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August 29, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Days of Wonder

by Jay Jaffe

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RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Cubs
84-50
6-1
.623
Up
Breaking Away: A six-game winning streak helps the Cubs open up their biggest division lead of the year, and their 193-run differential is now 120 runs ahead of the next-closest NL team. Mark DeRosa homers in four straight games to continue a monster month in which he's hitting .378/.442/.768, while Aramis Ramirez cracks four home runs on the week as well, including a grand slam that caps a five-run, eighth-inning comeback against the Phillies.

2


Red Sox
77-56
4-2
.604
Flat
The Red Sox get the pleasure of hammering a few nails into the 2008 Yankees' coffin by taking two of three in their final trip to Yankee Stadium, and they continue to work around their assorted aches and pains. Tim Wakefield makes a solid return to the rotation in a venue that has at times haunted him, easing the blow of Josh Beckett being scratched and sent to Dr. Andrews. J.D. Drew hits the DL with a herniated disc, but the team trades for Mark Kotsay to gain some depth. They even put Justin Masterson to good use in patching their shaky bullpen.

3


Rays
81-51
4-2
.590
Flat
Matt Garza tosses a gem against the Jays, the fourth time in eight starts he's put up nothing but zeroes for his day's work. He leads the Rays in SNLVAR and is ninth in the league, but the bigger story is that the staff as a whole has been more than four wins better than the rest of the league from a win-expectancy standpoint, with four relievers-J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, and Troy Percival-in the WXRL top 20. Speaking of Percy, there's good news on the injury front regarding his pending return, and that of Evan Longoria.

4


White Sox
76-57
3-4
.575
Down
It's an up and down week for the White Sox, who add an extra loss to their ledger via the completion of a suspended game that finds them as the "home" team in Baltimore. Luckily, they're none the worse for wear in the AL Central race thanks to the Twins' four-game skid. Clayton Richard helps to patch the rotation with his second quality start in a row, Alexei Ramirez cracks four hits to continue a torrid but typically hacktastic month (.315/.319/.576), and Ozzie Guillen bids his most vocal critic a tart farewell.

5


Brewers
77-56
4-1
.562
Up
The Brewers ride a five-game winning streak to take a commanding position for the NL Wild Card; their Postseason Odds are now higher than any NL team except the Cubs. Ben Sheets rebounds from a pounding to combine on a shutout of the Cardinals. Pitching in CC Sabathia's shadow, he's sixth in VORP, and seventh in SNLVAR and ERA, while making more starts and throwing more innings than in any season since 2004.

6


Mets
74-60
3-3
.555
Flat
The Mets' dogfight for first place in the NL East continues. Carlos Delgado's two-homer, three-RBI night helps the team erase the sting of a squandered 7-0 lead the night before. It's Delgado's second two-homer game in three days and his fifth of the season, tying Grady Sizemore for the MLB high; he's hitting .301/.394/.622 since the All-Star break. In less encouraging news, as the team faces the possibility of John Maine being shelved for the year, tough-talking Jerry Manuel invokes the chilling memory of Dallas Green in discussing Mike Pelfrey's workload: "In the course of winning a championship, there will be some things that will be some damage to some folk. That's the sacrifice. That's the cost. That's the price of a championship."

7


Angels
81-52
4-3
.546
Flat
Injured in the Infield: With Maicer Izturis already done for the year, the Angels take a pair of glancing blows with the brief absences of Erick Aybar (hamstring) and Chone Figgins (toe), then suffer a major hit as they lose Howie Kendrick (fourth on the team in VORP and MLVr) to the disabled list for the second time this year due to a hamstring strain, the same injury which cost him six weeks earlier this year. Back from the farm is Brandon Wood, who's been working on shortening his swing by lowering his hands; he hit .295/.375/.595 in Salt Lake City but just .118/.155/.176 in 72 PA with the Angels earlier this year.

8


Blue Jays
68-65
2-4
.542
Up
The Doc is In: Roy Halladay collects three wins over an 11-game stretch, helping the Jays hold their own against the trio of their AL East betters. Halladay yields six runs in 22 innings with 20 Ks over three starts, passing 200 innings for the third year in a row and climbing to second in the league in SNVLAR. His strikeout rate is back up to 7.7 per nine, 39 percent higher than last year and his highest since 2003, and it's cost him nothing in the way of efficiency, as he's throwing 14.5 pitches per inning, 0.3 less than last year.

9


Phillies
73-61
5-2
.542
Up
Despite a 7-1 streak in which they sweep a four-game set against the Dodgers, the Phillies fall out of first place by week's end after their otherwise top-notch bullpen fails to hold leads on consecutive nights. The second one squanders a fine start by Cole Hamels, who hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last five starts (2.03 ERA). The Phils have won just two of those outings because they've given him only 18 runs of support, nine in one game.

10


Yankees
71-62
4-2
.542
Flat
An Excess of Suck Does Not Equal Success: Carl Pavano crawls out of the woodwork to make his first start since April 9, 2007 and just his 20th in four years as a Yankee; that's $2 million per start. Unsurprisingly, neither his return nor a sweep of the Orioles are enough to save the Yankees' season, as they drop the first two games of a key series with the Red Sox. With closing time looming at the House That Ruth Built, the appallingly un-American behavior of the jackbooted thugs patrolling the stadium should illustrate to Hank Steinbrenner that the players on the field aren't what sucks the most about this franchise these days.

11


Cardinals
74-60
3-2
.536
Flat
Adam Wainwright returns to the rotation after an 11-week absence and keeps the Cardinals' fading post-season hopes alive with a pair of strong starts. Among NL starters with at least 75 innings (a cutoff tailored to include CC Sabathia), he's fifth in the league in Support Neutral Winning Percentage (SNLVA_R + .5). Backing Wainwright in his second start via a two-run homer is Ryan Ludwick, who's hitting .359/.413/.739 this month and continues to linger in the league's top 10 in VORP.

12


Twins
75-59
2-5
.531
Down
A four-game losing streak dents the Twins' wild-card hopes but doesn't cost them too much ground in the AL Central race, though the spread between them and the White Sox is much greater than it appears in the standings. Amid a brutal 14-game road trip-not to be confused with the 10-gamer they have in mid-September-there are feel-good stories nonetheless. Everyday Eddie Guardado returns to the fold, while 30-year-old rookie Randy Ruiz clubs his first home run. Ruiz can't even claim the Quadruple-A label, as he didn't reach Triple-A until this year, but his .340/.392/.447 performance has been a welcome boost, particularly in shielding Jason Kubel from lefties.

13


Diamondbacks
68-65
1-5
.524
Down
The Diamondbacks widen their NL West lead despite ending the week amid a four-game slide. Lost along the way is nice work from Randy Johnson, who whiffs 22 hitters in two outings. The Big Unit has eight straight quality starts in a stellar second half (1.82 ERA, 53/7 K/BB in 54 1/3 innings), yet the Snakes are just 4-4 in those games because they've scored just 21 runs along the way. To make matters worse, relievers Chad Qualls and Jon Rauch each surrender the leads in his starts this week. That's a continuing theme for the latter, who has been scored upon in six of his last seven appearances and is carrying a negative WXRL and a 6.19 ERA since being acquired from the Nationals.

14


Indians
65-67
6-0
.514
Up
Winners of 10 in a row and 16 out of 19, the Tribe makes strides in salvaging their season despite the absences of Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner. Kelly Shoppach clubs three more homers, Grady Sizemore launches two blasts to join the 30-30 club, and Franklin Gutierrez finds his stroke; he's hitting .329/.388/.589 in August after a pathetic .210/.257/.329 showing prior. Meanwhile, in the bullpen, Jensen Lewis emerges as the team's closer. With seven saves this month, he's passed Joe Borowski and Masahide Kobayashi for the team lead and is now one of just two Indians' relievers with a WXRL above 0.3.

15


Dodgers
65-69
0-7
.507
Down
Faded Blue: The Dodgers slip below .500 and give up critical ground in the NL West race as they're swept by both the Phillies and the Nationals. They've now lost nine of ten while scoring a piddling 21 runs, but not for lack of opportunity. Their last five games have produced 54 runners left on base and just nine runs, four of them via homers. The toast of Tinseltown, Manny Ramirez, has just two extra base hits and one RBI in that span, which should have Joe Torre rethinking the wisdom of that haircut.

16


Tigers
64-69
2-4
.497
Down
The Tigers can't even play out the string right, as they're swept by the Indians to sink into fourth place in the AL Central. Todd Jones bids adieu, putting a cherry atop a failed bullpen plan that has the Tigers 10th in the league in WXRL, with Bobby Seay the only pitcher with a WXRL above 1.0. Ouch.

17


Marlins
68-66
3-3
.487
Flat
Stuck in the Glove: With a break-even week, the Marlins surrender an opportunity to make up precious ground in the NL East race, and their post-season hopes are down to two percent. Hanley Ramirez's failure to execute a game-ending double play aids a four-run ninth-inning rally by the Braves, sending closer Kevin Gregg to his third loss in the past 12 days. He's surrendered eight runs in his last 5 2/3 innings, while the Marlins bullpen has slipped from third to sixth in the league in WXRL in that span.

18


Orioles
63-70
2-5
.484
Down
Headed for Eleven: A 1-7 tumble gives the Orioles a wing up on their 11th consecutive losing season, hardly surprising given that Jeremy Guthrie is the only starter with a Support Neutral Winning Percentage (SNLVA_R + .5) above .500. If they want to ward off another losing year, preventing Daniel Cabrera from taking the hill again might be a good idea, even with his relatively clean bill of health. Cabrera's carrying an 8.02 ERA in the second half while making five disaster starts in his last eight.

19


Athletics
62-72
4-3
.482
Flat
Despite Justin Duchscherer and Sean Gallagher making trips to the DL, the A's return to resembling a competitive team this week. They bite the bullet and demote Carlos Gonzalez while the rookie's mired in a 2-for-39 slump that has his overall line down to .240/.271/.364. They do get some promising signs from Daric Barton, who snaps out of his 4-for-40 slump with a .435/.480/.739 week, though he still ranks last among major league first basemen in VORP.

20


Rockies
63-72
4-2
.481
Up
Detecting a Pulse: With a 10-2 run, the Rockies refuse to go away in an NL West race that apparently nobody wants to win; their Postseason Odds have climbed from 0.3 percent to 3.7 percent in that span. They'd be in even better shape without Livan Hernandez; predictably, he's been bombed for an 11.09 ERA while the rest of the rotation has put up a 4.58 ERA this month, a few hairs better than the park-adjusted league average (4.62).

21


Braves
59-75
3-3
.480
Down
Prado Bravo: With Casey Kotchman on the restricted list due to an extended leave for his mother's illness, utilityman Martin Prado collects 12 hits in a week of work at first base. Prado's hitting an absurd .426/.444/.590 in 63 PA this month thanks to a .491 batting average on balls in play, and there's buzz that he may be the team's second baseman next year as the Braves may trade the disappointing (and more importantly arbitration-eligible) Kelly Johnson (.263/.333/405) over the winter.

22


Rangers
66-69
3-4
.474
Flat
Team president Nolan Ryan is pitching a conditioning program for Rangers hurlers, and with a rotation that's dead stinking last in the majors in innings, Fair Run Average, and SNLVAR, they're in no position to complain. At least Ryan's work with Brandon McCarthy is showing promising returns, as McCarthy finally makes his 2008 debut and yields just three runs in 10 innings over two starts.

23


Astros
68-66
4-3
.473
Up
Their playoff hopes are shrinking even as they maintain a winning record, but it's not all bad for the Astros, particularly when it comes to their franchise pitcher. After making just two starts in July and putting up a 4.74 ERA through August 2, Roy Oswalt has strung together five quality starts with a 1.95 ERA; no more looking up to Scuffy Moehler in the team VORP rankings for him. Also turning things around is Wandy Rodriguez, who alters his glove position and whiffs 10 Reds while breaking a five-start, 7.50 ERA skid.

24


Giants
59-74
4-2
.433
Up
Pablo Cruising: Winners of nine out of their last 12, the Giants are enjoying the torrid hitting of Pablo Sandoval, one of the not-so-blue blue-chip prospects the team recalled two weeks ago. Sandoval's batting .372/.378/.5355, and while he's a catcher, the team has been testing his versatility at the infield corners, since Bengie Molina is under contract for another season.

25


Royals
56-77
1-5
.415
Down
Lost: The Royals skid reaches 16 out of 19, and not even a pair of quality starts from Brian Bannister-his first since June 23, rebounding from last week's 10-run Bronx bombing-can stop the bleeding. Luke Hochevar is shut down for the year with bruised ribs, while Jose Guillen is making headlines for his behavior instead of his hitting once again. At .249/.285/.425, the latter isn't much to write home about, and he's still got two years at $12 million apiece left on his contract.

26


Reds
58-76
2-4
.415
Flat
Though they're no longer hemorrhaging, the bleeding hasn't entirely stopped for the Reds. Johnny Cueto's triceps strain causes him to miss a start and may spell the end of his year just as the 22-year-old hurler is recapturing that early-season form (a 2.77 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 26 innings this month). In happier news, Aaron Harang bounces back from three straight disaster starts with a pair of quality ones, though he still can't stay clear of the long ball. Having surrendered an eye-popping 1.8 HR/9 (worst in the majors), he's now providing the team with free architectural advice to prevent even more balls from flying out of Great American Ball Park.

27


Padres
51-82
3-3
.411
Up
Spoiler Alert? The Padres snap a seven-game slide by sweeping the Diamondbacks, with Jody Gerut providing a walk-off homer in the series opener and a game-winning RBI in the finale. Gerut's been an exceptional salvage job for the Pad squad; out of the majors since 2005, he's on his way to career highs in WARP and EqA via a .297/.352/.495 season.

28


Mariners
50-83
4-2
.404
Up
Still determined to reach the 100-loss pot of gold at the end of this rainbow of misery that the Mariners call a season, interim manager Jim Riggleman is platooning Miguel Cairo (.250/.321/.333) with rookie Bryan LaHair (.268/.324/.361) at first base. Not that the latter really has much hope according to his PECOTA projections, but with statements like, "We're trying to win games, and we're trying to develop young players. But Cairo is a heck of a player still, and I don't want to not use his talents," it's as though the ghosts of Bill Bavasi and John McLaren linger. Mariner first basemen have combined to hit just .237/.316/.356 with 12 homers, 11 by since-departed Richie Sexson.

29


Pirates
57-76
0-6
.398
Down
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Less than a week after first-round pick Pedro Alvarez reportedly signs to a deadline-beating deal, controversy erupts regarding the signing's validity, with the MLBPA and Scott Boras trading blows with former MLB general labor counsel and current Pirates president Frank Coonelly. The case is headed to arbitration, and it only underscores the point that the current draft-to-deadline process is hopelessly broken. It does a nice job of knocking the team's seven-game losing streak below the fold, though.

30


Nationals
49-85
4-2
.375
Up
Wee Willie Harris' two-homer, six-RBI effort helps the Nats win a slugfest at Wrigley Field and embark on a five-of-seven roll that helps erase the memory of their 12-game losing streak. Harris came into this season having hit just seven homers in seven years; he's got that many since the All-Star break and 12 overall, one shy of Lastings Milledge's team high. If that's not far enough through the looking glass for you, ponder Cristian Guzman hitting for the cycle.


The Prospectus Hit List rankings are derived from Won-Loss records and several measurements pertaining to run differentials, both actual and adjusted, from Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings through the close of play on every Sunday.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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