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May 23, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Week of May 21

by Jay Jaffe

The Subway Series...the Freeway Series... the Bay Bridge Series... the Battle of the Beltway... the Second City Showdown... the Show Me Series... the Lone Star Series... the Teal Deal? Some interleague matchups make sense, offering the promise of crosstown showdown or good, ol'-fashioned intrastate grudge match. This past weekend brought us nothing less than history-makers and haymakers amid the "natural" rivalries. But too many of these interleague matchups make little sense; hell, one principal couldn't even be bothered to finish out the much-hyped Alex Gonzalez Bowl (Phillies-Red Sox), and if there's a rationale for setting up the Sparky Anderson Special (Reds-Tigers) and the Felix Fermin Fiesta (Pirates-Indians) instead of a Rust Belt Rumble matching the two Ohio teams (besides "We're saving it for later, when it'll seem like a godsend next to Brewers-Royals"), we've yet to hear it. Too many of these matchups are cramping our schedule and raining on our parade. We'll take the Wild Card, Bud. You take the battle between the two teams who thought swapping Miguel Olivo for Miguel Ojeda was worth anybody's time.
RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Tigers
29-14
5-1
.649
Down
A 9-1 streak helps keep the Tigers in the top slot and gives them the AL Central lead. Again, pitching leads the way, highlighted by Justin Verlander outdueling Johan Santana for the seventh of the team's eight shutouts thus far. On offense, Magglio Ordonez continues his tear; he's hitting .333/.384/.667 this month. Dmitri Young, on the other hand, has bigger problems than just lousy hitting (.185/.241/.241 for the season) and an ailing quadriceps.

2


Yankees
24-18
3-4
.616
Down
The Comeback Kids: the Yanks rally from nine runs down (not for the first time) to top the Rangers and overcome a 4-0 ninth-inning deficit to beat the Mets. All of which only enables them to split six games on the week; they're seriously hurting these days. Carl Pavano is headed for surgery, Jorge Posada (.357/.450/.786 with eight RBI in 14 AB, only two of them after Wednesday) is dealing with back spasms, and the outfield situation is so dire they've signed Terrence Long. The injuries have the offense reeling, scoring just 46 runs (including 14 in that Texas-sized comeback) in the 11 games since Matsui went down, a 33 percent dropoff.

3


White Sox
28-15
4-3
.615
Flat
South Side Slugfest: a home-plate collision involving A.J. Pierzynski triggers a bench-clearing brawl and reduces by one the number of major leaguers waiting to pop the White Sox catcher in the mouth (no word on whether Fox will pick up "Who Wants To Punch A Millionaire?"). Nonetheless, it's the defending champs getting the better of their slumping crosstown rivals, though they've got just a 5-6 record over their last 11 games and no longer have the Tigers by the tail (R.I.P. Buck Owens). Jose Contreras returns from the DL with less than stellar results, but Freddy Garcia is on a roll, yielding a 2.12 ERA with a 13/1 K/BB ratio in four starts this month.

4


Cardinals
29-15
5-1
.611
Up
Albert Pujols homers in three straight games; he's now got 22 on the year despite playing through pain, and one has to wonder whether his own body will stop his chase of 73* before opposing pitchers do. But on a team whose superstars have been vulnerable to injury, the Cards have been getting excellent performances off the bench from the likes of Hector Luna (.338/.384/.513), John Rodriguez (.351/.412/.446), and Scott Spiezio (301/.402/.534). Speaking of injuries and depth, Anthony Reyes (#25 on our Top 50 Prospect List) tosses 5.2 scoreless innings in his second major-league start, but then again, it's only the Royals.

5


Mets
26-17
3-3
.598
Down
Sunday night's win enables the Mets to take a Subway Series from their Big Apple rivals, erasing their bullpen's implosion and halting a slide that had seen them lose their previous three series and eight out of 12 games. Lima Time has run out (DFA'd after three starts and an 8.79 ERA, surprising nobody except Omar Minaya), but Jeremi Gonzalez (10.13 ERA and just eight innings in two starts) and Cuban defector Alay Soler (1.51 ERA and 54/11 K/BB in 47.2 innings between High-A and Double-A) will try to prop up the back end of the rotation after Brian Bannister comes down with a case of rehabus interruptis.

6


Red Sox
25-16
4-2
.585
Up
A 10-3 run helps the Red Sox open up a 1.5 game lead in the AL East. Josh Beckett is rolling again, allowing seven earned runs over his last three starts (21 innings) and hitting the team's first homer by a pitcher in the DH era. He's showing reporters his unblistered middle finger, and really, who can blame him? Also on a roll: Beckett's trade-mate Mike Lowell (.362/.422/.759 in May, and leading the majors with 20 doubles), Kevin Youkilis (.333/.452/.583) and Mark Loretta (.394/.421/.465), helping the offense to 6.57 runs per game this month.

7


Dodgers
24-20
5-1
.579
Up
Winners of 12 out of their last 15 outscore the Angels 31-7 in sweeping the Freeway Series. Rookies Andre Ethier (.306/.352/.531), Russell Martin (.298/.400/.447), and Willy Aybar (.370/.452/.593)--all pressed into duty by injuries--are making major contributions, as are a pair of Ned Colletti's more questionable offseason signings, Nomar Garciaparra (.363/.426/.647 with big hit after big hit) and Brett Tomko (five earned runs in his past 33 innings, dropping his ERA to 3.21). Meanwhile, Brad Penny has yet to allow more than three runs in any start; he's now sixth in the NL in VORP (20.1).

8


Diamondbacks
24-19
4-2
.559
Up
After a lackluster April (.237/.318/.373), Eric Byrnes is hitting .419/.455/.774 this month, helping the D-backs score 5.83 runs per game since the calendar turned. Byrnes is second among NL centerfielders in VORP (15.9) despite sharing time with Jeff DaVanon; the dynamic duo is hitting .328/.379/.528 as centerfielders. On the hill, Juan Cruz takes a severe pounding, failing to make it out of the first inning and yielding nine runs, one more than in his other four starts combined.

9


Blue Jays
23-20
2-4
.552
Down
Things to Do in Denver When Your Bats Are Dead: the otherwise hot-hitting Jays manage just seven runs and one homer in three games at Coors Field as they're swept by the Rox, halting a stretch in which they'd won 11 out of 17. Alexis Rios collects that lone homer and three of the Jays' seven extra-base hits; he's still hitting .356/.377/.678, second in the AL in both AVG and SLG. Quality of competition aside, the depleted rotation has a new hero in Casey Janssen, who reasserts his ownership of the Angels; he's allowed just three hits in 15 shutout innings against the struggling Halos, no-hitting them through five frames twice.

10


Indians
22-22
5-1
.545
Up
The Tribe takes their winless week out on the Hit List's two worst teams, salvaging their .500 record if not their dignity. After a dreadful beginning to the year (9.15 ERA though four starts totalling just 18.2 innings), Paul Byrd has ironed things out, allowing just 14 earned runs over his last five starts (32 innings). Control has been the key; he's gone from a 10/8 K/BB ratio over those first four starts to 16/4 since. Moving in the opposite direction is Jason Johnson, who's been tattooed for 35 hits and 24 runs in 16.2 frames this month after a 3.41 ERA April.

11


Rangers
22-21
3-4
.545
Up
A rough week for the Rangers as the bullpen coughs up a pair--including a five-run lead against the Yankees--and allows 15 runs in 18.1 innings. Ranger relievers rank second to last in the AL in Reliever Expected Wins Added (-0.842). Meanwhile, Ian Kinsler's return from a dislocated thumb is delayed by a hamstring injury, but with fill-in Mark DeRosa hitting an unlikely .329/.400/.543, that's a lesser concern.

12


Rockies
25-19
4-2
.544
Up
Don't look now, but the Rockies' 4.05 ERA is fourth-best in the NL. Runs are scarce in Denver these days; with just 45 scored in six Coors Field games this week, folks are wondering whether that humidor is working a little too well. Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook both rank among the NL leaders in pitching VORP (17.6 and 16.3, good for ninth and 12th, respectively), and every Rockie starter still on the roster is sporting an ERA south of 5.00. Expect forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria and talk of a run at the NL West crown if this keeps up.

13


Brewers
23-21
4-2
.543
Down
The Brewers get back to their winning ways despite a makeshift rotation that includes Ben Hendrickson's complete inability to get anybody out, Dana Eveland not doing much better (10 runs in 10.2 innings), and Ben Sheets headed for an MRI (just to check his progress, they say... gulp). With trips to Cincinnati and Philadelphia next on the docket, the team had best hope for the return of Harvey's Wallbangers, though continued heroics from Carlos Lee (.280/.365/.602 and 15 HR, good for a share of second place in the NL homer race), Prince Fielder (.313/.367/.528) and Bill Hall (.295/.343/.628) might suffice. Hall will park at shortstop as J.J. Hardy spends the next six weeks recovering from a severe ankle sprain.

14


Reds
25-19
2-4
.519
Down
Dumb, Dumb, Dumb Dunn: tied for second in the NL with 15 homers, slugger Adam Dunn inexplicably decides to bunt--his first sacrifice since 2002 and just the second of his career--with nobody out and a man on first in the ninth inning of Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Tigers. Bronson Arroyo gives the Pirates bulletin-board material after they trounce him. And Eric Milton returns to serving up gopher stew and other delights while Dave Williams hits the road. No, there's not much going right for the Reds as they've lost seven of nine.

15


Padres
23-21
1-5
.514
Down
After winning 14 of 15, it's a rude awakening for the Padres this week. The pitching staff is shellacked for 44 runs after yielding just 37 in the previous fortnight; Chan Ho Park (14 runs in 12.1 IP) and Scott Cassidy (nine runs, just three earned, in 1.2 IP) bear the brunt. Worse, they'll be without Woody Williams for eight weeks due to a torn calf muscle, which should test their rotation depth even more. Department of Random Stats note: Padre backup catchers Rob Bowen and Josh Bard have combined to hit as many homers (four) as starter Mike Piazza; they're slugging a combined .755 to Metal Mike's .448 in the role.

16


Braves
22-22
5-2
.511
Up
By winning 10 out of 14, the Braves claw their way back to .500, but not without some casualties. An ankle sprain sidelines Brian McCann (.350/.401/.558, leading the NL in batting average); luckily, he's hoping to avoid the DL. A Nomar-esque torn groin muscle claims Kyle Davies, further depleting an already shorthanded rotation that's missing the uninspiring Horacio Ramirez and suffering through Jorge Sosa's return to Jorge Sosa-hood (5.55 ERA, similar to the 5.14 he put up as a Devil Ray from 2002-2004).

17


Giants
23-21
5-1
.509
Up
After a 13 day drought, Barry Bonds finally ties Babe Ruth with number 714, but not before players, fans and media offer less fear and more loathing for the struggling slugger. Even the guy who caught the historic ball can't stand him. Nonetheless, the Giants moiderize the Astros and A's by a combined score of 44-8 on the week, climbing above .500 even if they haven't escaped the NL West's cellar.

18


Phillies
23-20
1-5
.498
Down
Even as a five-game losing streak stirs unpleasant memories of the Phils' cold start, their 13-1 tear is keeping them in the NL East race. Still, with or without Aaron Rowand, their defense isn't living up to expectations; the Phils are second to last in the NL in Defensive Efficiency (.679). They've got other questions to answer about their infield, their bullpen and their depth. But at least Alex S. Gonzalez has solved one of the game's most pressing identity crises by retiring, clearing a spot for spring training feelgood story Chris Coste.

19


Athletics
22-21
4-2
.488
Up
The A's spoil a good week--winning four straight, including a sweep of the Mariners--with a bad weekend that includes Brad Halsey on the wrong end of a historical homer, and the lineup held to one measly, stinkin' hit by Matt Cain and just three runs in the Bay Bridge Series' three games. The offense shouldn't wait around for Milton Bradley, whose comeback from an oblique strain has hit a major snag. At least on the hill, Barry Zito has been virtually untouchable in May (27.2 IP, 2 R, both on solo homers), elevating him to fifth in the AL in SNLVAR (2.2).

20


Astros
24-20
2-4
.483
Down
Russ Springer drills Barry Bonds and is suspended four games, but it's the Astros taking it on the chin from the Giants as they're outscored 34-5 in the three-game set, driving their run differential into the red. Worse, they've lost 11 of 15, and the rotation has been battered to the tune of a 6.33 ERA on the month. Brad Lidge is back to closing, perhaps because he's stopped tipping his pitches, and perhaps because Phil Garner's memory has simply been wiped by all the drubbings.

21


Mariners
20-25
3-3
.455
Up
Swept by the A's, the Mariners turn around and sweep the Padres, helping them to their third series victory out of four. Still, the calls for Bill Bavasi's ouster are increasing in volume thanks to the continued woes of Adrian Beltre (.206/.278/.275), Richie Sexson (.201/.279/.348), and the mechanically unsound Felix Hernandez. The boy King has given up 17 runs (12 earned) in his past two starts (10 innings), knocking his ERA to an unsightly 5.84. One major positive for the team has been the development of Jose Lopez (.304/.330/.511), who leads both the team and all AL second basemen in VORP (15.5).

22


Nationals
16-28
3-3
.430
Down
Livan Hernandez snaps out of his funk, helping the Nationals take the first Battle of the Beltway from the Orioles. Alfonso Soriano homers in three straight games, giving him 15 on the year, tied for second in the NL; he's hitting a robust .285/.337/.564, good for a .297 Equivalent Average, which would be a career high. Still, it's not all rosy for the Nats, as they endure 22 consecutive scoreless innings and score a mere 17 runs on the week. A bad hamstring may force Jose Guillen to hit the DL (first thing he's hit all year), while the center field vortex of suck (a combined .222/.311/.327) now includes blast-from-the-past Alex Escobar (#3 on our Top 40 Prospect List from 1999).

23


Orioles
20-24
2-4
.420
Down
Bruce Chen's struggles continue. Coming off a breakout season (3.83 ERA in 197.1 IP, 32.3 VORP), he's been a complete disappointment (8.08 ERA and 13 HR in 39 IP, -12.2 VORP). But for what its worth, he hasn't really had much chance to work out of his mistakes; he's been yanked after four innings five times--the latest after allowing just three runs--and has only topped 100 pitches once. That's putting a strain on a bullpen that's bad enough already (-4.8 ARP, 5.96 Fair RA), and it's preventing the Orioles from even recouping his value enough to send Chen to his ninth major league team, one far, far away from Leo Mazzone.

24


Twins
19-25
2-5
.419
Flat
Kyle Lohse and his 8.92 ERA are farmed out in favor of Boof Bonser, continuing the team's rotation revamping entirely with bounty from the Mr. Mouth trade. Bonser (6 IP, 1 ER) and Francisco Liriano (5 IP, 1 ER) do their part, but the rest of the team... not so much, and the Twins are now further under .500 than they were two weeks ago. The best news--unless you're a Hennepin County taxpayer, perhaps--is the approval of funding for a new stadium that will consign the Metrodome to the Hefty Bag of history.

25


17-27
1-5
.409
Down
Tempers are flaring as the reeling Angels have lost 17 out of 22, including the Duel of the Aybars (or, if you prefer, the Battle of the Missing Izturises). Even the bullpen--long the team's strength, and still fourth in the AL in Reliever Expected Wins Added (3.231)--is getting into the act, with Francisco Rodriguez and Scot Shields pouringgasoline on the fire, and J.C. Romero (13 runs and 16 hits in 7.1 innings this month) reminding why the Angels haven't bothered with lefty relievers since 2003. Garret Anderson's absence (missing the entire week games with hamstring strain) isn't helping any, not that his presence (.175/.234/.263 this month) was doing wonders either.

26


Cubs
18-25
3-3
.391
Up
With a 3-3 record for the week, the bleeding has stopped for the moment, but don't look too closely. Kerry Wood is roughed up in his return by a team that hadn't scored in 22 innings, Neifi Perez is unsurprisingly surprising, and while Michael Barrett saves some face in the Second City showdown (and shows more punch than any Cub since Derrek Lee went down), the Cubs have still lost 15 of 20 this month. Vultures are circling Dusty Baker, but the contrarian manager remains "bullish," and as Nate Silver writes, GM Jim Hendry's deference to Dusty is a big part of the problem.

27


Devil Rays
20-24
5-1
.385
Up
A fine week for the Devil Rays as they take a series from the White Sox, then--in a series that sets a new low--sweep their cross-state rivals thanks to a pair of walkoff homers from Aubrey Huff and Russ Branyan and continued dominance from Scott Kazmir. Kazmir allows justs one run in 15 innings over two starts for the week; he's now second in the AL in VORP (25.8, just 0.1 behind Mike Mussina) as well as ERA (2.39) and strikeouts (67).

28


Marlins
11-31
0-7
.372
Down
Four blown ninth-innning leads in five games have the Fish floating belly-up; they've now lost seven in a row and 21 of 27. The close ones are killing them; they're just 3-11 in one-run games, helping them fall six games short of their third-order win projection. The offense manages a paltry 23 runs on the week and loses Hanley Ramirez (hitting a robust .331/.394/.481) to a shoulder strain; hopefully it's not as Sexsonesque as originally described. As for the pitching, though they lose Dontrelle Willis' two starts, the D-Train's five runs allowed in 17 innings--halting a string of three straight disaster starts--offers some encouragement.

29


Pirates
14-30
3-3
.362
Up
It's the rarest of weeks for the Pirates, one where they don't sink even further below .500. After missing a turn in the rotation, Oliver Perez tosses just his third quality start of the season, lowering his ERA to--yeearggggh--6.98. Paul Maholm is in an even better groove, having allowed just eight earned runs over his last five starts (2.30 ERA). Still, there's a touch of mutiny on this ship, as Chris Duffy (hitting just .194/.255/.276) refuses to report after being demoted because he's unhappy the team asked him to draw more walks and hit to the opposite field. Stay tuned...

30


Royals
10-31
0-6
.295
Down
With a .244 winning percentage, the Royals have fallen below the Throneberry Line. Another winless roadtrip slides them to 2-20 away from Kauffman Stadium, and despite a more respectable 8-11 record at home, a visit from Albert Pujols and company doesn't help matters. For that matter, neither will installing Elmer Dessens as closer considering he's one of the few pitchers on the roster capable of getting hitters out for more than one inning at a time, and how often do these guys have a ninth-inning lead, anyway? In a rotation whose starters are a combined 3-20, it can be argued that the Royals are going about this entirely ass-backwards, which should surprise absolutely nobody.


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 Sunday.

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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