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September 12, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Top to Bottom

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Red Sox
85-60
3-3
.614
Down
Thanks to a 6-1 streak, the Sox climb to within a half-game of the Rays atop the AL East but muff their chance to overtake them when Jonathan Papelbon blows a rare save. Even so, there should be relatively little to fret about in Beantown given the Sox' Postseason Odds above 98 percent and the top-form returns of Josh Beckett (11 innings, one run, 14 K) and Mike Lowell (.368/.400/.789) from their various injuries.

2


Cubs
88-58
3-3
.606
Down
A 1-8 skid has Lou Piniella hyperventilating while the media goes black-cat happy over the Cubs' checkered past. The coincidence of their slump with that of the Brewers helps their cause, as do a pair of week-ending victories, but the team has plenty to be nervous about with regards to the arms of Carlos Zambrano and Chad Gaudin, if not Rich Harden.

3


Rays
87-57
2-4
.590
Down
Newcomer Dan Johnson's two-run homer off Jonathan Papelbon helps the Rays reverse a 1-6 skid and avoid surrendering first place for the first time since July 13. Carlos Peña's 14th-inning, three-run jack restores some additional breathing room; he's hitting .263/.421/.577 in the second half. The upstart Rays' odds of making the postseason are now approaching 100 percent, but with Carl Crawford still out, Evan Longoria activated (but yet to play), and both B.J. Upton and Troy Percival hurting, they'll have to contend with their share of injuries on the road to their first playoff trip in franchise history.

4


Blue Jays
79-67
6-1
.561
Up
A 10-game winning streak has the Blue Jays dreaming of being this year's Rockies; they're 6½ out of the wild card spot but have seven games remaining against the Red Sox in which to close that gap and boost their Postseason Odds above low-fat milk levels. The push may be too little, too late to make an October showing, and given the expiring contract of team prexy Paul Godfrey, what lies in store for water-treading GM J.P. Ricciardi and interim skipper Cito Gaston remains a mystery. As does the Cy Young fate of Roy Halladay, who's second in SNLVAR to Cliff Lee but has faced much tougher competition. He's looking for more work, offering to pitch on short rest to help the Jays make up ground.

5


Mets
82-63
3-2
.560
Flat
The Mets receive a crushing blow as they learn that Billy Wagner will need Tommy John surgery and thus miss not only the rest of this season but also 2009. Even given a makeshift bullpen centered around Luis Ayala—not to mention an already-thinned rotation that can ill afford Pedro Martinez yielding 17 runs in his past 22 innings—the Mets are on a 9-3 run that's created their biggest NL East lead of the year. They can thank Carlos Delgado's hot bat, as back-to-back two-homer games push him to 35 jacks on the year; he's hitting .284/.373/.610 since Jerry Manuel took over and is powering his way into MVP discussions, though he trails teammates David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Jose Reyes in WARP.

6


White Sox
81-65
3-4
.553
Down
Big Blows: The White Sox offense takes a pair of hits. First they lose MVP candidate Carlos Quentin for the remainder of the regular season due to a wrist fracture. He leads the league in homers and the team in EqA, VORP, OBP, and SLG, and a recovery from surgery in time for the playoffs is "possible not probable." The news is somewhat better regarding Paul Konerko's MCL, though it comes when he's just finding his long-lost stroke, having homered in three consecutive games earlier in the week and hit .340/.467/.628 since August 1.

7


Brewers
83-64
3-4
.552
Down
Timing is Everything: A 3-7 homestand once again invokes memories of the Brewers' slide out of the playoff picture last year, but as their competitors eke out ground, they retain a three-game cushion in the NL Wild Card race, not to mention Postseason Odds above 70 percent. It's been suggested elsewhere on this site that the Brew Crew bullpen is bad—a key reason why Ned Yost continues to ride CC Sabathia so hard—but the team is sixth in the league in WXRL, ahead of the Mets, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks and virtually even with the Marlins. Reclamation job Salomon Torres is no Mariano Rivera, but he's fifth in the league in WXRL and trailing only Brad Lidge among NL closers on contending clubs.

8


Angels
89-57
4-3
.548
Flat
The Angels Rejoiced: Mike Scioscia's club clinches its fourth division title in five years, and while it's the fifth-quickest clinch (by date) since division play began, history hasn't been tremendously kind to such early arrivers. While Francisco Rodriguez closes in on the single-season Saves record, the offense gets a nice boost from Brandon Wood, whose three home runs on the week offer hope that the adjustments he's made in the minors will finally lead to some big-league success; he owns a .179/.201/.310 line and 44/3 K/BB ratio in 150 plate appearances thus far.

9


Phillies
80-67
4-3
.540
Flat
Despite taking two out of three games in Shea Stadium, the Phillies gain no ground in the NL East race and see their Postseason Odds plummet to around 22 percent, less than half of what they were a month ago. The back end of their rotation has been a hazard of late, with Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick combining to allow 23 run in 21 innings over five starts, putting pressure on an already-taxed bullpen and pushing Jamie Moyer and perhaps Brett Myers to start on three days' rest in this weekend's key series against the Brewers.

10


Yankees
77-69
2-4
.537
Down
Road to Nowhere: Before they can go home to make their final stand at the House That Ruth Built, the Yanks are reduced to playing the patsy as they play out the string; they're nearly no-hit by Brandon Morrow, and forced to watch the Angels' division-clinching celebration. On a positive note, rookie Alfredo Aceves impresses in his first major league start, and Joba Chamberlain returns to the bullpen, but their appearances raise the question of why Philip Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and even Mark Melancon aren't getting their reps during the tail end of this lost season.

11


Dodgers
75-71
5-1
.532
Up
It's a Man's Man's Manny-Man's World: With seven home runs and 17 RBI in 11 games, Manny Ramirez helps the Dodgers go on a 10-1 tear to wash the bitter taste of an eight-game losing streak out of their mouths. The Dodgers' run conjures up memories of their 2006 rollercoaster ride and includes a three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks that nets them sole possession of first place in the NL West for the first time since April 4. Ramirez continues to rake (.396/.498/.776 with 14 homers as a Dodger), and Andre Ethier has been nearly as hot (.375/.448/.742 with nine homers since August 1), while Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones have just one start apiece since August 20.

12


Twins
80-66
3-3
.531
Up
A 4-11 slump nearly derails the Twins' post-season aspirations, but Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey stop the bleeding with a pair of strong starts against the Royals. Slowey's put up six quality starts in his last seven and now leads the majors in fewest walks per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Also grooving: Francisco Liriano, whose post-recall numbers (1.44 ERA and 38/12 K/BB in 43 2/3 innings) make one wonder where the Twins would be if his stay in Rochester had been a couple of weeks shorter.

13


Cardinals
78-68
3-3
.529
Flat
Go Fourth: The Cardinals slide into fourth place in both the NL Central and wild card races, and their health is no great shakes either. Rick Ankiel is 11-for-65 since August 1 while struggling through the lingering effects of an abdominal injury, Troy Glaus needs a cortisone shot for his ailing shoulder, Chris Carpenter is limited to bullpen duty, and Jason Isringhausen is slated for season-ending surgery. Keeping it all together is Albert Pujols, who homers in three straight games while driving in seven of the team's 12 runs; he leads the league in OBP, SLG, VORP, and EqA—all while pondering off-season elbow surgery.

14


Indians
71-74
4-3
.519
Flat
Haf Time at Last: Two players crucial to the Tribe's success in the past but symbols of their current lost campaign have begun putting in their late-season cameos. Travis Hafner returns to the lineup for the first time since May 25, and though he goes 2-for-4, he's still hitting just .224/.333/.354 this year. Also back in circulation is Victor Martinez; he returned to the lineup a few weeks ago after a 66-game absence, though his numbers (.272/.331/.342) aren't so inspiring either. All the more reason to focus on Cliff Lee's amazing turnaround and his Cy Young case, which includes the major league lead in SNLVAR as well as Wins and ERA.

15


Astros
80-67
6-1
.502
Up
Not Dead Yet: With a 34-12 record since July 23 and a 14-1 record since August 28, the Astros refuse to go quietly; they're now third in the NL Central and tied for second in the wild card race despite a negative run differential, with Postseason Odds that have increased from 0.015 percent when their latest streak began to 9.3 percent today. Hunter Pence is hitting .404/.433/.737 over that 15-game run, and Ty Wigginton has six homers in that span, but the latter's groin strain will cool him off for awhile. As will Hurricane Ike, which forces the pre-emptive postponement of two games with the Cubs on Friday and Saturday.

16


Diamondbacks
71-74
0-6
.500
Down
Backs Down: Losers of six straight and 13 of 16, the Diamondbacks do what they've been threatening to do for months: cough up first place in the NL West; their Postseason Odds have plummeted from 78.7 percent to 6.7 percent since August 31. Their problems are myriad, from an offense that's 14th in the league in EqA to a bullpen that's 12th in WXRL after back-to-back ninth-inning meltdowns against the Giants. Perhaps the biggest puzzle is the recent performance of their pair of aces, as Brandon Webb has put up three straight disaster starts while seeking his 20th win and Dan Haren has managed just one quality start out of his last five, exiting after four innings twice in a row.

17


Tigers
70-76
3-3
.491
Flat
It's All Over But the Counting Stats: Gary Sheffield's two-homer night pushes his career total to 496; slugging .392 hasn't helped speed his climb to the 500 Home Run Club at all. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander continues to get bombed to the tune of a 7.17 ERA over his last nine starts, just two of them quality, and he's now tied for the league lead in losses.

18


Marlins
74-72
3-3
.488
Flat
For the third week in a row, the Marlins play .500 ball, leaving them unable to make any headway in the NL East standings; their Postseason Odds have been below one percent since September 1. Typifying their struggle are the fates of two pitchers who rejoined the club back in July. Josh Johnson has reeled off seven straight quality starts, good for a 2.89 ERA, while Anibal Sanchez has been bombed for a 10.69 ERA over his last four starts while averaging just four innings due to fatigue.

19


Braves
65-82
4-2
.481
Up
The Old Guard: His run at .400 may be a distant memory, but with 22 hits in his last 15 games—and little else to play for—Chipper Jones moves back into the lead for the NL batting title. He's still "only" fourth in VORP and second in MLVr to Albert Pujols. Meanwhile, with his team headed towards their worst full-season record with him at the helm since 1979, Bobby Cox nonetheless vows to return for a 24th season of managing the Braves.

20


Rangers
72-75
3-3
.479
Up
T for Teagarden: rookie catcher Taylor Teagarden is impressing in his second stint with the big club. Ranked 77th on our Top 100 Prospect List, the 24-year-old backstop is hitting .444/.444/1.056 with three homers this month, not to mention the honor of catching the Rangers' first 1-0 home victory since August 25, 2000. Meanwhile, fellow catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia is done for the year due to an elbow strain; after a slow start, he hit a slappy but snappy .346/.443/.462 in limited second-half duty.

21


Athletics
67-79
4-2
.472
Up
How Gauche! Sean Gallagher returns from the disabled list and no-hits the Tigers until his six walks hasten a departure after four innings. Gallagher's first outing since August 19 marks the end of Oakland's string of 19 consecutive starts by southpaws, a streak that falls one start short of the 1982 Royals while yielding a 5.36 ERA and less-than-stellar peripherals.

22


Rockies
67-80
1-5
.471
Down
Quit Talkin' and Start Rockin': with their Postseason Odds hovering at 0.05 percent, the Rockies' streak of improbable runs to the postseason appears slated to end at one in a row. Such are the consequences of a team whose starters have put up a 5.45 ERA since August 1—a split that comes down to Jorge De La Rosa with a 2.65 ERA and five quality starts out of six, Jeff Francis with a 3.35 ERA and five quality starts out of six, and the rest of the rotation with a 6.93 ERA and six quality starts out of 24. Good luck with that.

23


Orioles
65-80
2-4
.457
Down
Birds Shot: In the throes of a 2-15 freefall, the Orioles' vortex of misery appears to have claimed Jeremy Guthrie, their one decent starting pitcher. After allowing 12 runs in 9 2/3 innings over his previous two starts, he misses a turn due to tonsillitis (we're sure he had a note from his doctor). Amid his troubles, his 5.0 SNLVAR not only still leads the staff, it's double the rest of the rotation's total.

24


Giants
65-81
5-2
.432
Flat
Spoiler Alert I: With seven games against the Diamondbacks and six against the Dodgers among their final 20 contests, no team is better poised to upset the NL West contenders' apple carts, and thus far, mission accomplished for the Giants. They sweep three games from the Diamondbacks, with the latter two ending on walk-off hits by Eugenio Velez, a rookie hitting all of .236/.273/.361. The Giants have a 21-18 record since August 1, though their -29 run differential in that span suggests it's a bit early to take their turnaround too seriously.

25


Reds
66-80
4-2
.432
Up
Spoiler Alert II: Rookie Ramon Ramirez one-hits the Brewers over six innings in just his second big-league start, while Brandon Phillips overcomes a season-ending broken finger to single home the winning run in the 11th inning as the Reds cap an 8-3 run by winning consecutive series over the Cubs and Brewers. The victories should sound an alarm across the NL, as the Reds are poised to wreak havoc on the playoff picture. Fifteen of their final 16 games come against teams with a fighting chance at the postseason: the Cardinals (six), Astros, Brewers, and Diamondbacks (three apiece).

26


Royals
62-83
2-4
.421
Down
Powerless: Though they've managed to split their last eight games—an amazing enough feat given they've been outscored 39-27—the Royals have just one homer in that span, a solo shot by Miguel Olivo. It's the third time since the beginning of August that they've endured such a drought, so it's no surprise they're last in the league in homers and second-to-last in slugging, with Olivo (.458) and Mike Aviles (.471) the only players above .435.

27


Padres
57-90
3-4
.417
Up
Short of Perfection? Chris Young retires the first 23 Brewer hitters he faces before settling for a two-hitter, one of the few highlights in what's been a lost season for the 6'10" hurler. He's been limited to 15 starts due to injuries, and his complete game marks his first quality start since May 11. His efforts to continue salvaging his season may be slowed by the fact that the Padres are going with a six-man rotation these days.

28


Mariners
57-88
3-3
.410
Flat
In his first major league start, Brandon Morrow rides a no-hitter into the eighth against a dead-eyed Yankee team. It's the payoff for spending the final four weeks of the minor league season in Tacoma stretching out in preparation for a gig that's likely to figure in the team's 2009 plans. He's part of a late-season youth movement in the Mariner rotation, understandable given the fact that Carlos Silva, Miguel Batista, and R.A. Dickey have all put up ERAs above 6.50 while making 59 starts for the hapless Ms.

29


Nationals
56-90
2-3
.391
Flat
The One in the Catalog: In the dwindling days of this lost season, the Nats can at least take heart that they've got the real Ryan Zimmerman back. After a .257/.291/.427 showing through the first two months, then another two months on the DL due to shoulder woes, he's returned to hit a robust .318/.381/.471 since July 22. He's helped reinvigorate the Nationals' meager offense in the second half; their scoring has risen from 3.6 runs per game to 4.6 thanks to the complementary efforts of Ronnie Belliard (.353/.423/.474), Cristian Guzman (.318/.355/.508), Lastings Milledge (.279/.348/.461) and Willie Harris (.267/.340/.471).

30


Pirates
60-86
1-6
.386
Down
Yeeeeearrrgh! With six straight losses, the Pirates clinch a share of one of the most dubious records in professional sports history: their 16th consecutive losing season. It's an amazing legacy that appears borne of a penchant for going all-in to draw inside straights, with plans to use the winnings to purchase extended warranty coverage on all of their appliances. And while the future can only be brighter for the Bucs thanks to their new regime, the start of the Pedro Alvarez grievance hearings should serve to make the rest of this season mighty uncomfortable.


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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