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September 11, 2012

What You Need to Know

Tuesday, September 11

by Daniel Rathman

The Monday Takeaway
Our playoff odds say it’s virtually over for the Brewers and Phillies. But don’t tell that to the players orchestrating their recent successes.

Milwaukee was 45-56 on July 29, and Philadelphia checked in at 45-57. Zack Greinke had gone from the Brewers to the Angels. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were divided among the National League West rivals. And now, their former teams are all even at 70-71, on the periphery of a wild-card race that 40 days ago seemed light-years away.

The Brewers have won five of their last seven games, 10 of their last 13, and 16 of their last 21, including a 4-1 victory over the Braves last night. The Phillies are riding a five-game winning streak, and they have won nine of 11, 13 of 17, and 16 of 22, a stretch that includes a sweep over the Nationals, series wins over the Braves and Reds, and a 3-1 decision over the Marlins on Monday.

Is it too little, too late? Probably, but Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is enjoying the ride, and Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel never gave up on his team’s ability to return to .500 and give its rivals a late-summer scare.

Roenicke’s squad lost Prince Fielder to the Tigers in free agency this past offseason, but general manager Doug Melvin found a capable replacement in Aramis Ramirez (3.2 WARP)—who has nearly equaled Fielder’s output of 3.6 WARP for Detroit—and an under-the-radar bargain in Norichika Aoki (1.6 WARP). Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Most Valuable Player candidate Ryan Braun (5.5 WARP), Milwaukee could not overcome Fielder’s departure, which has been compounded by a league-high 27 blown saves, a prolonged slump from Rickie Weeks (-0.3 WARP), and a long-term injury to Shaun Marcum, who missed 61 games with tightness in his elbow three seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Injuries were the culprit in Philadelphia, too, as Chase Utley (knee) and Ryan Howard (Achilles) missed the better part of the first half, leaving the right side of the infield in the hands of a replacement-level motley crew led by Ty Wigginton and Freddy Galvis. It has also been a long season for the once-vaunted Phillies pitching staff—especially for Roy Halladay, who missed 50 days with shoulder soreness and is still searching for his first complete game, and Cliff Lee, who had to wait 14 starts before the makeshift offense could muster enough runs to deliver his first win. 

The Phillies are 33-23 since Utley and Howard joined forces for the first time on July 6, good for a .589 winning percentage that would put them in second place at 83-58, four games behind the Nationals and two ahead of the Braves, if projected over the entire season to date. The Brewers are 23-29 in one-run games and have a run differential of +28, commensurate with a 73-68 ledger that would push them ahead of the Pirates and into the thick of the chase for the second wild-card spot, two games behind the 75-66 Cardinals and one shy of the 74-67 Dodgers, were it not for a series of costly bullpen meltdowns.

But those ships have sailed, and barring several 2011-like collapses, despite their recent surges, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are playing for pride. Fortunately, after witnessing painful springs and disappointing first halves, the fans at Citizens Bank and Miller Parks now have plenty to be proud of.

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • The top three teams in the American League East all had Monday off, and they’ll return to action in intra-division series tonight. After Sunday’s 13-3 loss to the Yankees, the Orioles are a game behind first-place New York, and they must now contend with the Rays, who are nipping at their heels after shutting out the Rangers in their weekend finale. Matt Moore and Jason Hammel will lock horns in the opener, and Moore has allowed only two total earned runs over his three starts against Baltimore this year, though four others have scored as a result of errors. He’ll need a new game plan for retiring Matt Wieters, as the Orioles’ backstop has smacked two home runs as part of a 4-for-9 line in their past encounters (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • In the other all-AL East series, the Yankees will visit the Red Sox for one of the least dramatic September showdowns in the rivalry’s recent history. Need proof? Forget the standings; just check out the ticket prices on StubHub:

            

Yankees-Red Sox for 15 bucks? If you’re in the Boston area, you might as well go see if Nick Swisher can snap out of his 0-for-27 funk in today’s matchup with Jon Lester, whom he has owned to the tune of a .317/.420/.561 triple slash in 41 at-bats. The visitors will counter with Hiroki Kuroda (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • R.A. Dickey could become the majors’ second 19-game winner, but he will have to beat the Nationals—who won the series opener behind Gio Gonzalez’s 19th—to do it. The knuckleballer emerged victorious in two of his three battles with the first-place Nats this year, but he has coughed up 22 hits in 20 1/3 innings along the way, including five to Ryan Zimmerman in eight at-bats. Zimmerman has homered in each of his last three games, so Dickey will need to slow him down to give the Mets a chance against Jordan Zimmermann, who owns a flawless 15-to-0 K:BB through three outings versus New York (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • The Tigers have been held to two runs or fewer in each of their last four games and six of their last seven, resulting in a 1-6 stretch that has negated all the benefit of their sweep over the White Sox that immediately preceded it. After dropping Monday’s series opener at U.S. Cellular Field, Detroit will try to get its bats going against Jake Peavy, less than two weeks after knocking the righty around for six runs in as many innings on Aug. 31. Jhonny Peralta chipped in a solo homer in that game, but he’s just 6-for-32 (.188 average) so far in September, and Jim Leyland’s team sorely needs more production from the bottom half of the order. Doug Fister gets the ball for Detroit, which is now three games back in the American League Central, putting the White Sox’ magic number at 20 (8:10 p.m. ET).
  • A minor hip injury prevented Clayton Kershaw from facing the Giants on Sunday, and the Dodgers lost the crucial rubber match behind Joe Blanton, falling 5 ½ games behind San Francisco, before picking up half-a-game with the Giants’ loss to the Rockies last night. Tonight, Kershaw has a chance to atone for missing that contest, as he gets the ball in the series opener at Chase Field in a rematch with Ian Kennedy, who outdueled him at Chavez Ravine on Aug. 30. The 24-year-old lefty owns a 2.45 ERA and a 93-to-28 K:BB in 13 career starts against the Diamondbacks. Fantasy owners might be best served benching Justin Upton today, as he’s just 3-for-26 with zero home runs lifetime against Kershaw (9:40 p.m. ET).

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

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