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Hit List Factor


Despite dropping three out of four to the Red Sox in back-to-back doubleheaders, the Yanks finish the week with the majors’ best record, and their magic number to clinch the AL East for the ninth straight time now stands at four. Derek Jeter puts David Ortiz in his place after Big Papi disses him in an MVP discussion (“We’ve still got something to play for,” ahem), then winds up his hitting streak at 25 games, the longest by a Yank since Joe Gordon in 1942. The bigger news is the return of Hideki Matsui after missing 110 games due to a broken wrist; Godzilla posts 4-for-4 night in his first game back, then homers two nights later. But the hottest bat in the Yankee lineup belongs to Robinson Cano, who’s hitting .356/.379/.613 since returning from a six-week absence on August 8; despite the absence, he leads AL second basemen in VORP (38.9). And get this, Yankee opponents: Cano’s .362 OBP is the lowest in the lineup unless Bernie Williams (.334) is playing.


And Then There Was One: the Tigers post a winning record for the week, yet surrender the majors’ best record and find their AL Central lead, which was 10 games on August 7, trimmed to a single game. Jeremy Bonderman stops his freefall, notching his first win since July 24, but rookie Joel Zumayaseventh in the AL in WXRL at 4.211, tops among setup men–is sidelined by tendonitis in his wrist; he hits 102 MPH in his return but yields a crucial run. Meanwhile, the team nabs Matt Stairs off of waivers; he won’t be eligible for the postseason but he’ll fill the lefty power void caused by the ill-timed release of Dmitri Young. Alas, Placido Polanco may be done for the year, and one can only hope that Jim Leyland has the good sense to keep playing Omar Infante (.288/.330/.423) ahead of Neifi Perez (.240/.258/.317) lest he be Mauched for eternity.


Failure to Clinch: with the champagne on ice, the Mets’ bats go dry. The team manages just five runs while dropping three straight in Pittsburgh–all against lefty starters, a potential soft spot–postponing the celebration of an NL East title that’s been a foregone conclusion since mid-June. Pedro Martinez endures a rough return, lasting just three innings in his first start in over a month and shedding some tears over it. Willie Randolph says Pedro will start Game One of the playoffs if healthy, but the club is clearly unsettled by his problems. This much is true: Martinez has made just five starts since June 28, totaling 23.1 innings with a 6.56 ERA, and yet he’s still second on the team in SNLVAR (3.4) because no other Mets starter besides Tom Glavine has remained consistent or healthy enough to surpass him.


A Tale of Twin Cities: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Ron Gardenhire’s team, which inches to within one game of the AL Central-leading Tigers while opening up a four-game lead in the Wild Card race; their Postseason Odds have climbed up to 95.5 percent. Alas, they’ll go the rest of the way without Francisco Liriano, whose return from the DL lasts just two innings and 29 pitches before he “felt a pop” in his elbow. MRIs reveal “no new structural damage,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll avoid Tommy John surgery. What it does mean is that his rookie season–2.16 ERA, 144 K in 121 IP and the top VORP among all freshmen pitchers (50.2)–is over. Luckily, other Twins starters are stepping up; Carlos Silva has posted a 2.25 ERA in four September starts (finally dropping his ERA below 6.00), Boof Bonser has put up a 2.37 ERA in three starts, and Scott Baker picks a good time to turn down the Suck Knob. Meanwhile, rookie reliever Pat Neshek becomes the first active player to blog Rookie Initiation day; he may not be much in fishnets, but he’s helped the Twins bullpen take over the AL lead in Reliever Expected Wins Added (14.023).


White Sox
A pair of old Sox–Frank Thomas and Esteban Loaizaplay big roles as Chicago is swept by the A’s. The White Sox are now five games back in the AL Central and four down in the Wild Card; they’re just 6-11 this month, and their Postseason Odds have plummeted from 59.5 to 6.1 percent in that span. The offense is hitting just .268/.331/.416 in September, well below the .285/.346/.471 they’d hit up to then, and their scoring has decreased from 5.65 runs per game to 4.25. Perhaps the biggest reason for the decline is Jim Thome; since straining a hamstring on August 23, he’s hitting just .222/.394/.407.


Blue Jays
Thanks to a 10-5 month, the Jays are mounting a serious run for second place in the AL East. Leading the way is the pitching staff, which has yielded just a 2.45 ERA for the month; starters A.J. Burnett, Gustavo Chacin, Roy Halladay and Ted Lilly have surrendered just four homers while combining for a 2.00 ERA in 85.2 innings. While Halladay won’t get his much-sought 20-win season or Cy Young award (he does have one of each already), he’s second in the AL in VORP (66.4) and SNLVAR (6.2).


Frank Thomas puts a Very Big Hurt on his old club, homering on consecutive days and driving in seven runs to key a three-game sweep. Thomas is slugging .869 in September thanks to 10 homers in 61 at-bats, and he’s also contributing in other ways. The team’s Postseason Odds are now at 97.4 percent, their magic number and their AL West lead are both at seven. As Rich Harden eyes a return on Thursday, the team’s hopes of keeping Barry Zito beyond this year may have gotten a boost after officials from the Yankees and Mets admit they have no plans to pursue the lefty this winter. Zito’s currently seventh in the AL in SNLVAR (5.4), a hair behind teammate Dan Haren.


Despite a 37-25 record since the All-Star break (fifth-best in the majors), the Angels can’t catch the A’s (an MLB-best 41-19), and here they finally give up the ghost, dropping to seven games back in the AL West, with just a 2.5 percent chance at the postseason. Particularly one-hitting the Rangers for seven innings. He’s 10th in the AL in SNVLAR (5.1) despite having at least 67.2 fewer innings than any of the nine pitchers ahead of him. With John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar (4.6 apiece) also in the top 20, the Angels are second in the AL in Support Neutral Yadda Yadda at 19.2.


Cla Meredith‘s 34-inning scoreless streak ends, but it hardly matters as the Padres take two out of three in L.A. to reclaim first place in the NL West for the first time since August 9. The Pads have simply owned the Dodgers this year, winning 13 out of 17 against them, including seven out of eight at Dodger Stadium. The pitching staff has been the best in baseball in September, posting a 2.42 ERA, more than a full run better than the next NL team, and holding opponents to a .219/.289/.339 performance. That stretch has enabled the rotation to take over the NL lead in SNLVAR, with 22.4; Chris Young (5.6), Peavy (5.2) and Clay Hensley (4.9) are all among the league’s top 15.


The Dodgers surrender first place in the NL West for the first time in over a month by losing two out of three to the Padres and managing just six runs in the process. The offense is limping home, hitting just .247/.322/.387 in September, and even that is masked somewhat by Rafael Furcal‘s insane .393/.418/.672 line. Andre Ethier, who entered September as a strong Rookie of the Year candidate (.335/.376/.528) is hitting just .139/.340/.167, while big bat Nomar Garciaparra is at .224/.255/.469 and dealing with a quad strain. Also banged up is Chad Billingsley, who is rocked in his return from an oblique strain that cost him three weeks. The silver lining in all this is that the Dodgers still lead the Wild Card race by a game, with a 71.9 percent chance of making the playoffs according to the Postseason Odds report.


Happy Cycling: five players have hit for the cycle this season; two of them did it in Rangers games this week. First, Gary Matthews Jr. does it “naturally” (single, double, triple, and homer in order), then three days later Chone Figgins does it against the Rangers. Back to Matthews, Little Sarge is riding an 11-game hit streak during which he’s hitting .457/.509/.739; he now leads the team in VORP (48.6). Towards the other end of the spectrum both heat- and VORP-wise is Hank Blalock, hitting just .153/.194/.203 in September, and with just a 2.1 VORP overall; Marc Normandin examines the enigmatic, disappointing third baseman, noting the decline in his ability to hit fly balls… Since being recalled from Triple-A, Robinson Tejeda has given the Rangers five quality starts out of six, good for a 1.91 ERA in 37.2 innings.


After an 18-10 August, the Indians are just 6-10 in September, 5-10 since losing Travis Hafner–who still leads the majors in VORP (81.1)–for the season. Without Hafner, they’re slugging just .395 this month, a far cry from the .459 mark that’s been good for third in the majors overall. One bright spot: Andy Marte‘s been showing excellent power this month (albeit little else), hitting .245/.298/.528, with 10 of his 13 hits going for extra bases… After putting together a July (.297/.356/.462) that bore a slight resemblance to his breakout 2005 campaign, Jhonny Peralta is “hitting” just .234/.274/.328 over the past month and a half. He’s just ninth in the AL in VORP among shortstops at a meager 8.5. It should come as consolation to this imbecile that he’s not the only disappointment among BP staff picks for AL MVP (Bobby Crosby, please pick up a white paging phone).


Red Sox
The Sox post their first winning week since July 24, but taking three out of four in the Bronx is a hollow gesture that does little more than prevent the team from watching their pinstriped rivals celebrate a clinched division on their watch. The shutdowns have started; Jonathan Papelbon is done for the year and is eyeing a return to the rotation, not the closer role. Manny Ramirez sits the entire week and may be cooked as well. And is it just a coincidence that David Ortizwhose dignity apparently will finish the season on the DL–goes 3-for-19 with 11 walks in his absence? Just in case you’re interested, Ortiz’s 7.0 WARP1 trails those of Johan Santana (10.3), Derek Jeter (8.6), Papelbon (8.2), Roy Halladay (8.2), Joe Mauer (8.1), Travis Hafner (7.8), Jermaine Dye (7.6), Mariano Rivera (7.6), Miguel Tejada (7.5), Michael Young (7.3)…


The Phils sweep the Astros and thin the Wild Card herd; they’re now second in the hunt, one game behind the Dodgers, and their Postseason Odds have climbed from 14.0 to 38.9 percent in the past week. Ryan Howard hits his 57th homer not once (ump Larry Poncino admits that he blew the call) but twice. Cole Hamels tosses 6.2 innings of no-hit ball; Hamels is second on the Phils in SNLVAR (3.1) but the team is just 14th in the league (12.6) in that category.


The Cards reassert their command of the NL Central and rekindle some fond memories in the process. Defending Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter has returned to dominance as well as the chase for more hardware; thanks to a seven-start streak in which he’s yielded nine earned runs in 55.1 innings, he’s SNLVAR (7.6), and ERA (2.79). Albert Pujols bests Brad Lidge, the fourth time the Cards have gotten to Lidge since last October. And Scott Rolen enjoys a monster seven-RBI night to snap out of a slump. Alas, not all of the news is positive; Jason Isringhausen is done for the year due to his bad hip.


Matt Cain continues to dominate; he’s allowed three hits in 15 IP over his last two starts, and over his last six, he’s surrendered just one earned run in 42 frames. Despite his hot streak (and Armando Benitez‘s “loss” for the year), the team’s slim Wild Card hopes suffer a blow when Jason Schmidt is scratched from a start due to tightness in his back (question for this moron: ever hear of a cascade injury?) and replacement Brad Hennessey is pounded by the Cardinals. With the losing week, the Giants are now 3.5 back in the Wild Card standings and four back in the NL West, their Postseason Odds down to 5.5 percent.


Gutted: the Marlins’ Wild Card hopes are dealt a severe blow after they squander a four-run 10th inning against the Braves. That’s their fourth loss in five games, dropping them to fourth in the Wild Card race, with just a 2.3 percent chance of winning. Still, the week’s not without its highlights for the Fish, particularly in the longball department. Cody Ross pounds three homers in a game against the Mets; seven of his 12 dingers have backed Anibal Sanchez. Josh Willingham settles for homering in three straight games against the Mets. Dan Uggla breaks Joe Gordon’s 68-year-old record for homers by a rookie second baseman with his 25th. As Kevin Goldstein points out, Uggla and Willingham are second and third in rookie hitter VORP, trailing only teammate Hanley Ramirez.


Sweep and Weep: as predicted in this space last week, the Astros slim postseason hopes grow even slimmer thanks to a miserable week. Brad Lidge is raked over the coals by the Cardinals again, Roger Clemens yields a grand slam in the first inning of his first start in 11 days, Andy Pettitte is pushed back due to a strained flexor tendon, and the Phillies sweep the ‘Stros to reduce Houston’s Postseason Odds to less than 1/25th of what they were a week ago. Amid the mess, Craig Biggio endures a career-worst 0-for-30 slump, but team brass pledges to try to bring back the pending free agent so that he can chase 3,000 hits (he’s 84 shy) in a Houston uniform.


End Run: the curtain falls on the Braves’ string of 14 “consecutive” (as in all but 1994) division titles as the team is eliminated from the NL East race. Strike-related fudging or no, it’s still a remarkable achievement; even if one goes strictly by the book, the Yankees would have to win the AL East every year through 2009 to top the Braves’ run. As for blasts from the past (where have you gone, Nick Esasky?), 1990 Braves survivor John Smoltz is seventh in the NL in VORP (50.6) and fifth in SNLVAR (6.2) after breaking a slump.


Rocky Road: at just 25-37, Colorado has been the second-worst team in the NL since the All-Star break, and a big reason for that is their poor performance on the road. Through the break, the Rox were 22-21 away from Coors Field en route to a 44-43 record. Since then, they’ve gone 17-11 at home but just 8-17 on the road, and have won just one of 10 road series. Blame the offense; while Rox pitchers have had shown very little difference between their home (.273/.338/.432, 4.66 RA/G) and road (.272/.345/.424, 4.87 RA/G) performances, those bats just can’t seem to get used to life closer to sea level: .286/.357/.440, 5.25 R/G at home, .249/.316/.407, 4.31 R/G on the road, a 21.8 percent drop in scoring.


The Diamondbacks announce they’re cutting ties with Luis Gonzalez at the end of the year. The 39-year-old is hitting .277/.360/.459 with 50 doubles, but in hitter-friendly Arizona that’s still worth just 15.7 VORP. The Snakes have younger, cheaper options available; next year’s outfield figures to be Eric Byrnes in left, Chris Young in center, and Carlos Quentin in right. After a hot first half (.292/.352/.522), Byrnes has hit the skids (.245/.279/.451 with just 9 BB in 249 PA). Meanwhile, Quentin’s hitting .258/.347/.539 in 148 PA, while Young has hit .259/.339/.444 in 62 PA.


Ichiro Suzuki sets two records in one game, nabbing his AL-best 33rd consecutive stolen base and furthering his own mark for the most consecutive 200-hit seasons to start a career (six). Only Wade Boggs (1983-1989) has more consecutive 200-hit seasons, period… Adrian Beltre puts together a hot week (.393/.438/.786) but $12.9 million for an 11.7 VORP (seventh on the team isn’t anything to write home about. At least his five-RBI night helps the team surpass last year’s win total and reach 70 wins for the first time since 2003. So they’ve got that going for them.


Code Red: losers of 15 out of 21, the Reds are pretty much done for the year. Not only are their Postseason Odds in Reduced Fat Milk territory, but the side of the milk carton has Adam Dunn, who’s hit just .158/.304/.333 since August 11. Since August 25, when the real bleeding started, the entire team has hit just .223/.294/.348 and scored just 3.0 runs per game. Leading the hemorrhage from the pitching mound is Kyle Lohse; his ERA in that span is 7.40 (20.2 IP), while in his first four starts as a Red, he posted a 1.37 ERA in 26.1 IP.


A lackluster week culminating with their 82nd loss guarantees that the Brewers will extend their streak of non-winning seasons to 14 in a row. The wheels have pretty much fallen off the Brewer bandwagon thanks to a 5-17 skid since August 24; the team is scoring just 3.41 runs per game. Indeed, offense has been a big problem since the late July trade of Carlos Lee; the Brewers have scored just 3.83 runs per game while hitting .238/.310/.376. Not helping matters is that the offensive return from the Rangers has been, well, offensive: Kevin Mench (.212/.235/.292, -10.4 VORP) and Laynce Nix (.229/.250/.343, -1.4 VORP) have both been below replacement level, and while closer Francisco Cordero has been lights-out (a team-high 2.127 WXRL and 0.46 ERA in 19.2 innings), his 12.1 VORP barely offsets those sinkholes.


Alfonso Soriano steals a base to become the fourth member of the 40-40 Club, joining Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), and Alex Rodriguez (1998). Soriano, who’s hitting .286/.358/.579 for the year, has now had four seasons of at least 30 homers and 30 steals, a mark bettered only by Bonds and his father, Bobby Bonds, who did it five times each. Speaking of milestones, Nick Johnson has made it through a full season without a trip to the DL; he’s hitting .291/.428/.521, setting career highs in games (142) doubles (45), homers (22), RBI (76) walks (105) and steals (10). Thomas Boswell notes that since the trade for Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez in mid-July, the Nats have the fourth-best OBP in the majors, with five players in the top 30 in pitches per plate appearance.


Crash and Bird: a dreadful week guarantees the Orioles their ninth losing season in a row, and gives the struggling Tigers a soft place to land. Hayden Penn is torched yet lowers his ERA from 36.82 to 27.00; allow us to suggest that the 21-year-old, who carries a career ERA of 9.66 in 45.2 innings and just one quality start out of 11, isn’t ready for the big time. The Russ Ortiz Ordeal (8.44 ERA in 37.1 IP) isn’t going so well either; of the 17 games he’s appeared in, 15 have been losses. Despite reliance on such “talent,” owner Peter Angelos complains that the team’s biggest problem is the presence of an NFL franchise in the same city, something that apparently doesn’t bother the two dozen other owners facing such local competition. No surprise that manager Sam Perlozzo will return next year; the question is whether somebody realizes that Leo Mazzone would blow this hot dog stand if he departs, or if 70 wins is worthy of job security. Take a guess which way we’re leaning…


The Cubs’ already-miserable season takes an even scarier turn. First, Glendon Rusch is hospitalized with a blood clot in his lung, then Derrek Lee‘s injury-marred season comes to an end due to his daughter’s serious illness. Against that sobering backdrop, the Cubs actually put together a decent week. Aramis Ramirez derails the Dodgers. Rich Hill tosses a two-hit shutout; he’s become a bright spot in this dark season, yielding four runs over his last five starts and posting a 35/6 K/BB ratio in that 37-innning span. And Carlos Zambrano returns after missing two starts due to lower back stiffness, tossing seven shutout innings and pounding his fifth homer of the year.


Not in My House: the Pirates sweep the Mets at PNC Park, preventing them from clinching the NL East title and running their own second-half record to 33-27. Getting the game-winning hit on Saturday night is rookie catcher Ronny Paulino, who’s hit .321/.372/.407; his 20.6 VORP is tenth among NL rookies, and he’s been above average behind the plate (101 Rate2, 36.2 CS%). Teaming up to blank the Mets on Sunday is Zach Duke, who appears to have finally rediscovered the rookie form that enabled him to post a 32.7 VORP–tops among NL freshmen–in just 84.2 innings. Duke has tossed seven quality starts out of his last eight, good for a 2.43 ERA over 59.1 innings, but with just 24.7 VORP, he’s got his work cut out to match last year.


Devil Rays
Next Time, Pack the Bats: a winless week has the Rays on the verge of being knocked into the Hit List cellar for the first time all year. It’s that pesky travel stuff that’s to blame. The Rays are 2-28 on the road since July 1, yielding 5.8 runs per game while scoring just 3.26 and hitting .237/.291/.358. Special awards for ineptitude in that span go to Jorge Cantu (.144/.217/.269), Damon Hollins (.140/.169/.246), B.J. Upton (.213/.284/.213) and the entire rotation (6.23 ERA). Overall, the Rays are 38-36 at home but just 19-56 on the road… Obligatory Delmon Young update: he’s riding an 11-game hitting streak and has hit in 16 out of 18 games, batting .400/.410/.640 overall. But that lone walk in 75 at-bats sticks out like a sore Jeff Francoeur.


Brawling Battery: Runelvys Hernandez and John Buck duke it out in the dugout, presumably because the catcher nicked Runelvys’ retirement grease. Nonetheless, the team recovers to beat the Indians on the way to their third winning week in a row; they’re now 9-6 on the month. Joe Sheehan points out that their turnaround–which for on-field purposes began with Mark Teahen‘s recall from the minors–has been largely unheralded, and that new GM Dayton Moore has done a good job paring the dead weight from the roster and restocking the farm system. Speaking of the minors, Alex Gordon wins Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year honors, while Zack Greinke will join the bullpen this week.

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.

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