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September 6, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Saturday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Athletics (64-77) at Orioles (63-77), 1:05 p.m. ET, 7:05 p.m.
Probable Starters: Greg Smith (159 2/3 IP, 4.40 RA, 1.37 WHIP, 99 K) vs. Garrett Olson (114 1/3, 6.69, 1.72, 72) in Game One; Josh Outman (98 1/3, 3.39, 1.37, 86-Double- and Triple-A) vs. Daniel Cabrera (171 2/3, 5.40, 1.55, 93) in Game Two
Pythagorean Record: Oakland, 66-75 (554 RS, 590 RA); Baltimore, 66-74 (710 RS, 755 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Oakland, #22; Baltimore, #23
Prospectus: Yesterday Orioles management exercised the option for 2009 on Dave Trembley's contract, and added another option for 2010. Baltimore then proceeded to go out and get smacked by the hapless Athletics offense, as Oakland exploded for eight runs in the eighth inning thanks to six walks (including four straight with the bases loaded), followed by a grand slam from light-hitting outfielder Rajai Davis, to win it 11-2. The A's five bases-loaded walks were the most since September of 2000, when the Cubs did it, and this helped Oakland avoid tying a club record for consecutive games without scoring more than six runs, halting the streak at 40, one fewer than the 1941 Philadelphia A's. The lopsided defeat dropped the Orioles to 0-3 in games played on days that Dave Trembley receives a contract extension, a trio of losses in which the O's have been outscored 50-12. Last August 22, the Orioles dropped the interim tag from Trembley's contract, signing him for '08 with an option for '09. That same night the newly-minted skipper watched as his pitchers gave up an American League-record 30 runs to Texas in the first game of a doubleheader at Camden Yards, before going on to lose the nightcap 9-7. That demoralizing evening was the start of a nine-game losing streak for the Birds, who went a major league-worst 11-28 to close the season. Today Baltimore plays another home doubleheader against an AL West club, this time trying to halt a skid of seven straight losses and 12 in the last 13.

Oakland will be playing its second doubleheader in three days, after the A's were swept in a pair at Kansas City on Thursday. This being September, Oakland is carrying 15 active pitchers, so this won't be that much of a problem. In the second game, the A's are handing the ball to Outman, a recently-recalled rookie who will be making his first major league start. Outman was one of the players Oakland received from Philadelphia for Joe Blanton, and finds himself on a major league mound after just 28 minor league innings in Oakland's system. The 23-year-old's debut keeps the A's ratio of rookies to non-rookies in their rotation at four to one. Outman is also-surprise-a left-hander, which will push Oakland's streak of games started by southpaws up to 17. The last righty to begin a game for the A's was Sean Gallagher, on August 19.

Matchup: Diamondbacks (71-69) at Dodgers (71-70), 12:55 p.m. PT, FOX
Probable Starters: Brandon Webb (192 IP, 3.70 RA, 1.17 WHIP, 160 K) vs. Chad Billingsley (175 2/3, 3.38, 1.32, 177) Pythagorean Record: Arizona, 72-68 (638 RS, 619 RA); Los Angeles, 73-68 (591 RS, 572 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Arizona, #15; Los Angeles, #13
Prospectus: Last Friday the Dodgers appeared to be in free fall down over Mulholland, as they had lost eight straight to drop four and a half games back. Six straight wins later, and it is the shuffling Snakes that are on the defensive. The offensive star for LA in Friday night's 7-0 series-opening win was right fielder Andre Ethier; he hit a solo shot in the first to begin the parade, added a two-run single in the second, smacked a ground-rule double to score another in the fourth, and then doubled in another in the sixth inning for his career-high fifth RBI. Ethier might have been able to extend that gapper into the triple he needed to earn a cycle, but he stumbled coming around second base while looking back to find the ball, and was thrown out trying to scramble back to second. Ethier's misstep prevented what could have been just the second cycle in Dodgers history, and the first ever by a Dodger at Chavez Ravine-Mr. Steady" Wes Parker is still the only Dodger to pull off the feat, back in 1970 against the Mets in now-doomed Shea Stadium. Ethier came back and singled in the eighth inning for his fifth hit, which earned him a standing ovation from the Dodger Stadium crowd. While it didn't quite make history, Ethier's tremendous game pushed his slugging percentage above .500 for the first time since late April. The Dodgers' third-year outfielder has been in extended celebration mode ever since manager Joe Torre finally gave in to the sensible notion of playing him every day: Ethier has been the starting right fielder in 18 of the Dodgers' last 19 games, and hit .372/.424/.808 during that stretch.

Ethier will attempt to keep his bat aflame against one of the NL's toughest this afternoon in Webb, who has struggled in his two attempts to become the circuit's first 20-game winner. Entering his August 26 start, Webb sat at 19-4 with a 2.74 ERA, but he gave up six runs in San Diego and then was hammered for eight by Los Angeles in Arizona last Sunday night, failing to make it out of the fourth inning. Webb however seems to be pitching in the right park to get back to his award winning ways, for just two Dodgers have crossed the plate in Webb's last 31 innings at Dodger Stadium, a stretch of four straight victories dating back to 2005.

Matchup: Phillies (77-64) at Mets (79-62), 3:55 p.m. ET, FOX
Probable Starters: Jamie Moyer (166 IP, 4.01 RA, 1.37 WHIP, 106 K) vs. Pedro Martinez (87, 5.28 RA, 1.47 WHIP, 67 K)
Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 80-61 (679 RS, 585 RA); New York, 79-62 (693 RS, 609 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #10; New York, #5
Prospectus: The Phillies beat the Mets 3-0 behind Brett Myers in last night's series opener to close to within two games of the NL East lead. Much of the talk coming out of Queens was not about the action on the field, however, but the e-mail that Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt wrote to fire up the Phillies, which was posted in Philadelphia's locker room before the game. In the message, Schmidt referenced last September, writing that "The Mets know you're better than they are. They remember last year. You guys are never out of the game." Jimmy Rollins, who initiated the verbal battle between the two clubs in spring training of '07 by stating that Philly was the NL East team to beat, again stirred things up by agreeing matter-of-factly with Schmidt's sentiment. ("Well, that part's true," Rollins was quoted as saying by the New York Times in regards to Schmidt's assertion.) The Mets responses ranged from apathy-or perhaps thinly-veiled disgust ("I have absolutely nothing to say to Mike Schmidt," Carlos Delgado said. "I guess he got bored one afternoon, so fine with me."), to casual sensibility ("Ain't no note going to change the ballgame," manager Jerry Manuel said), to comic relief (Billy Wagner asked if Gary Carter was going to write the Mets version, a reference to Carter's embarrasing public stumping for embattled ex-manager Willie Randolph's job back in May). Whatever else it might have accomplished, Schmidt's message served to inject another shot of antagonism into a great rivalry, increasing the drama of these final two games in Queens, the last that Philadelphia will ever play at Shea.

Tonight's matchup to watch will be between 45-year-old starter Jamie Moyer and 36-year-old slugger Carlos Delgado, two graybeards who have both shrugged off bad 2007 seasons and the whispers of old age to turn in highly-productive campaigns this year. Up through the 2006 season Delgado dominated his matchup with Moyer, collecting 26 hits in 57 at-bats, including seven home runs. Last year Moyer held Delgado at bay for the first time ever, limiting him to two singles and a walk in nine plate appearances. So far this year New York's lefty masher is just 3-for-13 versus the veteran southpaw, although Delgado did crank a homer in his first at-bat of the season against Moyer.

Matchup: Angels (85-55) at White Sox (79-61), 6:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: John Lackey (142 1/3 IP, 3.29 RA, 1.13 WHIP, 109 K) vs. Gavin Floyd (167, 4.58, 1.24, 119)
Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 76-64 (648 RS, 593 RA); Chicago, 79-61 (710 RS, 615 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #8; Chicago, #6
Prospectus: The White Sox began life without their MVP candidate last night with a rousing 10-2 victory over Los Angeles, jumping on starter Dustin Moseley and reliever Darren Oliver for seven runs in the first three innings. Nick Swisher played left field in the absence of Carlos Quentin, who will have surgery Monday to insert a screw in his fractured right wrist and is likely out for at least the rest of the regular season, while Ken Griffey Jr. patrolled center, and Paul Konerko took the field at first base. The Quentin injury frees Chicago's logjam of three bats for two spots in center and at first base-but of course not in the way that anyone wanted-and now Chicago is one pulled Griffey hamstring away from having to start Brian Anderson or Dewayne Wise regularly in the outfield. (To his credit, Wise has slugged .470 this season in very limited playing time, building on his excellent .319/.402/.565 campaign at Triple-A Charlotte.) Chicago is a very old offensive team-Griffey is 38, Jim Thome 37, Jermaine Dye 34, Orlando Cabrera 33, and Paul Konerko 32-so what looked like a congested offensive roster several days ago has now turned into one for which depth could well become a pressing problem in the event of another injury.

The loss of Quentin-who admitted yesterday that his injury was unfortunately self-inflected-was obviously a huge one, as he leads the American League with 36 homers and is third in OPS. That means that some member of the Pale Hose will have to volunteer for offensive overtime in order for the South Siders to hold off the Twins, who continue to shadow their Windy City rival. It looks like that player could well be Paul Konerko, who was 3-for-3 with a homer and a walk last night to extend a particularly hot run. Konerko went on the DL on June 14 holding an OPS of 693, and came off of it on July 8 by hitting .203 in 19 games. Since August 5, however, Konerko has come upon the swing that had gone missing for him all season, hitting .384/.510/.630 in 96 plate appearances.

Matchup: Padres (54-87) at Brewers (81-60), 6:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Jake Peavy (153 2/3 IP, 2.81 RA, 1.14 WHIP, 155 K) vs. Ben Sheets (179, 3.22, 1.13, 144)
Pythagorean Record: San Diego, 58-83 (544 RS, 660 RA); Milwaukee, 78-63 (670 RS, 593 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Diego, #28; Milwaukee, #4
Prospectus: One start after taking on Johan Santana and the Mets, Sheets will square off against arguably an even tougher pitcher tonight. Peavy ranks second in National League ERA behind Tim Lincecum, while Sheets is fourth. The Brewers' right-hander left his last start after five shutout innings and only 54 pitches due to left groin tightness, the injury that shut him down at the end of last season. Sheets was seen in the dugout in no apparent discomfort for an inning or so after being removed, and he deemed the issue to be "very, very minor." That leads to the question of why he left a one-run game with his team in the midst of a pennant race, but the right-hander's injury history necessarily leads to caution, and his velocity was down several ticks in the outing-Sheets failed to strike out a batter for the first time ever in a start longer than one inning-which surely raised some red flags for Milwaukee's coaching staff. The Brewers had a big enough cushion at the time to pull Sheets at the slightest sign of injury, but that cushion has been trimmed down a bit after losses in four of the last five games, and thus Milwaukee needs Sheets fully operational for the stretch run. Even if Sheets' groin is sound and his fastball back up into the 90s, it will not be easy for him to outduel Peavy. Last year's Cy Young winner is holding right-handers to a .196 average this season, and Milwaukee's lineup is of course righty dominant. Peavy limited the Crew to one run on four hits in seven innings August 14, striking out eight in San Diego's 3-2 win, and shut them out for seven innings last season.

The Brewers' recent slide is surprising, considering that their four straight losses before last night's extra-innings win all came against left-handed starting pitchers. Prior to their doldrums, Milwaukee was 31-13 in games begun by an opposing southpaw, but the Brewers could not post a win against the Mets' lefty trio of Johan Santana, Jon Niese, and Oliver Perez, and journeyman Shawn Estes stopped the Brewers again two nights ago in the first game of this series. Before Friday, Milwaukee had faced lefties in 12 of 16 games, but last night began a stretch of at least six straight games in which the Brewers will be seeing right-handed pitching, which will challenge an offense batting .250 versus northpaws.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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