Here come the Devil Rays! Hey! It’s the Devil Rays!

There are a few interesting elements to this weekend’s series against the Devil Rays at the Bank. For starters, there are the starters. Cole Hamels pitches on Friday night in his first ever game in Philadelphia. That’s somewhat significant. Then, on Saturday, Scott Mathieson — the so-called closer of the future — makes his Major League debut.

Mathieson’s start could be a one-and-done thing, but crazier things have happened. Who knows, maybe the kid comes up, pitches well and makes it so thy can’t take him out of the rotation? You never know.

On the flip side, the Devil Rays send a pair of their up-and-comers out to the mound against the Phillies. James Shields, a 24-year-old righthander, goes up against Hamels on Friday night, while the Scott Kazmir pitches on Saturday night.

Anyone who read Moneyball knows all about Kazmir. Of course, anyone who follows baseball closely knows about Kazmir, too. When the schedule first came out and I saw that Tampa Bay was coming to Philadelphia, I thought to my self, “Well, self, perhaps you’ll get a chance to see Kazmir pitch. After all, you had a chance to see Clemens pitch in ’86 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and you missed that by a day (although you caught him doing a bullpen session at Fenway in ’96 from inches away… how cool was that?) and it wasn’t for nearly 20 years later when you got to see him pitch in person.”

So, as fate would have it, I’ll get to see Kazmir as a 21-year-old in person. We’ll see if he turns out to be half as good as Clemens. Nevertheless, it would have been neat to see him matched up against Hamels — the pair of 21-year-olds drafted the same year a few slots away from each other — but I’m sure the lefties will have plenty of chances to go at each other.

Either way, it seems as if there will be plenty of good seats available for this weekend’s series.

Then the Yankees come to town. I think we’ve seen their third-base coach around these parts before.

Wolf back
On another note, Randy Wolf showed up at the ballpark on Friday. The lefty is finished with his rehab work in Clearwater and should be pitching in Reading or Scranton for his next four outings before rejoining the Phillies for good.

Pre-rainout notes for Thursday

Here comes a big rambling preface, which may or may not have anything to do with the fact I’m going to write (eventually). I suppose we’ll all be able to figure it out as soon as I get there, so let’s get going…

Anyway, based on some research I did during spring training in 2004, it was determined that the best indicator for the amount of games a team will win is not ERA, strikeouts per 9 innings, batting average or even slugging percentage. The magical statistic? on-base percentage.

Based on that rudimentary research covering the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons, it was determined that the teams that ranked at the top of the standings often had the highest on-base percentage. In fact, it was quite uncanny how important doing something as basic as getting on base did for a team’s chances. I was also quite surprised that a pitching statistic like WHIP or ERA was not as telling as the on-base percentage was. In reality, there are often teams with mediocre records that rate toward the top of the charts in team ERA.

So why am I writing this? Because Bobby Abreu is riding a 4-for-27 skid during the Phillies’ last 10 games, yet has reached base safely in 26 consecutive games and has a .444 on-base percentage this season. Despite the .269 batting average, Abreu leads the National League with 36 walks — more than Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols — rates fifth in on-base percentage, and eighth in runs.

With Abreu bringing up the rear, the Phillies have four players (Burrell 8th, Utley 15th, Howard 17th) in the top 18 in OPS.

In other words, Abreu is the quintessential Moneyball player.

There’s more, too. Close to one-third of all of Abreu’s at-bats come against lefties, while nearly half of his late inning at-bats are against lefties who are specifically in the game to face him. That makes it even tougher for him to produce yet his numbers are always amongst the best in the game. In fact, throughout his career, Abreu’s statistics are consistent throughout the game whether he is facing a lefty in a close game in the latter innings, or whether he’s coming up with two outs in the first inning and no one on base.

Earlier this week I had a chance to ask Abreu about his two divergent streaks to which he said it was just a matter of time before the hits started falling, but that he was going to “be here for the team and do what I can to help us win. That’s it. Just win.”

Getting on base is a pretty good place to start if a player wants to help his team win. At least that’s what the numbers indicate.