Today’s Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Athletics (75-82) at Rangers (76-82), 1:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Dana Eveland (163 IP, 4.14 RA, 1.46 WHIP, 114 K) vs. Matt Harrison (77 2/3 IP, 6.37 RA, 1.60 WHIP, 35 K)
Pythagorean Record: Oakland, 75-82 (628 RS, 655 RA); Texas, 72-86 (867 RS, 951 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Oakland, #19; Texas, #20
Prospectus: The A’s and Rangers are playing out a minor drama in the season’s final week as the pair battle back and forth for second place in the AL West. Oakland won the series opener on Monday night to move percentage points ahead of the Rangers for the first time in nearly two months, but the Rangers took second place back last night with a 6-4 victory. The A’s could muster just six hits yesterday against the major league-worst Texas pitching staff, lowering Oakland’s slugging percentage to a sluggish .366. That is the lowest any team has put up since the 1993 expansion Marlins slugged .346. The A’s don’t even have a few players who are putting up strong power figures-Jack Cust is at .465, but no one else on the team is even above .400 besides rookie Aaron Cunningham, who’s slugging .429 in just 71 at-bats. Since the end of the 1970s, the only team to have just a single player slug .400 or better in at least 100 at-bats was the 1988 Astros, who slugged .351 as a squad despite the .478 effort of first baseman Glenn Davis. The 1992 Angels did them one better, slugging a horrifying .338, with nobody higher than .398.

This year’s A’s are also last in the majors with a .241 team batting average, and lead the AL with 1,183 strikeouts-paced by Cust, who has already eclipsed Rob Deer‘s AL-recrod 186 strikeouts from 1987. (Cust also has 31 home runs and leads the AL in walks, making him the Three True Outcomes threat in the A’s lineup all year.) The Rangers rank second in the AL in strikeouts, but those have been packaged with a great deal of power, with a team slugging percentage almost 100 points higher than that of the A’s. Milton Bradley went 3-for-3 last night against his former club to push his OPS back above 1000, and he now needs just seven more plate appearances to guarantee qualification for the league batting title and lock his name atop the AL leaderboards for both OBP (.435) and OPS.

Thanks to Jason Paré for database research.

Matchup: Yankees (86-71) at Blue Jays (83-74), 7:07 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Phil Hughes (26 IP, 8.31 RA, 2.04 WHIP, 17 K) vs. A.J. Burnett (213 1/3, 4.51 RA, 1.35 WHIP, 220 K)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 83-74 (753 RS, 703 RA); Toronto, 89-68 (690 RS, 599 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #10; Toronto, #5
Prospectus: After the Red Sox beat Cleveland last night to clinch the wild card, the Yankees will take part in a game following their elimination from the playoff race for the first time since 1993. That season was also the last time that the Blue Jays finished ahead of New York in the AL East standings. Toronto entered this three-game set just two games behind the Bombers, but losing the opener last night means they will now need to win the next two of games as well as getting some help over the weekend if they’re to have a shot at ending the year ahead of New York. The Blue Jays and Yankees have split their 16 games thus far, so the Jays also have a shot at closing the season with a winning mark versus the Bombers for the first time since 2000, when they were 7-5 against them. Helping Toronto towards that goal will be 20-year-old rookie outfielder Travis Snider, who is hitting .333/.381/.526 in 63 plate appearances since getting the call in late August, an impressive performance for the youngest player in the American League this year, and one who began the season in the High-A Florida State League.

Burnett is the pitcher the Jays want out on the mound tonight, for he has been excellent down the stretch, and sports a 3.36 RA and 8-2 record in 13 second-half starts after putting up a 5.31 RA in the first half. This will be Burnett’s final start of the season, and his last opportunity to impress potential suitors if he decides to opt out of his contract following the season and become a free agent. The right-hander might want to think twice before leaving the division in which he gets the chance to face the Yankees regularly, however, because he has become a Yankee-killer over the last two years: in 2007 he gave up one run combined in two starts against them, and this year Burnett is 3-1 with a 1.78 RA in four starts versus the Bombers, to go with a 32/4 K/BB in 30 1/3 innings.

Matchup: Pirates (65-92) at Brewers (86-71), 7:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Paul Maholm (200 1/3 IP, 3.82 RA, 1.28 WHIP, 137 K) vs. CC Sabathia (237 IP, 3.15 RA, 1.14 WHIP, 233 K)
Pythagorean Record: Pittsburgh, 65-92 (718 RS, 868 RA); Milwaukee, 84-73 (730 RS, 677 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Pittsburgh, #30; Milwaukee, #9
Prospectus: Somewhere, Hal Steinbrenner is cringing. To the likely chagrin of potential free-agent suitors across baseball, the Brewers have scratched Jeff Suppan (scheduled to go on normal rest) from tonight’s start, and replaced him with Sabathia, who will be making his second straight start on three days’ rest. In the first, last Saturday against the Reds, Milwaukee’s imported savior produced his worst outing since arriving from Cleveland, allowing seven hits and four runs (one earned) in 5 2/3 of a 4-3 Milwaukee loss. That was also his first career start on less than four days’ rest, and he is now being asked to do it again so that he would be available to come back once more on a short schedule to pitch in the season finale on Sunday. Whether this is a wise move for the Brewers is certainly debatable. On one hand, using Sabathia so aggressively could be hailed as a bold and necessary play to do everything possible in the name of clinching the franchise’s first playoff berth in over 25 years-flags fly forever, and the last week of a pennant race is no time to be coddling big-ticket starters, especially ones in the midst of their prime. On the other hand, starting Sabathia twice or ultimately three times on three days’ rest can be seen as a reactionary and extremely risky move born of the panic of potentially repeating last year’s collapse-it could lead to increased injury risk for Sabathia, and might reduce his effectiveness as the team’s greatest asset, exchanging quantity for a decline in quality. Whatever one’s position on the new schedule, it’s hard not to see the decision as having been affected by the unavailability of co-ace Ben Sheets, who remains sidelined with a sore elbow.

Of course, three days off might be more than enough time for Sabathia to dominate Pittsburgh; the last time he saw the Pirates was when he threw a one-hit shutout at them on August 31 (with 11 Ks), with the only safety a controversial swinging bunt by Andy LaRoche that Sabathia failed to field cleanly. Sabathia beat the Pirates in the start before that as well, with six innings of one-run ball.

Matchup: Chicago (86-70) at Minnesota (85-72), 7:10 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Mark Buehrle (204 2/3 IP, 4.49 RA, 1.32 WHIP, 131 K) vs. Nick Blackburn (182, 4.90, 1.35, 91)
Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 86-70 (775 RS, 693 RA); Minnesota, 87-70 (810 RS, 724 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #7; Minnesota, #12
Prospectus: After yesterday’s blowout win, the Twins can pull to within just a half-game of Chicago with another victory tonight. This second game of the series might be more of a challenge, however, because Blackburn has shown real signs of tiring at the end of his rookie season: in his previous two starts, the right-hander has given up six runs in four innings followed by six in just 1 1/3. Both of those starts were on the road, however, and Blackburn has been dynamite at home: a 3.56 RA and 7-3 record, compared with 6.02 and 3-7 away from the Twin Cities. The Twins overall are 50-26 at home (.658) and 35-46 away (.432), a larger differential between the two winning percentages than any other team in baseball this year. For the season, Blackburn is charting almost an exact-average course-a 10-10 record and a 4.15 ERA, against the 4.16 AL average adjusted for the Metrodome. He has a below-average strikeout rate of 4.5 K/9, but compensates by walking fewer than 1.7 batters per nine.

Buehrle passed the 200-inning marker in his last start for the eighth straight season. He has become arguably the most dependable and durable pitcher in baseball, as he is the only one to throw at least 200 innings in all eight seasons beginning in 2001. (Teammate Javier Vazquez and Livan Hernandez are second with seven apiece.) He also leads in overall innings for that period, with 1,782 1/3, 12 more than Hernandez. Under Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox have been at or near the top of the league in innings pitched by starters every season-they were second in 2004, Guillen’s first campaign at the helm, first in 2005 and 2006, second last year, and have fallen to fourth in 2008, behind the Angels, Blue Jays, and Indians. The Sox led the majors in starters with 200-plus innings in 2005, ’06, and ’07. This year they are tied for the lead, at two (Vazquez and Buehrle), along with the Diamondacks, Giants, Blue Jays, and Royals, but are the only team that could add a third to the ranks if Gavin Floyd throws at least 5 1/3 innings in his final start.

Matchup: Padres (61-96) at Dodgers (82-75), 7:10 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Shawn Estes (40 IP, 5.40 RA, 1.48 WHIP, 17 K) vs. Clayton Kershaw (101, 4.28, 1.49, 93)
Pythagorean Record: San Diego, 66-91 (619 RS, 733 RA); Los Angeles, 84-73 (675 RS, 627 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Diego, #27; Los Angeles, #11
Prospectus: Manny Ramirez started the scoring for Los Angeles last night with a two-run double in the first inning, as the Dodgers beat up on San Diego 10-1 and all but turned out the lights on the Diamondbacks, who lost in St. Louis to fall three back with five to play. The two RBI for Ramirez gave him 51 in 49 games with his new crew, making the shaggy slugger just the second player in major league history to knock in 50 or more runs in both the American and National Leagues during the same season. The other is Carlos Beltran, who drove in 51 runs for Kansas City in 2004 before being traded to Houston, where he posted 53 RBI in 90 games. Ramirez’s production for his new club dwarfs even the impressive numbers that Beltran put up for Houston following the trade, but the Dodgers surely hope that Ramirez has a playoff run like Beltran did that season, when the switch-hitting center fielder hit .435 with eight homers and 14 RBI in 12 games.

Ramirez’s double yesterday was the 507th of his career. He roped his 500th back in late August, and while that hit was not greeted with as much fanfare as his 500th homer earlier this season, it made him just the 10th player in major league history to enter the club of men with both 500 doubles and 500 homers. (He was joined later this month by Ken Griffey Jr., who hit his 500th double on September 14). This is the 10th season in which Ramirez has hit 30 doubles and 30 homers, more than any other player in history except for Carlos Delgado, who recently hit his 30th double to reach those dual marks for the 10th time as well.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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Does anybody consider A.J. Burnett to be a top ten pitcher in the A.L. After his second half I am impressed with his pitching prowess. If the guy stays healthy and keeps his head he can be on the same level as a healthy Peavy and a current Sabathia.
No he can\'t. He is much closer to the Ben Sheets model - great when he\'s on, many injuries in his past and implodable. But yes - when he\'s on - and he\'s been very much on the last 3 months or so - he\'s top-10 caliber.
Health is Burnett\'s problem. If one ignores health, then yes he\'s one of the top 10 AL starters. He had an ERA under 4.00 for four straight years and won\'t miss by too much in 2008. He has a rare combination of high strikeout frequency and high groundball frequency, although his groundball frequency on balls in play for 2008 isn\'t as specatular as it\'s been in the past.