BEST AMERICAN LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Anaheim @ Oakland

Vladimir Guerrero, already in an excellent position to garner a lot of votes for the American League MVP award, is having the kind of final week that really kicks voters in the small of the back and demands they make up their minds:

  • Monday: A double, a homer and a walk in the team’s 5-3 comeback victory.
  • Tuesday: A double, two homers, five RBI, pacing an 8-2 win.
  • Wednesday: Two singles, a walk and a nailed runner at the plate. 8-7 win.
  • Thursday: Two homers, all three RBI in a 6-3 loss.

Hitting .706/.739/1.706 in a series in which your team moves into first place is going to get you noticed. I think he may have iced what already should have been his. In terms of VORP, his only real competition comes from a pitcher, Johan Santana. Santana has a slight 89.5 to 87.4 lead on Guerrero, and he’s shut it down for the duration of the season. Given that many voters won’t throw an MVP bone to a pitcher, the Santana candidacy is bound to come up short.

Guerrero’s closest position-player competition comes from a bunch of guys who either play for non-contenders, spend a lot of time as the DH, or both. Ichiro Suzuki, Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada, Travis Hafner and Carlos Guillen bridge the gap to the next player from a contender. Assuming team performance still carries some weight with voters, many of whom threw their support behind Alex Rodriguez of the last-place Rangers last year, Manny Ramirez–17-some points of VORP behind Guerrero–is a candidate, followed closely by teammate and DH David Ortiz. The Yankees’ Gary Sheffield and the aforementioned Rodriguez are next, more than 20 runs behind the Angel right fielder.

The fans at Yankee Stadium were chanting “M-V-P” at Sheffield during their clincher on Thursday night. What is interesting is that, our high-falutin’ stats aside, Sheffield has no real advantage over Guerrero. Let’s assume that of the 48,000 people on hand Thursday night, most are still from the Triple Crown school of thought. With that, Guerrero has Sheffield covered: two more home runs (38 to 36), three more RBI (124 to 121) and more than 40 points of batting average (.338 to .291).

If Guerrero’s platform wasn’t solid enough, and his insane series against the Rangers hasn’t done the trick already, then perhaps he needs to ice the cake in the showdown against the A’s this weekend. This, essentially, comes down to one of those National League-style three-game playoffs they used to have as tiebreakers after the season ended. The difference is that this one will take place within the confines of the 162-game schedule. (The Angel loss and A’s win on Thursday assured that there will be no tie-breaker game on Monday, which is kind of too bad, but this will do just fine in its stead.)

Getting back to the Yankees for a moment, you know what might be the craziest-ass stat of 2004? Derek Jeter has 16 sacrifice bunts. What, as the stand-up comedian cliché goes, is up with that? That’s the second-most in the American League. Look at the isolated power figures of those in the top ten in A.L. sacs:

Player           Team      ISO

Omar Vizquel      CLE     .097
Derek Jeter       NYA     .179
David Eckstein    ANA     .056
Brian Roberts     BAL     .103
Miguel Cairo      NYA     .127
Christian Guzman  MIN     .112
Alex Sanchez      DET     .064
Henry Blanco      MIN     .158
Juan Uribe        CHA     .222
Chone Figgins     ANA     .121

What a waste. You expect this kind of thing from Ozzie Guillen–a bunch of sacs from a guy with a slugging average of .500–but it seems kind of surprising from Torre. True, the Yankees do hit into a lot of double plays, but they also just broke the team record of 240 home runs.

Many BP readers are contrarians by nature and often with good reason. In fact, where would BP be without readers who go against the grain? Here’s a great letter from one such person:

Hey Jim,

Are you as baffled as I am by the “no one wants to face Minnesota because no one wants to face Santana twice in a short series” memo that EVRYONE is passing around?

I’m not trying to dis Santana, but don’t we hear this every season about some pitcher, only to see the series play out nothing like that? Take Randy Johnson‘s postseason career, for example…again, not to dis, but if I had bet a dollar every time I heard the “no one wants to face RJ in a short series,” I could afford to see a movie tonight (Johnson in Division Series: 2-7).

What short-term-memory-deficient sports writers tend to forget is that Santana will be facing better offenses than the average he faced during the season, Twins batters will be facing tougher pitching than what they’ve faced before (again, look at Houston in 1998–Johnson was brilliant with a 1.93 ERA, and had an 0-2 record), and that Santana is pitching in the postseason having shouldered a much higher workload than ever before in his career.

I’m certainly not projecting failure for Johan (and don’t we need more Johan’s in MLB?), but I really wish conventional baseball wisdom would stop presenting him as the Death Star.

Brian Snell
Kalamazoo, Michigan

The A’s and Angels are too busy scrambling just to get into the show to worry about such matters.

BEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Atlanta @ Chicago

Excerpt from today’s installation of Madame Skorpska’s Baseball Think Tank:

“Cubs vibe bad. Very bad. Gutted cat. Entrails say, lose two of three. Gutted different cat. Entrails say same thing. Mated cat with goat. Gutted progeny. Entrails say: win two of three–but not enough.”

SECOND-BEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): San Francisco @ Los Angeles

If the McDonald’s Corporation has any regard for the sanity of this nation they will, at once, pull those damn Chicken Selects ads immediately. If you’ve been watching any amount of baseball, you have now seen that paranoid goof-ass acting out his delusions that someone is after his precious freakin’ chicken far too many times.

First of all, the ads are actually accurate in this regard: nobody is really after that chicken because–in reality–nobody would be. The problem is, the guy is just so damn annoying and omnipresent. He’s like Generation X’s version of Howie Mandel only without as much charm, if such a thing is possible. Watching the Giants-Padres game on Thursday night I saw him at least twice. Earlier in the week, he was on between every other inning of the Red Sox/Devil Rays game. Is this a case of something being so annoying it grabs attention and makes it good for business? No, it’s not. Stop him. Now! Or, at the very least, pull the ads from baseball games.

If it comes down to Sunday’s game for the Giants, they have to like the match-up fate has in store for them: Jason Schmidt versus Kazuhisa Ishii. They, unlike all the other contenders, get to close out the year with their best man. Schmidt has the sixth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the National League while Ishii has the next-to-worst (among ERA qualifiers). Is this a guaranteed victory for San Francisco? No, but it’s a good place to start.

ANOTHER MATCH-UP I SHOULD BE FIRED IF I FAILED TO MENTION (One opponent still fighting for its life without any of the usual contrivances that would qualify it for inclusion in this particular column) Colorado @ Houston

Here are the highlights of the Rockies road attack:

Can they still make life miserable for the Astros? Absolutely, especially if Sunday’s game counts. As of right now, Houston has a bit of a sticky wicket (to cross-reference baseball’s ancestral cousin, cricket) in that they’re running short of starting pitchers. No way Carlos Hernandez starts on Sunday. No way! Right now he’s penciled in (with a #3 pencil–the real light one that nobody ever uses except to indicate a real iffy starter on the last day of the pennant race), but the Astros will not charge him with the task of putting them onto the big stage if it comes down to that. Or will they? Who else is there, really? Tim Redding of the 5.73 ERA? Roger Clemens on three days’ rest?

WORST MATCH-UP (Worst combined records with both teams being under .500): Montreal @ New York

I say Frank Robinson should activate himself for the last Expos game and pinch-hit. Wouldn’t that be a stone gas? Also, wouldn’t it be cool if somebody could round up the original Expos lineup from the April 8, 1969 debut at Shea Stadium and have them on hand for the game? I don’t know who would pay for such a thing, but of the 15 men who appeared in that game for Montreal, all but Bob Bailey and Jerry Robertson are still alive. Maury Wills, Mack Jones, Rusty Staub and, of course, Coco Laboy and all the rest should be on hand this weekend.

Thank you for reading

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