CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Texas Rangers (7th) @ Oakland Athletics (11th)

The Rangers were very close to leading all of baseball in scoring heading into last night’s game, trailing only the Yankees in that department and by only two runs at that. This makes Rich Harden‘s near-perfect game that much more impressive. It’s one thing to blank a load of banjo hitters in this fashion, it’s another to take down a team with the best infield in baseball–whether in their friendly home ballpark or not.

Harden posted a Game Score of 91. How does this rate in complete-game shutouts against baseball’s highest scoring teams? Since the advent of Ultra-Hi Skoring ™ in 1993 (rolled out after a successful test-marketing in 1987), these are the best such games:

G Sc    Pitcher       Team           Hi-Scoring Tm        date
92     Jason Schmidt  San Francisco  vs. Boston          6/20/2004
92     Ted Lilly      Toronto        vs. Boston          8/23/2004
91     Rich Harden    Oakland        vs. Texas           7/14/2005
90     Pedro Martinez Boston         vs. Chi. White Sox  7/23/2000
89     Tim Hudson     Oakland        vs. Boston          8/11/2004
89     Chuck Finley   Anaheim        vs. Seattle         7/6/1997
86     Dwight Gooden  NY Yankees     vs. Seattle         5/14/1996
86     Pat Hentgen    Toronto        vs. Cleveland       5/20/1994
85     Mike Hampton   Houston        vs. Cleveland       7/18/1999
83     Tim Wakefield  Boston         vs. Seattle         7/29/1997
83     Jack McDowell  NY Yankees     vs. Cleveland       9/11/1995

Harden’s outing rates pretty well. Gooden’s game was his no-hitter. It would have ranked higher except he walked six batters. Hampton’s start came against the highest-scoring team of recent times, the ’99 Indians, a club that averaged 6.23 runs per game.

Going back slightly before the Ultra-Hi Skoring ™ era, in 1992, a pitcher named Tim Fortugno threw such a game against the Tigers. Although Detroit won only 75 games that year, they did pace the majors in scoring with a mark of 4.88 runs per game. Fortugno struck out 12 while walking four and surrendering three hits for a Game Score of 89. He was a 30-year old rookie who only made five career starts and this was his only complete game.

When you watch the Rangers play, there isn’t a lot of extraneous movement on the basepaths. Consider that they have the fewest sacrifice bunts in baseball (2), have drawn the fewest intentional walks (9) and have had the fewest sacrifice flies (12). Their 36 stolen-base attempts are third-fewest. The only teams with less are these A’s and the Red Sox, a team currently sporting a Beltranesque 25-for-27 success rate.

BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago White Sox (2nd) @ Cleveland Indians (6th)

Why is baseball the greatest game in the history of human endeavor? Consider three games from last night that happened to be sequential in the report I was looking at. The first was a 12-9 Kansas City victory over the Tigers in Detroit. That’s 21 combined runs in a pitcher’s park. Down the road in Cleveland, the Indians and White Sox opened their series with a 1-0 game. At one time, a 1-0 game at the Jake would have been fairly novel, but the park been drifting toward favoring the pitcher over the past few years. The next line score down was the Yankees versus the Red Sox, an 8-6 game won in the ninth by one of the game’s premier players facing one of its premier pitchers taking on a new roll.

Those are run totals of one, 14 and 21. Diversity and unpredictability, two elements at the core of what makes this game superior to all others. (Note to MLB accounts payable, make check payable to “James Baker.”)

You’ve got the highest VORP on the team ranked sixth on Prospectus Hit List. You’re also ranked seventh overall in the game. Where did it get you? Not to Detroit if you were Travis Hafner.

Here are the five highest VORP figures among position players who were not allowed to attend the 2005 All Star Game without a ticket:

Travis Hafner, Indians - 44.4
Hideki Matsui, Yankees - 38.6
Carlos Delgado, Marlins - 34.6
Nick Johnson, Nationals - 31.4
Adam Dunn, Reds - 30.8

Just for bar-fighting material, here are the top uninvited starting pitchers:

Jarrod Washburn, Angels - 32.1
Brett Myers, Phillies - 30.9
Freddy Garcia, White Sox - 30.0
John Patterson, Nationals - 29.5

…and their bullpen counterparts:

Mike Timlin, Red Sox - 19.4
Pete Walker, Blue Jays - 19.1
Cliff Politte, White Sox - 18.7
Huston Street, Athletics - 17.6
Dan Wheeler, Astros - 17.3

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

The Rockies’ All-Star–reliever Brian Fuentes–did not appear in the game on Tuesday night. This is the first time in Rockies history that this has happened. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing is debatable. The Rockies have not shown well in their All-Star Game appearances. They’ve hit .152 and slugged .333 as a group. Granted, it’s only 33 at-bats and you could probably find a few teams who fared about as poorly over the same time period. True, also, that they were facing the best pitchers in the world and that they were away from Colorado in all instances but one–and you know what happens to the Rox when they leave Denver.

The Rockies All-Star Game highlights are these:

  • 2003: With the National League trailing 1-0, Todd Helton belted a two-run homer off of Shigetoshi Hasegawa of the Mariners. This paved the way for a five-run inning. The Nationals later blew the lead. For the record, they are 3-9-1 since the Rockies came into the league.

  • 2002: With the National League leading 1-0 in the third, Helton singled home Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies to make it 2-0. He then scored on a Barry Bonds home run, putting the senior circuit up 4-0. They blew that lead, too as well as a subsequent one and the game ended in a tie.

  • 2001: Helton and Larry Walker combined to go 0-for-4, but the big story here was that a Rockies pitcher got into an All-Star Game! Mike Hampton surrendered one unearned run in an inning of work.

  • 1996: Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks and Eric Young went 2-for-6. Bichette hit a double and Burks a triple in the last National League victory ever.

Oh, who are we kidding? The best Rockies moment in an All-Star Game came in 1997 when Walker put his helmet on backwards and jumped batter’s boxes after a Randy Johnson pitch sailed over his head.

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