Matchup: Red Sox (44-28) at Phillies (41-30), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Bartolo Colon (29 IP, 4.34 RA, 1.31 WHIP, 22 K) vs. Cole Hamels (99, 3.45, 1.02, 86)
Pythagorean Record: Boston, 43-29 (371 RS, 301 RA); Philadelphia, 44-27 (381 RS, 291 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Boston, #2; Philadelphia, #3
Prospectus: Not having a natural nemesis in the opposite league as most of their respective eastern brethren do, these two teams have been paired as interleague rivals, squaring off 28 times since 1998. The Red Sox have won 16 of those games, including 15 of 19 since 2001. This year’s affair should feature plenty of scoring, as both squads are offensive powerhouses which rank second in their leagues in runs and slugging percentage. Each is also extremely efficient on the base paths, as the Phillies have the highest stolen base percentage in the majors (87, 48 of 55), while the Red Sox rank second (84, 64 of 76). In addition to its high-percentage, Boston is second in the American League in raw steals, on pace for a total of 146. That would be the most stolen bases for the Red Sox since 1914, Babe Ruth‘s rookie season, when the Red Sox stole 177 (and were caught a remarkable 176 times). Since the Deadball Era, Boston has typically been at the bottom of the league in steals, but that has changed this season with the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury.
In the other clubhouse, Philadelphia is on track to have the second-best season in terms of stolen base percentage in major league history, behind only its squad last year, which set the record by stealing 138 bases in 159 attempts, or 87.9 percent. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and the rest of the Phillies’ thieves might have a difficult time of it tonight, however, for Colon holds runners extremely well, despite being a right-hander. Colon has not had a runner even attempt a steal this year, after potential thieves went 2-of-4 against him last year. Amongst the 93 right-handed pitchers who have thrown at least 1000 innings since 1997, Colon’s rookie year, the former Cy Young winner has the fifth-lowest stolen base percentage against, as 47 of 97 would-be base stealers have been caught on his watch, 48 percent. In addition, Colon’s 50 stolen bases allowed in 2004 1/3 career innings represents the lowest total given up by any of the 13 righties who have thrown at least 2000 innings since ’97. Compare that with the pitcher ranked last on that list, Boston’s Tim Wakefield, who has had 275 more runners steal against him than Colon has during that span.
Matchup: Braves (34-36) at Rockies (28-41), 6:05 p.m. MDT
Probable Starters: Jair Jurrjens (76 1/3 IP, 4.13 RA, 1.44 WHIP, 55 K) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (76 2/3, 5.63, 1.59, 62)
Pythagorean Record: Atlanta, 39-31 (321 RS, 282 RA); Colorado, 28-41 (291 RS, 355 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Atlanta, #9; Colorado, #27
Prospectus: Willy Taveras has had a tough season, with a sub-.300 OBP to this point, which has caused him to lose playing time to Ryan Spilborghs in center field. Taveras enjoyed a remarkable game on Saturday, however, stealing five bases in a 2-0 win over Chicago, and then followed that up with another steal in yesterday’s 6-5 win. Taveras has now stolen 30 bases in 32 attempts on the year, and for his career has 131 in 162 tries, an excellent 81 percent. Five steals in one game has been accomplished just 17 times since 1956 by 15 players–Alex Cole did it twice, and Eric Young had five- and six-steal games, joining Otis Nixon and Eddie Collins (back in 1912) as the only players with six thefts in a contest. Remarkably, Taveras failed to score a run despite his huge day on the basepaths; every other player that stole five or more scored at least once. That statistic encapsulates Colorado’s scoring struggles this season. The Rockies rank 13th in the National League in runs scored. Playing in the greatest offensive park in baseball history, Colorado has never finished a season ranked lower than fifth in the NL in runs.
The Rockies have played much better at home this season, at 16-16, than on the road, where they are 12-25, as of course is no surprise. What is less usual about Colorado’s split is that the team’s pitchers have performed a good deal better in Colorado than on the road, with an RA of 4.82 at Coors Field, compared to 5.42 on the road. In fact, there are currently 11 other parks with a higher run factor than the 1.077 that Coors Field has checked in at so far. Park factors are notoriously variable even from season-to-season, let alone four-tenths of the way through a home schedule, but that position is one worth keeping tabs on as the year progresses. In just one other season have the Rockies put up better pitching numbers at home than on the road: 2003, when their team RA was 5.50 at Coors Field and 5.82 everywhere else.
Matchup: Mets (33-35) at Angels (42-28), 7:05 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Mike Pelfrey (70 IP, 4.50 RA, 1.61 WHIP, 38 K) vs. Jered Weaver (85, 4.55, 1.31, 60)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 35-33 (322 RS, 316 RA); Los Angeles, 35-35 (292 RS, 291 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #16; Los Angeles, #11
Prospectus: Seemingly hanging on to his job by a thread after the Mets lost yesterday’s opener of a doubleheader against Texas, manager Willie Randolph put at least a temporary stay upon his execution by deciding to pinch-hit third catcher Robinson Cancel–who had one at-bat this season–for Pedro Martinez with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning. Cancel came up with a two-run single, his first big league hit since 1999, sending the struggling Mets and their embattled skipper off to the West Coast on a happy note. Pelfrey will take the hill looking to build upon last night’s victory as well as his own recent success, as he has allowed just four runs in his last three starts, a span of 21 innings. Two of those starts came at Shea Stadium, where Pelfrey has a 3.42 RA and 2/1 K/BB ratio in eight outings; on the road, the right-hander has given up 16 runs in 20 innings, with 35 hits, 12 walks–an unsightly 2.35 WHIP–and just six strikeouts. The only road start in which Pelfrey was effective was his last, when he pitched around 11 base runners in allowing only a run through six at Petco Park.
After playing 160 games last year, David Wright has started each of the Mets’ first 68 this season, and has also played every one of the team’s 616 innings in the field, the only player this season to not get even part of a game off. Playing every inning of a season is a relatively rare feat: Cal Ripken Jr. did it in four straight seasons from 1983–the year his record consecutive games streak started–to 1986, but since then it has been accomplished just twice, by Richie Sexson at first base for the Brewers in 2003, and Juan Pierre in center field for the Marlins in 2004. Wright could probably use a day off, for he has struggled in June so far (.246/.313/.316 in 67 PA), and his AVG, OBP, and SLG are all below his career rates. Wright has also had a down season in the field to this point–his Range Factor of 2.29 ranks 21st of 24 qualified third baseman, and his Zone Rating of .752 is 19th. After posting seasons of +8 FRAA, +10, and +17 the past three years, Wright is already at -7 for 2008, which puts him right at replacement level with the glove.
Thanks to Clay Davenport for database research.
Matchup: Marlins (37-32) at Mariners (24-45), 7:10 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Andrew Miller (70 2/3 IP, 5.73 RA, 1.61 WHIP, 60 K) vs. Carlos Silva (84, 6.00, 1.46, 31)
Pythagorean Record: Florida, 34-35 (337 RS, 339 RA); Seattle, 27-42 (269 RS, 341 RA)
Rankings: Florida, #13; Seattle, #29
Prospectus: This game could feature two of the top six players taken in the 2006 draft, with Miller starting for the Marlins and Brandon Morrow coming out of the bullpen for Seattle. The Mariners took Morrow with the fifth pick two years ago, passing on Miller–who went with the next pick to Detroit–because of budget concerns, according to Kevin Goldstein. While one could second-guess the Mariners for not taking Clayton Kershaw, who went No. 7, or Tim Lincecum, who was picked 10th, Goldstein had Morrow as the college arm with the highest ceiling after Miller and top pick Luke Hochevar, and Morrow still has plenty of that promise left. Moved to the bullpen after being drafted, he reached the majors and had a decent rookie season last year, showing the ability to miss bats (eight hits per nine and 66 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings) as well as serious wildness (over seven walks per nine). This year Morrow is fighting through shoulder soreness, but in 18 innings has allowed just four runs on 12 hits with a 25/7 K/BB ratio. With J.J. Putz on the DL, Seattle has turned to Morrow as its interim closer. Putz is signed for two more years after this, and given that as well as the team’s first round pick this year–University of Georgia righty reliever Josh Fields–the team might yet consider moving Morrow back to the rotation.
Morrow and Miller are two of the 11 players taken in the first round of the 2006 draft who have already made it to the majors. Seattle’s first pick the previous year, catcher Jeff Clement, has had two separate cups of coffee in the show since being taken third overall, including one this past month. Since being sent back down to Triple-A Tacoma on May 19, Clement has hit nine home runs and put up a .287/.385/.670 line in 109 plate appearances. For the season, he ranks second in the minors in slugging (.680) and seventh in on-base percentage (.457). Meanwhile, Kenji Johjima has continued to struggle in Seattle, with a 578 OPS in 37 June PA and 579 on the season in 208, leading John McLaren to give 36-year-old Jamie Burke increased playing time. Florida has also gotten very little from its catchers–Matt Treanor and Mike Rabelo have combined for a 601 OPS, the third worst of any team’s backstops, one spot ahead of Seattle.
Matchup: Tigers (32-37) at Giants (30-40), 7:15 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Justin Verlander (91 IP, 5.14 RA, 1.30 WHIP, 55 K) vs. Tim Lincecum (90 2/3, 2.38, 1.22, 92)
Pythagorean Record: Detroit, 34-35 (328 RS, 337 RA); San Francisco, 31-39 (281 RS, 322 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Detroit, #21; San Francisco, #23
Prospectus: The day’s best pitching matchup features a pair of young right-handed flamethrowers, each of whom has one of the best fastballs in baseball. Lincecum, a year Verlander’s junior, is having the much better season in 2008, as each of his 13 starts has been a quality start (using earned runs instead of all runs allowed as the standard). There have only been eight pitchers since 1956 with a longer run of quality starts to open the year, the greatest of which being Bob Gibson‘s 22-start streak in 1968, the “Year of the Pitcher” when Gibson won the MVP and Cy Young with a 1.12 ERA before the mound was lowered for 1969. Gibson also finished the 1967 season with four quality starts, giving him the longest overall such streak. Lincecum’s 13 in a row matches the start that Brandon Webb had in 2003, as well as Pedro Martinez in 2000, which turned out to be one of the greatest seasons from a starting pitcher in history. The Giants are 10-4 in games that Lincecum has pitched this year, as opposed to 20-36 with anyone else on the mound. Detroit, conversely, has won just three out of the 14 games Verlander has started, already one more defeat than they suffered with their ace on the hill last year, when Detroit was 22-10 in his starts. Verlander has been solid since the beginning of May, however, with a 3.44 RA and 1.18 WHIP in 55 innings.
The Tigers have now won six games in a row after back-to-back home sweeps of the White Sox and Dodgers. With yesterday’s loss by Chicago to the Rockies, Detroit is within stalking distance of the first-place Sox, at six games behind. The Tigers’ winning streak has overlapped with manager Jim Leyland’s latest attempt to stimulate his underachieving offense: a timeshare behind the plate between Ivan Rodriguez and Brandon Inge. Rodriguez has caught 2,116 career games, more than all players except Carlton Fisk (2,226) and Bob Boone (2,225), so the move gives him extra rest in the effort to return juice to his flagging bat, while also getting Inge’s solid bat into the lineup. It has paid off so far–Rodriguez is at seven hits in 14 at-bats since the even split began after a stretch in which he had just three singles in 34 at-bats, while Inge celebrated with a homer in yesterday’s win.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.