BEST MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): New York @ Texas
This matchup features the one-two teams in home runs in the major leagues. I think most of us would assume that Texas’ spot in the two-hole in this category would be owed somewhat to their famously promiscuous ballpark. Not so. The Rangers actually lead the majors in road home runs and have hit more while out and about than they have at home. If only the Rangers could have come up with some better outfield defense, they might be looking like a much saner choice to cop the West than they currently are.
It’s not often that a team’s four best players come from the infield, but that’s the case here. In terms of VORP, the two best Ranger outfielders have been players you’d rather see in supporting roles: Gary Matthews Jr. and Eric Young. The injuries to Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench have hurt.
You would hope the Rangers could build a strong run for the next couple of years based around their talented infield quartet–provided they can keep them together:
Mark Teixeira (age 24): 2nd among A.L. first basemen in VORP
Alfonso Soriano (age 28): 2nd among A.L. second basemen
Hank Blalock (age 23): 4th among A.L. third basemen
Mike Young (age 27): 3rd among A.L. shortstops
It just seems like an accumulation of unit talent like that would make formulating the rest of the team somewhat easy. It isn’t, of course, but it seems like it should be.
On the Yankees’ side of the ledger, only five runners have tried to steal with Javier Vazquez on the mound in 2004, and all five were exterminated. The only record more impressive than that belongs to Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals. Only two men have dared to steal on his watch and both were nailed. Is this a case of opponents not running on two teams that often score a lot of runs and against whom, therefore, small ball is futile? Certainly not in the case of the Yankees. Eighty-two thefts have been tried against them, giving them more attempts against than such teams as Minnesota and Tampa Bay. Offensively-loaded St. Louis, though, they’ve had to defend against the fewest stolen base attempts (58) in the majors.
Meanwhile the amazing Phillies are a team on the extreme end of both stealing and being stolen upon. They’ve only thrown out 20% of the runners against them while stealing at the same prodigious 80% rate. Against Kevin Millwood, Eric Milton and Randy Wolf, opponents are a combined 26-for-28.
WORST MATCH-UP (worst combined record with both teams being under .500): Arizona @ Montreal
Prove Me Wrong! (“Prove Me Wrong” is an uncopyrighted feature of this columnist.)
Therefore, to Prove Me Wrong, you must find a pitcher as good or better than Randy Johnson in the starting rotation of a team as bad or worse than the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks (.310 winning percentage or worse). Is that too open-ended? OK. Further parameters: The pitcher must be as good or better in both career numbers up to the year in question, and numbers in the season in question.
Your reward? Inner peace.
What a Lost Patrol is the Diamondbacks pitching staff after Johnson and his struggling sophomore sidekick, Brandon Webb. Prior to this year, the Snakes had been blessed with remarkably consistent pitching. In four of their previous six years, the team ERA has been between 3.77 and 3.84. The exceptions were 4.35 in 2000 and 4.64 in the inaugural year of 1998. This year finds them at 5.15 and climbing. “Credit” the ugly combination of Elmer Dessens, Casey Fossum, Steve Sparks et. al. for a lot of that. But save some bad cheer for the D-Backs’ defense, ranked fourth-worst in the game in Defensive Efficiency.
Poor Al Pedrique. How often can you say this about a manager: He has a worse record than one of the managers of the infamous 1899 Cleveland Spiders. The Diamondbacks have played at a 6-28 clip under Pedrique. Lave Cross, the first manager of the infamous 1899 Cleveland Spiders, was better than Pedrique by 44 percentage points at the time he was replaced by Joe Quinn. Cross was 8-30 when he was transferred to St. Louis.
CLOSEST MATCH-UP (opponents closest to each other in won-lost records): San Diego @ Chicago
Mark Loretta continues his stunning post-age-30 commune with excellence. Unless he goes on a 30-day bender, he is going to end up as the most valuable second baseman in baseball this year. His VORP is 54.9, already an improvement over last season’s sparkling 52.3–a figure good enough for fourth in MLB in 2003. This year’s number is way out in front of the current runner-up. In fact, Loretta enjoys the second-most comfortable lead at his position in the majors.
- LF: Barry Bonds; Runner-Up: Adam Dunn; Margin 41.6
- 2B: Loretta; Runner-Up: Ron Belliard; Margin: 21.3
- CF: Jim Edmonds; Runner-Up: Jeromy Burnitz; Margin: 18.2
- C: Ivan Rodriguez; Runner-Up: Javy Lopez; Margin: 6.9
- 3B: Scott Rolen; Runner-Up: Melvin Mora; Margin: 6.5
- DH: Travis Hafner; Runner-Up: David Ortiz; Margin: 5.5
- SS: Carlos Guillen; Runner-Up: Miguel Tejada; Margin: 5.0
- 1B: Todd Helton; Runner-Up: Albert Pujols; Margin: 3.3
- RF: Bobby Abreu; Runner-Up: Vladimir Guerrero; Margin: 2.7
- SP: Jason Schmidt; Runner-Up: Mark Mulder; Margin: 2.5
- CL: Joe Nathan; Runner-Up: Mariano Rivera; Margin: 0.7
- RP: Tom Gordon; Runner-Up: B.J. Ryan; Margin: 0.6
Bonds, Loretta and Edmonds are looking good to keep their top spots. Everyone else could cough it up with 50 games still to go.
The Padres are 26th in the majors in road homers, so their place at the bottom in total homers cannot be much attributed to their new home.
There has been a lot of speculation about the final phone call between Nomar Garciaparra, now of the Cubs, and the Red Sox’s Larry Lucchino. I have been able to obtain an actual transcript of their conversation. It went a little something like this:
Nomar: I am calling to bid you farewell, sir.
LL: Off to the Windy City, hey wot?
Nomar: It would seem so. I have enjoyed my tenure with the Bostons and was grateful for the opportunity.
LL: Think nothing of it. We were glad to have you. Whatever our differences, I have already forgotten them.
Nomar: As have I. Perhaps we shall next meet in the World Series come October time.
LL: Yes, that seems a likely eventuality. I bid you adieu, then.
Nomar: And I you.
MISMATCH-UP (opponents furthest from each other in won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): Minnesota @ Seattle
Suddenly, the remainder of the Mariners season has taken on some kind of meaning, albeit a somewhat morose meaning. Now, instead of watching the team slowly fold up the tent, we can spend the final 50 games saying goodbye to Edgar Martinez. It adds a little poignancy to what has been a year otherwise lost.