Saturday, June 19, 2004

Expansion Deflation 

[Time-edited to reflect when sent.]

"Randy Johnson took the loss in a 6-2 Devil Rays' victory last night,
raising their league-leading winning streak to 9 in a row."

C'mon, how many of you expected to read (or write) that sentence at the
beginning of the year?

There's not much to write about. Statistically, the teams were about the
same offensively. Tampa Bay had just one hit more than the D-Backs, and the
same number of doubles and triples (1 each), even the same numbers of
runners left in scoring position. Unfortunately that one extra hit could be
considered the 3-run homerun by Jose Cruz, Jr. in the 3rd inning. Johnson
didn't have great stuff; the bullpen did OK.

Tonight it's Lance Cormier for the D-Backs vs. Dewon Brazelton for the Devil
Rays. Maybe I should thank the D-Backs for not putting the game on TV

Brenly Does Not Like Good Starting Pitching 

[Time-edited to reflect original posting time.]

Of course, the headline is misleading -- of course Bob Brenly wants good
starting pitching, he just doesn't want Andrew Good starting pitching.
Right-hander Good, who had been listed as tonight's starting pitcher, has
been replaced by rookie rightie Lance Cormier. But it does the reveal the
limitations of press coverage.

Now, I am aware that the press -- center, right, left, whatever -- has its
own biases, intentional or unintentional. That is because the press is
human and humans have biases, of course. And I understand that. That's why
I like the blogging community, because in addition to the professional
reporters we have 5 bloggers with different viewpoints on the D-Backs, plus
another blog at the minor league level. The viewpoints may end up
converging, but at least I'm getting news from maybe a half-dozen sources
instead of 1 or 2.

So I'm a little concerned about the quotation from Brenly in the Republic
this morning:

"I felt terrible because I promised Andy another start and he prepared for
it all week."

Are we to interpret from this that Brenly went back on his word? There is
only the barest of suggestion in the article that the decision had anything
to do with Jose Valverde being placed on the 15-day DL, that Cormier's start
is (from another article) "because he has been starting all year." This
seems to me like a flimsy basis for deciding that he should get the start
after Good was promised a second start.

I'm not saying that Cormier isn't worthy of starting -- he may or may not
be, and certainly had the best stats (traditional and otherwise) of the
Sidewinder staff. But I'm not sure that the article fully outlines Brenly's
thought-making process so we can decide for ourselves whether it was worthy.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Finally... (D-Backs 6, Yankees 1) 

[Time edited to reflect when originally sent.]

It wasn't that the D-Backs weren't trying hard the first two nights -- they
just weren't playing all that well. But they found their groove last night
and pulled out a well-deserved 6-1 victory over the Yankees.

It's hard to say Steve Sparks pitched well; he threw seven walks, after all.
But he only gave up 3 hits beyond that and, most importantly just one run,
that on a monster shot in the 6th inning by A-Rod into the ironically-named
Friday's Front Row, which is a fair distance away from the front row of the
left-field bleachers. Elmer Dessens pitched an excellent two innings of
relief for the save, giving up just 1 hit in just 20 pitches. (I'd wondered
last night if Brenly wasn't moving into some sort of closer-by-committee
when he had Dessens pitch the 9th, but the Republic reports this morning
that Valverde will be out at least 3 more games with soreness in his right

At first the D-Back offense was as anemic as the Yankee offense, until they
had runners on 1st and 3rd with one out in the 5th inning, Hairston at bat.
In the at-bat, Hairston swung at a pitch, Posada stared the runner at third,
Olson, back to third, and made a pathetically late throw to second as Brito
took second. Except that Hairston was called out for batter interference.
I don't know the rules for batter interference, and I don't think the call
was so egregious (except for the fact that the only reason Posada and
Hairston bumped was because Posada made the useless throw to second -- he
never would've caught Brito). At any rate, it became runners at 1st and 3rd
with two outs instead of 2nd and 3rd and one out, and the inning fizzled.
And when A-Rod hit his shot in the sixth, I feared some sort of mental
collapse by the D-Backs.

But luckily that never happened. Brito hit his first MLB homerun in the 7th
to put the D-Backs back on top. (That's the 3rd straight game a D-Back has
hit his 1st career homerun. Think Alan Zinter can't wait to get in the game
tonight?) And then the D-Backs shelled Yankee pitching in the 8th for four
more runs.

And you think Brenly wasn't still ticked off at home plate umpire Larry
Vanover about the Hairston call at the end of the game? When a 2-strike
pitch to Ruben Sierra just missed the outside corner, Brenly was furious,
and had some choice expletives in the general direction of home plate.

So, 1-2 for the series. I'd hoped for 2-1, but oh well. Next come the
Devil Rays, who still aren't a great team, but now come in with the longest
winning streak in baseball at 8 games. Hopefully with Randy pitching
tonight we'll at least win the series (the D-Backs are 6-6 in their last 12
non-Randy games).

Finally, in yesterday's entry, I implied that Doug DeVore had not yet hit
his first major league homerun. That's not the case, and I apologize for
any misunderstanding.

But I still wish he'd lay off a pitch every now and then.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Parlor Game: Randy Goes To Houston With... 

Here is the latest NL all-star ballot update. (Way to go, 'Stros voters!)

We all know that Randy Johnson will be representing Arizona at the All-Star Game in Houston. But what if there was an obscure rule stating that the team that won the World Series 2 3/4 years ago gets 2 mandatory representatives? Who'd make the trip to the Juice Box with Mr. Johnson?

Here are the vote leaders as of Tuesday:

Catcher: Mike Piazza
1B: Albert Pujols (close)
2B: Jeff Kent
SS: Adam Everett
3B: Scott Rolen
OF: Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr., Sammy Sosa

I'm basically looking for a second MVP for the D-Backs, but also looking to who the voting leaders are and whether or not the D-Back could be a conceivable backup. Other factors are fair game.

I haven't listed pitchers, of course, because nobody votes for them, but feel free to nominate a D-Back pitcher.

That way, we know who you are and can have you committed to an institution.

List your suggestions by visiting the comment link below.

Who Needs... Oh, Never Mind... 

Last night's 9-4 D-Backs loss to the Yankees was almost like the 4-2 loss the night before, only a little more amplified. D-Back pitching was a little worse (both in the starting and relief roles), as was the defense. I guess the offense wasn't worse, but didn't really improve, either. Really, though, the game could have gone differently.

I envisioned taking a stroll after the game with Doug DeVore, who grounded into an inning-ending double play in the 3rd, after the D-Backs had scored 3 runs:
ME: Doug, how many pitches had Sturtze thrown in the 3rd?
DOUG: Uh, 15?
ME: 24, Doug. And did it look like he had control?
DOUG: Maybe?
ME: No, he didn't. 4 hits, a walk, with the only out on a nice grab by A-Rod of a foul flare by Tracy.
DOUG: What about Cintron? He got a hit by swinging at the first pitch.
ME: Lucky. Cintron should've been taking there. Look, you're probably jealous of Andy Green, right? First hit in the majors, and he gets a homerun and a curtain call. Or maybe Olson? Homerun for him, too.
DOUG: Yeah, I could do that, too.
ME: Well, Green had a 2-0 pitch. Olson, well, he fouled off the first two pitches but at least worked the count back to 2-2. Tell me, Doug, do you like being in the show?
DOUG: Yeah.
Look, all DeVore needed to do was get the ball into the outfield and Gonzo would've scored, making it a 5-4 game. Patience is a virtue, and one that DeVore and Hillenbrand lack in almost equal measure. Hillenbrand is the most hacktastic D-Back, at 1 walk every 19.4 at-bats, but DeVore is 2nd at 1 walk every 15.3 at-bats (sorry, couldn't find plate appearances stats instead). For what it's worth, Cintron is 3rd at 1 walk every 14.4.

Which brings us to Cintron's collapse in the 5th inning. It was nice of Cintron to make the second error so that all the fans at the stadium who couldn't watch a replay there and who missed the first error could see it again. The errors made a tight 6-3 game (which could've been even tighter) into a 8-3 blowout. My only explanation is that he was distracted by Sergio Santos' footsteps.

Kudos to Tim Olson for his first major league homerun.

I'm hopeful -- I'm always hopeful -- that the D-Backs will rebound tonight.

On an unrelated note, two MLB officials are heading to the Dominican Republic to investiage the Rosario age fiasco. ESPN has the AP story here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Cultural Diversion: Harry Potter 

Normally I try to do these non-sports reviews on Tuesday, but sometimes I just can't get around to it. So it's a Wednesday thing today.

Naturally, the review is for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the requisite blogger-geek movie of the month. My wife and I saw the movie this weekend. We are both fans of the series of books, though of course it's been a few years since we've actually read the book, so we've forgotten a lot of the backstory. If the first two movies spent too much time introducing Harry Potter's world and all the whiz-bang special effects, this chapter if anything veers to the other end of the spectrum, dialling back the backstory and character development and not relying so much on the "look at this effect!" tendency. Characters that don't move the plot forward get little screen time, which is to be expected in condensing any of the rapidly-thickening novels, but it's a little disappointing to see Emma Thompson, excellent as the spacey Professor Trelawney, get so little screen time. (She's not the only one.) Indeed, the acting is top-notch, including the kids -- whatever Chris Columbus' legacy as a director is, it's clear that his choices for Harry, Hermione, and Ron were good ones that won't make us wince in the 4 movies to come. For those of you who like Quidditch, however, the movie will disappoint you tremendously, as there can't have been more than maybe 3-4 minutes' worth of a match. For my wife, this was a good thing. For me, who agrees that the Quidditch was overdone a bit in the first two movies, I would've liked a little more of the match, which was held in an Any Given Sunday-like downpour. Clearly Quidditch follows the NFL and not MLB in its approach approach to rain delays.

Come to think of it, Oliver Stone might not be a bad choice for the conspiracy-laden Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, scheduled to be released in 2007 and currently without a director attached.

But in any case, it's an entertaining movie and recommended, even if you're not a Harry Potter fan.

Injury News of Note 

A whole bunch of injury news of note here...
-- Matt Kata, out for the season with a labrum tear. Perhaps we will have an Official Orthoscopic Surgeon for Your Arizona Diamondbacks. Looks like any experimentation of Hairston in the outfield will have to wait. Robert, I know you'll be happy about that.
-- Speaking of labrum surgery, Sexson had his on June 4th and was in the dugout last night sporting a cast. No news here -- what's Sexson gonna say?... "Man, this arm hurts like a son of a..."
-- Brian Bruney and Oscar Villareal are throwing again.
-- Roberto Alomar and Greg Colbrunn could start rehab assignments with the Sidewinders as early as Friday.
-- Shane Reynolds will make 2 more rehab starts before being activated.

Who Needs Mystique and Aura? 

If you're the Diamondbacks last night, you can beat yourselves, thank you very much.

The game started ominously enough, with Danny Bautista plunked in the back of the neck by Jose Contreras. After being replaced by Doug Devore in the 3rd inning, the D-Backs' youth showed. Tracy's error on a throw to the plate let Bernie Williams score in the 3rd inning. Brandon Webb didn't show any control, throwing 5 walks (2 intentional) over 5 innings, plus a hit batsman and error of his own. If it weren't for the D-Backs' 4 double plays, the game would have been a lot worse, but Mark Grace argued that Shea might have been able to get to Cairo's hit if he had positioned himself so that he wouldn't have been screened by the runner at first.

Offensively, it wasn't much better. Andy Green's homerun in the bottom of the 5th was, well, cool. Watching at home, I got some goose bumps. It certainly got the hometown fans psyched up, and when Hairston went up 2-0, I thought, OK, here comes the wildness. But Contreras caught Hairston looking on a perfect pitch and made Finley and Devore look bad, too. In the 6th, Tracy grounded into a double play. In the 7th, as Contreras zoomed right past his season-high pitch count, Gabe White came on and got Zinter out too quickly, which led to stalling by the Yankees and a funny look on Torre's face when the home plate umpire came right out and broke up the conference ("I'm shocked... shocked... to find gamlbing going on in this establishment!"). And at first it looked like Tom Gordon (who they were stalling for) was not, in fact, warmed up enough, because he promptly gave up a single to Hairston. But then he struck Finley out, and the D-Back batters never challenged after that.

So we have that first game out of the way and can look forward to scintillating Fossum-Sturtze and Sparks-Lieber matchups. Oh, well, should still be lots of fun.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

KK, QT, and A-Rod 

The arrival of the Yankees in our fair city begs additional thought. This is not the standard for teams visiting Phoenix to play the Diamondbacks. As prolific as our hardy band of D-Back bloggers are, we generally don't spend too much time talking about, say, the Rockies or the Expos prior to their arrival. But our friends in the professional press wasted no time. By Monday we already had two articles about the Yankees in the Arizona Republic, with two more today. The series has essentially been sold out since the beginning of the season.

And in New York, well, they're too busy celebrating the latest improbable Yankees come-from-behind victory to even talk about the D-Backs series. Only in today's Post do they talk about the series.

Clearly there's some imbalance here. And that's the problem. Just as with Krispy Kreme donuts, Quentin Tarantino, it is well nigh impossible to discuss the Yankees rationally. You're either addicted to the sticky sweetness or hate it, right? (That would be the donuts, not QT.) You either love Quentin's constant movie-riffing or find him a hyper-violent bore, right?

Uh, no.

Look, the Yankees are a big deal. Their mystique, outsized salaries, and unmatched success renders the rest of us mortals in the boondocks of America speechless. The Alex Rodriguez soap opera only played into the hands of every Yankee cliche ever written.

But they're just a team, folks. I know a couple Yankee fans, and they're every bit as passionate and knowledgeable as fans from other teams. Sure they can be obnoxious -- but wouldn't you be a little cocky, too, if you'd had the success they'd had so far? I mean, Murray Chass refers to the infamous Curt Schilling "mystique and aura" quote in his column today (registration required, I guess), but only in relation to mentioning the Yankees' success thus far this year in coming from behind. (It's pretty remarkable, but when you consider the Yankees' strong bullpen and offense, perhaps not such a surprise.)

But at the end he mentions the key point: "Mystique and Aura didn't show up in Phoenix for the last two games of the 2001 World Series, which Arizona rallied to win. Will they make the trip this time?"

So before we watch the game tonight, let's remember the following things:
1) It's just a game. A regular season game. In June. (I know, it's obvious, but some of the press coverage has been outsized.)
2) Winning will not admit Phoenix to the ranks of great world cities; losing will not prove the gross inequities of the current system of baseball financing.
3) The last time the Yankees visited the BOB, they went 0-4.
4) The Yankees haven't won a World Series for nearly 4 years.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Three Weeks, Three Questions (Contrasts Edition) 

Three Weeks

The Week That Was
Arizona went 4-2 on its AL East road trip, taking series 2-1 from both Baltimore and Toronto. Encouragingly, the team went 2-2 in games not started by Randy Johnson and won Friday's game after trailing 2-0 in the 8th inning, the first time they'd done that all year. For once, their average weekly offense exceeded their average weekly defense (excluding high/low scores), 3.75 to 3.5. Look, it wasn't a great week by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a team that you could for once imagine actually watching in September, especially if they could get rid of the games where everything collapses (see Wednesday and Saturday's losses). They creeped one game closer to the division leaders and now stand at 26-37, 7.5 games out.

The Weeks That Will Be
The D-Backs host some team from New York for three games, then the Devil Rays for three more. Then they go to San Diego for 3 games, travel on Thursday, and start 17 straight games (home and away) with 3 games at Detroit.

I'll have more on the Yankees tomorrow, but here are the basics: excellent hitting (2nd in AL OPS, 1st in walks) and good-to-excellent pitching (2nd in AL WHIP, 5th in runs, 4th in ERA). The D-Backs are lucky in that they'll be facing Jose Contreras and Tanyon Sturtze and not Kevin Brown. Mike Mussina is listed as being Thursday's starter; we'll see if that happens. Given that Randy Johnson isn't pitching this series, a 2-1 series win is about the upper bounds of my expectations, but it's not an impossible expectation. As I said, more on this series tomorrow.

The Devil Rays, on the other hand, have woefull hitting (last in AL OPS, next-to-last in runs). Oddly enough, they neither walk (11th) nor strikeout (only Baltimore does it less). They have poor-to-cover-your-eyes pitching (10th in AL WHIP and runs, 12th in ERA, tied for last in GB:FB). So clearly if the D-Backs have any pretensions to caring in September, they need to -- at bare minimum -- win 2 of these games. (Of course, we felt that way about the Expos series, and look what happened there.)

Three Questions

Would anyone like to be the fifth starter?: You know, I suggested this many weeks ago, and I'll just throw it out there once more -- Jennie Finch. I hope that Andrew Good does get one more chance (unlike Edgar Gonzalez was given) in the rotation -- it'd be against the Devil Rays -- but, really, what other options are left in the organization? I can hear the Shane Reynolds fans from here, all 3 of you.
Will the D-Backs sell out any more games this year?: After the Yankees series, probably not. I hope I'm wrong, of course... To those of you D-Back fans going this week, please give as good as you will get.
Will I come up with a decent third question?: Uh, no. You know, that's what a week of decently (not awesomely) played baseball will do, just take away the easy questions. I could've talked about the injuries, but what's the point -- those who are injured, save Sexson, weren't contributing anyway.

Weekend Wrap 

By splitting the last two games of the series against the Blue Jays, the D-Backs went 4-2 on their AL East road trip, winning both series against the Orioles and Blue Jays. They got pounded by the Jays 15-4 on Saturday. Nothing went right -- Andrew Good looked nothing like the pitcher who had pitched well in relief, and the relief staff looked like they could've used Good in there. Hitting was pretty much non-existent except for the 6th inning.

And then the D-Backs won with Randy on the mound, 5-3 yesterday. The relief staff were all replaced with their good twins, with Choate and Valverde combining on a 5-pitch 9th inning. It was good for Randy to get the win on a day he did not pitch superbly.

Three Weeks, Three Questions later today.