September 3, 2008
Wednesday's Games to Watch
Today's Full Slate of
Matchup: Braves (60-79) at Marlins (70-69), 1:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Jorge Campillo (134 2/3 IP, 3.88 RA, 1.17 WHIP, 92 K) vs. Chris Volstad (56 1/3, 3.36, 1.40, 37)
Pythagorean Record: Atlanta, 67-72 (639 RS, 669 RA); Florida, 66-73 (647 RS, 681 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Atlanta, #21; Florida, #17
Prospectus: The Braves and Marlins played a wild game last night, with Atlanta blowing a 10-3 lead to fall behind 13-10 before coming back for a 16-14 victory. Mike Gonzalez pitched a one-two-three ninth inning for the save, only his eighth of the season despite taking over as the closer in mid-June. Atlanta has converted just 20 saves on the season, ranking at the bottom of the major leagues, five fewer than Cleveland and Washington, who are tied for next to last. That puts the Braves on pace to end the season with 23 saves, which would tie them with the 2002 Cubs for the lowest save total this decade. The last team to record fewer than 23 saves in a season was the 1996 Tigers with 22. That Detroit team wasn't in many games and finished the season with 109 losses, while this year's Braves have been outscored by only 30 runs, making their low saves total curious. The Braves have been involved in 47 blowouts (games decided by five runs or more), the second most in baseball behind Colorado, and when the game has been close they have almost always been on the wrong end, as evidenced by their 7-27 record in one-run affairs.
Atlanta is a major league-worst 5-17 since August 10, and the struggles of Campillo lately have contributed to that slide. The Mexican right-hander's fantastic rookie season has slowed of late, as he has given up 23 runs in 26 2/3 innings over his last five games, taking his ERA from 2.58 to 3.61. The entire Braves staff seems to have hit a wall; Atlanta has given up over seven runs per game in its 22-game skid. This is not entirely surprising, considering that Atlanta currently has three rookies in its rotation (Jair Jurrjens and Charlie Morton being the others), one second-year pitcher (Jo-Jo Reyes), and one who had not pitched at all in the last two seasons (Mike Hampton). All told, the current members of Atlanta's rotation combined to throw just 94 2/3 innings in the majors last year.
Matchup: Mariners (54-84) at Rangers (68-72), 1:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Felix Hernandez (168 IP, 3.64 RA, 1.34 WHIP, 154 K) vs. Dustin Nippert (49, 7.71, 1.94, 34)
Pythagorean Record: Seattle, 58-80 (581 RS, 690 RA); Texas, 65-75 (768 RS, 836 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Seattle, #28; Texas, #22
Prospectus: Milton Bradley continued his fantastic season with three more hits last night, including a pair of doubles, which raised his seasonal line to .329/.448/.588. Bradley leads the American League in both on-base and slugging percentage (while standing just one point behind Dustin Pedroia in average), which stands to become one of the best offensive seasons in Texas franchise history. A first-time All-Star this year, Bradley has a shot at posting the highest OPS in the team annals-his current 1036 mark would rank second, ahead of Alex Rodriguez's three seasons in Arlington, and behind only the 1999 campaign of Rafael Palmeiro, in which Palmeiro set career highs with 47 homers and 148 RBI. Bradley also looks like a solid bet to establish a new franchise record for OBP, and is now comfortably ahead of the .432 that Toby Harrah put up in 1985 to establish the current high. By EqA, Bradley's .349 showing this year leads the American League and would be the best in team history, as would his .451 MLVr, which also tops the junior circuit. The only chink in Bradley's armor is his inability to stay healthy, but he has already played more this year (112 games) than in any of his previous eight seasons other than 2004, when he appeared in 141 games for the Dodgers. A free agent at the end of 2008 after signing a one-year deal, Bradley has set himself up to receive the first multi-year contract of his career this offseason.
Gerald Laird was one of the nicer offensive surprises for Texas in the first part of the season, as his OPS stood at 808 through the end of July. Texas elected to hang on to its 28-year-old backstop rather than deal him at the deadline, and Laird has slumped to a 608 OPS in 24 games since then. The catcher position is perhaps Texas' greatest organizational strength, and the Rangers have decided to split the playing time behind the dish over the season's final month between Laird and September call-up Taylor Teagarden, a decision which is not sitting well with Laird, who told the Dallas Morning News that he was "real disappointed" with the new arrangement.
Matchup: Yankees (74-64) at Rays (84-52), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Carl Pavano (11 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 6/2 K/BB) vs. Edwin Jackson (156, 3.87 RA, 1.43 WHIP, 90 K)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 73-65 (671 RS, 630 RA); Tampa Bay, 78-58 (639 RS, 546 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #10; Tampa Bay, #3
Prospectus: Pavano has earned the win in each of his first two starts of the year since coming off of the DL, one more victory than he compiled in each of the last two seasons combined. The return of the 32-year-old right-hander has been too little, too late for the Yankees playoff hopes, which are now below one percent. Pavano will be pitching for a new contract this September, and the Yankees will finally get out from under the pitcher's four year, $39.95 million albatross by paying the $1.95 million buyout on next year's $13 million club option. It would seem that Pavano is in line for only a minor league deal or non-roster invite to next year's camps given his supreme difficulty with staying on the field over the past four years, but a strong finish to the season might lead a team that's particularly desperate for starting pitching to throw some guaranteed cash his way.
Even with their loss last night, the Rays have the best record in baseball and are on pace to win 100 games this year. If they hit that mark, it would be an increase of 34 wins from last season, the second-largest jump in major league history since the American League was incorporated in 1901, excluding seasons in which there was a strike or a team played 10-plus games more than in the previous year. The one team which would rank ahead of Tampa Bay? Their sister club Arizona, which won 100 games in its second year of existence after a 65-win season in '98. This year's Rays are more similar to the '69 Miracle Mets, who averaged 105 losses over their first seven seasons (Tampa Bay averaged 97 over its first 10) before suddenly winning 100 and then the World Series. Here are the teams that increased their year-to-year total by at least 27 wins since 1901:
Years Team W_1 W_2 Plus Notes
1902-03 Giants 48 84 +36* Three more games played in second year
1998-99 D'backs 65 100 +35
1961-62 Phillies 47 81 +34* Seven more games played in second year
1945-46 Red Sox 71 104 +33
1988-89 Orioles 54 87 +33* One more game played in second year
1935-36 Braves 38 71 +33* Four more games played in second year
1992-93 Giants 72 103 +31
1904-05 Phillies 52 83 +31
1901-02 Brw/Bro 48 78 +30* One more game played in second year
1913-14 Cards 51 81 +30* Four more games played in second year
2003-04 Tigers 43 72 +29
1990-91 Braves 65 94 +29
1946-47 A's 49 78 +29* One more game played in second year
1966-67 Cubs 59 87 +28
1928-29 Phillies 43 71 +28* Four more games played in second year
1952-53 Braves 64 92 +28* Four more games played in second year
1968-69 Mets 73 100 +27
1908-09 A's 68 95 +27
1992-93 Phillies 70 97 +27
1973-74 Rangers 57 84 +27
1911-12 Senators 64 91 +27
1911-12 Red Sox 78 105 +27* One more game played in second year
Date from Baseball-Reference.com
The largest year-to-year jumps come from the late 19th century, when the Cardinals increased from 39 to 84 wins from 1898-99 and the Brooklyn franchise from 54 to 101 during those same years. Brooklyn's dramatic turnaround, which led to the league championship, also came with a name change from the Bridegrooms to the Superbas, which perhaps bodes well for the 2008 fortunes of the former Devil Rays.
Matchup: Pirates (58-79) at Reds (61-77), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Zach Duke (159 1/3 IP, 5.59 RA, 1.53 WHIP, 78 K) vs. Edinson Volquez (163, 3.70, 1.34, 161)
Pythagorean Record: Pittsburgh, 56-81 (618 RS, 754 RA); Cincinnati, 59-79 (588 RS, 686 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Pittsburgh, #29; Cincinnati, #26
Prospectus: Pittsburgh ended a 10-game losing streak by beating the Reds 3-2 yesterday, with closer Matt Capps picking up his first save since returning from the DL last week. The Pirates have now played 29 games without either Xavier Nady or Jason Bay in the lineup after trading both at the deadline, and have scored an average of 2.9 runs in those contests, with a team batting line of .238/.296/.352. Still, this is a team that's probably less concerned with scoring runs than with testing out a few youngsters to see who might have a role on next year's Pirates club and beyond. Among their crop of kids, rookie outfielder Brandon Moss is making his case for a starting spot next spring, hitting six home runs and put up an 871 OPS in 111 plate appearances since arriving in the Bay trade with Boston.
Like the Pirates, the Reds have made a point of going young down the stretch. Cincinnati also shed its veteran starting corner outfielders in the second half, and have been playing rookies Jay Bruce and Chris Dickerson every day, with Corey Patterson and Jolbert Cabrera platooning in the other open outfield spot. Dickerson has been outstanding since his call-up from Triple-A Louisville on August 12, with an 1127 OPS in 82 plate appearances, and his teammate Ryan Hanigan has also done quite well after getting the call two days earlier. Dusty Baker has formed a timeshare behind the plate between Paul Bako and Hanigan, who have each started 10 times since the rookie's recall. Hanigan offers an intriguing statistical profile, as he is a backstop with minimal power but an outstanding eye-he owns a career .382 OBP in over 2,100 minor league plate appearances, and he walked nearly as often as he struck out on the lower levels (245 BB to 248 K).
Matchup: Athletics (63-75) at Royals (58-79), 7:10 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Dana Eveland (139 IP, 4.27 RA, 1.47 WHIP, 94 K) vs. Brian Bannister (155, 6.15, 1.47, 101)
Pythagorean Record: Oakland, 64-74 (533 RS, 574 RA); Kansas City, 56-81 (562 RS, 686 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Oakland, #19; Kansas City, #25
Prospectus: Despite the A's rapid fall from contention in the second half, this is an exciting time for fans of the green and gold, thanks to the aggressive minor league promotions that GM Billy Beane has implemented throughout the season, as Oakland backers have been able to see the fruits of Beane's multiple trades right away at the major league level. Eveland was one of the three pitchers received for Dan Haren, and he and another of the trio, Greg Smith, have been mainstays in the rotation for most of the season. Two of the three position players taken in that haul, 21-year-old Carlos Gonzalez and 22-year-old Aaron Cunningham, have also seen time, with the latter having played left field in both games since being recalled from Sacramento on Sunday. The A's have also been looking at Eric Patterson, one of their acquisitions in the Rich Harden trade, at second base, where he has started in each of the last 10 games. The 25-year-old Patterson arrived in Oakland with a bad defensive reputation at the keystone, but if he can stick as an infielder his value would obviously be much higher, especially for an A's team that must decide whether to attempt re-signing incumbent second baseman Mark Ellis in the offseason.
Oakland has also started the speedy Rajai Davis in center field each of the past seven games. Davis and Patterson have helped transform the nature of a team that has been largely a collection of plodding mashers during Beane's tenure as GM; Oakland has stolen 73 bases this year, already more than it did in any season since 1998, which was Rickey Henderson's Bay Area farewell. Of course, Oakland also has the worst offense in the American League this year, ranking last in average, OBP, and slugging. The Royals have been the second-most egregious unit, so runs will come at a premium in this series.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.