BEST MATCHUP (Best combined record with both teams being over .500): Atlanta @ Philadelphia

If the first nine games of the season are any indication, the Phillies have cause for optimism in regard to their much-maligned starting pitching. While none of the starters have approached the heights of greatness by chucking complete-game shutouts yet, neither have they plummeted to the depths of ineptitude, either. Since Jon Lieber‘s Opening Day Game Score of 38, every other start has been at least passable. Brett Myers has logged a 60 and a 68 and Gavin Floyd–tonight’s pitcher–popped a 69 his first time out.

Granted, Floyd’s high would only be the fifth-best start on the Marlins in 2005, but the Phillies are getting help from the one area that was especially suspect over the past couple of seasons. Last year, the average Game Score for Phillies starting pitchers was 47.7, just 20th in baseball; this year their average score is at 54. If they could somehow hold at that level, they’d be right about where last year’s leader–the Cubs–finished.

It’s not time to pop any champagne yet. After all, the World Champion Red Sox had a nine-game run last season where they averaged a Game Score of 34. This early start may or may not amount to much–but for the Phillies, it sure beats the alternative.

WORST MATCHUP (Worst combined record with both teams being below .500): Arizona @ Washington

Livan Hernandez: The new Walter Johnson? I don’t mean they’re comparable on a talent level, of course, but Hernandez has a good chance of finding himself in the position the Big Train often did: under-supported in the nation’s capital. Johnson posted six losing seasons for the Senators in years in which he bettered the league-average ERA.

That’s one thing the last Washington team never had–the long-suffering starter who got short-changed by anemic mates the way Johnson often did. The in-between-Washington team that moved to Texas in 1972 never quite got a three-year run of half-way decent seasons from a single starting pitcher. Those who came closest:

  • Claude Osteen: 1962-64
    Osteen pitched fairly well in his three full seasons in Washington. Extra work in ’64 resulted in more decisions and he wound up with a 15-13 record after going 17-27 the previous two seasons without being outrageously better or worse in any of the three seasons. He was shipped to the Dodgers for the one Senators II player everyone knows: Frank Howard.

  • Pete Richert: 1965-66
    Richert picked up where Osteen left off and posted a combined 29-27 record in ’65 and ’66 (although he pitched much better in ’65). He was sent to Baltimore the following season. Earl Weaver made him a reliever and he was a mainstay of the bullpen that helped the O’s win 318 games from 1969 to 1971.

  • Dick Bosman: 1969-70
    Bosman didn’t suffer in the Johnsonian sense. He was 14-5 in the Senator II’s best season (1969) and followed that up by going 16-12 the next year. He was 12-16 in their last year in Washington, but he earned it. His ERA ballooned to 3.73 and his Normalized Runs Allowed went from 3.49 to 3.87 all the way up to 5.29.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (Teams with records that most resemble one another at press time): Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim @ Philadelphia Athletics of Oakland

Somehow, Rangers pitchers have managed to walk eight Angels on two different occasions this season. Apart from those two games, 2005 has been more of the same for the put-it-in-play Angels. In their other seven contests, they’ve walked just 12 times. In 2004, they were last in the league in walks and also recorded the fewest number of offensive strikeouts.

This year, they have some serious competition from the White Sox. All our greatest fears about an Ozzie Guillen-led team appear to be coming to pass: The Sox have walked just 12 times in nine games.

Aaron Rowand “leads” the way with no walks in 35 at bats. Jermaine Dye has one in 32 at-bats, while Joe Crede and A.J. Pierzynski have one in 31. Carl Everett has one in 30, Tadahito Iguchi one in 27. It’s always nice when a team’s leadoff man paces the club in walks, and that’s just the luxury the White Sox have so far: Scott Podsednik shares the team lead with Paul Konerko. Both have two.

Very, very few major leaguers walk this infrequently. This group certainly never has before–at least at this low a rate. Rowand got a pass once every 16 at-bats last year, for instance–still impatient by most standards, but a far sight above this year’s DiSarcinian effort. Is this a coincidence or a function of small sample size that they’ve all stopped walking at once? Is it a case of running into an octet of controlling starting pitchers? They met Brad Radke in the fifth game of the year with predictable results at least as far as the walk totals go: there weren’t any. Having Frank Thomas in the lineup would help this walk slump, but you have to wonder if this is the result of Ozzie-ball at work.

Doing the kind of extrapolation I swore I would never do as early as Tax Day, the White Sox would only walk 216 times if they maintain this pace. This would obliterate the recent record. Discounting strike seasons, here are the 10 lowest team offensive walk totals since 1972:

363: 2002 Tigers (55-106)
383: 1975 Tigers (57-102)
388: 1993 Rockies (67-95)
393: 1998 Pirates (69-93)
396: 1978 Expos (76-86)
397: 1983 Royals (79-83)
399: 1980 White Sox (70-90)
400: 1984 Royals (84-78)
401: 1973 Padres (60-102)
403: 1988 Cubs (77-85)

These teams combined have a .430 winning percentage. Only the ’84 Royals managed to get over .500. As the Angels proved last year, success is possible with a low walk total–but not this low. The White Sox might be 6-3 at the moment, but unless they double their walk rate the rest of the way, they’re likely doomed.

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (Largest disparity in records with one team over .500 and the other under .500): St. Louis @ Milwaukee

Now that teams are starting to get into double figures in games played, we can ease out the system of picking the matchups based on last year’s records. This will be the last time we do that–not that the current records of these clubs won’t get normalized pretty soon. They will. Not to the extreme of last year’s 37 1/2-game bulge, but a good 25 games, anyway.

When you look at your team’s starting lineup, do you ever fantasize about what might happen if they all repeated their best seasons? It’s a natural thing to do. I’m not talking about the great season they had 12 years ago, but their best season within the past four years (2001-2004). Here is what the Brewers lineup would do if such a miracle came to pass:

EqA Year Player
.262 2004 Damian Miller (Chad Moeller, .256 in 2003)
.294 2004 Lyle Overbay
.292 2002 Junior Spivey
.287 2002 Russell Branyan
.254 2003 Bill Hall
.300 2004 Carlos Lee
.276 2004 Brady Clark
.306 2003 Geoff Jenkins

On average, that’s about a .283 EqA. Doing the same thing with the Cardinals lineup, you get an average of about .306.

Now, what if you did the exact opposite with the Cardinals starting eight? How do they fare if you take their very worst performance from the last four years and got an approximate average? To answer, it’s about .279. What does this prove? Just the general unfairness of things, really. One team matching its best recent outings comes out scarcely better than another matching its worst–doesn’t seem sporting, does it?

Keith Woolner and Thomas Gorman contributed data to this column.

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