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September 20, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Saturday's Games to Watch

by Marc Normandin

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Red Sox (90-63) at Blue Jays (82-72), 1:07 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Jon Lester (197 1/3 IP, 3.28 RA, 1.29 WHIP, 144 K) vs. Roy Halladay (231, 3.23, 1.05, 198)
Pythagorean Record: Boston, 92-61 (806 RS, 647 RA); Toronto, 87-67 (683 RS, 590 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Boston, #1; Toronto, #5
Prospectus: The Blue Jays' visit to Boston last weekend could have kept their playoff hopes alive and may even have made the last few weeks of the season interesting for our neighbors to the north, but sadly for Jays fans they dropped three of those four games. Now their chances of making the playoffs are on life support, with the Jays out of the division race and having just an .00148 chance of taking the wild card; each win in the coming days will stave off the inevitable, as the Jays have just eight games left to play and sit 8 back of Boston. There's a better chance that David Eckstein wins a World's Strongest Man competition than there is of every team ahead of the Blue Jays losing out to finish the year, but at least they still get to play the role of spoiler.

With Halladay taking the mound today and attempting to improve his Cy Young chances, he can also redeem last weekend's tough loss against Lester-he went seven and gave up just three runs while striking out five and walking zero, continuing his mini-streak of never walking a batter while pitching on three days rest. Naturally, with Doc on the bump, the Jays are in a good position to ruin Boston's evening and keep them from getting any closer to first place in the AL East. The Red Sox have only a 27 percent chance of taking the divisional title, so a Jays win today would not only extend their relevancy by a day and boost Halladay's chances of taking home some off-season hardware, it would also help to reduce the Sox's chance of taking the AL East crown.

Matchup: Cardinals (80-73) at Cubs (92-60), 2:55 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Joel Pineiro (135 2/3 IP, 5.32 RA, 1.49 WHIP, 71 K) vs. Ted Lilly (191 2/3, 4.27, 1.25, 175)
Pythagorean Record: St. Louis, 80-73 (723 RS, 687 RA); Chicago, 93-59 (810 RS, 631 RA)
Hit List Rankings: St. Louis, #13; Chicago, #2
Prospectus: The Cubs can officially eliminate the Brewers from the NL Central division race tonight with a win, and that shouldn't be too tall an order for Lilly. Between his slow start, the big years of Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster, and the acquisition of Rich Harden, the lefty has not received much credit for the Cubs' success this year, but Lilly's performance has been critical to the Cubs since the beginning of August. Over his last nine starts, Lilly has tossed 57 1/3 innings, struck out an impressive 8.2 per nine while walking just 2.2, and has given up just six homers while posting a 3.30 ERA. The lone bad start of the bunch came against Cincinnati on September 5, when Lilly lasted all of two innings while giving up three walks and five runs. Outside of that one game he's been dealing, and has held opponents to a .219/.281/.362 line, a significant improvement over his earlier performance of .253/.317/.474. Home runs have been the biggest hurdle for Lilly in his career, and he's given up 1.5 per nine on the season, but it appears as if he's got a handle on that too as of late.

Matchup: Twins (83-71) at Tampa Bay (91-61), 3:55 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Kevin Slowey (152 1/3 IP, 3.72 RA, 1.10 WHIP, 117 K) vs. Scott Kazmir (141 1/3, 3.63, 1.27, 153)
Pythagorean Record: Minnesota, 85-69 (795 RS, 713 RA); Tampa Bay, 86-66 (719 RS, 626 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Minnesota, #12; Tampa Bay, #3
Prospectus: Kazmir had a rare poor start against the Red Sox last time out, giving up nine runs over six innings thanks to nine hits, four walks, and four homers, with just a pair of strikeouts to his credit. Normally, Kazmir is money against the Bostonians; prior to that start, Kazmir had a career ERA of 3.02 against them in 20 starts, with 10.1 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, and just 0.6 HR/9 over 116 1/3 innings pitched. He had held them to a .230/.329/.351 line during his career as well, but that one start shot up his career ERA against them to 3.62, the ISO to .147, and his season ERA from 2.99 to 3.50. The Rays also lost sole possession of first place for a day. Kazmir has done something to try and overturn that poor performance and conjure up some power, and that's to throw this afternoon's start while sporting a Mohawk.

In contrast, the Mohawk-less Twins have one of their more dependable pitchers taking the mound as they try to stay in the AL Central race. They're 2 games back of the leading White Sox and that's looking to be the sole option for October baseball-their playoff odds for the wild card are .00045 percent now that they sit 7 behind the Red Sox, while their chances at the division are a better (but still slim) 12.2 percent. Their recent struggles haven't helped, as their 3-5 record over the past seven days (including a doubleheader last Saturday) has caused their playoff odds to drop 16.5 percent, while the Sox have seen their own odds jump by roughly the same percentage. Maybe it's time for the Twins to grab some razors and hair gel themselves, because they are running out of games in which to make this happen.

Matchup: Angels (94-59) at Rangers (75-79), 7:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Dustin Moseley (40 1/3 IP, 7.36 RA, 1.83 WHIP, 31 K) vs. Vicente Padilla (159, 5.32, 1.47, 114)
Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 83-70 (719 RS, 652 RA); Texas, 71-83 (852 RS, 929 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #8; Texas, #20
Prospectus: The Angels can kick back and take it easy, as they have already clinched their division, and starting Dustin Mosely and his bloated ERA is a good indication that the Angels don't really need to win more games. They already have 94 wins, tops in the majors, but they are also 11 games ahead of their expected record. They rank eighth in Hit List despite topping the charts in actual wins, and as Jay Jaffe noted yesterday, the 14-win difference between their actual record and their third-order wins is the largest differential of all time. That's a good thing for the regular season, but it may not be the best thing once they are forced to match up against better teams come October. It isn't that the Angels are bad, it's just that they aren't nearly as dominating as their record makes them out to be. Their run differential is +67, the lowest of any team not leading the "Because Someone Has To" NL West (the Cubs lead everyone in the majors at +179, the Red Sox lead the AL at +159, the Mets are at +94, the Rays come in at +93, and the White Sox at +88).

Their .253 team EqA is below average, but is also mostly due to their early-season issues with the bat (.261/.322/.399), as the club has hit .279/.341/.439 since the mid-season acquisition of slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira. Defensively, the team is a tad above average, converting 70.2 percent of balls in play into outs. That has helped out the pitching staff, which is where the Angels really do shine. They are fourth in the majors in WXRL (and second among teams holding a playoff spot) and though they rank 10th in the majors in SNLVAR as a team, their 20.4 mark is the fifth best among playoff teams and fewer than four wins back of the league-leading Cubs. That difference that could become negligible over a short series, especially since they rank third in Secret Sauce and have a closer who ranks fourth in the majors in WXRL and first among relievers on playoff clubs. Given that their offense has improved significantly during the past two months and that their pitching staff is one of the better ones in the majors, the Angels may not have to worry too much come October, despite the significant difference between actual and deserved performance.

Matchup: Giants (69-85) at Dodgers (80-74), 7:10 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Brad Hennessey (31 1/3 IP, 8.04 RA, 2.01 WHIP, 17 K) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (174 1/3, 4.23, 1.22, 108)
Pythagorean Record: San Francisco, 65-88 (604 RS, 713 RA); Los Angeles, 81-72 (654 RS, 611 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Francisco, #26; Los Angeles, #11
Prospectus: The Angels aren't the only LA team to put on a new face at the trade deadline; the Dodgers did plenty of house cleaning and renovating to make them into a legitimate playoff contender as well, despite their current full-season record. On July 31, prior to acquiring Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers were 54-54 and in second place in the NL West, two games behind the Diamondbacks; they were underachieving slightly at the time, with an expected record of 56-52 and a run differential of +19. Since then, the Dodgers have improved their run differential somewhat, scoring 205 runs and allowing 187 and putting their season run differential at +37. That's not too impressive on its own, but the +18 over less than two months is an improvement on the +19 it took them four months to accrue previously. The boys in blue have hit .280/.349/.439 since acquiring Ramirez, a massive difference from the .256/.321/.376 they posted beforehand.

Manny Ramirez has been the key factor for this team since the deadline: he's hit .395/.483/.725 for the Dodgers, bringing his season line up to .329/.425/.590 and beating out even his most optimistic PECOTA forecast. That's all well and good for Ramirez, but the Dodgers aren't necessarily out of the woods; Ramirez is one of the only players who has done anything with the bat in the past two months for LA, as Andre Ethier (.364/.429/.675) is the only other position player doing anything of note. Without Ramirez' and Ethier's ridiculous lines factored in, the rest of the Dodgers (minimum 50 plate appearances) are hitting .267/.326/.393. Los Angeles needs to hope that those two continue to tear up every opposing pitcher they see, but they are still the weakest of the playoff crop.

Related Content:  Pythagorean Record,  Playoff Starters

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