An Arizona Diamondbacks Blog

Gameday Thread, #133: 8/29 vs. Padres
By Jim McLennan
Posted on Mon Aug 29, 2005 at 04:54:49 PM EST

Ortiz (4-8, 6.95)
Williams (6-10, 5.14)

  1. Craig Counsell, 2B
  2. Royce Clayton, SS
  3. Luis Gonzalez, LF
  4. Tony Clark, 1B
  5. Shawn Green, CF
  6. Troy Glaus, 3B
  7. Chad Tracy, RF
  8. Kelly Stinnett, C
  9. Russ Ortiz, P

The question, it would appear, is no longer, "Will Ortiz be bad?" It's now closer to, "How bad will Ortiz be?" His appearances since his return have been, respectively, poor, horrendous and merely awful: last time out, he conceded eight earned runs in four innings. It's amazing that everyone bar the D'backs management is able to see this isn't working.

If Ortiz had any real guts (rather than the overhanging one he seems to have acquired during his layoff - he now has all the mobility of Mr. Creosote), he'd withdraw gracefully from the rotation and go voluntarily down to Tucson until he gets his head and his performances straight. Or his large, undeserved contract expires, whichever happens first.

The good - frankly, unprecedented - news is, today, he's actually facing a pitcher whom he has a chance to beat. For Woody Williams has been pretty bad too, posting a 7.26 ERA over his last seven outings, which is almost in the same (large, cavernous) ballpark as Ortiz's 0-6, 9.15 over his last eight. Anyone fancy a 1-0 result? Thought not. Even Petco might not be able to contain the clash of these pitching titans.

And scope out the ever-entertaining Gaslamp Ball for the take from the NL West's least-worst club. Last time, they were writing haiku; now, they're using quotes from The Big Lebowski to relate to the Padres. Here in Arizona, we should probably be using Friday the 13th, Part VI or something similar...

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AZ 10, Phillies 5 - It's Grand to Slam
By Jim McLennan
Posted on Mon Aug 29, 2005 at 03:07:06 PM EST

Record: 60-72. Change on last year: +19

After a pretty horrendous August, where the D'backs had seen the opposition score ten runs eight different times, it was nice to finally experience life on the other side of double-digits for a change. Though it was close at the start, with the Phillies taking the lead, then tying the game at 2-2. But we blew things open on Shawn Green's home run with the bases loaded in the third, and never really looked back.

Melvin was positively on fire afterwards, actually joking - humour having been in painfully short supply during this homestand - claiming the reason for Green's success was that he's got another mouth to feed: "He was on a salary drive." Certainly, if this is how Green responds to his new baby daughter, let's hope his wife has several litters over the rest of the season. :-)

Despite expectations, a bit of a run-fest. We were helped enormously by Padilla's wildness; all three runs that scored ahead of Green were walked there, and we got rid of the opposition starter after just three innings. Vargas did his part: this was not the lights-out pitching we've seen, but he pitched into the seventh inning before tiring. His final line (seven hits, four walks and two K's, with four earned runs) was still enough to get him above .500 for the year.

After the Phillies pulled within two, we pulled away again with four more in the bottom of the seventh, three of them on a homer by Glaus, and the other on a sacrifice fly by Jackson [Conor came up with the bases loaded, and gave it a good shot, but couldn't quite deliver our second grand-slam of the evening] Meanwhile, Groom, Medders and Worrell kept Philadelphia (more or less) in check, and sent the decent-sized crowd of 31,112 home happy. I didn't realise the lure of Sunday's giveaway, a Shamrock Farms Growth Chart, was so strong.

And once more, many props to my peeps who smashed the previous records for comments on a game, cruising into three figures, with an all-time high of 128. I'd better beef up the servers in case we reach the playoffs. :-) A particular shout to philliesnation - now enshrined in our links for the site of the same name - who was a credit to the City of Brotherly Love, but also to everyone else who came to the party: andrewinnewyork, azdb7, Devin, Otacon, William K, and tourist.

[In the diaries on the right, the last-named is looking for travel tips for BOB. It's an interesting idea, and hopefully we'll get some, though I know we have a wide spread, geographically - at least three continents - not to mention Tucson! :-) I haven't got time to put anything together today myself, but I'm off for the next three, so hopefully I can contribute during my 'weekend'.]

How big was this? Our first series win in August, that's all. The last time we won was against the Cubs in Chicago, back at the end of July - by coincidence, the finale of that set was also the last time we scored ten runs or more, and also the last D'backs grand slam (by Chris Snyder). Since then, we'd lost seven series in a row; a lot of them pretty badly.

Heroes and Zeroes, Series 42: vs. Phillies, at home
Webb: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 BB, 6 K, 0 ER
Cintron: 1-for-2, 2 RBI, home-run
Green: 3-for-5, 4 RBI, grand-slam, daughter
------------------------------------
Bulger: 0.2 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 1 K, 3 ER
Clayton: 1-for-11
Counsell: 1-for-11, 9 LOB, GIDP

All three heroes were one-hit wonders, in that they have only one game to thank for their appearance. Webb's performance was the best by a starter in quite some time, while Cintron's pinch-hit homer may have just salvaged our season, and Green's grand-slam made Sunday's game much more comfortable.

Bulger's big-league debut was eminently forgettable, and will only be cleansed by some more successful appearances. Zeroes could be given to most of our hitters. We batted only .211 (19-for-90) for the series, but especially poor was the top of our order: Counsell, Clayton + Gonzalez were 3-for-30. In the futility stakes, Counsell just beats out Clayton (only 2 LOB and no double-play); Craig went 1-for-23 on this homestand.

Still, to beat the NL wild-card leader was definitely a much-needed boost. I'm not prepared to make an expansive gesture and proclaim, "It lives!" - not with Ortiz pitching tonight - but the last couple of games have been our most solid performances of the month. Whether they bode well for the future, on the other hand...because this year has seen more false dawns than Season 5 of Buffy*. Since the start of June, we've won consecutive games nine times - we're 0-9 in trying to extend the streak to three.

It's something that continues to defy belief, but can't be stressed enough, just how bad the NL West is. The last time we won three in a row was way back on May 18-20, which ended with us at the season high of nine games above .500. Since that point, we've gone 34-55 (that'd be on pace for 100+ losses over an entire year) but have only dropped a handful of games back in the division.

However, time is now running out; there's only 30 games left, so even that gap is expanding exponentially in toughness, with every game now being that much more important. As is, Baseball Prospectus gives us less than a 3% chance of making the playoffs: if we don't win this series in San Diego, we'll be 6.5 or 8.5 games back, with 27 to play. The former will be very difficult to overcome - the latter almost impossible.

We did have a schedule advantage, in playing most of our games at BOB - not that it's been much help this year - but that has evaporated in the 2-5 homestand, and it's now an even split. However, take out San Diego, and 21 of our other 24 remaining games are against teams with worse records than us (the only exception is the Brewers who are...well, still the Brewers).

Let's do a quick what-if, for various scenarios [though to keep things simple, I'm ignoring the Dodgers, who are still as much in it as us]. The Padres have six games left against us, and 27 versus other teams. Assuming they play as they have so far, they'll go 13-14 in those other games. The table below shows various results for the series between us; how the Padres would finish; and what we'd need to do to tie the Padres, both over the final 30 games, and in our non-San Diego games.

Series  Padres     We need   vs.others
  6-0    77-85      17-13      11-13
  5-1    78-84      18-12      13-11
  4-2    79-83      19-11      15-9
  3-3    80-82      20-10      17-7
  2-4    81-81      21-9       19-5
  1-5    82-80      22-8       21-3
  0-6    83-79      23-7       23-1

Sweep the Padres twice, play .500 baseball the rest of the way, and it's probably hello, NL West title. We can lose one and only need to play a little better than even elsewhere. But you see how every defeat starts to stack up against us. Split the two series and we're suddenly looking at 17-7. Time is running out for Arizona; we're scurrying down the corridors at MLB High, without a hall pass, still hoping to find a ticket to the dance...

[* Sorry, that one probably deserves an explanation. The season saw Buffy suddenly acquire a kid sister named Dawn, who was actually the key to opening a portal to another dimension, which would cause death, destruction and, probably, gas prices to reach $2/gallon (hey, this was back in 2001!). The main villainess that series was Glory, a rather peeved deity stuck here who wanted the portal open; she was a shape-shifter. Hence, false Dawns. Ever wish you hadn't bothered? ;-)]

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Gameday Thread, #132: 8/28 vs. Phillies
By Jim McLennan
Posted on Sun Aug 28, 2005 at 04:39:59 PM EST

Padilla (7-11, 4.32)
Vargas (7-7, 4.99)

  1. Craig Counsell, 2B
  2. Royce Clayton, SS
  3. Luis Gonzalez, LF
  4. Tony Clark, 1B
  5. Troy Glaus, 3B
  6. Shawn Green, CF
  7. Chad Tracy, RF
  8. Kelly Stinnett, C
  9. Claudio Vargas, P

Look! A proper Gameday Thread - y'know, in advance of the actual game, y'know? :-) Having won yesterday, at least we should no longer quite feel as if we're trying to kick our way off a funeral cart. "We're not dead! We're getting better - think we'll go for a walk..."

Having taste the sweet delight of victory, can we now repeat, and stretch our winning sequence to a mighty two games - something that has happened so far only once in the whole month of August? It's a Sunday evening game, which I think is probably what threw me off yesterday: day games on Saturdays and night ones on Sunday aren't the usual schedule.

Not expecting a lot of runs here - at least, not for us. Padilla has been stellar recently, with a 2.38 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over his past ten starts. Vargas has been almost as good, but you'd need to draw a veil (or, more likely, a body-bag) over his last start, when he allowed eight runs and ten hits in five innings. We can do without that, needless to say.

A win here would give us a little bit of momentum to take into the San Diego series next week, the latest in a long series of series (as it were), that will determine the fate of our season. No, really: this one counts. Honest! Oh, and memo to self: Wednesday's game has a 12:35 start, Arizona time...

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AZ 2, Phillies 0: a.k.a. Gameday Thread, #131: 8/27 vs. Phillies
By Jim McLennan
Posted on Sun Aug 28, 2005 at 04:28:46 AM EST

Lieber (12-11, 4.91)
Webb (10-10, 3.87)

Gazing into my crystal ball, I feel pretty confident that the Diamondbacks might win this one. I'm thinking seven scoreless innings for Webb, and - I'll go out on a limb here - a two-run pinch-hit home run for Alex Cintron. Any takers?

Record: 59-72. Change on last year: +18

Okay, somewhat embarrassingly, I admit it. I managed not to notice there was a day game today, until it was all over. Probably for the best, at least as far as the Diamondbacks go, since they a) won, and b) posted a shutout. It seems like a very long time since they did either, but it's only a week and 15 days respectively.

Bonus points are due to andrewinnewyork for being the only one of us sharp enough to realise there was a game on, while Devin sunned himself by the lake, and I put my nose to the grindstone and worked. And greetings to azdb7 too, the latest member of our (fairly) happy (today, at least) family.

At least the pitching side of things went well, with Webb allowing five hits and four walks over seven shutout innings, despite some wobbles - such as a 31-pitch second inning. The Phillies were taking a lot of pitches, in an obvious effort to get to our pen, but Webb adjusted well, became more aggressive, and ended up surviving long enough to get the win.

Less impressive on the offense side, however, where our woes continued. Our first fourteen hitters failed to reach, and we had just five hits all told - two for Tracy - with the sole meaningful blow being Cintron's pinch-golfed homer ("hit" is too strong a word), which only just escaped Bobby Abreu's.

This is a rare area in which we've excelled in 2005. It's Arizona's ninth, which convincingly leads the majors; no-one else has more than five. Indeed both Cintron and Tony Clark individually now have more pinch-hit homers (three) than all of Washington and Pittsburgh combined this year (two). However, overall, our pinch-hitters are hitting a mere .233, below average in the league.

After Webb's departure, Groom allowed a walk to lead off the eighth, but got Abreu, whom he had not been allowed to face the previous day. Then Valverde came on and got four strikeouts in six hitters faced, for his first save in 17 days, despite allowing a leadoff walk in the ninth.

And, as Comment-Bot would say, "at least San Diego lost again", to Colorado, on a grand-slam by Todd Helton. This made a winner out of Kim - no, not that Kim, the other Korean starter called Kim pitching for the Rockies. Sun-Woo, rather Byung-Hyun. At least he won't be quite so lonely there as he was playing for the Diamondbacks!

Oscar Villarreal is now rattling around the clubhouse: he had to come up, because there's a maximum 30-day rehab and he'd used up all that down in Tucson. But he can't get to play yet, because we haven't got the room on the roster. When they expand from 25 to 40 players on Thursday, I imagine he'll be added, to give our bullpen more - and I use quotes advisedly here - "depth".

Ok: it's late (in more senses than one!) so I'll cut this short. Will definitely be back tomorrow. In time for the game. For sure. Promise. :-)

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AZ 3, Phillies 11 - How Low Can We Go?
By Jim McLennan
Posted on Sat Aug 27, 2005 at 04:02:48 PM EST

Record: 58-72. Change on last year: +17

"Horrible, just like the last couple of nights. Frustrating, whatever you want to call it. It's just been tough, man. I know everybody wants us to get more fired up and emotional and things like that. This is the same team that was here when we were winning games in April and May, and we've just got to find a way to turn it around."
    -- Luis Gonzalez

So you keep saying, Gonzo. Yet it's another day, another double-digit score against. That's a leading contender to implement when we upgrade Comment-Bot - for in five of the past eight games now, the opposition have scored ten or more. During that time we've been outscored 25-82. Put another way, since last weekend, conceding ten runs and losing by eight has been an average game.

There was a slight variation on the usual theme last night, in that we actually took "a lead". I'll explain this term, which may be unfamiliar, since it's not been heard often in Arizona lately. This happens when - and I know you'll find this difficult to believe - the Diamondbacks score more runs than the opposition.

We'd got rid of the Phillies starter after four innings, and come back to take "the lead" on an RBI single by Stinnett, and a bunt by Halsey, which brought home Jackson from third. [Curious stat: Halsey has six walks in 52 times at the plate - a better ratio than any hitter bar Counsell and Glaus] Glaus added a homer in the third and we were feeling pretty good. However, the key was our traditional bete noire, the seventh innings.

We took a 3-2 margin in, but a homer tied the game: after Halsey got an out and walked a guy, he was yanked for Lyon, but he did no better, allowing a single and a walk to load the bases with two out. Worrell came in, and an infield single gave the Phillies the lead, with Bobby Abreu at the plate.

Now, Abreu's a leftie - traditional baseball logic would have had Groom come in to face him, but Melvin went with Tim Worrell, on the basis of, er, five at-bats. Over Abreu's ten-season career. Let's also ignore the 96 games Abreu saw Worrell pitch this year and last, when they both played for the Phillies - you don't think that might have helped Abreu deposit a 3-1 fastball over the center-field fence for a grand-slam, do you?

Worrell took the blame, saying "Fell behind, made a bad pitch, up and over the plate," but the question has to be asked: should he have been there at all? Okay, hindsight is 20/20, but this was definitely one of those 10% of decision which would not have been made by a well-trained ape. And those calling for Bob Melvin's head now have another exhibit for their case.

Not a great day for anyone - except perhaps Shawn Green, who was off helping his wife give birth to their second child, Chandler Rose (he'll probably miss today's game too). Only five hits for Arizona: Craig Counsell is now 0-for-15 on this homestand. Jason Bulger made his big-league debut - our nineteenth reliever this year - and was promptly whacked for four hits and three earned runs in 0.2 innings. As someone said yesterday, "I'm sure reality will bite soon." His ERA now stands at 40.50. Welcome to the big leagues.

Another dumb play on the basepaths - and this one was by Gonzalez, so we can't even blame reckless youth. He beat out an infield hit, but after reaching first, turned towards second, when the ball got away from Myers, covering first. When he realised it wasn't going anywhere, Gonzo meandered back to the bag, but was tagged out before he got there.

To his credit, Gonzo 'fessed up: "I tried to sell it and tell them I didn't go. I did, I knew I did. It's like telling a cop you didn't go over the speed limit and he's got you on radar." However, in a 2-1 game, it's still pretty inexcusable as a mental lapse - and to make matters worse, it turned Glaus's home-run, which followed immediately, into a solo shot.

As Nick Piecoro's wrote in View from the Press Box from today's Banana: "It's hard to remember another stretch when the Diamondbacks have looked this bad. Ever. They lost 14 consecutive games last season, but at no point were the games this uncompetitive...They were bad last year, but never this bad for a weeklong stretch."

Thanks to Englishdback, Devin, andrewinnewyork, Otacon and William K for their thoughts - in case anyone is wondering, the Spanish Comment-Bot was saying, "I do not like the oranges!" Babelfish is a wonderful thing. :-) We almost had more people here than turned up at BOB, where a pitiful 22,397 showed up, a record low for a Friday game. Seems like apathy regarding this team has reached new depths all over...

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Gameday Thread, #130: 8/26 vs. Phillies
By Jim McLennan
Posted on Fri Aug 26, 2005 at 04:31:55 PM EST

Myers (11-6, 3.48)
Halsey (8-10, 4.39)

  1. Craig Counsell, 2B
  2. Royce Clayton, SS
  3. Luis Gonzalez, LF
  4. Troy Glaus, 3B
  5. Chad Tracy, RF
  6. Conor Jackson, 1B
  7. Luis Terrero, CF
  8. Kelly Stinnett, C
  9. Brad Halsey, P

Jackson, who did okay last time out, gets the start again at first today, with Terrero in center and no Shawn Green - which is a little odd, since Myers isn't a leftie. Maybe they just figured he needs a rest.

The Phillies come to town, hoping to reproduce the success of their NL East neighbours, the Mets. They're currently the front-runners for the NL Wild Card, but it's a tight race, so no shortage of motivation there.

No, the need for motivation is all on the D'backs front, both for the players and the fans. After the wretched performances of the past few games, it'll be interesting to see how many people come to BOB. The Mets - traditionally one of the bigger draws - pulled an average crowd of only 23,000: last year, the two teams played a four-game midweek series too, and drew more than 29,000 per game.

Currently, we're on pace for slightly below 2.1 million - 25,700 per game - which would be down about 17% on last year. However, the ten home games in August have been lower than that (averaging 25,100), and if the slide continues, and particularly if we fall out of contention for the division, it's possible we may not break two million this year.

An additional factor this series might be that neither today nor tomorrow's game is being televised - probably a blessing, after the way we played against the Mets. At the least, it'll likely prevent suicide rates in Maricopa County reaching an all-time high. Commenting is thus expected to be low for the next couple of days (I'll be at work myself), but all thoughts are, as ever, very welcome.

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AZ 1, Mets 3 - Brooms Ahoy!
By Jim McLennan
Posted on Fri Aug 26, 2005 at 03:47:19 PM EST

Record: 58-71. Change on last year: +18

It was 'Good' Vazquez that turned up last night - just not 'Good Enough' Vazquez, especially on a night when our offense failed again. If you look in the dictionary beside "ineffective", you'll find a picture of Royce Clayton, stranded on third after a leadoff triple.

While we lost, and got swept, at least we showed an acceptable amount of fight this game, especially on the pitching front. When Vazquez allowed two runs in the second, another collapse seemed possible, but he buckled down and kept the Mets scoreless after that: four hits and two walks over seven innings, with six K's.

This gave the bullpen a much-needed rest, with only Medders being used - he pitched two innings, and looked good in the first, but allowed an insurance run in the ninth, though the Mets didn't need to use it. Not when Martinez took a no-hitter into the sixth, despite allowing four walks and hitting a batter, and when we eventually got hits, they weren't when we needed them - 0-for-9 with RISP.

The seventh was the shining poster-boy for futility: Clayton tripled and McCracken was hit by a pitch. But Cintron grounded to third and Clayton was caught in a rundown having broken for home. Then Counsell hit a liner straight to Cairo at second, who flipped to Reyes for the inning-ending double-play.

Tracy provided the sum total of our offense with a solo home-run in the eighth. That was a very nice at-bat: he looked bad early on, but kept fighting off pitches, until he finally dispatched one off the top of the fence in right field. Good job, albeit a futile endeavour in a lost cause.

Thanks to Devin, William K, and special guest MetsFan1 for showing up. Though perhaps the most frequent commentator was Comment-Bot v1.0, now in beta-testing and who got a thorough workout. "What is it with us and runners in scoring position?" came in for particularly-heavy use...

And on the whole, this is a series that is best forgotten, to put it mildly - though I'm sure I'll wake up in the night, sweating and screaming about it for a while. Let's compare the stats for the past four games, shall we?

        New York      Arizona      
Wins        4            0
Runs       39            7
BA        .327         .183
OBP       .399         .270
SLG       .640         .270
Hits       49           23
X-Base     26            6
HR          9            2
BB         17            9
Start ERA 1.24         7.88
Bull. ERA 1.29        13.50

Any questions?

Heroes and Zeroes, Series 41: vs. Mets, at home
Gonzalez: 6-for-14
------------------------------
Vargas: 5 IP, 10 H, 1 BB, 8 ER
Counsell: 0-for-12
Ortiz: 4 IP, 7 H, 5 BB, 8 ER

Heroes are obviously few and far between in this series. Vazquez and Webb gave us quality starts, but getting tagged with the loss, only makes you a hero in Shakespearean tragedies. Instead, let's give it to Gonzalez, who deserves a nod for at least trying, with almost 30% of all Arizona's hits for the series.

The villains. Oh, where to start? Vargas lasted slightly longer than Ortiz, while Counsell went hitless, was 1-for-2 stealing bases, lined into a double-play with a man on third, and was involved in the Keystone Cops-like Mets' double-play, during which two runs came home. Ortiz simply sucked - film at 11.

But another fresh arm arrives in the bullpen, in the shape of Jason Bulger, our first-round pick in the 2001 draft, who will be making his major-league debut. Said Bulger, "From the time you're a kid playing Little League, you dream about being in the big leagues and here it is. It's surreal, and I'm still waiting to wake up from it, but it's a great feeling." Sure reality will bite soon, kid. ;-) At Tucson, he was 3-6 with four saves and a 3.54 ERA in 56 games.

Bulger replaces Greg Aquino, who is sent back down after a lacklustre and injury-plagued season that failed to fulfill the promised of 2004. He missed the best part of two months with an elbow problem and, while he performed better on his return, the last couple of appearances were awful. On the whole, it's probably no bad thing he was sent down: unlike some of our rehab cases, I still believe there's hope for him.

According to the East Valley Tribune, D'backs managing partner Ken Kendrick called Bob Melvin yesterday. Melvin was vague on the details, but said, "He's frustrated with the way things are going. I'm frustrated...The players obviously are. Everybody is on the same page in that we're not happy about the way things are going." Join the club, Bob.

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Gameday Thread, #129: 8/25 vs. Mets
By Jim McLennan
Posted on Thu Aug 25, 2005 at 08:58:44 PM EST

Martinez (12-5, 2.86)
Vazquez (10-12, 4.67)

  1. Craig Counsell, 2B
  2. Chad Tracy, RF
  3. Luis Gonzalez, LF
  4. Tony Clark, 1B
  5. Troy Glaus, 3B
  6. Shawn Green, CF
  7. Royce Clayton, SS
  8. Chris Snyder, C
  9. Javier Vazquez, P

Just what we need after losing two games by a total margin of twenty-eight runs: Pedro Martinez. The Diamondbacks have made their reservations at Hotel Swept, and should be checking in around 9:30pm. Mind you, Martinez hasn't actually won a game in over a month - his previous victory was back on July 23rd. Last time out, he was pulled with an 8-0 lead, which his bullpen promptly blew in an almost Arizona-esque fashion, leading to a no-decision.

However, which Javier Vazquez will show up tonight? The one who pitched eight innings of one-run ball? Or the one who survived two innings and allowed nine earned runs? For those were the last two starts for Javy, and fairly reflect his season:

  • 0-2 earned runs: 13 times
  • 3-4 earned runs: 5 times
  • 5+ earned runs: 8 times
    So, odds in favour of a good outing, but it's not good, it'll probably be awful. I'm agonising over whether to put him in my fantasy line-up for tonight: given he's facing Pedro, I'm forced to think "no". Odds are against Javy getting the W, and he could easily inflict life-threatening injuries on my team's ERA.

    It'd help if our offense showed up, but I'm not overly optimistic - we've made a lot of pitchers this year look like Pedro Martinez, and now we're facing the real deal, having scored just six runs in three games. However, the above lineup is probably about our best offensive chance; Counsell, Gonzalez and Clark have all had surprising success againt Pedro (all .350+ with double-digit ABs: Gonzo is 14-for-37). Glaus, on the other hand, is 4-for-23 lifetime, so don't expect too much there.

    It should be an interesting match-up, and I plan to watch a good chunk of it, if we get "good" Vazquez showing up, at least. Our season finale record has been excellent, plus we seem to delight in making things difficult for ourselves - and it doesn't get much more difficult than a three-time Cy Young winner and five-time ERA champ.

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    AZ 4, Mets 18 - Six Feet Under
    By Jim McLennan
    Posted on Thu Aug 25, 2005 at 04:34:31 PM EST

    Record: 58-70. Change on last year: +19

    I drifted in and out of last night's game, around watching the grand finale of the above show (worth catching, particularly for the last five minutes, which probably counts as Best Wrapup Ever). It proved painfully appropriate to watch a film about a firm of funeral directors on the night our pennant hopes were finally buried and put to rest, in the most brutal fashion imaginable.

    I mean, I expected to lose - but by fourteen runs for the second straight night? Ouch, that hurt. Ortiz was woeful, as fully anticipated, so we bring you what's becoming a regular feature, the Russ Ortiz Excuse of the Day: "I felt like I could throw every pitch with conviction and not worry about my mechanics...I threw every pitch with a purpose. Some were executed, some weren't...The walks today came up and bit me."

    How long before we hear: "The dog ate my fastball," "I left my slider on the team bus," and "Game? There was a game today?" If we'd had a full bullpen (they'd pitched four innings the night before), Ortiz would likely have been pinch-hit for first time through the order, but he had to pitch a full four innings. Yesterday's line: seven hits, five walks and eight earned runs.

    Things didn't get any better after he left, however:

    • Aquino: 1 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 5 ER
    • Groom: 1 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 3 ER
    • Lyon: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 ER
    • Worrell: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 ER [Yay for Timmy!]
    • Valverde: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 ER

    Over the past two nights, our bullpen has thrown nine innings and allowed 23 baserunners (20 hits, three walks) and 16 earned runs. That's virtually the same as our starters: nine innings, 24 baserunners (18 hits, six walks) and 16 earned runs.

    Our overall team ERA for August is now 7.16 - almost two runs worse than the 15th-placed NL team (Colorado at 5.23). Opposing hitters are batting .309 against us this month, with an OPS over .900. Our bullpen this season now has an ERA of 6.12 - again, far worse than anyone else's in the league, no other team's relievers are even at five, never mind north of six.

    Lowlights? Tracy falling over in the outfield, and that spectacularly-inept double-play during which two runners motored home, which I was lucky enough to see on reruns. Or it might have been a trailer for The Bad News Bears, I'm not sure. Score that one: "Beltran grounded into a double play, second baseman Counsell to first baseman Jackson to shortstop Clayton to first baseman Jackson to shortstop Clayton to pitcher Ortiz. Castro scored, Reyes scored, Matsui out."

    Highlights? Shawn Green his 300th homer, though few can have been as utterly meaningless. Personally, though, the most gratifying thing was the comments on the game, which proved that AZ fans are just as loyal and diehard as anyone. Even in the darkest hour of the season, there was virtually a full turnout here. So massive props to all peeps: andrewinnewyork, icecoldmo, Otacon, Devin and William K in the house.

    The last-named suggested (jokingly - I hope!) "it's time to create a comment-writing 'bot". Nice idea: all you'd really need is to plug it into GameDay, monitor the feed for a few choice phrases and convert them into appropriate output. The only problem is, it would sound like Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy:

    • "Here comes another double-play."
    • "What is it with us and runners in scoring position?"
    • "Oops. I thought our defense was supposed to be better this year."
    • "Those leadoff walks will kill you."
    • "Why is no-one warming up in the bullpen?"
    • "Our bullpen sucks."
    • "Well, at least the Padres lost too."

    Unfortunately, the last couple of nights, even the last, smallest comfort hasn't been true, so we're now six games back, and sinking like a lead dolphin. Melvin received the much-feared "vote of confidence" from Jeff Moorad: "Any disappointment we feel is the fault of many, not the manager alone. We have a tremendous amount of faith in Bob's leadership ability, and we're going to make every continued effort to try to bolster the lineup." You may well recall similar platitudes being mouthed shortly before Brenly's departure.

    But Melvin isn't worried about the talk: "I don't pay attention to the other stuff. There's just so much negative press out there and talk radio, chat rooms [hey, could he mean us?] and all that stuff. There's a lot of it. It matters to me what my players think and what the organization thinks." Not that he'd know what the players think, since he was excluded from the players-only meeting held before the game.

    Nor, of course, did that appear to have much effect, though nobody would talk about exactly what was discussed there. The closest was Royce Clayton: "Sometimes, within a household, when you're sitting around with your wife and you're both biting your tongues, it's not really a good situation. I think we've just been biting our tongues for entirely too long. What you need to get done is to coexist and do the right things as a family. That's the most important thing."

    More important than, say, being outscored in a series by the margin of 36-6? [And counting] Or having the worst record in the National League since the start of June? Or conceding ten runs in a game, seven times in 2 1/2 weeks? Or letting the opposition score two runs while grounding into a double-play? Beside all that, somehow, I don't rate turning BOB into an episode of 7th Heaven all that highly.

    You can rip each other's heads off inside the locker-room for all I care, as long as you play good baseball. That is what you are being paid obscene amounts of money to do: not "coexist" or "do the right things as a family." Funnily enough, you'll probably find a winning clubhouse is the happiest frickin' place on Earth, and makes Disneyland look like Stalag Luft IX.

    Poll at right. Obvious question. Diary to follow later on the same topic; comments welcome.

    Entry Link :: 1 Comment

    Gameday Thread, #128: 8/24 vs. Mets
    By Jim McLennan
    Posted on Wed Aug 24, 2005 at 07:28:03 PM EST

    Seo (5-1, 1.09)
    Ortiz (4-7, 6.44)

    1. Craig Counsell, 2B
    2. Royce Clayton, SS
    3. Luis Gonzalez, LF
    4. Shawn Green, CF
    5. Chad Tracy, RF
    6. Alex Cintron, 3B
    7. Conor Jackson, 1B
    8. Kelly Stinnett, C
    9. Russ Ortiz, P

    "It's tough because the first day I felt great and I threw well, I just didn't get the results that we needed. Then the last start, I was just missing with a lot of pitches and getting behind in the count. You can't get behind."
        -- Russ Ortiz

    Yes, just what we need after getting slapped around to the tune of 18-2 in the first two games of the series: a start by The Man With a Thousand Excuses. Ortiz blames "a lack of consistency brought on by subpar mechanics and timing" for his recent failures. Bob Melvin's patience, however, is clearly wearing thin: "Hopefully we get better results. This is a guy we need. This is a guy who was a priority -- a big-time free agent -- for us. He expects big things out of himself and we expect big things out of him, too."

    That $33m, four-year contract is currently looking like it could become the worst in Diamondbacks history. At least we got one good season out of Jay Bell and Matt Williams for their five-year, $34m and $45m deals - so far, even that seems doubtful for Ortiz.

    Losing tonight is such a foregone conclusion, I'm making no plans to view it. I have to go out, do some errands, get a hair-cut before my resemblance to the Wild Man of Borneo becomes overpowering, have dinner. Then - and only then - might I contemplate checking to see how the Diamondbacks are losing, er, doing. Of course, if we win, I'll claim reverse psychology was my intent all along...

    However, we face Jae Seo, whose name must be among the least valuable among all players, as far as Scrabble goes. Shame he's not facing the most valuable, Javier Vazquez. But pitiful 13-point score or not, Seo has been lights-out: the fill-in starter has allowed one run in 23.1 innings, making him impossible to dislodge from the rotation. Sending Ortiz up against him probably counts as cruel and unusual punishment.

    Update [2005-8-24 18:54:10 by Jim McLennan]: Lineups are out. Jackson gets to start at first base, let's hope he can break his hitless streak - not that he's actually been playing much lately. Glaus gets the night off, with Cintron playing third. The Diamondbacks also had a players-only team meeting before the game, so we'll see if that had any effect.

    Entry Link :: 62 Comments

    AZ 1, Mets 14 - ...and then there's the comedown.
    By Jim McLennan
    Posted on Wed Aug 24, 2005 at 03:08:20 PM EST

    Record: 58-69. Change on last year: +19

    After rah-rahing myself up into a fan frenzy for last night's game, the actual AZ performance was like getting slapped in the face. Repeatedly. By an irate ex-girlfriend. Suffering from PMS. And wearing studded iron gauntlets.

    Right from the first inning, when we put a man on third with no-one out, and failed to bring him home, this was putrid. The Mets pounded out 17 hits - fifteen off Vargas and Cormier in the first six innings - while outside Tracy (three hits) and Gonzalez (two), the rest of our line-up was 1-for-24. Thanks to Otacon for bravely gutting this one out: you know it's bad when even the expensive seats behind home plate are all but deserted by the seventh-inning stretch.

    "We've backed ourselves into a hole now," said Gonzo. "Everybody else behind us has caught up. You can't hide the fact anymore - we've just got to play better. You can only say so much. We just have to go out there and try to win games." Sounds like he has been taking lessons in stating the bleedin' obvious from Melvin.

    For this was bad. Sure, the Mets had an almost freakish ability to hit 'em where we weren't. But any attempt to blame a 13-run loss on "bad luck" is futile, and we certainly helped out: see Shawn Green's, er, "interesting" route to that bloop hit in the second, which whizzed past him to the wall for a triple. But there, at least Green deserves a little slack, given how short a time he's been playing CF. On the other hand, I believe Claudio Vargas (ten hits and a walk in five innings) has been a pitcher all his career...

    Clearly some difference of opinion over Vargas's effectiveness: he said, "I think today was just not my day, because I watched the video and they hit good pitches." Kelly Stinnett had an alternate view: "He made a lot of mistakes today. He didn't locate - left some balls up, didn't have his slider today, and that's been his pitch since he's come over. He couldn't throw it around the plate tonight."

    My money's with Stinnett. Last night, Vargas looked like the sort of pitcher you pick up off the waiver wire for $20K, not the ace of the staff he'd been for two months before that. Let's hope this was a temporary glitch, rather than the league finally figuring out how to hit him. I wouldn't be surprised to hear a "tipping his pitches" rumour come out of the D'backs camp over the next few days.

    At least Melvin came up with an excuse for Vargas's feeble attempt to run out a groundball in the third - an attempt soundly booed by the (few) fans in attendance: "He's been battling patella tendinitis for a while, and we've told him to take it easy going down the line. He's getting treatment on it every day between starts to go out there, and I don't think that they're [the fans] aware of that." S'funny, if he's been battling it "for a while", why didn't it affect his previous at-bats?

    And then there was Cormier. One inning, six earned runs. Ouch. How the mighty are fallen. Here are his lines, month-by-month:

             IP   H  BB   K  ER    ERA
    April   9.0   6   2   8   0   0.00
    May    16.1  21   7  10   5   2.76
    June   18.0  15   7  12   9   4.50
    July   12.2  14  11  13  10   7.11
    August 10.2  19   8  10  17  14.34
    ----------------------------------
    Before 35.2  46  11  23   9   2.27
    After  31.0  29  24  30  32   9.29

    I blame the curse of Random Fandom. :-) On Monday, June 13, Stef wrote about how Cormier should be Rookie of the Year - at that point, his VORP of 13.3 led all rookie pitchers. The "Before" and "After" stats above refer to that piece, so if you had to pick a point when the wheels fell off, it's as good as any. The hits and K's haven't changed much - indeed, if anything, they've improved - but the walks have more than doubled, in fewer innings. There is clearly a problem here.

    Cormier's VORP is now down in negative territory: our best rookie is currently Brandon Medders, who pitched two scoreless innings last night, fanning five. His VORP is 6.7, despite having pitched only fourteen innings. Taking that into account, it's the second best VORP/IP among rookie pitchers with 10+ innings, behind only Cleveland's Fernando Cabrera (8.8 in 16.2 IP), and ahead of such highly-touted candidates as Zach Duke, Huston Street and Gustavo Chacin. Of course, Cormier didn't concede a run his first 18 innings...

    That was about the sole highlight from last night, but you take comfort where you can when, over the past ten games, we've been outscored forty-one to eighty-seven - the past five are worse still: 17-50. According to the East Valley Tribune, before last night's game, Gonzalez "literally wiped cobwebs away from his teammates' bats in the Arizona dugout." Now, if only he could do the same to those inside their heads, too.

    Entry Link :: 1 Comment

    Gameday Thread, #127: 8/23 vs. Mets
    By Jim McLennan
    Posted on Tue Aug 23, 2005 at 09:11:07 PM EST

    Zambrano (6-10, 4.24)
    Vargas (7-6, 4.47)

    1. Craig Counsell, 2B
    2. Chad Tracy, RF
    3. Luis Gonzalez, LF
    4. Tony Clark, 1B
    5. Troy Glaus, 3B
    6. Shawn Green, CF
    7. Alex Cintron, SS
    8. Kelly Stinnett, C
    9. Claudio Vargas, P

    At the risk of smacking down a curse upon his head, Vargas has been our ace over the past couple of months, and is easily the most reliable in our rotation - three earned runs or less in ten straight starts. [If that rates 10/10, our other starters' marks are as follows: Javy Vazquez 6/10; Brad Halsey 6/10; Brandon Webb 5/10; Russ Ortiz 2/10, must try harder]

    Zambrano's record is a mediocre 6-10, but one of those wins came against Arizona earlier in the year, when he allowed one run over eight innings in Shea Stadium, so he's no pushover. I should be around for most of this one, so - having rediscovered my enthusiasm (or a convincing facsimile thereof), will be cheering on our boys.

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