Over the weekend, I watched the craziest baseball-themed movie ever made. There’s very little actual baseball in Jigoku Koshien (Battlefield Baseball) while at the same time there is very little of the movie that takes part away from the diamond. (If one had to pitch this idea in Hollywood you’d say “It’s The Warriors meets Field of Dreams.”) This is not Shaolin Soccer (Siu lam juk kau) where they actually play soccer. It’s more like a violent Japanese game show with all the cartoonish comedy that entails. It also doesn’t have the production values of Shaolin Soccer, either. Or the plotting. Or the continuity. In fact, the only reason I’m comparing it to Shaolin Soccer is that they are both sports-based movies with supernatural/martial arts overtones. See it if you dare.

Anyway, back to the reality at hand:

Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Minnesota Twins (6th) @ Detroit Tigers (1st)

Unless somebody fades, two pretty good baseball teams from the American League are not going to the postseason; in which case one pretty good baseball team will not be going to the postseason. Either way, there are going to be those who use this to leverage their arguments that more teams need to be added to the playoffs. Mark my words, you will read something along these lines come October:

“The Twins won 95 games and all they got to do was go home! That’s not fair!”

What that argument will conveniently ignore is that over in the National League, three pretty middling teams will be in the playoffs.

Best National League Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): San Diego Padres (11th) @ New York Mets (3rd)

When is the last time you heard the phrase “that stalwart duo of yore who so valiantly stood guard o’er the left side of the infield…?” Probably never. When we think of a shortstop’s partner, we always look to the guy on his glove hand side: the keystone combo. Third baseman/shortstop tandems don’t even have a nickname like keystone combo. What would you call them? The 56ers? In fact, aside from Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, very few five-six combos have gotten any pub at all. Is that about to change? Is the five-six hole the new keystone?

Now that the Mets have followed the advice put forth in BP 2006 (I’m almost certain it was their inspiration) and signed David Wright to a long-term contract while also doing same for his fellow 56er Jose Reyes, perhaps we should spend a little time looking at some of the better five-six combos of recent vintage. Reyes and Wright are in their second year together. Assuming all goes according to plan and Reyes plays all the way through his option year (2011–damn that sounds futuristic), that means the two will have been playing side-by-side for seven years.

That seems like a long time–until you look at this list. These are the third baseman/shortstop tandems who have logged the longest times together (source: Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups):

10 years: Bill Russell and Ron Cey (Los Angeles Dodgers, 1973-1982) – Except for the first and last years of the run, Cey and Russell were joined in the infield by both Steve Garvey and Davey Lopes. It’s for being a part of that quartet that they are best-known, although now we realize they deserve to be immortalized as the longest-running 56er combo in history. (Yes, Russell missed about half of the ’75 season, so if you want to asterisk this one, go right ahead.)

9: Johnny Logan and Eddie Mathews (Boston/Milwaukee Braves, 1952-1960) – Whenever we think of Mathews having a partner, it’s usually Hank Aaron. The two of them formed one of the very best long-running Hall of Fame tandems. Logan is mostly forgotten today but he was playing Cooperstown caliber baseball in 1955 and 1956 with WARP3s of 9.8 and 9.9 respectively in those seasons.

9: Lou Boudreau and Ken Keltner (Cleveland Indians (1940-44, 1946-49) – Keltner entered the navy in March of ’45, interrupting their string. We’re not about to hold that against them, though. Looking at the average combined WARP3s for these duos, this is what we get for the duration of their time together:

16.7: Boudreau/Keltner
16.6: Logan/Boudreau
14.6: Campaneris/Bando
14.4: Bowa/Schmidt
13.7: Kessinger/Santo
12.6: Russell/Cey
11.0: Belanger/Robinson

9: Don Kessinger and Ron Santo (Chicago Cubs, 1965-1973) – What sets these two apart from the rest of the players on this list? That’s right: the rest were all part of at least one World Champion. Both ended up on the other side of town with Kessinger acting as one of the last player-managers ever.

9: Bert Campaneris and Sal Bando (Oakland A’s, 1968-1976) – Among the shortstops in these pairs, only Boudreau and–to a much lesser degree, Campaneris–had a higher average WARP3 than their third base counterpart for their time together.

9: Larry Bowa and Mike Schmidt (Philadelphia Phillies, 1973-1981) – These two combined for 325 home runs in their time together. For his part, Bowa chipped in a dozen of those.

8: Mark Belanger and Brooks Robinson (Baltimore Orioles, 1968-1975) –
Consider that the O’s had a pretty good run on the left side of their infield from 1963 to 1981. In that time, they had basically four men carry these two positions. Robinson paired with Luis Aparicio for five years before Belanger came along. After Robinson left, Belanger was paired with Doug DeCinces for five of the next six years. The only intrusion on this 19-season run was Kiko Garcia at shortstop in 1979. True, Belanger wasn’t logging a lot of plate time in the last few years.

Multiyear deals or no, Reyes and Wright have a long road ahead of them to get into this company. In terms of quality, they’re off to a pretty good start. Last season, they combined for a WARP3 of 13.6. This year, they’re at 13.9 and counting. They might not ever get to Boudreau/Keltner level, but this is still an excellent deal for the Mets. I’m tempted to call this the Cleveland Model because this is exactly what the Indians have done with their young players. I’m not so sure they invented this gambit, but they certainly perfected it. In any case, I’m surprised that more teams haven’t gone this route with their young stars.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals (15th) @ Cincinnati Reds (16th)

That sound you heard coming out of Philadelphia was the cheer going up when it was announced that Ryan Franklin had been traded. How bad do things have to be in your system that you trade for Ryan Franklin? His STUFF this year is -18. Aren’t there guys playing rec league fast-pitch softball that could pony up a -18 STUFF? OK, they couldn’t, but that’s not the point. The point is that you shouldn’t have to trade for a pitcher like this. This is the type of guy you pick up after he’s been released. The Phils were jeered for picking up Franklin in the first place and now here comes Cincinnati for sloppy seconds.

When Franklin made his first appearance for Cincinnati last night he became the 20th reliever they used this year. This is not an especially outlandish number. The Brewers have used 21 while the Braves have employed 20. The Royals have tried 18 (plus an inning from Denny Bautista). The unquenchable thirst for people to use up innings between starters who go five or six innings and closers who go one has seemingly opened the floodgates on big league immigration.

Sometimes in the middle of a great run, you get a pass from the teams in your division. It happened to the Yankees in 2000. It worked for the Braves in 2001. Now, in 2006, it’s happening for the Cardinals. So far, this is proving to be the worst St. Louis team of this century (although a few more games like last night’s 13-1 victory over the Reds and they might push past the 2003 squad) and they’re being handed the division on a platter by five teams that can barely get out of their own way. There’s no shame in it. In fact, it would probably be surprising to have a long run of division titles without a year like this thrown into the mix.

Thanks to William Burke for his research.

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