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June 7, 2011

Prospectus Hit List

NL: Something Brewin'

by Jay Jaffe

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Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor



Give Up the Funk: After losing four out of seven, the Cardinals get back on the good foot with a sweep of the Cubs thanks in large part to Albert Pujols, who homers four times in three days, including a pair of extra-inning walkoff blasts. Pujols is hitting .444/.545/1.074 with five homers in his past seven games while striking out just twice in 33 plate appearances. His binge gives him the team homer lead, surpassing Lance Berkman, who's in a 3-for-21 slump and sitting due to a cortisone shot in his wrist dating back to a May 18 diving catch. Also scarce: Matt Holliday, who finally hits the DL with a quad strain after making just seven plate appearances in an eight-game span.


Drying Up: A 7-9 stretch since May 17 has only cost the Braves 2.5 games in the NL East standings, but they're hardly without concern as their offense is scoring just 2.94 runs per game since then on .244/.304/.369 hitting. Dan Uggla (.094/.140/.113) is the worst offender, but Chipper Jones (.212/.328/.327) hasn't been much help, nor have Eric Hinske (.235/.264/.373) or Martin Prado (.222/.283/.413). On the other hand, Brian McCann is flat-out raking (.322/.397/.610), and Freddie Freeman is coming to life, hitting .385/.412/.569 in that span after batting just .226/.321/.358 through the season's first 43 games. Freeman's .276 True Average ranks eighth among the NL's 14 first basemen with 150 plate appearances but second on the team, which says plenty about this unimposing lineup.


Not So Phearsome: Given their vaunted rotationPECOTA had them as the preseason leader in vaunting, as well as WARP—four-game losing streaks weren't supposed to happen to the Phillies, yet they've now suffered two such skids in the past three weeks while going 10-12. This time it's Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Kyle Kendrick bowing in defeat to the mighty Nationals and Pirates, who combine to hold the Philly offense to seven runs in four games. Hamels (8 1 1 1 3 4) gets the rawest deal, while Lee (5.1 7 6 6 3 4) suffers the most severe beating. Though he's second in the majors behind Roy Halladay in SIERA and tops in strikeout rate (10.3 per nine), Lee has been scorched for a .349 BABIP en route to a 3.62 ERA, highest among the Phearsome Phoursome.


You Gotta Have Hart: Ryan Braun's two-run pinch homer in the ninth inning helps the Brewers take the first of three straight one-run wins against the Marlins en route to a four-game sweep. The Brew Crew is an NL-best 20-7 since May 7, a span during which they've gained three games on the division-leading Cardinals and 6.5 games on the slumping Reds. Braun has hit .297/.398/.505 during that stretch while battling shoulder soreness, and while Prince Fielder has topped that with a .296/.426/.571 showing and a team-high seven homers, the most productive Brewer has actually been Corey Hart at .321/.380/.607. That the team's roll has more or less coincided with Hart's return from the disabled list shouldn't be all that surprising given that other Brewers right fielders hit .228/.285/.351 in his absence.


When the Going Gets Huff: After hitting just .218/.276/.335 through the end of May, Aubrey Huff doubles his season output for homers in a two-day span against the Cardinals, including a three-homer game which boosts the Giants back into first place in the NL West. Huff will get plenty of chances to build upon that as callup Brandon Belt barely has time to unpack his bags—two games and six plate appearances—before suffering a hairline fracture of his wrist, which could cost him four to six weeks. Controversy continues to swirl around Buster Posey's season-ending injury, but if there's good news here, it's that Pablo Sandoval's rehab is underway.


Rox Slide: Ubaldo Jimenez throws a four-hit shutout against the Dodgers, lowering his ERA below 5.00 (to 4.98) for the first time all season and finally netting his first win; at this time last year, the Rockies' ace was a Gibsonesque 11-1 with an 0.93 ERA. The victory helps the Rox avoid a sweep by the Dodgers, but they've nonetheless dropped five straight series in a tough stretch against the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Giants—a quintet with a collective .545 winning percentage. Since going 17-8 in April, the Rockies are a major league worst 11-23, though they've been outscored by only 14 runs and played at a .454 Pythagorean clip.  They're 2-11 in one-run games during that stretch, after going 5-2 in such games prior.


Not Very Hanley: Losers of seven out of nine, the Marlins suffer the indignity of a sweep at home by the Brewers; they're now 14-16 in Dolphin Stadium compared to 17-11 on the road. Adding injury to insult, they lose Hanley Ramirez to the disabled list due to lower back pain and sciatica, an ongoing problem which helps in explaining the star shortstop's .210/.306/.309 line this year. Meanwhile, sidelined teammate Logan Morrison defends Scott Cousins in a war of words with Giants GM Brian Sabean over Cousins' aggressive collision with Buster Posey. No word as to whether Fish head David Samson has further problems with @LoMoMarlin's work in the Twitter medium.


Re-Armed: Josh Collmenter, Joe Saunders, and the Diamondbacks bullpen shut out the Nationals in back-to-back games, the first time since July 25-26, 2009 that the team has held opponents scoreless twice in a row. Collmenter has posted nothing but zeroes in three of his five starts and has walked just five in 43.2 innings, including his relief work. Saunders has now posted four quality starts out of his last five while lowering his ERA from 5.72 to 4.32; he recently revealed that a leg problem had been hampering him early in the year. Alas, their work isn't enough to keep the Diamondbacks in first place, though they're still breathing down the Giants' necks.


Ripple Effect: Despite losing of 13 out of 18, the Reds show signs of leveling off as they take three out of four from the Brewers and Dodgers. Their rotation delivers five quality starts in a six-game span, averaging 6.6 innings per turn—a big deal since the unit's 5.6 innings per start overall ranks them second-to-last in the league (as does their 5.02 ERA). In turn, their bullpen has thrown 209.1 innings—12.1 more than the next-highest team—and they've been called upon for 71 innings over that 18-game stretch (3.9 innings per game). While the pen's 3.53 ERA is merely mid-pack, the eight runs they yield in their June 4 loss to the Dodgers may be a sign of the unit's overwork.


Road Warriors: A day after Jeff Karstens and company overcome an eight-inning, one-hit effort by Cole Hamels, Charlie Morton stifles the Phillies to secure a series win in Philadelphia. The victory is not only pulling the Pirates within a game of .500 but gives them their 17th road win of the year in just 32 games—equalling last year's 81-game total, which tied for the worst mark of the expansion era. It's the much-improved Morton's fifth straight quality start, and while his strikeout and walk rates aren't much to write home about, his 0.24 HR/9 is the league's lowest mark. The Bucs have been getting outstanding work from their rotation lately: a 2.30 ERA and 13 quality starts out of 17 thanks to microscopic homer and walk rates (0.49 and 2.0 per nine, respectively).


Knuckling Down: R.A. Dickey leads the Mets to their first series win in nearly three weeks as he the shuts down the Braves for eight innings. It's Dickey's second strong start since partially tearing the plantar fascia in his right foot; earlier in the week, he whiffs a career-high 10 Pirates in a game the Mets ultimately lose. Though he's allowed just five runs in his past four appearances (24.2 innings), the knuckleballer isn't having quite the success he had last year; while his strikeout rate is slightly higher, his walk and homer rates have risen even more sharply, and his 4.04 ERA is much more in line with his 4.29 SIERA than last year's surprising performance. Meanwhile, Jose Reyes is streaking with 20 hits in his last 10 games via eight multi-hit games. He's already got 10 triples, and since May 1, he's batting .365/.424/.571.


Losing While Winning: Matt Kemp's grand slam keys a 9-1 charge over the final three innings against the Reds as the Dodgers come back to win 11-9. It's Kemp's second homer of the game.  With four in a five-game span, he's hitting .317/.399/.580 and ranking second in slugging percentage, homers (16), and RBI (48). His efforts help the Dodger offense show lifelike qualities: after scoring just 3.38 runs per game through May 28, the team erupts for 44 runs in a seven-game span—43 of them in their five wins, each of which features at least seven runs. Of course, it's too good to last, as Rafael Furcal strains an oblique and returns to the DL after an 8-for-17 binge of his own, which not only prompts the team to activate Juan Uribe (but to what end?) and to recall top hitting prospect Dee Gordon, whose Albuquerque performance only translates to a .241/.281/.276 MLB line.


Nearly Hopeless at Home: Chris Denorfia, Jason Bartlett, and Chase Headley combine for seven of the Padres' 10 hits as the team takes three out of four from the Astros in Petco Park. Even with the series win, the Pad Squad's been downright pitiful at home, going 12-21 while hitting—wait for it—.205/.280/.305 and scoring 2.58 runs per game. Despite that sorry litany, the offense does have its bright spots: Chase Headley is riding a 15-game hitting streak (.354/.415/.500), which conveniently conceals the fact that he has just one homer this year, while Chris Denorfia is hitting .311/.356/.467 and has taken over the leadoff spot. Denorfia could find himself losing time to Brad Hawpe if and when the team shifts the latter to right field to accommodate first base prospect Anthony Rizzo. Hawpe's hippitying at a .304/.377/.490 clip since May 1 while Rizzo's absolutely destroying Pacific Coast League pitching (.365/.444/.715).


Morse and More:: Michael Morse's home run binge continues.  His 11th-inning grand slam helps the Nationals slip by the Diamondbacks in a tense game featuring a beanball war, and he follows that with a three-run blast off Tim Lincecum the following night, although this time the Nats fall in 13. Morse now has seven homers in his last 14 games, a span during which he's hit .362/.413/.810. His nine homers overall tie him for second on the team behind Laynce Nix, whose third homer in a four-game span—off Roy Oswalt, no less—carries the Nationals to a series win over the Phillies.


The Unkindest Cut: Carlos Zambrano criticizes the pitch selection of closer Carlos Marmol as the Cubs suffer their second straight walkoff defeat at the hands of the Cardinals. Alas, they're losing more than their cool—you would, too, if you saw your teammate give up a game-tying hit to Ryan Theriot—as they've now dropped seven straight and 10 out of 12. The latest comes as a fresh-off-the-DL Matt Garza is chased by the Reds after just four innings. The Cubs are now 7-20 against other NL Central teams, the worst intradivision record of any Senior Circuit team.


Young 'Un: With Wandy Rodriguez sidelined, 20-year-old top prospect Jordan Lyles makes a strong debut, holding the Cubs to two runs in seven innings, but he's roughed up by the Padres in his second turn. Lyles is the second-youngest player to debut this season after Julio Teheran, and he's the youngest Astros pitcher to debut since Larry Dierker in 1964. In less flattering news—is there any other kind when you're 14 games under .500 and in the process of being sold to a man with a history of racial discrimination?—the team cuts bait on its top free agent signing of the winter, Bill Hall, who's hitting just .224/.272/.340 and has been losing time to Jeff Keppinger since the latter's return from the disabled list.

The Prospectus Hit List rankings are derived from Won-Loss records and several measurements pertaining to run differentials, both actual and adjusted, from Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings through the close of play on every Thursday.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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