BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Atlanta Braves (4th) @ St. Louis Cardinals (1st)

It’s pretty obvious what should be on the minds of these two clubs, and it’s not one another–at least not until the National League Championship Series, anyway. Both want the wild-card team to come from their own division so that they might be able to sink their talons into the soft, yielding flesh of whichever team limps out of the West as “champion.” (And yes, the quotes will be mandated by the Commissioner’s office owing to their sub-.500 record.)

Jorge Sosa goes on Sunday for Atlanta in an attempt to keep Chris Carpenter from becoming the majors’ first 17-game winner. Sosa has made nine starts and has been able to dance around a good number of baserunners to produce a satisfying result for the team. Oddly, his line this year doesn’t look a whole lot different from what he did last year in Tampa Bay, except that he’s not striking out as many people. The drop in home-run rate is helping keep those baserunners on the bases, too.

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Colorado Rockies (30th) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (22nd)

The Diamondbacks are attempting to do something incredibly rare in the annals of baseball. (Perhaps that should that read, “the Padres and the rest of the division are attempting to allow the Diamondbacks to do something….”) That is, go from last place to first in a single season. Well, it used to be rare. As you can imagine, the downsizing of divisions has caused something of a flood in this area, especially in the National League West, which has accounted for the last three occurrences and offers an opportunity for a fourth:

1998-1999: Arizona Diamondbacks
1997-1998: San Diego Padres
1996-1997: San Francisco Giants
1992-1993: Philadelphia Phillies
1990-1991: Minnesota Twins
1990-1991: Atlanta Braves
1889-1890: Louisville Colonels, American Association

The Louisville situation comes with a giant asterisk. In 1889, they posted the second-worst record in the 10-year run of the American Association, going 27-111. On May 18 of that year, their record stood at 5-20 when they tore off three straight wins. Clearly, this bit of hubris angered the baseball gods, for they didn’t win their ninth game until a month later, dropping 26 consecutive contests in that time. So, you get the picture: they were awful.

1890 was a year of great tumult in baseball. The players threw off the yoke of oppression and seized the means of production by forming their own league. The American Association champion Brooklyn Bridegrooms, along with the fourth-place Cincinnati Red Stockings, jumped to the National League. They remain there to this day. With many of the game’s best players jumping and two first-division teams leaving the league, a vacuum was created into which the Colonels hurled themselves. Behind Kiddie pitchers Scott Stratton and Red Ehret and league MVP (if they had had such things then) Chicken Wolf, the Colonels made easy work of things.

There’s a lot more to it than this, of course, but the upshot is, for well over 100 years, this lone example of the last-to-first incidence–in a league that might not even be considered major–shows how impossible it was. Now, unless you’re the Rockies, a last-place finish in the National League West is not only not a crisis, it may be a cause for celebration.

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Oakland A’s (5th) @ Kansas City Royals (24th)

The Royals are missing the Rich Harden/Barry Zito end of the A’s rotation, which is probably about as good as their news gets with the hottest team in the league rolling into town. Can Zack Greinke and Jose Lima do what hardly anyone has been able to do since Juneteenth? It doesn’t seem likely, although Lima hasn’t had one of his patented disaster starts since around the same time the A’s started smoking. Greinke’s last two starts have been ugly. Baseball has survived ironies such as perennial patsies derailing hot teams, but this sure looks like a series in which the A’s take two of three.

After six decades of trying, the A’s may have finally gotten the hang of playing baseball in Kansas City:

1955-1960: 206-256, .446 (one year over .500)
1961-1970: 256-328, .438 (one year over .500)
1971-1980: 31-51, .378 (one year over .500)
1981-1990: 30-32, .484 (four years over .500)
1991-2000: 29-31, .483 (four years over .500)
2001-2004: 15-3, .833 (four years over .500)

Since 2000, they are 20-4 in K.C., a streak the likes of which they could never muster in their 13 unlucky seasons there. They were even 20-25 during the dynasty years of 1971-1975.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): San Diego Padres (21st) @ Washington Nationals (20th)

In my column of July 27, I boldly predicted that the Padres would get their runs for/runs against squared away by the end of the season. It’s not often you can regret a long-term prediction in such short order. Within moments of having written that, San Diego undertook a program of disproving its likelihood. After knocking five runs off the red ink in their 12-7 victory over the Pirates yesterday, they stand at 26 runs down on the season. It’s surmountable, but no longer probable.

The Orioles’ firing of Lee Mazzilli yesterday reminds us just how remarkable the run of Bruce Bochy with the Padres has been. This is his 11th year at the helm in San Diego, and he’s had just one plus-.500 season since winning the pennant in 1998. This sort of thing runs counter to our collective vision of the manager in the modern age: a man who is usually just two losing seasons away from getting canned. The most famous practitioner of this sort of sinecure management in recent times was Tom Kelly of the Twins. He went out with a .525 record in 2001 but, prior to that, finished under .500 eight straight years. Is the Padres organization smart enough to know that there is no manager in the game today who can make a .475 team into a .600 team, so you might as well stick with who you’ve got?

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