BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Los Angeles Dodgers (1st) @ Colorado (30th)

Note: From now on, we’ll be using the Prospectus Hit List to pick these match-ups. How fortuitous, then, that the first time out, we end up with the most extreme mismatch-up possible: number one versus number 30.

How far apart are these teams right now? Consider that the Dodgers are averaging nearly as many runs at home as are the Rockies, despite one of the biggest gaps in park effects of any two teams. The extreme nature of their respective parks has given us predictable results since the Rox came to be in ’93. They’ve outscored the Dodgers at home at a 1.6:1 clip since their inception, the high-water mark coming in 1996 when they scored more than twice as many runs in Coors Field as Los Angeles did at Dodger Stadium. This year? The Rox hold just a 10% edge in run-scoring at home vs. the Dodgers’ tally.

The closest Los Angeles ever came prior to 2005 was last year, with a 1.37:1 deficit. This was also their second-highest home output since the Rockies came to grace baseball (4.5 runs per home game). It seems unlikely that the Dodgers will ever outscore the Rox in home counting, but if the race were to stay this close, we’d have a story on our hands. So far, it looks like a combination of small sample size, Dodger dominance and Rockie reprobation and, just maybe, the decreased one-third reduction in Dodger Stadium foul territory, owing to new seats.

The Dodgers are the first team to break The Curse of Davey Johnson. After his first three managerial assignments, the teams he left went into tailspins. The Mets, whom he left in 1990, posted losing seasons from 1991 to 1996. The Reds failed to finish over .500 for the three seasons after he left in 1995. Johnson’s last season with the Orioles was in 1997. It was also the last time they finished over .500. Johnson left the Dodgers prior to the 2001 season and they–unlike the other three–have been over .500 ever since.

It would be interesting to see what Johnson could come up with if given a chance with two of baseball’s perpetual problem machines, Colorado or Tampa Bay. Rumors have been circulating that Lou Piniella has had his fill of watching the Rays from the dugout and heaven knows the Rocketeers are heading into the abyss again. I take no pleasure in watching franchises wedged in a treadmill like George Jetson and would love to see one of the game’s most interesting minds take a whack at stopping this crazy thing. Johnson is 62 now and experiencing his fifth year away from managing. This could mean one of two things: he’s rested and ready (unlike Piniella who lately wears the look of a man who has seen too much) or he’s comfortable where he is and wants no part of challenges like the Altitude Quandary or cracking the LaMar Code.

BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Baltimore (6th) @ Toronto (4th)

Jays second sacker Orlando Hudson finds himself at the top of a rather dubious list. Through Wednesday’s games, he had the most at-bats among players who have yet to draw a walk, leading what Joe Sheehan likes to call the DiSars race:

68: Orlando Hudson, Toronto
67: Jose Reyes, New York Mets
52: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland
48: Aaron Miles, Colorado
34: Wily Mo Pena, Cincinnati

While not one of these players has been a champion walker in the past, these are fairly long runs to go without working out something. Reyes, who had walked once per 27.4 at bats coming into the season, is the least surprising on the list. Sizemore had 14 walks in 134 at-bats last season, a decent rate. Hudson has the most major league experience of the small group and has drawn one walk to every 11.4 AB prior to 2005. In the early going, Sizemore and Hudson have negative VORPs, while Miles is just barely in the black. Hudson’s is the lowest of the five at -1.8 while Pena’s is a robust 6.7–an excellent early number given his limited playing time.

Looking at players with the most at-bats and only one walk, we find a much larger group. Nineteen men have at least 40 AB while drawing only one pass. (To put that in perspective, this would account for about 10 to 15 walks over the course of a full season.) The leader here is another Blue Jay and will not surprise you:

65: Shea Hillenbrand, Toronto
62: Jorge Cantu, Tampa Bay
61: Edgar Renteria, Boston
56: Ivan Rodriguez, Detroit
55: Aaron Rowand, Chicago White Sox

Unlike Hudson, Hillenbrand has had a run of success this year without benefit of the walk. Through Wednesday’s games, he was ninth in VORP in the majors. We’ve seen this sort of thing before from Mr. Shea, though. This is not a breakout season, just the portrait of a man with an early .400 batting average. His glass ceiling on walks has been 24-25 and he seems bound and determined not to come anywhere near cracking it in 2005. The problem with a fast start like his is that it could well convince him that, if anything, he’s been too patient in the past, not to mention potentially delude his employers. When that extra 100 points of batting average disappears, there isn’t that much left–especially for a first baseman.

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Pittsburgh (29th) @ Chicago Cubs (18th)

People get all charged up about steroids, but I’ll tell you what really hacks me off: injuries. Seeing Nomar Garciaparra carried from the field–that’s real tirade material right there. When is science going to buckle down and eliminate baseball injuries once and for all? How many of our favorite players have to be hauled off the field like so many sacks of government cheese before something is done about this epidemic? Scan the disabled lists and see how many of your favorite players have taken up residence there. Year after year, countless games are lost to all manner of maladies while we are left to watch understudies play their parts. This is baseball’s true scandal. This is the one that should render the wringing of hands and the grinding of teeth. Instead, we just accept it as “part of the game.” Enough of this, I say! We, the fans, deserve better.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Oakland (21st) @ Los Angeles Angels (22nd)

Here’s some more cattle-punching on the Triple S Ranch (Small Sample Size):

How is the A’s revamped starting rotation faring so far? Heading into last night’s contest, they were one of just three American League teams with a starting corps sporting an ERA under 4.00. Chicago and Boston were the other two. Perhaps a more telling sign, though, is their placement among team strikeout-to-walk ratio for starters only. The most-unfortunate in this department is Tampa Bay. Devil Rays starters have walked more men than they’ve struck out. The A’s are second-worst in the American League, whiffing only about 1.5 batters for every walk issued. This isn’t so much a function of their failure to strike out a lot of batters (they’re fairly middle of the pack in that regard), but owes more to their profligacy with the walks. Only the Rays have surrendered more.

Oakland starters have seen their fare share of batted balls find leather, though. They’ve surrendered the fewest hits. Their great reward for this so far? To be the second-worst supported starting quintet in the league. The A’s have mustered just 3.78 runs per start for them. Only Cleveland, with 3.24, is worse. (Taking Barry Zito out of the mix improves these pitching numbers dramatically.)

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