with the White Sox and their +80 differential.

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