Today’s Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Dodgers (65-63) at Phillies (69-59), 3:55 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Clayton Kershaw (72 2/3 IP, 3.59 RA, 1.51 WHIP, 64 K) vs. Cole Hamels (181 2/3, 3.67, 1.06, 157)
Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 67-61 (537 RS, 513 RA); Philadelphia, 72-56 (615 RS, 538 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #14; Philadelphia, #12
Prospectus: The Phillies are just 2½ games behind the Mets in the National League East, and it’s their recent sputtering that has put them there. They’ve gone 5-5 while the Mets have rattled off four wins in a row to go 9-1, opening up some space between the two clubs. The two shared the same 52-44 record at the break, and while the two are still close, the Mets have outplayed them in the second half with a +29 run differential. Since the All-Star break the Phillies’ run differential has been -1 (134-135) during a stretch that saw them go 17-15.

Pitching has not been the Phillies’ strong suit, but it has performed well lately, giving up a line of just .258/.341/.390 since the break. Even more impressive is that the bullpen hasn’t had to shoulder the load by themselves, with the rotation holding opponents to a .245/.319/.379 showing. The problem has been with the offense: the 4.2 runs per game the Phillies have scored since the break is far below what they did in the first half, when they averaged five runs per contest, and even with the solid performance by the pitching staff, it’s going to be tough to win when your lineup pumps out an inadequate .239/.313/.414 line. Point your finger at Jimmy Rollins (.223/.287/.369) and Ryan Howard (.215/.294/.388) if you’re looking for someone to blame, as the two sluggers have been awfully quiet at the plate for the past month.

Matchup: Padres (48-80) at Giants (56-72), 1:05 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Dirk Hayhurst (84 IP, 3.86 RA, 1.32 WHIP, 98 K-Triple-A) vs. Barry Zito (134 1/3, 6.03, 1.70, 86)
Pythagorean Record: Padres, 52-76 (487 RS, 603 RA); San Francisco, 53-75 (490 RS, 593 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Diego, #28; San Francisco, #24
Prospectus: Hayhurst makes his major league debut today, and though he has been almost exclusively a reliever during his past few seasons in the minors, he’s slotting in as a starter. Hayhurst was an eighth-round pick by San Diego in the 2003 amateur entry draft out of Kent State University. He spent four full years in college, which in part contributed to his being old for every level he’s been assigned to, starting in Low-A ball at the age of 22, and making it to Triple-A Portland for the first time during his age-25 campaign in 2006. Hayhurst did not make it onto Kevin Goldstein‘s Top 11 Prospects list for the Padres coming into the season, but he’s had a breakout year of sorts as a reliever at Portland, striking out 10.5 hitters per nine while walking 2.6, a quality follow-up to his impressive Double-A figures from 2007 (8.3 K/9, 1.4 BB/9). Hayhurst has made just a pair of starts for the Beavers this year, striking out 14 and walking a pair over ten innings while giving up one run; the Padres hope for the same kind of success against a Giants lineup that ranks 15th in the NL in EqA.

Matchup: Yankees (68-60) at Orioles (61-66), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Carl Pavano (14 IP, 3.86 RA, 1.36 WHIP, 13 K-Double-A) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (177, 3.41, 1.16, 110)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 68-60 (619 RS, 575 RA); Baltimore, 63-64 (654 RS, 656 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #8; Baltimore, #17
Prospectus: Pavano has not pitched in the majors since April 9 of 2007, when his season ended early after just 11 1/3 innings. The last time he pitched regularly in the majors was all the way back in 2005, his first season with the Yankees. Even in that year he wasn’t available all the time, as he tossed just 100 innings over 17 starts, and then threw just 28 2/3 innings in the minors the next year without making it to the majors at all. The only season of his career where Pavano was both productive and available to pitch was 2004, the year that netted him his four-year, $39.95 million contract with the Bombers. It’s just a hunch, but regardless of how Pavano throws today and for the rest of the year-knowing Pavano, those two statements could be one and the same-chances are good that the Yanks won’t be picking up his $13 million option for 2009, though they do have to pay him nearly $2 million for a buyout.

As for how Pavano has looked recently, there isn’t much to go on. However nice his numbers during his rehab work in Low- and Double-A, there aren’t many of them, and it’s tough to feel giddy about a 32-year-old pitcher outwitting kids in the minors. Pavano will also have to face a quality lineup today in Baltimore: for the year, they have a slightly above-average .264 EqA, and have been one of the hottest teams in the majors at the plate since the All-Star break, hitting .304/.369/.495.

Matchup: Indians (60-67) at Rangers (63-66), 7:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Jeremy Sowers (84 IP, 6.43 RA, 1.54 WHIP, 44 K) vs. Brandon McCarthy (26 2/3, 3.38, 1.09, 23-Triple-A)
Pythagorean Record: Cleveland, 66-61 (611 RS, 589 RA); Texas, 59-70 (719 RS, 784 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Cleveland, #16; Texas, #22
Prospectus: McCarthy makes his season debut after missing the season to this point with forearm inflammation. PECOTA was not too optimistic heading into the year after a 2007 campaign that netted him all of 6.5 VORP over 100 innings, projecting him for a PERA of 4.78, though the upper levels of his forecast-5.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, and a 3.79 PERA-aren’t too shabby. There is a massive performance split between the lower and upper levels though, as he was forecasted to be a sub-replacement level pitcher from his 10th to 40th percentiles, and of little value until you hit his 75th-percentile forecast.

There’s a lot of pressure on McCarthy for two reasons: first, the Rangers are in dire need of someone, anyone, to show up and give them quality starts to keep their league-leading offense in games, as their rotation has been in a shambles since the year began, ranking dead last in the majors in SNLVAR with 1.3 on the season. Secondly, the pitcher McCarthy was traded for prior to the 2007 campaign, John Danks, has been busy making himself a household name for a playoff-contending club out in Chicago; considering the aforementioned problems with quality pitchers in town, that’s an issue that can’t be ignored, especially when you remember that Edinson Volquez, another member of the Rangers’ vaunted DVD prospect trio, is having himself a fine year out in Cincinnati.

Matchup: Reds (57-72) at Rockies (59-71), 6:05 p.m. MDT
Probable Starters: Edinson Volquez (151 2/3 IP, 3.44 RA, 1.31 WHIP, 150 K) vs. Aaron Cook (177, 4.22, 1.32, 83)
Pythagorean Record: Cincinnati, 54-75 (545 RS, 648 RA); Colorado, 59-71 (609 RS, 671 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Cincinnati, #26; Colorado, #21
Prospectus: It all started out so well for Jay Bruce this year when he was called up to the majors on May 27 and proceeded to hit .390/.486/.610 over the next few weeks. The party ended shortly after that though, as a massive slump in June (.223/.274/.340) brought his season line down considerably. July was no better for the top prospect in the Reds’ organization, as he hit .253/.282/.384 for the month and dragged his overall line down to a below-average .267/.320/.407. Now, after an August that has seen his power return (a .252 ISO and six homers on the month) but little else (just a .228 batting average to go along with that slugging) things are looking a bit depressing for him. His EqA is .247, 21 points under the average for center fielders, and 28 points under the right-field average. His .855 Revised Zone Rating would rank second-to-last among right fielders as well, although the sample is small enough that he doesn’t qualify for the leader boards.

There have been flashes of brilliance from Bruce, as his 13 homers in a half-season at age 21 attest to, but he’s still very raw, and in need of more experience and adjustment before he meets his potential. As evidenced by Nate Silver ranking Bruce as the 23rd-most valuable player in the game today, that potential is extremely high. A trip back to the minors may not be the worst idea either; despite Bruce hitting .364/.403/.630 at Triple-A, he also had an unrealistic .442 BABIP that inflated his numbers. Leaving him in the majors to learn on the job could also work-there have been plenty of players, like Kevin Kouzmanoff and Dustin Pedroia, who turned a corner after epic struggles to start their major league careers-but the Reds may not want to toy with their most valuable asset, and may decide to play it safe.

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