Huff reaches first place, Stubbs makes a great first impression

Tuesday August 25th, 2009

This Week's Diamond Digits discovers some long-awaited relief in the standings for baseball's biggest loser, rookies who ingratiated themselves with their new teammates in a hurry, a pitching staff having a historic season and one of the greatest comeback stories of recent memory.

The Tigers' winning percentage with Aubrey Huff, acquired from the Orioles last week, in the lineup.

Although some would say it's a cruel assessment of the career .283/.341/.474 hitter, it's accurate to call Huff baseball's biggest loser. Since his debut season for Tampa Bay in 2000, no player in baseball has appeared in more losing games (758, tied with Colorado's Todd Helton, who has played in 143 more games). Huff has been buried in last place in the AL East for most of his big-league playing days with the Rays and Orioles, escaping only briefly in 2006 when he was traded to the Astros (in a late-season deal that netted the Rays Ben Zobrist) and now with Detroit, where he finds himself in first place for the first time after Easter. Huff's teams have finished an average of 28.2 games out of first place, and that includes a mere 1 1/2 with the '06 Astros. He has also finished at least 27 1/2 games out of first in seven of his nine seasons entering '09.

These are the 11 players who have played in at least 700 losses this decade (through Sunday):

Major league games it took top Reds outfield prospect Drew Stubbs to win a game with a walk-off home run.

Stubbs, known more for his speed than his power (three home runs, 46 stolen bases for Triple-A Louisville), stepped to the plate on Thursday in the bottom of the 10th inning against San Francisco reliever Bobby Howry. On a 2-0 pitch Stubbs proceeded to smack a shot over the left-field fence at Great American Ballpark to give the Reds a 2-1 win. In the expansion era, only three players have achieved such a feat in quicker fashion than Stubbs -- all by hitting a game-ending home run in their big league debut:

• On Sept. 9, 1971, new Angels second baseman Billy Parker made the Brewers cry in their beer with a 12th-inning blow against Floyd Weaver, giving California a 3-2 win.

• Indians catcher Josh Bard unloaded on Seattle's Arthur Rhodes for a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth on Aug. 23, 2002, lifting Cleveland to a 4-2 win.

• On June 20, 2003, Florida's Miguel Cabrera socked a two-run home run in the bottom of the 11th off of Tampa Bay's Al Levine, giving the Marlins a win in the battle of the Sunshine State.

Shutouts by the San Francisco Giants this season, tops in the majors and five more than the No. 2 team, the Reds.

The Giants are known best for a rotation that includes Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Jonathan (No-Hit) Sanchez, but they've managed to combine for only three complete-game blankings (two by Lincecum and Sanchez's gem), meaning San Francisco's bullpen has played a major role in 13 of those shutouts. Giants relievers rank third in the majors with a 3.56 ERA, trailing only the front-running Dodgers (3.32) and AL champion Rays (3.53). Over the last dozen seasons only three teams have had as many shutouts as the Giants to this point in the season: The Smoltz-Maddux-Glavine Braves had 16 with a week to go in August of 1998; the '02 Red Sox, featuring 20-game winners Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, also had 16; and the '07 Padres had 17, also by riding a superb bullpen. The Giants are on track to break the San Francisco record for shutouts of 20 set in 1968 -- 19 of which were complete games (Ray Sadecki, 6; Juan Marichal, 5; Gaylord Perry and Bobby Bolin, 3 each, Mike McCormick, 2). The franchise record is 25, set in New York in 1908 by Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity & Co.

Chris Carpenter, P, Cardinals

Is there a better comeback story this season than Carpenter, who for the second time in his career is overcoming a major arm injury, the latest of which cost him most of the '07 and '08 seasons? Last week Carpenter further proved that he's completely back, limiting the Dodgers and Padres to two runs, eight hits, and four walks in 15 innings while extending his personal unbeaten streak to nine (including wins in his last six starts) and pushing his NL-leading wins total to 14. Carpenter's 2.16 ERA is the best among big league starters, his 4.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio is fourth behind Roy Halladay, Dan Haren and Javier Vazquez, and his home runs allowed per nine (0.43) trails only teammate Joel Piñiero and Tim Lincecum among starters . With Comeback Player of the Year locked up, it's quite possible that Carpenter could also win his second Cy Young Award (he won in 2005).

Honorable Mention: Jack Cust, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Jayson Werth, Michael Young, Luis Castillo, Miguel Cabrera, Hideki Matsui, AdamLaRoche, CC Sabathia, Ubaldo Jimenez, Huston Street and Charlie Haeger.

Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves

By collecting one hit in 20 at-bats, Jones, one of the most productive hitters in the NL in the last quarter century, contributed little to the Braves' recent hot streak. One explanation for his NL-worst .050 batting and slugging average for the week was the fact that the division-rival Mets and Marlins are all too familiar with Jones' penchant for big hits, so they walked him eight times in six games. Yet he managed to score just three times all week while driving in only one run.

Dishonorable Mention: Brandon Inge, Geoff Blum, Kelly Shoppach, David Murphy, Steve Pearce, Chris Iannetta, Oliver Perez, Bud Norris, Trevor Bell, Josh Beckett and Derek Lowe.

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