Matchup: Tigers (37-40) at Cardinals (45-34), 12:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Nate Robertson (90 IP, 5.60 RA, 1.48 WHIP, 61 K) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (83 1/3, 3.89, 1.21, 65)
Pythagorean Record: Detroit, 38-39 (372 RS, 377 RA); St. Louis, 42-37 (370 RS, 343 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Detroit, #16; St. Louis, #10
Prospectus: Despite being less than halfway through the season, the Tigers have seen enough twists and turns in their fortunes that if they were a band, we could lump them in with Neurosis for their ever-shifting style, the difference being that going to see a concert involves less self-inflicted torture than watching some of the Tigers’ games this year. Things have improved of late, however, as the Kitties got their claws back just in time to tear into the National League, and have rattled off a dominant 14-4 showing against a senior circuit that doesn’t look like it could beat a company softball team from an American League city. With Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya coming back to shore up a bullpen that as a unit hasn’t cracked a win above replacement yet, things could turn out better for the Tigers against the stiffer competition that post-interleague play brings back to the table.
The Tigers should theoretically get a boost from having Gary Sheffield around again, though his performance before hitting the DL left something to be desired. A .138 ISO and .249 EqA were not what the Tigers hoped for out of their DH, but at the least the Tigers have managed to inject life back into their lineup by utilizing a forgotten man, Marcus Thames. Thames has a career .309 OBP but also a lifetime .507 SLG, and has hit a sizzling .259/.329/.615 for Detroit over 149 plate appearances this season. Thames is swinging for the fences essentially every time out, with 53.4 percent of his batted balls in the air, and he’s delivering a homer on nearly 26 percent of those. His career rate is 18.1 percent, so this spike isn’t all that far-fetched. It’s clear given some of the other problems in both the lineup and in the rotation that have created a run differential of -5, that the Tigers need his bat to remain hot if they want to catch the White Sox.
Matchup: White Sox (42-35) at Dodgers (36-41), 12:10 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: John Danks (86 2/3 IP, 2.90 RA, 1.22 WHIP, 66 K) vs. Clayton Kershaw (29, 4.34, 1.55, 26)
Pythagorean Record: White Sox, 46-31 (373 RS, 302 RA); Los Angeles, 38-39 (324 RS, 325 RA)
Hit List Rankings: White Sox, #3; Los Angeles, #18
Prospectus: The Dodgers have failed to take advantage of recent poor play by the Diamondbacks, who are 3-7 in their last 10 and just 6-9 in interleague games, due to their own problems handling the junior circuit. Los Angeles has been even worse in interleague games, 3-8, and though their 5-5 record in their last 10 is a slightly better showing than that of their rival, they still find themselves three games back and with a -1 run differential. With both teams playing poorly-Los Angeles shouldn’t be so close to a division lead when they are ranked where they are on the Hit List-it looks like it’ll be a war of attrition in the second half. June has been a tough month for the Dodgers, as the pitching has been good enough that they should have won a few more games–a .260/.325/.398 opponent line isn’t ideal, but it’s a little better than the league average–but the lineup has been the wrong kind of offensive, with a paltry .246/.295/.373 showing.
Given the relative youth of both the D’backs and Dodgers, the division may come down to which team’s prospects can adjust to the major leagues first. Having Andy LaRoche around should help: he’s only accumulated 21 PA so far, but has hit .278/.381/.444, production he’s capable of besting with more playing time. The #2 prospect in the organization should be able to make up for the production Blake DeWitt is no longer giving the team. DeWitt has struggled as the season drags on, putting up a meager .191/.257/.235 line in June that makes Nomar Garciaparra‘s play this year look good in comparison.
Matchup: Giants (34-44) at Indians (35-43), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Matt Cain (100 1/3 IP, 4.49 RA, 1.33 WHIP, 93 K) vs. Cliff Lee (95 2/3, 2.63, 1.08, 79)
Pythagorean Record: San Francisco, 35-43 (321 RS, 363 RA); Indians, 40-38 (346 RS, 335 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Francisco, #22; Cleveland, #20
Prospectus: With C.C. Sabathia back on track and the Indians still struggling to put a run together in the AL Central, little has been heard of late regarding Cliff Lee’s resurgence. For the season his ERA is 2.45, and his 3.34 QERA-a better indicator of future ERA than ERA itself-shows us that Lee’s performance has been as impressive as it looks. His ERA is a bit higher than we have seen through his four June starts-4.18-but that’s thanks to a BABIP beating, as he has strong peripherals of 8.4 K/9, 0.8 HR/9, and a fantastic 1.9 BB/9. Opponents have hit .293/.327/.444 in June against Lee; the slugging is surprising, given he’s allowed just a pair of homers in 23 2/3 innings, but makes more sense when you see that he’s allowed five doubles and a pair of triples. At least a few of those extra-base hits may have been the fault of an Indians’ defense that ranks an uninspiring #22 in Defensive Efficiency. Considering Lee’s BABIP for the season is .303, but .360 in June, it’s not a stretch to think his “poor” June wasn’t all his own doing. It’s a shame the Indians defense is ranked so poorly as well, since Lee has transformed himself into more of a groundball pitcher. A 1.4 G/F ratio isn’t that high above the league average rate of 1.1 or so, but it’s almost twice what we have seen from him throughout his career. Combine that with the severe drop in free passes, and it’s easy to see why Lee has succeeded in 2008. He has the Three True Outcomes under control and has kept the ball on the ground more often to boot; now it’s up to the Indians defense to avoid handing him unnecessary runs allowed and losses in the second half.
Matchup: Yankees (42-36) at Pirates (37-41), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Mike Mussina (89 1/3, 4.84 RA, 1.24 WHIP, 50 K) vs. Paul Maholm (96 IP, 4.69, 1.39, 60)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 41-37 (366 RS, 344 RA); Pittsburgh, 35-43 (382 RS, 429 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #7; Pittsburgh, #27
Prospectus: Mussina has had a mini-renaissance this year, despite a continual drop in velocity that now has him averaging 85.6 mph on his fastball. His slider (80.7 mph after 82.1 in ’07) and curveball (70 mph, 72.1) have also lost some zip, but Moose has stayed productive this year by focusing on his control. Always stingy with free passes-Mussina has averaged 2.0 walks allowed per nine innings for his career-he’s dropped all the way down to 1.3 BB/9 this year, third-best among pitchers with 50 innings minimum. This has helped him survive the .280 opponent batting average and .160 ISO he’s allowed, though most of that damage has come from the right side (.318/.348/.552 versus RHB against .234/.269/.304 facing lefties). The Yankees defense hasn’t done Mussina any favors, as they rank #21 in Defensive Efficiency.
Since he can’t keep the ball in the park-1.2 HR/9 translates to 27 dingers over 200 innings pitched-can’t get right-handers out, and needs to be perfect with his control in order to last two times through the order, a little help on defense would have been appreciated. As it is, Mussina’s still managed to pitch better than expectations. His 3.93 ERA is about one-third of a run better than his 4.26 QERA, and he’s done his best to stick towards the upper half of his PECOTA percentiles. Even so, saying Mussina’s margin for error is “slim” doesn’t put his situation in the correct, dire light it deserves. If he wears down in the second half and loses some control or command, the Yanks are going to need to procure another starter to replace him.
Matchup: Rangers (40-39) at Astros (36-42), 7:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Kevin Millwood (80 IP, 4.84 RA, 1.60 WHIP, 54 K) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (51 1/3, 4.39, 1.23, 42)
Pythagorean Record: Texas, 39-40 (435 RS, 444 RA); Houston, 35-43 (338 RS, 375 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Texas, #19; Houston, #23
Prospectus: Rodriguez could use some love from the media, because he has been very good for Houston since the start of 2007. Last season, Rodriguez posted an ERA of 4.58 over 182 2/3 innings, a bit higher than the park-adjusted league ERA of 4.39. His QERA was 4.09, though, meaning Rodriguez was better than league average thanks to 7.8 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9. He had some poor luck with runners on, stranding just 67 percent of his baserunners when the league average is closer to 75 percent. This was an odd problem to have, as Rodriguez was more difficult to hit against with runners on (.226/.304/.387) than with the bases empty (.275/.323/.453). He’s kept his dominance with runners on base in 2008, holding the opposition to a paltry .208/.319/.312 in that situation, but he’s also managed to pitch much better from the windup: Wandy has given up a much more manageable .252/.281/.398 with the bases empty in 2008.
His ERA this year is 2.81, a bit unrealistic given his 4.23 QERA, but at the same time he has also had some poor luck stranding runners once again. His career LOB percentage is 66.2 percent, which is baffling given his numbers with runners on, and makes you wonder about the use of the word “luck” when explaining the discrepancy; as mentioned, though, a deeper look into the available splits data does nothing to unearth the cause of the stranded runner issue. Home runs have been a problem for Rodriguez in the past, with a 1.1 career rate and a career high of 1.3, but this year sees him below one per nine at 0.9. That drop is just a five homer difference over 200 innings from last year, but any change that sees Rodriguez improve his strand rate is a welcome one for Houston, which is already doing all it can with 70.5 percent of balls in play converted into outs.