Matchup: Phillies (53-46) at Mets (53-46), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Joe Blanton (127 IP, 5.24 RA, 1.42 WHIP, 62 K) vs. Johan Santana (130 2/3, 3.65, 1.22, 116)
Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 57-42 (492 RS, 417 RA); New York, 53-46 (481 RS, 446 RA)
Hit List” Rankings: Philadelphia, #6; New York, #7
Prospectus: Tonight’s series opener has even more juice than usual for this rivalry, for not only is Philadelphia’s brand-new acquisition making his inaugural National League appearance against the Mets’ ace, but both teams enter Queens tied for first place in the NL East, thanks to the Mets having won 11 of their last 13 games. This will be the fourth series of the year between the two combatants, and New York has taken each of the first three, winning two out of three in early April at Shea and then five out of seven in Citizens Bank Park, buying back at least a small amount of swagger for their fans after last September’s debacle.
Blanton’s acquisition makes it two years in a row that the Phillies have made a July trade for a right-handed starter with an RA north of 5.00. Last year it was Kyle Lohse, who brought his 5.19 RA over from Cincinnati at the deadline, and pitched decently for Philadelphia down the stretch (4.87 RA in 61 innings, which was close to league-average in Citizens Bank Park). While Blanton will be switching from the DH league to the weaker NL, he is also trading in the spacious outfield of McAfee Coliseum for the uncomfortably crowded confines of the Cit. Blanton posted a 4.96 ERA in 127 innings pitching in a park where the league average was 3.84; the average ERA in Philly this season is more than a half-run higher, 4.45. While it is questionable how effective Blanton will be, his durability is not in doubt-since the start of last season, the 250-pound workhorse has thrown 357 frames, more than all but CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Brandon Webb, and Tim Hudson. Blanton will therefore augment a Philadelphia starting rotation that has thrown more innings than any other in the National League, averaging over six per start, and as Joe Sheehan pointed out in his second-half National League preview, help take some of the stress off a bullpen that has significantly overperformed to this point. Blanton held the Mets scoreless over 15 innings in his two career starts against New York (one each in ’05 and ’07), giving up eight hits with a 10/1 K/BB ratio, results which possibly added extra motivation for general manager Pat Gillick in his pursuit of the right-hander.
Matchup: Padres (38-62) at Reds (48-53), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Jake Peavy (101 2/3 IP, 2.74 RA, 1.12 WHIP, 100 K) vs. Johnny Cueto (117, 5.38, 1.37, 103)
Pythagorean Record: San Diego, 39-61 (376 RS, 475 RA); Cincinnati, 46-55 (445 RS, 495 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Diego, #29; Cincinnati, #22
Prospectus: The Reds entered the top of the ninth with a 4-3 lead against the worst offensive team in the majors last night, one which was 0-53 this year when behind heading into its final at-bat, but they left that frame down 6-4. Cincinnati then loaded the bases with none out against the all-time saves leader, but Hoffman proceeded to strike out David Ross, get Javier Valentin to pop up, and strike out Jay Bruce to close out the win. Acting the goat was Reds closer Francisco Cordero, who blew his sixth save of the season. Cordero’s unsavory campaign is one more example of why giving big money to established
closers is almost always a bad idea: the variability of any 60 or 70 innings is simply too high to bank on, and a few bad ninth innings can make the investment essentially worthless in any given year. Already 33 years old, Cordero will be making $12 million each of the next three seasons, and it can be argued that he is only the third-best reliever on the team right now, with Jared Burton and Bill Bray both pitching very well in set-up roles.
The Cordero signing was probably former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky’s worst transaction. In hindsight, however, it was also one of the few moves he made that can unequivocally be panned. Krivsky held the reputation as an outstanding judge of talent when he came over from the Twins organization, and he made good on that through several strong trades, as well as the selection of Burton in the ’06 Rule 5 draft from Oakland. Bray arrived along with Daryl Thompson in the ’06 deal that sent Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to Washington, which two years later appears to have turned out well for the Reds. Another trade that was criticized at the time, the shipment of Wily Mo Pena to Boston for Bronson Arroyo, also turned out to be a positive. Perhaps Krivsky’s biggest coup was stealing Brandon Phillips from the Indians for a PTBNL, and he added the other member of Cincinnati’s current starting middle infield, Jeff Keppinger, in a minor trade with Kansas City for a non-prospect. Then there was the purchase of Josh Hamilton from the Cubs and subsequent swap of him for Edinson Volquez. All told, it seems the former GM got a tough break in receiving only two years to implement his plan, and several of the players he traded for will most likely be a significant part of Cincinnati’s next playoff season.
Matchup: Tigers (50-49) at Royals (45-55), 7:10 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Kenny Rogers (120 2/3 IP, 5.07 RA, 1.55 WHIP, 45 K) vs. Kyle Davies (49, 4.96, 1.61, 25)
Pythagorean Record: Detroit, 51-48 (493 RS, 472 RA); Kansas City, 43-57 (423 RS, 494 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Detroit, #15; Kansas City, #24
Prospectus: Rogers has allowed only one stolen base this season, to the Royals’ Tony Pena Jr. on May 15 in a game Kansas City won 8-4. Pena is one of just three baserunners who have even attempted to steal a base this season against the Gambler, one of the toughest pitchers in the history of baseball to successfully swipe a bag against. Rogers has picked off more runners this season (two) than he has allowed steals, a feat he accomplished in both ’06 and ’07 as well. Over the course of his career, Rogers has picked off 78 runners-the fourth-highest total of all time, behind Steve Carlton, Andy Pettitte, and Jerry Koosman-while allowing 63 successful steals. Here are the 10 other pitchers who have picked off more than they allowed to steal (minimum 20 pickoffs) since 1956, the first year for which such data is available:
Pitcher T PICKOFF SB Brian Anderson L 58 54 Mark Buehrle L 53 34 Terry Mulholland L 49 35 Darold Knowles L 45 29 Whitey Ford L 44 21 Mike Maroth L 30 27 Jerry Garvin L 30 24 Chris Capuano L 28 13 Joe Beimel L 27 24 Tom House L 21 12 Data from Baseball-Reference.com
Opponents have been successful just 41 percent of the time when stealing against Rogers (63 of 154), which amongst pitchers with at least 1000 innings since ’56 is the 11th-lowest percentage, tied with his division rival Buehrle, who also pitches tonight. Despite Pena Jr.’s feat-which just might be his most impressive offensive achievement this season-the Royals would appear to be no match on the basepaths for the crafty left-hander, for Kansas City has been successful on a lowly two-thirds of its attempts this season (56 of 84), the second-worst percentage in the majors. Center fielder David DeJesus has always had trouble stealing bags, and that has continued this year with seven of 16 attempts ending in a caught stealing, lowering his career stolen base percentage to 57 (38 of 68).
Part of Rogers’ historic ability to limit the stolen base can be explained by his association with catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Pudge came up to Texas in 1991, Rogers’ third season, and caught the lefty’s perfect game in 1994. Overall, Rodriguez has been behind the plate in 11 of Rogers’ 20 seasons in the big leagues, for both Texas and Detroit. Thus Rogers has benefited more than any other pitcher from the greatest-throwing catcher of all time. Rodriguez has caught a remarkable 47 percent of all basestealers during his Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Matchup: Dodgers (49-50) at Rockies (43-58), 7:05 p.m. MDT
Probable Starters: Clayton Kershaw (38 2/3 IP, 4.42 RA, 1.63 WHIP, 33 K) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (120, 4.73, 1.51, 98)
Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 51-48 (422 RS, 405 RA); Colorado, 44-57 (457 RS, 532 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #17; Chicago, #26
Prospectus: Kershaw comes back up from Double-A Jacksonville tonight to start in place of Chan-Ho Park, whom the team shifted to the bullpen after closer Takashi Saito went on the DL. In his three starts for the Suns since getting sent down early this month, Kershaw gave up three runs and just seven hits in 18 innings, with four walks and 12 strikeouts, so a promotion of some kind was certainly in order. Both Kershaw and his opponent Jimenez have had similar control problems in the majors, with the Dodgers’ lefty passing out 5.6 BB/9 in his first stint with Los Angeles, and Jimenez having issued a major league-leading 63 walks this year, 4.7 per nine. One might think that Jimenez’s overall inconsistency has been due to Coors Field, but that has not been the case: at home, the right-hander has been outstanding, with a 3.08 RA and 1.15 WHIP in 64 1/3 innings, but on the road he has been hit for a 6.63 RA and 1.92 WHIP in 55 2/3 innings. While Jimenez is the most extreme case, every Rockies starter this season (with the exception of Kip Wells) has had better results in the thin air than on the road. That is reflected in the team’s performance, with a respectable 29-22 mark at home but major league-worst road record of 14-36.
Los Angeles pounded the Rockies last night 16-10 in the opener at Coors Field to stay even with Arizona, which beat Chicago 2-0. Holding true to their form of the last several seasons, the Dodgers managed to pile up that many runs without hitting a single home run; Los Angeles ranks second-to-last in the National League in home runs this year, the exact position it occupied in 2006 and 2007, as well. The 16 runs was the most ever scored by a team at Coors Field without a home run, equaling Montreal’s total in a May 2000 game. (Since 1956, the most runs scored by a team without a home run is 20, which has been done three times, most recently by the 1995 Rangers.) Colorado did have a positive to take away from the mugging, however, which was the 5-for-5 night of Troy Tulowitzki in his latest return from the DL, perhaps the start of a strong second half for a player whose lost season mirrored the Rockies’ first-half fortunes.
Matchup: Nationals (38-61) at Giants (40-58), 7:15 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Jason Bergmann (82 2/3 IP, 4.90 RA, 1.29 WHIP, 63 K) vs. Barry Zito (97 2/3, 6.45, 1.79, 62)
Pythagorean Record: Washington, 39-60 (379 RS, 482 RA); San Francisco, 41-57 (392 RS, 464 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Washington, #30; San Francisco, #25
Prospectus: Joe Sheehan‘s pitcher to watch in the NL East down the stretch, Bergmann gets his second half underway tonight with a favorable matchup. Bergmann was the most extreme fly-ball pitcher in the majors during the first half, as he generated a 0.59 G/F ratio, which ranks as the lowest of the 145 pitchers who have thrown at least 60 innings this year. He will be pitching against a Giants team that has very little ability to turn those fly balls into homers-San Francisco has hit 58 long balls, 10 fewer than has the club with the next lowest total, Toronto. Only one other team since the 1993 expansion hit fewer homers per game than this year’s Giants club has so far-those inaugural ’93 Marlins. That Florida squad finished with 94 homers, and no team since has clocked in under the century barrier over a full season. If the Giants continue at their present pace, they will tally 96.
Opposing Bergmann is another fly-ball pitcher in Zito, who has an interesting split in his statistics this year. Zito is holding left-handers to 19 hits in 83 at-bats, for an OPS of 590, while righties have tattooed him for a 904 OPS in 361 plate appearances. This might not seem like an unusual performance breakdown for the left-handed Zito, but it in fact represents a sizable break with his past results. Zito has always had a reverse platoon split, and he was one of just two lefty pitchers, along with Jamie Moyer, to garner a better 2008 PECOTA forecast against righty than lefty batters. Over the course of his career, opposing right-handed hitters have batted .235/.311/.372 versus Zito, while lefties have a line of .248/.338/.382. Like Moyer, and like most of the other pitchers who have consistently put up reverse platoon splits-think Mike Mussina and Steve Trachsel, as well as lefty Cole Hamels-Zito comes almost straight over the top in his delivery, which makes it easier for left-handers to see the ball, and which eliminates the edge that righties normally have against lefties who throw at more of an angle. For some reason, however, this season Zito has not had his typical effectiveness versus right-handers, and perhaps an alteration of his delivery is part of the reason why.
Thanks to Jason Paré and Nate Silver for their research.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.