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August 15, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Friday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Blue Jays (62-60) at Red Sox (71-51), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Roy Halladay (182 IP, 3.16 RA, 1.05 WHIP, 155 K) vs. Paul Byrd (131, 4.81, 1.30, 56)
Pythagorean Record: Toronto, 65-57 (518 RS, 482 RA); Boston, 73-49 (632 RS, 504 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Toronto, #10; Boston, #1
Prospectus: The Indians decided to capitalize on their post-season neutrality by selling arms to a principal militant in the (AL) East, and now Boston will show off its new firepower tonight against one of the biggest guns in the American League. Cleveland's trade of Byrd to Boston was not really a trade, but a cash transaction, as the Boston Globe reported that the Tribe will receive nothing beyond the financial relief of not having to pay the remaining $2 million on the right-hander's 2008 contract. Byrd steps into the Red Sox rotation tonight to take the turn of Clay Buchholz; due to Charlie Zink's rough outing three nights ago, Red Sox management is just pushing Buchholz back a few days rather than bumping him from a starting role. Now 37 years old, Byrd was doing his usual league-average thing in Cleveland, and has a great matchup tonight for his attempt to make an excellent first impression upon Red Sox nation. Byrd gave up just two runs in a complete-game victory over Toronto last Saturday, his first complete game in nearly two years, and in seven career starts versus the Blue Jays he has posted a 3.22 RA and 0.89 WHIP in 50 1/3 innings, with just two walks against 25 strikeouts.

The Red Sox recalled Jed Lowrie from Triple-A Pawtucket when Julio Lugo went on the DL on July 12, and Lowrie has proven to be more than an adequate fill-in for the struggling veteran. Starting at shortstop, and last night at third base in the absence of Mike Lowell, Lowrie has hit .310/.381/.464 in this latest stint (he'd been up from late-April to early May originally). Lowrie has helped the team even more than his raw stats show due to a fortunate stacking of his hits in key situations-the rookie knocked a two-run double in three straight games from Monday through Wednesday while adding a one-run two-bagger last night, and for the season is hitting .317 and slugging .561 in 48 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, including five hits in 10 bases loaded at-bats. Contrastingly, Lugo had just a 429 OPS in 104 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and Lowrie already has seven more RBI in 146 plate appearances than Lugo had in 307. Since the All-Star break, Lowrie has knocked in 22 runs, more than any other major league shortstop.

Matchup: Diamondbacks (62-59) at Astros (62-59), 7:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Brandon Webb (169 IP, 3.36 RA, 1.13 WHIP, 139 K) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (104, 4.67, 1.33, 91)
Pythagorean Record: Arizona, 63-58 (549 RS, 526 RA); Houston, 58-63 (555 RS, 576 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Arizona, #11; Houston, #23
Prospectus: Webb goes for his 18th victory tonight in Houston, which would tie his career high set last season. He already stands alone amongst major league pitchers at 17, although Cliff Lee can reach that mark today with a win over the Angels. The game's ultimate ground-ball pitcher, Webb is currently lapping the field in terms of G/F ratio, as his 3.57 mark is well ahead of the 2.59 of Derek Lowe, who ranks second among qualifiers. Webb's sinking stuff should come in especially handy now, given the state of the Diamondbacks' outfield defense. Chris Young in center field is currently flanked by a converted first baseman in left (Conor Jackson) and a converted left fielder in right-the newly acquired Dunn, who is seeing his first action in right field since 2003. Dunn did make an error in last night's ballgame, but the situation is not as dire as it may seem. His move is a creative short-term solution to the absence of Justin Upton, allowing the run-starved Snakes to stuff as many bats as possible into the lineup, and as discussed recently, Jackson has actually been strong with the glove at his new position. Manager Bob Melvin recently said that Jackson "has been real comfortable out there," and that he would "like to keep him out there." If that is indeed so, then Adam Dunn will likely be donning a first baseman's glove upon Upton's return sometime next week.

Both Arizona and the Dodgers won yesterday and remain tied atop the NL West. Next up for the D'backs is a hot Houston club which has won eight games in a row to climb three above the .500 mark, scoring 7.5 runs a game over that stretch. In the absence of Carlos Lee, whose career year was cut short by a broken pinky last week, Lance Berkman's new running mate is Ty Wigginton, who is also enjoying the best season of his major league tenure. Wigginton has started in left field each of the past five games, and is doing a passable impression of the Panamanian slugger on the season, batting .288/.367/.502 with 13 homers in 305 plate appearances. Minute Maid Park is a stronger venue for right-handed hitters than lefties, and Wiggy has indeed feasted at home, slugging .575 with a 946 OPS in Houston (compared with .436 and 799 on the road).

Matchup: Mariners (46-74) at Twins (67-53), 7:10 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Carlos Silva (136 2/3 IP, 6.12 RA, 1.52 WHIP, 59 K) vs. Francisco Liriano (22, 6.55, 1.91, 17) Pythagorean Record: Seattle, 52-68 (499 RS, 583 RA); Minnesota, 64-56 (596 RS, 556 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Seattle, #26; Minnesota, #14
Prospectus: Silva tonight faces his former team, the Twins, for whom he pitched the last four years before signing a four-year, $48 million deal with Seattle. Twenty-four starts in, that deal is looking like an albatross of the highest order for the Mariners, one of several bad contracts for a team that opened the 2008 season with a $117.7 million payroll, the sixth highest in the American League. Silva has displayed his typical ability to avoid walks, with 1.6 BB/9, but has been hit around at a nearly Livan Hernandez-esque rate. Silva is giving up 11.99 H/9, second only to Hernandez and his 13.03 mark among ERA qualifiers. He is also tied for the American League lead in losses with 13, and is on pace to finish the year with 18, which would be the most by a Mariners pitcher since Matt Young lost 18 in 1990. Silva started the season by making quality starts in five of his first six turns, but since the start of May has been touched for a 7.61 RA and 13.5 H/9 in 94 2/3, a period over which opponents are torching the Venezuelan right-hander for a .347/.370/.528 batting line.

Silva will have to deal with recently-rampant Delmon Young. After not collecting a home run in his first 60 games of the season and launching only three in 87 before the All-Star break, Young now has hit three-run shots in each of the last two games, both of them potentially killer blows to the Yankees' fading playoff hopes. Young has gradually improved with the progression of the season, and since the break sports a .307/.361/.489 line in 97 plate appearances. He has cut down on his strikeouts lately-just three in the last 14 games-and for the year has displayed a little more patience, with an unintentional walk every 22 plate appearances, as opposed to once every 28 last year. He has also increased the number of pitches seen per plate appearance from 3.51 last season to 3.60 so far in '08. Young is still just 22 years old, making him the youngest AL regular.

Matchup: Phillies (64-57) at Padres (47-74), 7:05 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Jamie Moyer (144 IP, 4.00 RA, 1.35 WHIP, 93 K) vs. Greg Maddux (146 1/3, 4.86, 1.24, 76)
Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 67-54 (589 RS, 520 RA); San Diego, 49-72 (465 RS, 573 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #7; San Diego, #29
Prospectus: Two old teammates meet on the mound tonight in San Diego. Twenty-two years ago, Moyer and Maddux both made their major league debuts as members of the Chicago Cubs. Three years Maddux's elder, Moyer was called up to start on June 16, picking up a win over the Phillies. Maddux was a September call-up whose first appearance came out of the bullpen, but five days later he made his first start and pitched Chicago to a complete-game victory over the Reds. Moyer and Maddux were both members of the Cubs rotation in 1987 and 1988. Each put up an ERA over 5.00 in '87, his first full season, while '88 saw a dramatic improvement for both pitchers: the pair were the two best starters on the team that year, as Maddux won 18, threw 249 innings, and posted a 3.18 ERA en route to making the All-Star team, while Moyer put up a 3.48 ERA in 202 innings, but was pinned with a 9-15 record by a lack of run support. The Cubs decided to break up their young tandem, trading Moyer to the Rangers in December along with Rafael Palmeiro and Drew Hall for Mitch Williams, Paul Kilgus, Steve Wilson, Curtis Wilkerson, and two minor leaguers-a deal that would turn out to be one of the worst in franchise history. Williams had one strong season out of the Cubs bullpen and one lackluster one before being dealt again for Chuck McElroy, but none of the other players Chicago received had an impact for the Cubs. Both Moyer and Palmeiro, of course, went on to have outstanding (and remarkably long) careers, in Palmeiro's case one that is arguably Hall of Fame-caliber.

After being traded, Moyer spent the next 17 full seasons in the American League before coming to Philadelphia in a late-August 2005 waiver deal, and consequently had very little opportunity to face his former teammate. In fact, the first time that the two pitched against each other was last August 24 in Philadelphia. In that game, the Padres scored eight runs off of Moyer in 4 2/3 innings and won 14-3 behind Maddux, who pitched seven strong. When they meet for the second time tonight, the two pitchers will bring a combined 593 victories and 8,655 innings to the hill.

Matchup: White Sox (68-52) at Athletics (55-65), 7:05 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Gavin Floyd (140 2/3 IP, 4.93 RA, 1.26 WHIP, 99 K) vs. Dallas Braden (37, 4.62, 1.41, 23)
Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 68-52 (607 RS, 526 RA); Oakland, 60-60 (480 RS, 477 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #5; Oakland, #17
Prospectus: The White Sox blasted the Royals in historic fashion yesterday afternoon, getting back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs by Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez, and Juan Uribe in the sixth inning of a 9-2 rout. Chicago became the sixth team to hit four straight home runs, and the third in the last three years. The 2006 Dodgers pulled off the feat in thrilling fashion-Jeff Kent, J.D. Drew, Russell Martin, and Marlon Anderson all left the yard in the bottom of the ninth to erase a 9-5 deficit in a game that LA won 11-10 in the tenth on a Nomar Garciaparra two-run blast-while last April 22 the Red Sox battered Yankees' rookie Chase Wright in his second major league appearance with third-inning Fenway shots from Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew (remarkably involved in his second superfecta), Mike Lowell, and Jason Varitek. The other teams with four in a row are the 1964 Twins, 1963 Indians, and 1961 Reds.

The Athletics also had a bit of history made in their afternoon tilt yesterday, as the first run crossed the plate in a major league game against side-arming right-hander Brad Ziegler after 39 straight scoreless innings. Ziegler had already set the record for consecutive scoreless frames to begin a career, and he tied Al Benton of the 1949 Indians for the overall mark by a relief pitcher with a scoreless eighth, before B.J. Upton got to him with a double to left field that scored Akinori Iwamura. The rookie's remarkable feat was best summed up by his postgame quote: "I didn't think about the streak until I started walking back on the mound. The first thought that popped in my head was, 'I can't believe that just happened with a runner on first...'" Ziegler's streak is tied for the 23rd longest in major league history, and tied for the ninth longest in the last 50 years with Kenny Rogers in 1995 and Ray Culp in '68, behind Orel Hershiser (59 in '88), Don Drysdale (58 in '68), Bob Gibson (47 in '68), Brandon Webb (42 in '07), Luis Tiant (41 in '68), Gaylord Perry (40 in '67), Tiant again (40 in '72), and Maddux (39 1/3 in '00). What makes his season even more impressive is that he gave up just two runs in 24 1/3 innings at Triple-A Sacramento to open the season, and tossed eight in a row without a run before getting the call to Oakland, meaning his overall streak was actually 47 innings.

Thanks to William Burke for database research.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  The Streak,  The Who,  Prospectus,  The Call-up

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