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September 19, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Nearing the Finish Line

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Red Sox
89-63
4-3
.613
Flat
Raysed: For the second week in a row, the Sox muff a chance to overtake the Rays in the AL East in a game won by Tampa Bay in their last at-bat. They're 3-18 in one-run games on the road, and providing ample evidence that this year's bullpen is not up to snuff, at least relative to last year's unit. Additional worry comes via Mike Lowell, who's dealing with a partially torn hip labrum, though he's hitting a robust .324/.375/.622 this month since coming off of the disabled list.

2


Cubs
92-59
4-1
.608
Flat
All Hail Wrigley North: With Hurricane Ike blowing through Houston, MLB moved a pair of Cubs-Astros games to Milwaukee's Miller Park, where the Cubs had gone 8-2 over the past two years, and the shortened series turns into a mismatch. Carlos Zambrano tossed a no-hitter in his first outing since September 2, the first Cub to do so since Milt Pappas in 1972. He's followed by Ted Lilly, who takes a no-hitter into the seventh before finally settling on a combined one-hitter. Though the team's magic number to clinch the NL Central now stands at two games, manager Lou Piniella is still tinkering to gain additional advantage, benching Kosuke Fukudome, who's hitting just .216/.308/.311 since the All-Star break.

3


Rays
90-61
3-4
.585
Down
Drums Along the Mohawk: Losers of eight out of 13, the Rays nonetheless remain loose. As a show of team unity, they get new 'dos—even manager Joe Maddon, after a fashion. With their new style, the team once again summons some late-inning magic to stave off an attempt by the Red Sox to capture first place in the AL East. Elsewhere, Evan Longoria cracks two hits in his first game back from a five-week absence, and ends the week by homering three times in a game against the Twins, making him just the second (Devil) Ray in franchise history to do so.

4


Mets
85-67
3-4
.558
Flat
Collapse Part Two, September Bugaboo? A three-game losing streak knocks the Mets out of first place in the NL East and invites the ghosts of yesteryear to the party. Luis Ayala's meltdown highlights the team's recent bullpen woes, and the bad news keeps on mounting, as their lineup loses some depth via Fernando Tatis' separated shoulder, and Damion Easley's torn quad.

5


Blue Jays
82-71
3-4
.555
Down
Code Blue: The Jays' slender hopes for a shot at the wild card suffer a mortal blow as they drop three out of four games with the Red Sox; their Postseason Odds have dwindled from 1.8 percent to 0.04 percent in the past week. It's unclear what the future holds for Cito Gaston or J.P. Ricciardi, but the Jays can certainly be optimistic about that of Travis Snider. A five-star prospect who was ranked seventh on our Top 100 Prospects list at the outset of the year, he's hit .341/.375/.568 in his September cup of coffee.

6


Phillies
86-67
6-0
.554
Up
Phast Phinish: With a seven-game winning streak—including a four-game sweep of the Brewers—the Phillies not only overtake Milwaukee in the wild-card race, they capture the lead in the NL East; their Postseason Odds quadruple from 22 percent to 88 percent over the course of the week, and unlike the two teams they're contending with, they don't play the Cubs again. The offense hits .311/.405/.529 through the streak, with Shane Victorino (.538/.586/.769), Ryan Howard (.435/.533/.957), Jimmy Rollins (.385/.515/.615), and Jayson Werth (.385/.484/.654) all striking big blows, perhaps none bigger than Victorino's three-run shot in the eighth inning of Sunday's opener.

7


White Sox
84-68
3-3
.550
Flat
Getting Wise: Dewayne Wise's pinch-hit grand slam helps the White Sox shake off a blown 7-0 lead as they inch towards the AL Central title; their Postseason Odds are up to 77.9 percent. Wise has hit a helpful .300/.323/.522 in limited duty, and has four extra-base hits in seven games since taking on a bigger role in the wake of Carlos Quentin's injury. Still, that blown lead highlights the fact that Ozzie Guillen's bullpen has major problems, including a 6.19 Fair Run Average in the second half. Speaking of Ozzie, don't miss David Laurila's excellent Q&A with the loquacious skipper.

8


Angels
93-59
4-2
.547
Flat
Francisco Rodriguez breaks the single-season saves record with his 58th save, and the Angels break another record as well: they're more than 14 wins above their third-order Pythagenpat projection, their projected won-loss record after adjusting for run elements, park, league, and quality of competition, a mark that rates as an all-time high. Though they can coast into the playoffs, the Halos' nagging injury concerns not only remain, but seem to be increasing, with Chone Figgins the latest casualty.

9


Brewers
84-69
1-5
.543
Down
Horrible Timing: In the throes of a 3-11 skid that's cost the Brewers the lead in the wild-card race while rekindling unpleasant memories of last year's fade, the Brewers fire manager Ned Yost with just 12 games remaining and replace him with third-base coach Dale Sveum. It's a virtually unprecedented move that speaks ill of an otherwise upstanding organization: either it's a desperate tantrum thrown by a team in full panic mode, or an overdue move merited by the manager's tactical shortcomings, one that should have been made months ago. Swept by the Phillies, the road gets no easier for the Brewers as they head to Wrigley Field, and even in victory they've got plenty to worry about with regards to Ben Sheets' elbow.

10


Yankees
82-71
5-2
.542
Up
Let the Bad Times Roll: With their playoff-free fate already a fait accompli if not a mathematical certainty, there's little happiness amid the Yankees' final homestand in their current stadium. Alex Rodriguez is getting booed mercilessly despite setting a Ruthian record, Robinson Cano is benched for a failure to hustle, to say nothing of his less-than-serviceable .264/.298/.399 performance this year, and the Yankee players and brass can't seem to make up their mind about the fate of Joba Chamberlain. On an all-too-rare positive note, Phil Hughes makes a solid return in his first major league outing since April 29, but he's still winless with a 7.96 ERA for the year.

11


Dodgers
80-73
5-2
.540
Up
The Dodgers close in on the NL West title, with their Postseason Odds approaching 98 percent. While the Manny Ramirez focus reaches an absurd crescendo with his entry into the NL MVP discussion, the unsung heroes of the team's 14-2 run are on a pitching staff that put up a 2.13 ERA with 11 quality starts in that span. Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley combine to go 7-0 with a 1.15 ERA, and both are on even longer rolls, Lowe via a 1.13 ERA over his past seven starts, Billingsley with nine quality starts out of 10 prior to Wednesday night's pasting.

12


Twins
83-70
3-4
.530
Flat
Four straight losses knock the Twins' Postseason Odds down to 12.4 percent, but that's just a small part of a larger and even more ominous trend in which the team has gone 6-10 in September and 9-16 since August 22. The bullpen is a major problem; the walk-off homer Joe Nathan yielded to Victor Martinzez leaves Craig Breslow—Craig Breslow!—as the only Twins reliever with a positive WXRL since the All-Star break. Not helping is the fact that this power-challenged team has just 10 homers in September; they're now last in the AL in that category.

13


Cardinals
79-73
1-5
.516
Down
Over and Out: Amid their seven-game losing streak, the Cardinals are mathematically eliminated from the NL Central race, with their wild-card hopes now down to 0.05 percent. Chris Carpenter is shut down for the year with shoulder woes after making just four appearances, while Rick Ankiel undergoes season-ending surgery to repair a sports hernia, and if that's not bad enough, Yadier Molina is still feeling the pain of having been hit by a freight train named Ted Lilly last week.

14


Indians
75-77
4-3
.515
Down
Look out, Brad Ziegler: Rookie Scott Lewis runs his career-opening scoreless streak to 14 innings while kicking off the Indians' three-game sweep of the Twins, and the Tribe strikes another high point via Victor Martinez's walk-off homer off Joe Nathan, just V-Mart's second of the year. He's slugging a robust .469 since returning from the DL, compared to .333 beforehand. The Tribe is now 28-17 since August 1, tied for second best in the league.

15


Diamondbacks
76-76
5-2
.509
Up
The Diamondbacks return to the business of winning, but not before their bullpen surrenders the winning run during the opponent's final at-bat four times in a five-game span. The sole exception is a game that nets Brandon Webb his 20th win but costs Brandon Lyon his job as closer—a move long overdue given the latter's 10.90 ERA since the All-Star break. Webb breaks his streak of three disaster starts by yielding three runs in 15 innings, while Dan Haren busts out of his slump with his first career shutout (9 4 0 0 2 12), but all in all, the Snakes are facing long odds these days.

16


Marlins
80-72
6-0
.505
Up
Down But Not Out: Winners of eight straight, the Marlins still have a less than one percent shot at the postseason, but with six games against the Mets and Phillies remaining, they maintain some faint hope of a Rockies-like finish. Jorge Cantu's 25th homer makes the Marlins the first team with four starting infielders to reach 25 dingers in a season. Hanley Ramirez bops three homers and joins the 30-30 club, but later suffers a shoulder strain that could cost him a few days and make the Marlins' longshot an even longer one.

17


Tigers
71-80
1-4
.489
Flat
Mixed Returns: Dontrelle Willis makes his first major league appearance in over three months, but his control problems (5 2 3 3 5 4) can't keep the Tigers from running their losing streak to six straight. Luckily for Detroit, Freddy Garcia stops the slide in his Tiger debut, his first start since June 2007 (5 2 1 0 1 3). It's all window dressing on an ugly season for the Tigers, and while it's tough to blame Jim Leyland for earning himself a three-game respite from this mess, his future with the team is an open question.

18


Astros
80-72
0-5
.482
Down
Spiked by Ike: A hurricane forces the Astros to move two home games of a three-game series to "neutral" Miller Park, where their six-game winning streak and 33-12 surge come to a quick and grisly end via a no-hitter by Carlos Zambrano and a one-hitter by Ted Lilly and company. Unable to shake out of their funk, the 'Stros are outscored 30-4 over a four-game span during which their lineup hits .095 and their starting pitchers put up a 9.98 ERA. For all of the "violent protesting" by Drayton McLane, the owner's wishful thinking delayed a decision on moving the games until few other options remained. In any event, the streak drops the Astros' Postseason Odds down below one percent, and you know there's only one way to end this entry.

19


Athletics
71-81
4-2
.477
Up
The Replacements: The A's string together four consecutive wins for the first time since mid-June thanks to a hot streak in which their rotation yields just five runs in 23 innings. The fruits of the mini-streak are the bounty from the A's recent rotation-busting trades: Dana Eveland and Greg Smith from the Diamondbacks for Dan Haren, Sean Gallagher from the Cubs for Rich Harden, and Josh Outman from the Phillies for Joe Blanton. Outman notches his first major league win, while Gallagher overcomes last week's control problems; he's allowed just four hits in 11 innings since returning from the DL.

20


Rangers
75-78
3-3
.477
Flat
Matt Harrison tosses his first major league shutout, but Brandon McCarthy's season comes to an end after he strains a flexor tendon in his middle finger just seven pitches into his latest start, and Dustin Nippert's two-start string of adequacy goes up in smoke via a scorching by the Tigers. In the grand scheme of things, it's the same old, ugly story for the Rangers' rotation, which is in danger not only of finishing last in the league in SNLVAR but of posting their worst total ever—which takes some doing, since they haven't finished higher than 12th in that category since 1997.

21


Braves
67-86
2-4
.474
Down
Bobby Cox fumes over protege Ned Yost's dismissal, while Kelly Johnson is simply on fire. The Braves' second baseman has a hit in every game this month—16 in a row—a span during which he's hitting .443/.477/.754. Yunel Escobar (.357/.460/.548) and Chipper Jones (.419/.561/.581) are nearly as hot, though both have been struggling to get at-bats due to injuries. Jones shakes his woes off to go 3-for-5 in the Braves' final game at Shea Stadium, a ballpark in which he's enjoyed so much success that he bestowed the name upon his son.

22


Rockies
70-83
3-3
.470
Flat
Aaron Cook matches zeroes with Greg Maddux, leading to the first 0-0 deadlock after nine innings in Coors Field history. The Rox prevail 1-0 in the 10th, but in the end it's not enough for them to stave off elimination. As you'd expect, there's some coming and going here; they shut down Jeff Francis due to shoulder discomfort on the heels of a string of six straight quality starts, and bring Todd Helton out of his 10-week hibernation for limited pinch-hitting duty.

23


Orioles
67-84
2-4
.454
Down
Congratulations to the Orioles, whose four losses on the week and 21 in their last 27 games help them secure their 11th consecutive losing season. It's not hard to see how it happened, not with a pitching staff that's put up a 6.49 ERA since the All-Star break. Jeremy Guthrie (3.75) and Chris Waters (4.75) have been the respectable ones in that span, while Radhames Liz (6.27) has been awful, and Daniel Cabrera (7.59) and Garrett Olson (8.49) have been whatever adjective lies three miles beyond the outskirts of awful. Cabrera's mercifully done for the year with an elbow problem, but Olson may yet add to a string that's seen him put up disaster starts in seven of his last 13 outings.

24


Royals
69-84
7-1
.447
Up
The Royals reel off a seven-game winning streak, their longest since opening the 2003 season with nine straight wins. Leading the way is Ryan Shealy, who cracks five homers for the week and now has six in his September cup of coffee after spending the entire season with Triple-A Omaha. Also helping is Zack Greinke, who pitches two strong games; he's put up a 2.62 ERA and an impressive 54/12 K/BB ratio in 55 innings since the beginning of August, and now ranks 13th in the league in SNLVAR.

25


Reds
70-82
4-2
.436
Up
The Reds continue on spoiler detail, knocking off the Diamondbacks twice in the late innings and all but delivering the coup de grace to the Cardinals; with a 12-6 record since August 28, they're the last team the Brewers need to see these days. Delivering a big blow against the D'backs is Micah Owings; acquired as a player to be named later in the Adam Dunn deal, he makes his Cincy debut not as a pitcher but as a pinch-hitter, and doubles home the winning run against his former teammates, lifting his career batting line to .319/.355/.558 in 123 PA.

26


Giants
68-85
3-4
.434
Flat
Tim Lincecum notches his first career shutout, a 138-pitch epic that draws mixed reviews, to say the least, and he's now thrown 383 pitches over his last three starts. That said, the kid's Cy Young case keeps getting stronger; he's 17-4 with the league leads in VORP, SNLVAR, strikeouts, and ERA.

27


Padres
58-95
1-5
.412
Down
A triceps strain ends Josh Bard's season and likely his tenure with the Padres. He's hitting just .202/.279/.270, and it would be remiss not to mention his contribution to the Padres' entry in the National League's Vortex of Suck sweepstakes. Catchers Bard, Michael Barrett, Luke Carlin, and Nick Hundley have combined for -22.6 VORP, with all of them below replacement level, and their combined .198/.264/.290 performance gives them the lowest OPS of any NL team/position combo, a few points lower than the Astros' catchers.

28


Mariners
57-95
0-7
.395
Down
With eight straight losses, the Mariners are taking the express route towards becoming the first team with a $100 million payroll to post 100 losses. Adrian Beltre and Jarrod Washburn shut it down, but the news is worse for Erik Bedard, who will undergo exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder after a season in which he was limited to 15 starts, the last on July 4. Against this depressing backdrop, Ichiro Suzuki reaches 200 hits for the eighth year in a row, tying Wee Willie Keeler's major league record.

29


Nationals
58-95
2-5
.394
Up
The Nats pause their five-game losing streak long enough to knock the Mets out of first place in the NL East, as both Odalis Perez and John Lannan avenge their previous week's beatings. Lannan is now tops on the team and 19th in the league in SNLVAR. Alas, the Nats' chances of continuing their spoiler act are diminished by the injury-related shutdowns of Ronnie Belliard, Jesus Flores, Austin Kearns, and Dmitri Young.

30


Pirates
64-89
4-3
.393
Up
Early Returns: The deals they made weren't about 2008 performance, but thus far, the principal players the Pirates acquired in their deadline trades have been rather wretched. Best of the lot is Jeff Karstens, whose 4.37 ERA breaks down into his initial 15-inning scoreless streak and a 6.45 ERA since. Ross Ohlendorf has been tagged for a 7.62 ERA in three starts, Craig Hansen's put up a 7.04 ERA in 15 relief appearances, and Andy LaRoche is hitting .156/.234/.258. Yeaaaarrrrrgh indeed.


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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