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September 1, 2008
Labor Day's Games to Watch
Matchup: Mets (76-61) at Brewers (80-56), 1:05 p.m. CT
These three games at Miller Park could be a preview of one NLDS matchup in October; if the season ended today the Mets and Brewers would meet in a five-game series. Given the one-two punch of Sabathia and Sheets, one has to figure that Milwaukee-which currently has the better record by 4½ games-would even be favored to win that potential matchup despite its lack of home-field advantage. Neither club rates out as a theoretical post-season juggernaut, as among the 11 clubs which currently have a 25 percent or higher shot at the postseason, the Brewers rank sixth and the Mets eighth in the "Secret Sauce" formula (which averages a club's strength of defense, strikeout rate, and closer). The bullpen is likely to be the biggest issue for both teams should each make it to October-the Mets have been grasping at straws without closer Billy Wagner, and have no one who would strike fear in opposing batters come the ninth inning; the Brewers have been getting a fantastic season from Salomon Torres after Eric Gagne's flameout, but he is not the picture of a shut-down closer, either. Of the 33 relievers with at least 10 saves this season, only two-Bobby Jenks and Todd Jones-have a lower K/9 than Torres' 5.9. In their research for Baseball Between the Numbers (which led to the "Secret Sauce"), Nate Silver and Dayn Perry found that strikeouts are even more important to success in post-season play than they are during the regular season.
Matchup: Astros (71-66) at Cubs (85-52), 3:05 p.m. CT
While Oswalt gave up just two home runs across six starts in August, teammate Ty Wigginton hit six times that number against enemy hurlers by himself. Wigginton's two-run blast in the eighth inning of yesterday's 3-0 win over St. Louis was his 12th of the month, tying the franchise record for August (Jeff Bagwell also hit 12 back in 2000). Nobody else in baseball tallied more home runs this August-in fact, no one else even cracked double figures, with Manny Ramirez, Ryan Ludwick, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Pena, and Mike Cameron all ranking second with nine. Wigginton also topped all August comers with an .806 slugging percentage. At the midway point of Houston's season, Wigginton had just five home runs in 185 plate appearances, but he more than tripled that total in the next 185, and in the process raised his seasonal OPS to 935. Among those players with at least 350 plate appearances, that ranks seventh in the National League, one spot behind injured teammate Carlos Lee, whose production in the lineup Wigginton has capably gone about replacing. With Wiggy enjoying a career season, the Astros have won five in a row and are 24-10 since July 27, the second-best record in the National League behind Chicago over that period.
Matchup: White Sox (77-59) at Indians (65-70), 7:05 p.m. ET
Lee gave up only one run over eight innings in his lone start against the White Sox this season, but took a no-decision in a game that Chicago won 3-2 in 10. The left-hander has lost only twice all year, and if he is not beaten in his remaining six starts while picking up at least one win, he will finish with the best won-loss percentage of all pitchers who have started more than 20 games in a season. Lee's current 19-2 mark is the same as that which Greg Maddux put up in 1995, when Mad Dog had a 1.63 ERA. (At 16-2 this year Daisuke Matsuzaka is creeping up the list as well.) One has to go all the way back to the first professional baseball league to find a starter with a better won-loss percentage than Lee and Maddux; legendary Hall of Famer Al Spalding went 55-5 (.917) in 1875 for the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association, a team that was 71-8 overall. Lee's Indians are below .500, which makes his lack of losses even more impressive. There have been only three pitchers besides Lee to start at least 26 times in a season and take as few as two losses-both Maddux and Randy Johnson (18-2) in '95, and Red Sox rookie Mike Nagy in '69 (12-2), who all played on winning clubs.
Thanks to William Burke for research assistance.
Matchup: Orioles (63-73) at Red Sox (79-57), 7:05 p.m. ET
All three players are currently on pace to finish the season with at least 50 doubles, a feat that has never before been accomplished in the history of Major League Baseball. There have been only 84 player seasons of 50-plus doubles all-time, and just 10 years in which three players in all of baseball each collected 50+ doubles, let alone three on the same team. Two teammates have hit 50 or more two-sackers in the same season only four times: George Burns (64 doubles) and Tris Speaker (52) on the 1926 Indians, Charlie Gehringer (60) and Gee Walker (55) on the 1936 Tigers, Mickey Vernon (51) and Stan Spence (50) on the 1946 Senators, and Todd Helton (59) and Jeff Cirillo (53) on the 2000 Rockies. Only three players in O's franchise history have reached the half-century mark: Roberts in '04 and Miguel Tejada in '05 with exactly 50, as well as Beau Bell of the St. Louis Browns in 1937, whose club record of 51 Roberts is on pace to break. Remarkably, even with their trio of gap hitters, Baltimore only ranks fourth in the AL in team doubles with 280; no one else on the squad has more than 27. Boston is second with 291, led by Dustin Pedroia, whose 42 doubles break up the party of O's at the top of the chart.
Thanks to Clay Davenport for research assistance.
Matchup: Padres (53-83) at Dodgers (67-70), 5:10 p.m. PT
One of the youngsters yet to face Maddux is Will Venable, a 25-year-old outfielder who was called up from Triple-A Portland last Friday and started each of his first three games in center field, going 4-for-12. Venable wasn't much of a prospect entering this season, as he was an older minor league corner outfielder with a .287/.355/.415 line across his first three seasons. Two things put him on the San Diego radar this year, however: he experienced a modest breakout with a .292/.361/.464 line in his first shot at Triple-A, and he made what Padres' executive Paul DePodesta called a seamless transition to center field. Consequently, it appears that the Padres will give Venable plenty of time out in the wide Petco pasture during September to find out if he can play his way into the team's future. The new center fielder's call-up means that two of the best two-sport athletes ever to play in the Ivy League could each be in the San Diego lineup against Maddux-Venable and tonight's starter Young played both baseball and basketball at Princeton, and were named to the All-Ivy first team in each sport. According to DePodesta, an Ivy man himself, they are the only two players in league history to earn that dual distinction.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.