31 August 2007

Battle for the 405, Game 1: Cassel v Wells

by Joshua Worley

The north part of the "San Diego Freeway" is the I-405, while the south part is the I-5 south of the junction with the I-405. So this series is like a Civil War battle: each side has their own name for it. San Diegans will call it the battle for the 5.

Chris Young laid an egg last night in his return from the "concerned list", an unofficial list of players who aren't injured enough to go on the DL, but injured enough to miss a little time and make all the fans worry. The official line after the game was that Young was rusty, but more or less healthy. Perhaps --- he did walk 6 batters in his 4.1 innings. If I was a Padres fan I wouldn't be convinced that Young was healthy until he actually had a good outing. The control just wasn't there last night.

Because Young was knocked out early, the Padres had to dip deeper into their 'pen than they likely wanted to. In particular Ledezma was used for two innings, ending any possibility that he might have started tonight's game. Actually, according to the official Padre website they had decided by Wednesday night to go with AAA pitcher Jack Cassell for tonight's start anyway.

Though we've all seen young, unknown pitchers throw unexpected gems, there is a good chance the Padres will need to dip into their 'pen early again. Who will be available?

Below are the pitches each Padre reliever made in the four games against the Snakes, most recent game first.

Hoffman..... -- -- 12 17
Bell............ -- 17 11 12
Cameron..... 15 17 -- --
Brocail......... 6 -- 17 --
Ledezma..... 42 -- -- --
Meredith..... 16 -- -- --
Hampson..... -- -- -- --
Thatcher..... 10 -- -- --

Thatcher is italicized because he's likely to be the one sent down to make room for Cassel, though there is no official word on that yet. Ledezma might be available for an inning if the Padres were really desperate, but he'll probably get the night off after 42 pitches. But Hoffman, Bell, Brocail, and Meredith should all be fine to go. I'm guessing Hampson would be the designated long reliever should Cassell be knocked out before he goes 5. Cameron is one of the Padres best relievers, and he has made 15+ pitches two days in a row, so if he was called upon tonight he'd likely be off-limits Saturday. But unless there are extra innings, the Padres shouldn't run out of pitchers.

What about tonight's Padre starter?

Joseph "Jack" Buren Cassel -- P

age: 27
throws: right

AAA Portland Stats:
ERA -- IP -- SO/9 -- BB/9 -- HR/9
3.91 -- 156.2 -- 6.7 -- 2.4 -- 0.75

Not too bad. Buren "the burner" is 27, which makes him much less of a prospect, but perhaps more likely to pitch effectively in his first major league start. I wonder if that's true, though. Does age have any correlation to how well a pitcher does in his first major league start?

The walk and home run numbers appear good, especially in the PCL. The strikeouts per 9 seems low to me, since you'd figure AAA hitters are easier to whiff than their major league counterparts. I checked the park factor on the AAA Portland ballpark, and it appears that it's mostly neutral toward runs, hits, walks, and strikeouts --- but very favorable to hitting home runs. Baseball Think Factory has a 1.22 factor for home runs from 2004 to 2006 in Portland. If this park factor is accurate for 2007, then this means Cassel's decent home run rate is even better looking. With the game tonight in Petco, the Dodgers shouldn't count on hitting a lot of home runs to win the game. ( Not that they ever do. ) If they get to him it will likely be by singling and doubling him to death. Cassel allowed 11.7 hits per 9 innings in AAA this year, so piling up the hits appears doable.

The Dodgers counter Cassel with Wells. I'm not sure which pitcher we should expect to last longer in the game, Cassel or Wells. The two runs in five innings performance that Wells gave the Dodgers last Sunday is realistically the most they can hope from him. So the Dodger bullpen is also likely to be very important in this game as well.

Fortunately they all had the day off yesterday after the 12 inning game on Wednesday. Saito had pitched in 4 consecutive games, so it would be nice if he could get another day off tonight, though if the Dodgers need him I think he'll be ready. Proctor made 47 pitches Wednesday and 24 Monday --- he really shouldn't be called upon tonight. Hendrickson made 22 pitches Wednesday, none Tuesday and just 8 Monday, so he should be fine for long relief tonight, though I'd much prefer the well rested and probably more competent Eric Stults. Though by the time of tonight's game, he may not even be on the roster to make room for Loaiza.

David Lee "Boomer" Wells -- P

age: 44
throws: left

ERA -- IP -- SO/9 -- BB/9 -- HR/9
5.46 -- 123.2 -- 4.7 -- 2.6 -- 1.2

I'm sorry I looked. Not much to like there. Why is he better than Tomko again?

Perhaps he's not as much of a head case as Tomko seemed to be. And he's an amusing cheerleader on the bench. I don't think he can paint, though.

Wells Petco ERA was 3.91, which seems okay until you remember that it's one of the best pitcher's parks around. I'm not sure 3.91 is very impressive in that cavern. Wells' strikeouts to walks at Petco were 39 to 15, while away from Petco they're 26 to 21. Tonight's start by Wells is likely to be the best start he ever has as a Dodger. Let's hope it's a good one.

I'm thinking the score will be something like 4-3 or 3-3 after five innings from each starter. After that it will be a battle of the bullpens and the late inning offenses. The Padres weren't shy with their late inning offense against the Snakes, but the Dodger relievers are better. And the San Diego relievers aren't strangers to the late-inning loss. I think the Dodgers win a close one late in a battle of the bullpens. They'd better win, because Peavy the Pulverizer is going tomorrow.

The Dodgers don't have to sweep, but they really do need to win the series, and that has to start with a win tonight.

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