Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Cleveland Indians (11th) @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (10th)

Here’s good news for subscribers to Major League Baseball’s Extra Innings package: The downtime music has finally been changed! The porno-style whacka-whacka guitars–the same 32 bars or so of which has been playing before and after games since at least 2002–has been replaced by something as funky as it wanna be. While it sounds like incidental music that wouldn’t have made it onto this album, any change is welcome. Gone too is the picture of Doug Mientkiewicz in his Twins uniform. I don’t want to say it was old, but that was three teams ago for Doug. The music and tomorrow’s gamecast schedule popped on as soon as last night’s Angels-Indians contest ended, providing the soundtrack while we tried to comprehend just how bad the Angels baserunning was in this game. They ran as though gassed, but still managed a big win thanks in no small part to the largesse of Jake Westbrook.

The Angels have the least-productive first baseman in baseball. The Rays, with Travis Lee getting the lion’s share of the playing time there and doing his usual thing, are arguably just as bad. After those two teams, nobody else is close. The difference between the Rays and the Angels is that the latter has a good shot at winning the division. It would be weird for them to fall short in part because they got nothing out of a traditionally-offensecentric position, especially in a season where Darin Erstad has missed so much time with an injury. Things haven’t been any better across the diamond, either. It’s a toss-up between which two of these opponents has gotten the least out of their third baseman. Aaron Boone makes a strong case for Cleveland. The Angels lost 15 games to the Edgardo Alfonzo experienceni which has skewed things a bit. Again, though, getting so little out of the corners is killing them.

Two of the more active relievers of the last several seasons appeared in last night’s game. Scot Shields (Angels) and Guillermo Mota (Indians) are two of the only four pitchers to crack triple figures in relief innings in a single season since 2000. The top 10:

107.0: Steve Sparks, Tigers; 2003
106.1: Scott Sullivan, Reds; 2000
105.1: Scot Shields, Angels; 2004
105.0: Guillermo Mota, Dodgers; 2003
103.1: Scott Sullivan, Reds; 2001
99.2: Rick White, Mets; 2000
99.1: Matt Herges, Dodgers; 2001
98.0: Byung-Hyun Kim, D’backs; 2001
97.2: Vladimir Nunez, Marlins; 2002
97.1: Octavio Dotel, Astros; 2002

Mota’s 2004 season is just south of this list as well. For his part, Shields cracked 90 innings last year and could well do so again this year. In all, 31 pitchers threw 90 or more innings of relief between 2000 and 2005. The Pirates Salomon Torres could break the 100-inning mark this year with continued heavy usage, as could Gary Majewski (now of the Reds) and the Yankees’ Scott Proctor. Majewski’s former teammate Jon Rauch could get there as well. The Mets could see two pitchers throw 90 innings or more of relief this year in the persons of Darren Oliver and Aaron Heilman. The last team to get that much work out of two relievers was the 2000 Reds with Sullivan and Danny Graves.

Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago White Sox (3rd) @ Detroit Tigers (1st)

The Tigers have put themselves in an excellent position to do something no other team has done before: win 100 games coming off at least a decade of being below .500. Their .674 winning percentage–if it held–would give them 109 wins on the season. Even accounting for some slack, they still stand a great chance of ending up at the top of this list. These are the teams that endured at least 10 consecutive losing seasons in their history. Most barely crawled to .500 in their first season out of the soup. The most famous club on the list–and the one the Tigers are a good bet to best–are the Miracle Braves of 1914:

Team          Losing Years Breakout W-L Pct.
2006 Tigers     1994-2005    109-53     .674
1914 Braves     1903-1913     94-59     .614
1911 Senators   1901-1910     91-61     .599
1925 Athletics  1915-1924     88-64     .579
1979 Expos      1969-1978     95-65     .574
1942 Browns     1930-1941     82-69     .543
1949 Phillies   1933-1948     81-73     .526
1991 Mariners   1977-1990     83-79     .512
1932 Phillies   1918-1931     78-76     .506
1947 Athletics  1934-1946     78-76     .506
1968 Athletics  1953-1967     82-80     .506
1934 Red Sox    1919-1933     76-76     .500
1957 Orioles    1946-1956     76-76     .500
1932 Braves     1922-1931     77-77     .500
2005 Brewers    1993-2004     81-81     .500
???? Pirates    1993-2006     pending

It will be interesting to see how the majors’ leading home run team fares against the pitching staff that has surrendered the fewest homers at home so far in 2006.

The White Sox and Tigers are one-three in home runs in the American League. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers have allowed the second-fewest homers in the league, 87–or a little less than one per game. Stingy though they have been in other games, in their previous six meetings with the White Sox, the Tigers pitchers were not able to excise the long ball from the Chicago arsenal. The Sox treated Detroit like they have everyone else in that regard: with little remorse.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Houston Astros (21st) @ Chicago Cubs (28th)

I’ve been working my way through the first season of Deadwood on DVD. Always on the alert for a baseball reference, I was thrilled to hear one. Barkeep Dan Dority (played by W. Earl Brown) opines that it would make him happier if the Deadwood newspaper carried some baseball news, especially about the new league that’s put a team in Chicago. This was, of course, the White Stockings, now the Cubs, in the brand new National League of 1876. I always love it when characters talk about baseball in movies. I remember once seeing a television movie about the Kennedys. The opening title read: Boston, October 1946. Nobody mentioned the Red Sox either being in or having just been in the World Series. That infuriated me. Boston. October 1946. What else mattered then and there? Anyway, the Deadwood reference was cool. One of the things that I love about this game is its continuity. That the very same franchise that is hosting the Astros tonight was on the tip of the tongues of men in places like Deadwood 125 years ago will always fascinate.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Kansas City Royals (30th) @ Boston Red Sox (4th)

Starting the bottom of the seventh last night, Luke Hudson was cruising. The Red Sox, having just dropped three of four to the A’s in convincing fashion, were down 4-0. The standings at the base of the Green Monster showed the Yankees had crept to within a half-game. Less than an hour later, it was over. The Red Sox had gotten up off the mat and beaten the Royals. This was the turning point of their 2006 season–the moment at which they turned back the Yankee charge and went on to win the division.

Sorry, I had heard Rick Sutcliffe say earlier in the evening that the Cardinals felt their season had turned around when they rallied to tie the Astros in the ninth on July 8th and I was caught up in the whole cause and effect thing. The Cardinals winning streak had actually begun the game before that. Also, for teams that managed a late comeback win, what do you think the won-loss record in the next 10 games would be? Do you think it’s better, worse or the same than the 10 games previous to the comeback game?

Looking at Matt Stairs‘ career, I was wondering if a player ever lasted so long, moved around so much and produced so little in value in exchange for his services. I don’t mean that he hasn’t been a productive player. It’s just that in all the times he’s moved between teams, only one other player has ever gone in the other direction. Most of his moves have come via free agency with one–the Red Sox buying him from the Expos–via outright purchase. The only time a player was involved in his movement came in 2000 when the A’s sent him to the Cubs for Eric Ireland, a very busy minor league pitcher who topped out at Triple A in 2001 and was done as a professional two years later.

Stairs is a part of baseball’s Life After 30 Club, those players who had to wait until at least their 30th birthday to qualify for their first batting title. Here are the active members, courtesy of Keith Woolner:

Brad Ausmus, 1999 (30)
Emil Brown, 2005 (30)
Raul Ibanez, 2002 (30)
Craig Counsell, 2001 (30)
Matt Stairs, 1998 (30)
Kevin Millar, 2003 (31)
David Dellucci, 2005 (31)
Brady Clark, 20005 (32)
Scott Hatteberg, 2002 (32)
Gregg Zaun, 2005 (34)

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