August 26, 2008
Tuesday's Games to Watch
Today's Full Slate of Games
Matchup: Indians (63-67) at Tigers (64-67), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Cliff Lee (177 2/3 IP, 2.58 RA, 1.08 WHIP, 141 K) vs. Chris Lambert (149 1/3, 4.16, 1.28, 124-Triple-A)
Pythagorean Record: Cleveland, 67-63 (627 RS, 602 RA); Detroit, 66-65 (658 RS, 648 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Cleveland, #16; Detroit, #15
Prospectus: Tonight the Tigers will call up a rookie to throw against the pitcher who has been the best in the majors this year. Lambert was taken with the 19th selection of the 2004 draft out of Boston College, a pick that was viewed as something of a reach at the time. Writing two Aprils ago about the '04 first-rounders who were up against the clock, Kevin Goldstein described Lambert as "the oxymoronic raw college arm," for Lambert did not start pitching until after high school. The right-hander put up a lackluster first two seasons, with a 5.98 RA in 264 innings split mostly between High- and Double-A, and when the Cardinals tried to convert him to a reliever the following year, things got even worse: a 7.65 RA and 1.79 WHIP in 57 2/3 innings for Double-A Springfield. St. Louis consequently gave up on developing their former top pick, dealing him to Detroit late last season as a throw-in to the Mike Maroth trade. (One can only hope that Lambert set his bags down in the office of Toledo's manager, and upon being questioned announced with gravity, "I'm the player to be named later.") Lambert has certainly put up much better results this season than in the last two, and Tigers fans can hope that means he has finally begun to translate his raw potential.
In a July 23 chat, Nate Silver was asked which teams would win the most games in each division over the season's second half, and interestingly, he picked the Indians in the AL Central. So far Silver has been right on, for Cleveland is now 22-14 following the All-Star break, one game better than Minnesota for the best record in the Central over that stretch. The Indians have also been the best team in the game over the last two and a half weeks, as eight wins in a row have left them with a 14-3 record since August 8. Part of Cleveland's reinvigoration has been the discovery, at long last, of some stability in the late innings. Jensen Lewis has converted all seven of his save opportunities since becoming the team's new closer, and since the beginning of August just one run has scored against him in 11 1/3 innings.
Matchup: Red Sox (75-55) at Yankees (70-60), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Tim Wakefield (147 IP, 4.04 RA, 1.18 WHIP, 98 K) vs. Andy Pettitte (170 1/3, 4.54, 1.34, 130)
Pythagorean Record: Boston, 76-54 (670 RS, 559 RA); New York, 70-60 (632 RS, 585 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Boston, #2; New York, #8
Prospectus: The Red Sox and Yankees open up a big three-game series in the Bronx tonight, the last time that Boston will visit the current version of Yankee Stadium (barring an unlikely meeting between the clubs in the ALCS). Wakefield will be coming off of the DL to start for Boston, and attempt to build on his best season since 2002. Wakefield and the Sox may or may not have J.D. Drew back in right field, who has missed the last six games with a herniated disc in his back; if Drew still can't go, the team might be forced to place him on the DL, leaving Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury to continue making starts in center and right field.
While the Sox enter this series with a number of injury questions, the Yankees' lineup has finally become almost completely healthy. Designated hitter Hideki Matsui returned last week after nearly two months on the DL, and has already popped a pair of long balls in his first six games back. Matsui's return led the Yankees to shift Johnny Damon back to center field, which consequently allowed Joe Girardi to go to a set everyday lineup, as he has now used the same top eight in the batting order (Damon, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Xavier Nady, Matsui, and Robinson Cano) in each of the last six games, while splitting the catcher duties between Jose Molina and Ivan Rodriguez in the nine hole. Damon has been an excellent leadoff hitter this year, posting a career-high .384 OBP, and is having the best offensive season of his career on a per-plate appearance basis at the age of 34: his 0.182 MLVr and 121 OPS+ rate as slightly better than the 0.180 and 118 that he put up in 2000 with the Royals.
Matchup: Mets (73-59) at Phillies (72-59), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Pedro Martinez (76 IP, 5.21 RA, 1.46 WHIP, 55 K) vs. Jamie Moyer (157 2/3, 3.77, 1.32, 99)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 73-59 (647 RS, 576 RA); Philadelphia, 75-56 (634 RS, 542 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #5; Philadelphia, #12
Prospectus: Separated by only a half-game in the standings, New York and Philadelphia kick off a critical two-game mini-series, the initial stop on an eight-game road trip for the Metropolitans. Tonight's contest is the first of five remaining games between these two teams, with the last three coming next weekend at Shea Stadium. Tonight's duel is between a pair of old warhorses facing off against one another for the first time since Moyer moved over to the Phillies in late 2006. Moyer is having a remarkable season, and has not given up more than three runs in a start since the first of June, 15 turns ago. Is he having the best season ever for a starting pitcher at the age of 45 or older? While not exactly the most illustrious of statistical categories in which to be leading-a pitcher aged 45 or up has made 10 or more starts in a season just 12 times, including Moyer this year-Philadelphia's ancient lefty does indeed top the list, with an ERA+ of 126 so far this year. The only real threat to Moyer should he falter down the stretch is the 1984 season of Phil Niekro, who put up a 3.09 ERA for the Yankees at the age of 45, good for an ERA+ of 123. Moyer is a free agent at the end of the season, and with the numbers he has put up will likely have several suitors to choose from should he decide to extend his miraculous career.
Last night Jimmy Rollins went 3-for-3 with a triple, double, and two RBI in Philadelphia's 5-0 win to begin breaking out of an enormous slump. If the Phillies hope to pick up a repeat title by again coming from behind to topple the Mets, then their shortstop will likely need to improve his play substantially in the season's final 30+ games. Last year's MVP has recently been hearing boos at Citizen's Bank Park, both for his recent play-entering last night he had four hits and one walk in his previous 48 plate appearances-and also for his comments to the media (he recently called the Philly faithful front-runners). Rollins' numbers are down to .260/.328/.422 on the season, his worst showing since his second full campaign in 2002, and good for an OPS 125 points lower than last year's.
Matchup: Blue Jays (67-63) at Rays (79-50), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Roy Halladay (198 IP, 3.09 RA, 1.04 WHIP, 168 K) vs. James Shields (171, 4.11, 1.15, 135)
Pythagorean Record: Toronto, 72-58 (574 RS, 510 RA); Tampa Bay, 73-56 (597 RS, 515 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Toronto, #9; Tampa Bay, #3
Prospectus: Halladay is having a harder time with Tampa Bay this season than with any other team, losing all three of his 2008 starts against the Rays while giving up 13 runs in 22 innings. With third baseman Evan Longoria injured and inactive for this contest, Halladay figures to have a better go of it this time, since it was Longoria that came up with the back-breaking hit against Halladay in all three of those losses. Toronto's ace had a 3-0 lead against Tampa Bay heading into the bottom of the sixth on April 23, before the Rays scored four times against him, keyed by Longoria's two-run single. On July 19, Halladay was again shutting out Tampa Bay going to the bottom of the sixth, but after Carlos Pena singled in the game's first run, Longoria followed with his first major league grand slam, just the third superfecta that Doc had given up in his career. Five days later in Toronto, Longoria got Halladay again, this time with a two-run triple to right in the seventh that pushed the Rays' lead to 3-0. The rest of Tampa Bay's lineup that will be active tonight has hit .256 with a 709 OPS against Halladay in 156 career plate appearances.
The Rays have played better baseball than any other team in the American League to this point, and better baseball at home than any team in baseball-47-18, for a .723 winning percentage. Whatever it is that has fueled such fantastic play at home, it isn't the raucous cheers of sellout crowds, for relatively speaking there haven't been all that many fans who have come out to witness the team's spectacular turnaround. Tampa Bay is drawing just 21,456 per contest, the third-lowest total in the AL, ahead of only the last-place Royals and Mariners, which fits in with the typical phenomenon of attendance increases not coming until the year after a winning season. That figure is still an improvement of over 4,000 fans per game from last season, when the Rays drew the fewest in the AL, and this year is actually the third in a row in which attendance at Tropicana Field has increased.
Matchup: Brewers (76-55) at Cardinals (73-59), 7:15 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Ben Sheets (168 IP, 3.43 RA, 1.14 WHIP, 140 K) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (147 1/3, 3.91, 1.26, 100)
Pythagorean Record: Milwaukee, 72-59 (620 RS, 558 RA); St. Louis, 72-60 (647 RS, 582 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Milwaukee, #6; St. Louis, #13
Prospectus: Thanks primarily to Albert Pujols, who in his last seven games is hitting .556 (15-for-27) with four home runs and 12 RBI, the Cardinals are managing to hang in the wild card race, currently 3½ games behind Milwaukee. This brief two-game series with the Brewers is essential for St. Louis in its effort to chase down the leader, for it's the last time that these two clubs will play this year. The Brewers have recently beaten up on the Cardinals: after St. Louis won the first two games of the season series, Milwaukee has taken nine of the last 11, including a four-game sweep of the Redbirds on the road in late July.
Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron is having a huge month of August for Milwaukee, belting eight home runs in 87 plate appearances, and putting a line of .360/.448/.760. Cameron missed nearly all of April due to a suspension for amphetamine use, and it appears the time off has done his bat some good. The Brewers have been rewarded amply for the risk they took in signing Cameron, for he is is having what could wind up as the best season of his career at the age of 35. Cameron has hit 23 homers in 93 games, already more than he had in each of the last two seasons when he played in 141 and 151 games. Among players with at least 100 at-bats, Cameron ranks sixth in the National League with an AB/HR ratio of 14.7, behind only Russell Branyan (10.9), Adam Dunn (12.1), Ryan Ludwick (14), Pat Burrell (14.3), and Ryan Howard (14.5). Never before has Cameron slugged any higher than .482 in a season, but this year he is at .528, with career highs in MLVr (0.165) and OPS+ (125) as well. Sabermetricians have long wondered what sort of numbers Cameron could put up in a hitter's park after having played eight straight seasons in Safeco, Shea, and Petco, but curiously enough his 2008 success has not been because of his playing in Miller Park, but instead is a product of road domination-a .284/.368/.613 line in 220 PA away from home.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.