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BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals (3rd) @ Boston Red Sox (10th)

This marks the first time that World Series opponents from the previous season are meeting without the Yankees being involved. The previous four occasions:

  • 1997: Braves over Yankees, 2-1 (June 30-July 2)
    Braves, 52-28 – in first by 4.5 games
    Yankees, 45-33 – second, trailing Orioles by 5.5 games

    Denny Neagle improved to 12-1, and Greg Maddux beat Dwight Gooden. It just wasn’t the Yankees year. In fact, it’s the last time they didn’t win the division.

  • 2000: Yankees over Braves, 2-1 (June 2-4)
    Braves, 35-17 – in first by 6.5 games
    Yankees, 28-21 – second, trailing Red Sox by 1 game

    The Red Sox are playing five of their former World Series opponents this month. The only ones they’re missing are the Giants (1912), Mets (1986) and Dodgers (1916). They’ve got the rest lined up, though:

    June 6-8: St. Louis (1946, 1967, 2004)
    June 10-12: Chicago (1918)
    June 13-15: Cincinnati (1975)
    June 17-19: Pittsburgh (1903)
    June 24-26: Philadelphia (1915)

    That’s seven of 10 accounted for.

  • 2001: Yankees over Mets, 4-2
    First meeting (June 15-17):
    Mets, 29-37 – fourth, nine games back
    Yankees, 36-28 – second, trailing Red Sox by 2 games
    Second meeting (July 6-8):
    Mets, 37-49 – fourth, 12 games back
    Yankees, 50-33 – in first by a half-game

    The 2001 Mets remain the only team that didn’t properly represent in these series. Nine of the ten teams involved were over .500. The defending World Champion Red Sox have the second-worst record in these scenarios, hitting St. Louis last night only five games to the good.

  • 2002: Yankees over Diamondbacks, 2-1 (June 10-12)
    Diamondbacks, 39-23 – in first by 2 games
    Yankees, 40-23 – second, trailing Red Sox by 1.5 games
    Both clubs were on their way to repeating as division champions.

Matt Morris improved to 7-0 last night and Matt Clement has a chance to do the same tonight. I’ve long maintained that for a variety of reasons, a pitcher is going to break on through and post an undefeated season with a significant number of wins (by significant I mean 15 to 17) one of these days. The odds are silly against it, but Morris and Clement both get excellent support from their mates–just under seven runs per start each. Of course, merely by broaching the concept we are in danger of seeing Clement get an ‘L’ tonight.

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Tampa Bay Devil Rays (27th) @ Cincinnati Reds (28th)

Perhaps you’ve been following the ongoing series that the New York Times is doing. They are discussing the concept of class in our so-called “classless” society. You can argue that no society that thinks getting barbed wire tattooed around one’s bicep is a good idea has any class, but that’s another story. In any event, courtesy of the Times, you can rate yourself much like Baseball Prospectus rates ballplayers and teams.

Are you the class equivalent of the Devil Rays? Perhaps, but you have more options to improve than they do. You can get your act together and go back to school or finish that invention that’s collecting dust in your garage. You can grow. They have not shown evidence that they can.

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago White Sox (5th) @ Colorado Rockies (29th)

I wonder if this has ever happened: a team spends most of its season playing other teams who happen to be at the very top of their games just when they meet that opponent. Wouldn’t that be depressing? They would be the poor saps who arrive in a city in the midst of an otherwise mediocre team’s 10-game win streak, like the Boston Red Sox did with Cleveland early in the 1966 season. (The ’66 Indians are infamous for their 10-0 start and 81-81 finish.)

That would be an ambitious project: discerning which teams in history were the most and least fortunate in this regard–if the phenomenon has ever even occurred in the first place. None of this has anything to do with this series, really, it’s just something that’s been on my mind the last couple of days.

One thing these two teams have in common–in spite of their polarized place in the standings–is a team leader in EqA with a relatively unimpressive numbers. Here are the three lowest team leaders in the bigs:

.282 Clint Barmes, Colorado
.283 Reed Johnson, Toronto
.285 Tadahito Iguchi, Chicago White Sox

It’s right about there that the similarities end, though.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Yankees (16th) @ Milwaukee Brewers (14th)

It’s interesting that the Brewers should be the team that sent the Yankees back under .500. Why is this? Because, for some time now, they have both been avoiding the .500-mark, only on separate sides of the coin.

The Brewers jumped leagues in 1998. They had not finished over .500 for five years before that and have not since. On the other hand, the Yankees have not finished below .500 for the same period of time. Since the league jump in ’98, New York has spent only 52 of 1,339 days under .500–and 31 of those days have come this year. The Brewers, on the other hand, have spent just 237 days over .500.

Just for fun, let’s look at the head-to-head matchups, by position and VORP, for these two teams. I never thought these were an effective way to see which team is better in that first basemen don’t have to fight a duel with one another–they’re both contributing to a mass attack, after all. I think it’s informative from the standpoint of salary, though. The Yankees and Brewers have long been considered the respective poster children for the haves and the have-nots.

C: Jorge Posada over Damian Miller, 16.2 to 10.5 (Yanks)
1b: Lyle Overbay over Tino Martinez, 17.8 to 9.7 (Brewers)
2b: Junior Spivey over Robinson Cano, 2.9 to 1.8 (draw)
3b: Alex Rodriguez over Jeff Cirillo, 34.1 to 4.3 (Yanks)
ss: Derek Jeter over Bill Hall, 18.5 to 14.6 (Yanks)
lf: Carlos Lee over Hideki Matsui, 21.0 to 7.7 (Brewers)
cf: Brady Clark over Bernie Williams, 20.8 to 2.4 (Brewers)
rf: Gary Sheffield over Geoff Jenkins, 26.5 to 7.8 (Yanks)

The Yankees have the edge here as their folks outpoint the Brewers by almost 20. Pitching, though, is a different story. Here are the six most-used starters, the four highest-ranking set-up men and the closers, matched head-to-head:

SP: Chris Capuano over Randy Johnson, 23.0 to 13.3 (Brewers)
SP: Victor Santos over Mike Mussina, 19.1 to 9.9 (Brewers)
SP: Doug Davis over Chien-Ming Wang, 15.4 to 8.8 (Brewers)
SP: Wes Obermueller over Kevin Brown, 6.6 to -1.4 (Brewers)
SP: Ben Sheets over Carl Pavano, -.6 to -2.8 (Brewers)
SP: Gary Glover over Jaret Wright, -6.6 to -9.3 (Brewers)
RP: Matt Wise over Tanyon Sturtze, 10.1 to 8.8 (Brewers)
RP: Tom Gordon over Tommy Phelps, 8.5 to 5.2 (Yanks)
RP: Michael Adams over Felix Rodriguez, 4.2 to .5 (Brewers)
RP: Ricky Bottalico over Buddy Groom, 4.1 to -1.0 (Brewers)
RP: Derrick Turnbow over Mariano Rivera, 6.8 to 4.0 (Brewers)

Understanding that this is not the most scientific comparison in the world, that it can be made at all is a glaring light on the Yankees’ predicament.