Not even a Sunday loss to the Royals could prevent the Indians from ending 12 weeks of Cardinal tyranny atop the Hit List. They’re 18-5 in September, having outscored opponents 136-72 and outhit them .288/.362 /.536 to .236/.296/.336. Leading the way is Travis Hafner with seven homers and 18 RBI over a six-game span, while a key 12-for-22 run from Aaron Boone has tempered an otherwise abysmal year. The Tribe’s odds for reaching the postseason are now at 88.8 percent–down from 96.5 percent the day before–but they get a four-game set against the Devil Rays before facing the White Sox next weekend.
Just 2-5 since clinching the NL Central, and 12-11 in September, which explains why they’ve ceded the top spot for the first time since June 19. There’s mounting concern about the state of Chris Carpenter‘s stamina (he’s allowed 17 runs while pitching just 15.2 innings over his last three starts) and Larry Walker‘s neck (down to his last cortisone injection), while Reggie Sanders is just 2-for-24 since returning from a broken leg. They’ll need to sharpen up and heal themselves to attain the postseason success expected of them.
Forget the 11-19 start and the 38-37 record they had on June 26. With just one week left to play, the Yanks are tied for the AL East lead thanks to a 31-12 run since August 10. Two strong starts from Chien-Ming Wang (five runs in 15 innings, and a 38/3 G/F ratio), a welcomereturn from Mike Mussina (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 76 pitches), and 16 consecutive scoreless innings from Shawn Chacon have improved the rotation’s prognosis considerably, while Gary Sheffield hit three big homers, drove in 12 runs, and played the field on Sunday to test his strained quad. Heck, even Bubba Crosby is hitting .370/.370/.478 on the month. The Yanks close the season with seven straight road games, including three in Fenway, so the odds favor the Red Sox (63.9 percent chance of making the playoffs overall, versus 49.6 for New York), with a win-or-go-home scenario showing a strong 86.4 percent likelihood.
Not even the belatedreturns of Bobby Crosby and Rich Harden can offset the reality that 10-13 in a September pennant race means golf in October; the A’s odds of making the postseason have fallen from a season-high 76.3 percent on August 31 to 9.3 on September 26. Crosby’s absence was one thing, but batting Jason Kendall first or second in the order as he’s hit all of .272/.347/.321 with 0 homers in 646 plate appearances qualifies as a disastrously failed experiment. With four games to play against the Angels starting on Monday, they have an opening, but anything less than a sweep and they’re probably cooked.
Manager Ozzie Guillen threatens to quit if his team wins the World Series, but he doesn’t say what he’ll do if they squander all of that 15-game lead and miss the playoffs. Fortunately, he’s got the Twins to provide convenient whipping boys; the Sox have gone 5-2 against the dethroned Central champs over the last two weekends, holding them to just 14 runs. Jose Contreras continues his hot September (1.93 ERA in 37.1 innings) while Brandon McCarthy has allowed just four runs in 31.1 innings since his recall. As his workload goes–and if he’s to be a factor in October, the Sox will have to consider it–the 22-year-old has now accumulated 175 innings between the majors and Triple-A this season, topping last year’s 172.
An eight-game winning streak while the A’s went 3-4 has effectively planted the Angels’ cleats squarely on their rivals’ jugular. They currently hold a 90.7 percent chance of winning the West, and their magic number is down to four with a four-game set against the A’s beginning Monday night. Garret Anderson‘s lower back pain is a concern for the ripple effect in the lineup, but with spare parts like Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman and Juan Rivera able to pick up the slack, Mike Scioscia still has a plethora of options. In the bullpen, Kelvim Escobar continues to be a godsend, allowing just three runs in 15 innings over seven appearances since his return, while Francisco Rodriguez has yielded just one run in 11.2 September innings following a 5.00 ERA in August.
A sweep of the Marlins halts their intradivisional slide at three straight series losses, and more importantly, cuts their magic number down to two. Clinching before Wednesday would allow John Smoltz to rest his stiff shoulder. Elsewhere in the rotation, Jorge Sosa has allowed just a 2.08 ERA in five September starts. He’s put up a 2.56 ERA on the year despite some otherwise modest peripherals: 5.72 K/9, 1.33 K/BB, 0.81 HR/9, .262 BABIP. Must be some of that Mazzone magic.
They dropped the weekend series to the Cubs, but winning eight out of nine prior to that has put them in the Wild Card drivers’ seat, with a 66.5 percent chance of playing in October. Back from a hand injury that cost him two weeks, Morgan Ensberg hit .321/.406/.571 for the week, while Lance Berkman added a .435/.563/.696 showing and Jason Lane chimed in with a .440/.533/.680 line. In deference to his hamstring, Roger Clemensskipped a start; his September ERA stands at 5.40 in 20 innings, with a 13/10 K/BB ratio. They’ll likely need a solid outing from him this weekend to hang onto their playoff hopes.
Streaking: Jimmy Rollins‘ personal hit parade reaches 30 games, while the Phils use a 10-4 run to maintain a fighting chance at the Wild Card. Rollins is hitting .382/.430/.603 during the whole streak, and an even more torrid .481/.518/.792 since September 7. The Phils’s chances at winning the Wild Card stand at 33.3 percent. They face the Mets and Nationals from here on out and will benefit from missing Pedro Martinez, though Victor Zambrano and Jae Seo, two of the Mets’ three starters in the series, have held them to nine earned runs in 29 innings.
Go Get a Late Pass: well, they picked a fine time to win seven out of nine. So opportune, in fact, that their postseason odds actually decreased from 0.19 percent to 0.003 percent. That doesn’t even qualify as a dead cat bounce. For that fuzzy critter you’d have to look to Kaz Matsui‘s .367/.396/.551 September, though a hamstring injury has interrupted his 12-game hit streak. Such is the problem with dead cats; it’s tough to maintain that mileage after the first bounce.
Raw Power: the Rangers have outhomered opponents 40-15 on the month and 258-153 on the year; the season differential would put them with the 1927 (Ruth/Gehrig) and 1961 (Maris/Mantle) Yankees as the only teams to outhomer opponents by more than 100 homers. Mark Teixeira has walloped nine in September while hitting .360/.437/.753, while Rod Barajas–seriously, Rod Barajas–has added seven while hitting .308/.357/.750. No fewer than nine Rangers have hit 15 homers or more, another record.
Winners of just eight out of 23 since August 30, reducing their role in the pennant races to patsy. Shoulder problems force Shannon Stewart and Brad Radke to call it a season, and if your organization had stooped to playing Jason Tyner every day after squandering the embarrassment of corner outfield riches this team has gone though over the past few years, you would too. No, really, it won’t be necessary to fetch those long-lost bobbleheads from Tampa Bay.
With a 14-9 September, the Cubs have made a charge to return to .500, but that’s small consolation considering the team had its eye on the Wild Card or better. Todd Walker is done for the season with a bruised knee; he doesn’t foresee the Cubs picking up his $2.5 million option, a reasonable price tag for an all-hit, no-field second baseman who hit .305/.355/.475 on the year with a 30.0 VORP, fourth on the team. Meanwhile, another pending free agent, Ryan Dempster, has a 19.1 inning scoreless streak dating back to August 16, and he’s fourth in the league in Reliever Expected Wins Added (4.629).
Of the seven series they’ve played in September, the Brewers have won five and tied one of them. The team has just a 12-10 record to show for that, though they’ve outscored opponents 107-84. Bill Hall has been hot this month, hitting .356/.420/.521; his VORP of 38.0 is third on the team and well above his 90th percentile PECOTA projection, as is his WARP (5.5). Doug Davis has posted a strong month on the mound, posting a 2.36 ERA in 34.1 innings and never allowing more than two earned runs in a start. He struck out seven on Sunday to bring him to an even 200 on the year, good for fourth in the league.
Josh Towers has put together a string of 13 straight quality starts, allowing just a 2.64 ERA over 92 innings while posting a 40/10 K/BB ratio. Towers has given up 10 unearned runs in that span, however. His VORP of 29.8 is third on the team. Moving in the other direction is Ted Lilly, who has just one quality start out of four in September, managing just 15.1 innings to the tune of a 6.45 ERA.
Back to lurking under .500, their magic number to win the West is down to four, their postseason odds up to 97.4 percent. Still, they managed just two quality starts out of seven for the week and absorbed a 20-1 pounding in Colorado; Brian Lawrence and Woody Williams combined to yield 18 earned runs in 12.1 innings over four of those starts. The bullpen is banged up, with Akinori Otsuka having allowed eight runs in 5.2 innings since sustaining a concussion on September 4, and Chris Hammond having yielded 10 runs over his last 9.2 innings dating back to August 19. At least Sean Burroughs seems to have finally found his calling as a mop-up man.
Eeecuch. The only good thing about their recent eight-game losing streak was that they stopped it before it matched their longest of the month, but being swept by the Royals in four straight still qualifies as the nadir of anyone’s season. Elbow tendinitis means Jeremy Bonderman doesn’t have to stick around to see how it ends; he’d allowed 24 earned runs in his last 25.1 innings but still managed to turn in a 4.57 ERA, best in his three years in the bigs. He gets a pass, but much of this team looks like it’s already quit.
Seven losses in their last eight games mean that the Nats can claim their copy of Baseball Prospectus: The Board Game for appearing on our show, with the hope that Frank Robinson can forego constructing a lineup this bad. Kids, Marlon Byrd is not a #5 hitter, Cristian Guzman should never bat second no matter how hot his September or how narrow his team’s chances of winning, and you might as well take a page from Jack McKeon and bat Livan Hernandez cleanup if you’re going to bench all seven of the players who have higher VORPs.
At 37-30 since the All-Star break, the Reds have the fifth-best record in the NL behind only the Astros, Cardinals, Braves, and Phillies, and 7.5 games better than the Padres. While the staff’s ERA of 4.44 since the break is nothing to write home about, it’s still miles better than the 5.60 they put up before. Were it not for Eric Milton and his amazing -27.4 VORP, the Reds might be fighting for .500.
Losers of eight out of 11 are dogged in their resolve to play all 162 games to satisfy the schedule makers. A strong week from Adrian Beltre (.292/.393/.583) can’t disguise his disappointing overall batting line (.256/.304/.418 overall), but with 4.7 WARP1 on an $11.2 million salary, he’s only overpaid by $826,000 according to Nate Silver’s marginal gains formula (being 9 Fielding Runs Above Average saves his bacon). Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez rebounds from two bad starts to take a no-hitter into the seventh against the Blue Jays, shutting them out for 7.1 innings on two hits overall. His VORP of 23.4 ranks third on the Mariners and sixth among AL rookie pitchers.
Would the Last Active Dodger Please Turn Out the Lights: with the team having been mathematically eliminated from the NL West race, Brad Penny has been shut down due to forearm tightness, Jeff Weaver has probably thrown his last game in Dodger blue, and Wilson Alvarez may have tossed his last major league inning. Derek Lowe is still going strong, having allowed just nine runs over his last 49.2 innings (1.63 ERA). And Willy Aybar continues to hit; he’s at .375/.474/.516 since his late August recall. Less succesful on the prospect front is Edwin Jackson, whose ERA now stands at 8.84 after four lousy starts and a relief appearance. Somebody should put out an APB on his upside.
Reactions are mixed when it comes to Barry Bonds‘ return, but there’s no argument that his homers in four consecutive games (numbers 705 through 708) have helped the Giants to a 9-4 run that will allow them to rage against the dying of the light. Their postseason odds now stand at 2.6 percent, 1.6 percent greater than they were two weeks ago, and one can’t help but wonder how the West might have been won with one less swollen knee along the rehabbing way.
Another busload of impressive roookies arrives, but it’s Ian Snell who makes the highlight reel this week, shutting out the Astros while facing Roger Clemens. Yes, we’re talking about a team that’s 12th in the NL in EqA at .254, and an opposing pitcher who was so hobbled that he missed his next start. Don’t spoil the moment for the kid, okay?
As if Diamondback fans didn’t already have enough to appreciate Tony Clark for this season–.308/.369/.648 with 29 homers in just 379 PA, and the third-best MLVr among first basemen in the league (0.420)–the man comes up third in the NL in Total Win Expectancy Added with 4.98 WINS. At $750K for this year and 4.5 WARP1, his marginal dollars per marginal win comes out to $96,444. We’ll get back to you on Russ Ortiz‘s figure just as soon as we don’t have to divide by 0.0 WARP1.
For all of their doormat status, the Rays aren’t exactly the team people want to play as they fight for a playoff berth. At 37-30 since the All-Star break, their record is bettered only by five of the six AL postseason contenders (all but the White Sox). They took the season series from the Yanks, they upset Boston’s apple cart last week by winning two out of three, and they’ll face Cleveland for a trio this week. In the News of the Obvious category, Lou Piniella won’t be back; the Rays will reportedly buy out part of his contract and give him the freedom to manage elsewhere in 2006. He’ll have company in cleaning out his effects, as managing partner Vince Naimoli’s surrender and GM Chuck LaMar’s firing are reportedly imminent as well.
With a 17-14 stretch entirely against NL West teams–including a a 20-1 drubbing of the Padres that featured eight RBI from Matt Holliday–the Rox certainly haven’t made anybody’s waltz to the division title easier. That record may be more an indictment of the division than a measure of the team’s success, but the Rox have to be breathing easier to see Todd Helton crushing to the tune of .419/.552/.730 this month given that they’ve still got over $106 million to pay to a player who’s already 32.
Their sun-aided victory over the Indians on Sunday certainly had playoff repercussions, but then again it does take the intervention of Mother Nature to make the Royals relevant these days. They’ve got seven games to play, mainly because those masochistic schedule-makers say so. In a kinder world, that stretch would mark Royal sendoffs for Jose Lima, Terrence Long, and others, but don’t bet against this franchise’s yen for Proven Veterans Who Can Show The Kids How To Win [sic] Again. Obligatory positive note: Zack Greinke has allowed just a 2.30 ERA in 31.1 September innings, lowering his ERA from 6.28 to 5.58.
The Prospectus Hit List rankings are derived from Won-Loss records and several measurements pertaining to run differentials, both actual and adjusted, from Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings through the close of play on every Sunday. For more on the Hit List, see this article.