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August 14, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Thursday's Games to Watch

by Marc Normandin

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Royals (54-66) at White Sox (67-52), 1:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Kyle Davies (65 2/3 IP, 4.93 RA, 1.63 WHIP, 34 K) vs. Lance Broadway (138 1/3, 5.47, 1.47, 96)
Pythagorean Record: Kansas City, 51-69 (496 RS, 589 RA); Chicago, 67-52 (598 RS, 524 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Kansas City, #24; Chicago, #5
Prospectus: Today will be Lance Broadway's first 2008 start in the majors. He was rated the ninth-best prospect in the White Sox organization heading into the season, but he's just a two-star prospect, and not a guy who is expected to be much more than a fringe starter in the majors. Considering he was working on his second year at Triple-A, the White Sox have to be disappointed with the lack of progress he's made. He's punching out 6.3 per nine and walking 2.8, but he's also giving up 1.5 HR/9, a step backwards from last year's 1.0 rate. The one positive is that he cut his walk rate down significantly from last year's 4.5 BB/9, making non-dominating arsenal a bit more acceptable. Considering he has yet to put away Triple-A hitters with any kind of consistency, any positive is helpful if the White Sox plan on throwing him up against major league hitters while fighting for the division title. His fastball is far from overpowering, ranging in the mid-80s and not topping 90, and his secondary offerings are his primary ones, causing him to "pitch backwards," in the words of our own Kevin Goldstein. Broadway will need to learn how to do that without wasting too many pitches or pitching too cute if he wants to avoid ending up in the bullpen.

Matchup: Giants (50-69) at Astros (61-59), 1:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Kevin Correia (76 IP, 5.57 RA, 1.59 WHIP, 51 K) vs. Brian Moehler (105 2/3, 4.00, 1.29, 57)
Pythagorean Record: San Francisco, 48-71 (453 RS, 559 RA); Houston, 58-62 (548 RS, 572 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Francisco, #27; Houston, #23
Prospectus: At the deadline, Houston refused to be sellers despite their 50-57 record and fifth-place standing. Since then, they've gone 11-3 to surge to a 61-59 record, a record that would be good enough to tie for the NL West lead. Now if only the Astros were in the NL West; instead their efforts have only moved them from fifth to fourth place in the Central, and they still sit 12 games back of the equally hot Cubs and Brewers. Chances are good that this last-gasp effort is wasted effort, although it has at least made their record more respectable. Considering that they have played well lately and still find themselves this far out from a playoff spot, you wonder whether sitting on players who may have been moved was the right thing to do, or if they should have noticed they were too far gone for anything but a miracle to get them into the playoffs, and acted accordingly to begin work on the 2009 club.

During this stretch, which includes an active seven-game winning streak, the Astros have posted a run differential of +32 and played the kind of baseball that the front office believed they were capable of. Granted, this is a two-week sample, and on the season the 'Stros are still a longshot, with a below-.500 expected record and a seat in the bottom third of Jay Jaffe's Hit List. Considering that their run differential prior to this stretch was -56-and it's still at -24 despite their recent success-chances are good this doesn't have any sort of long-term effect on the Astros' playoff hopes this year, and that we'll all forget about it and have a good laugh over the time those funny little guys in Houston got their hopes up thanks to a hot stretch during August. If nothing else, they may act the role of spoiler; for those who can't join the October party, a few hits of schadenfreude can make September that much more exciting.

Matchup: Brewers (70-51) at Padres (46-74), 12:35 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Ben Sheets (155 1/3 IP, 3.25 RA, 1.15 WHIP, 129 K) vs. Jake Peavy (127 2/3, 2.75, 1.14, 125)
Pythagorean Record: Milwaukee, 66-55 (570 RS, 520 RA); San Diego, 49-71 (462 RS, 571 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Milwaukee, #9; San Diego, #29
Prospectus: The Padres don't have much left to play for in 2008, besides throwing in some prospects and evaluating the players on the current roster, but they do get a shot at playing spoiler this weekend against the Brewers. Milwaukee is 3 games back of Chicago and four games up in the wild-card race, but a bad weekend in San Diego could muck things up for the Brew Crew. You can't do much better than a matchup between Sheets and Peavy, regardless of how poor the Padres have been as a club this season. None of that is their ace's doing on the mound, and he's even hitting .243/.275/.297 with a .203 EqA, not too shabby for a pitcher, and probably good enough to start in the Nationals' outfield. Between the paired pitchers squaring off today, we have 283 innings with 254 strikeouts between them on the season thus far with a combined 3.02 RA. In any context a matchup between these two would be worth watching, a matchup that might be tighter still because today's game takes place in Petco, the most pitcher-friendly venue in the majors.

The two aces have only allowed a combined 95 runs on the season (only a handful more than today's Pirates starter, Ian Snell, has allowed by his lonesome), and they're not that dissimilar as pitchers go, with both relying on low- to mid-90s fastballs. Sheets' change of pace is his wicked curveball, while for Peavy it's the slider, and though the two pitches bend in different directions, both are consistently clocked in the low 80s. Both starters are average in the G/F department, and neither of them rely on their defense too much in order to get outs, instead racking up strikeouts and keeping walks down to prevent runs from scoring. That's a good thing for Peavy, since the Padres rank 20th in Defensive Efficiency this year, converting only 69.6 percent of balls in play into outs.

Matchup: Cubs (73-47) at Braves (55-65), 7:00 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Ted Lilly (148 IP, 4.44 RA, 1.34 WHIP, 133 K) vs. Tom Glavine (59 1/3, 5.01, 1.57, 34)
Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 75-45 (645 RS, 490 RA); Atlanta, 61-59 (546 RS, 537 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #2; Atlanta, #16
Prospectus: The Cubs don't seem to be running away with the title of most powerful team in the National League, but the expected records tell a different story than the actual ones, with the Cubs the only club with over 70 expected wins, and Milwaukee seeing their total reduced from 70 actual to 66 expected. That's around where the rest of the NL playoff hopefuls rest, with the Mets at 65, the Phillies at 67, and the Cardinals at 65, while the cream of the NL West sits a few games back from there. Not only are the Cubs the only team over 70, but they have an outside shot at hitting 80 expected wins before any other club in the NL hits 70. For those of you following Hit List weekly, this shouldn't come as a surprise: the top team is the Red Sox, followed by the Cubs, and then there are four more AL clubs before we see another NL entry in the top ten.

Chicago continues to dominate at home as well, and are tied with the Rays for the best home winning percentage in the majors, and their record on the road has improved recently as well, and made the fears that a lack of home-field advantage might spell doom in October a little less relevant. The playoffs are a crapshoot in the first place, but if a team is winning 73 percent of their games at home and splitting on the road, they aren't going to have too much trouble on their way to a title as long as those trends hold. With a 28-30 record away from Wrigley, the Cubs are closer to that reality than during the scarier parts of their regular season, when the split was more severe, and who knows, they may crack 100 wins if they keep up the improvement. They're already on pace for 98.5, so that's not too far-fetched.

Matchup: Reds (53-68) at Pirates (55-65), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Johnny Cueto (140 IP, 5.46 RA, 1.39 WHIP, 129 K) vs. Ian Snell (120 1/3, 6.43, 1.89, 98)
Pythagorean Record: Cincinnati, 51-70 (517 RS, 616 RA); Pittsburgh, 53-67 (572 RS, 653 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Cincinnati, #25; Pittsburgh, #28
Prospectus: Many fantasy owners have a love/hate relationship going on with Johnny Cueto at this point, and you have to think the Reds feel about the same way. Cueto was the fourth-best prospect in the Reds organization heading into the year, and has plenty of talent, as seen in his 8.3 K/9 (against just 3.2 BB/9) and his 4.15 QERA. Those numbers are much more aesthetically pleasing than his actual performance, and gives you hope that this is just a bad-luck campaign for the rookie right-hander. That's not the case, though, once you take a look at his homer rates; home runs are not included in QERA, as it measures strikeout, walk, and ground-ball rates, three areas where Cueto rates from excellent to acceptable. Cueto is giving up 1.7 homers per nine, or 37 per 200 innings pitched. Though power pitchers are often capable of getting away with high homer rates, especially if they rack up strikeouts and allow few baserunners, this has not been the case with Cueto, thanks to a somewhat high batting average against (.268/.336/.473) and that soaring homer rate. Today he faces a somewhat neutered Pittsburgh lineup, what's left after the Pirates brass dealt away two of the bats that made their offense tick, so the homers may not be the issue they normally are. Going forward though, this is something the Reds coaching staff and Cueto will need to work on if he wants to make the move from potential dominance to the actuality.

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