Saturday, July 03, 2004

The More Things Change... 

... the more they stay the same.

The D-Backs stepped onto BOB's field last with a new manager, 1st base
coach, 3rd base coach, bench coach, bullpen coach, and pitching coach. Rick
Schu, the hitting coach, must've felt like a Survivor winner as he was the
only coach to retain his old job (though 3 of the new coaches were promoted
from other positions in the D-Back coaching staff).

Still, after the 6-5 loss to the Twins last night, fans could've been
wondering, "What about the fielding coach?" Danny Bautista, it should be
said, has been hitting lights out the past week or so, so we should keep it
in perspective, but he lost the game for us, misplaying a ball in the top of
the 9th to let the Twins take the lead and striking out on a called 3rd
strike in the bottom of the 9th with Finley on 1st to end the game. (Darn
it, somebody told him the scouts were there for Finley!)

Alex Cintron returned to the starting lineup and had no errors while going
2-4. We Andy Green fans will have to wait for his start. Robbie Alomar,
however, had an error while going 1-5, so we can now feel secure once more
in calling for Hairston to start again.

Sparks, after starting to make us believe he might be a decent 5th starter
in the rotation, pitched poorly, going only 4 innings and giving up 5 runs
(3 earned). At least Greg Aquino and Stephen Randolph pitched well,
Randolph giving up just one walk. (Unforuntately for him and us, that
baserunner eventually scored.)

More on the managerial change later...

Friday, July 02, 2004

The Vultures Have Landed... 

Bob Brenly has been fired as D-Backs manager. Chuck Kniffin was fired, too;
Robin Yount -- considered by talking heads and bloggers as a decent
replacement candidate -- left out of loyalty to Brenly. Third-base coach Al
Pedrique takes over as interim manager.

I realize I'm late reporting the news, and I'll have some more thoughts on
this tomorrow, but here's my brief view of the matter at hand:
1. Brenly was not to blame (primarily, anyway) for this season, but
considering the lack of improvement in the young staff, his firing may have
been more to do with the ability of the D-Backs to compete in 2005 and 2006.
(But it's hard to believe this was the same coach who managed to coax 84
wins out of the same team last year. Losing Schilling and Batista only had
so much of an effect.)
2. It's hard for an outsider to tell what a pitching coach does, so all we
have to go on are the results. And those, as we know, have been awful.
Again, with a young staff, we need a teacher in the role, a skill set
Kniffin did not appear to demonstrate.
3. Joe Jr. saves his head for now. But I'm guessing that he's got 15
months at most to turn the team around.
4. Pedrique coached a lot of these players in Tucson. Here's hoping that
translates well at the major league level.

At least they didn't hire Coach K. (shudders)

Win Streak of Two, Credit Where Due 

Didn't we start June like this? Winning the first game of the month by
beating the Padres 7-5? And look where that got us... Still, that makes
two in a row, which is, sadly, according to today's Republic, the longest
winning streak in the NL West.

D-Back bloggers can be a critical bunch (we've been given ample source
material this year), and we've reserved special blame for those D-Backs who
have not only played poorly but have whined while doing so. Sure, we can
complain about Elmer Dessens and Greg Colbrunn, who have not played up to,
if not bloggers' expectations, our hopes and management expectations. But
they have taken their travails mostly silently. Unlike Roberto Alomar.

Robbie whined about being demoted. And whined some more. And demanded a
trade. All the while playing poorly. But let it not be said that we won't
give credit where credit is due. So here you go:

-- Robert Alomar hit a grand slam last night. Way to go.
-- Even better, that implies that the bottom half of the order all got on
base (true enough, Tracy, Olson, and Brito were on board).
-- Luis Gonzalez had a nice slide to score from first on a Hillenbrand
double in the seventh inning. (Ah, so that's the secret to getting Shea to
hit -- not have runners in scoring position.)
-- Casey Fossum pitched 6 decent innings.
-- The bullpen pitched 2 2/3 decent innings. (We'll ignore Scott Service's
1/3 inning.)
-- No errors!

You know, up until I turned off the game after the bottom of the 8th, I was
thinking that this was the kind of game that most teams have at least once a
week, and that we've not had many of this year. (And then I read the paper
this morning, saw that Service loaded up the bases and Koplove let the tying
run get to 2nd. Oh, that's more like us this year.)

Onto the Twins series!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Twins Series Preview 

(Idea shamelessly stolen from 6-4-2)

Dear Batgirl,

Welcome to Phoenix. You, like many others, are coming to Arizona for a vacation. It's pretty hot here, of course, but we hope that you enjoy the fine pools, cheap summer golf and spa packages, and the opponent in near-freefall.

I know you got swept by those pesky Bitch Sox, but buck up, the Twins have only lost 5 in a row. We just finished losing 11 in a row, which, if I remember my college calculus correctly, is still 120% worse than your losing streak.

You feel bad about the Bitch Sox getting Freddy Garcia. Well, let me tell you, we have a couple of fine pitchers whose contracts expire at the end of the season -- Elmer Dessens, Matt Mantei, Shane Reynolds... oh, wait, they've pitched horribly for us this season. So scratch that. (But Steve Finley would make an excellent addition to your outfield, and I'm sure we could find some prospects in your excellent minor league system.)

You pitch fairly well (5th in ERA, 2nd in walks allowed) but don't hit so well in the spacious confines of the gigantic sports bar that is the Metrodome (11th in runs scored, 10th in OPS). You'll find BOB to your liking, we hope. (We'll keep the roof closed and the air conditioners blowing at BOB.)

Anyway, again, welcome to Phoenix. Enjoy your stay. (But please let us win at least 1 game.)


Why I Blog, Really 

As the D-Backs head into a 3-game series against our archrivals, the Minnesota Twins... scratch that.

I've been writing this blog for about 2 1/2 months now, and it's been an enjoyable process. I've become a much better student of the game (while realizing how little I know) and a slightly better writer. I owe a number of bloggers some thanks -- I'll get around to that next week.

But to be honest, dear readers, you really have two Twins bloggers -- John Bonnes' TwinsGeek and Anne Ursu's Batgirl -- to thank or blame for my presence here.

When I started, back before anybody was reading this, I wrote that I was "looking for a venue in which I get paid nothing to express my opinions on subjects I'm not a comparative expert on."

OK. I lied. Not about "not [being] a comparative expert" on baseball -- that much is blatantly true. But the reason I went to Blogger, came up with a crazy name, and started writing about baseball was that one day I went to the Star-Tribune's website. I do this on a semi-regular basis, having lived in Minnesota a couple different times in my life. (Oddly enough, even though I was at BOB for Game Seven of the 2001 World Series, going nuts, the only baseball souvenirs I have in my office are a 1987 AL Champions pennant and an infamous Homer Hanky from the same year. See, I told you I have a complicated history with the Twins.)

On that day, I read an entry about John going to a Twins game with his kids. It was well-written, it included stats, and was amusing. It had me hooked -- hey, I could try doing that. (Note: Not "I could do that.")

And then, as I was pondering the whole Blogger thing, I stumbled (maybe that same day, maybe the next, maybe the next week, oh I was such a crazy kid back in mid-April!) across Batgirl's website, which can only be described as unique amongst the baseball blogs I've seen. I think I started reading within a day or two of her starting up the blog, and haven't stopped. She's a Lego-obsessed, Photoshoppin', poetry-judgin' Twins fan with a motto of "Less stats, more sass."

And about a week later, I started writing this thing. I had some pretense about wanting to use stats, but to be honest, I really wanted to sound much more like TwinsGeek and Batgirl, whose sites I think are fun reading even if you don't care about the Twins.

I don't at all, of course, but it's been fun trying to find my own voice. So thanks.

Mr. Outlier 

Turns out that we shouldn't curse Stephen Randolph's lack of control; rather we admire him for being "almost without peer."

Finally (D-Backs 8, Pades 5) 

Oh, so that's what it's like to win a ballgame. Sorry, I'd nearly forgotten.

Now, I would prefer not to win like that. It can't be common for a team to give up 4 errors -- 4! -- and win a ballgame, especially when the D-Backs were outhit, 11-10. But when was the last time the D-Backs drew 6 walks? (I'm looking forward to reading Robert's Veteran Presence on Shea's walk.)

The D-Backs nearly gave it away in the 5th inning when they gave up two errors, three runs, two walks and Brandon Webb almost self-destructed. You could see the wheels coming off -- Alomar coming in to try to cool Webb off, then Brenly. Luckily, a nifty 3-6-1 double play got Webb out of the inning with only 3 runs.

Tim Olson, with 2 errors in a game he started to replace Cintron after his error essentially cost Johnson the win night before, did not, as they say, acquit himself well. (At least he drew two walks.) Paging Andy Green, paging Andy Green...

Danny Bautista went 2 for 4 with a walk. I was going to say that somebody should tell him those scouts in the stands are there to see Finley and Johnson, but think that discretion might be the better part of valor here -- his OPS over the past seven days is 1.251, with a healthy .462 BA.

And Q. What to make of Quentin McCracken? The "veteran," called up earlier in the day to replace Colbrunn, who's been placed on the 60-day DL, actually got lucky and stroked a 2-run homerun to put the game out of reach. Whoulda thunk it?

In other news, Shane Reynolds was put on the 15-day DL (ohhhhh, so that's why he got his tail whupped the other night.....) and Greg Aquino, who never got his pitching equivalent of a cup of coffee in his earlier stint with the D-Backs, gets called back.

This article makes it sound like Andrew Good got sent back to Tucson recently. "Andrew Good, recalled from Tucson to take over Reynolds' spot in the rotation, is scheduled to start Saturday against Minnesota." I don't recall Good going down recently -- can somebody clarify? In any case, he'll get a start, much to D-Back bloggers' relief everywhere.

I sometimes wonder if Joe, Jr. is like a stockbroker who gets a commission on every trade. The scary thing is, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if Good got sent down and was recalled in the same day.

I just wish all this obsessing over injuries and callups mattered more, rather than being swaps of replacement-level players at best. (Please note: this does not mean I'm looking for an injury to the outfield or Randy Johnson.) I guess this has out-year implications, so I'll try to obsess about that, then.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

4,000 and 1 strikeouts 

First off: Congratulations to Randy Johnson on reaching 4,000 strikeouts last night. A tremendous accomplishment for an athlete whose dedication to his craft is very enjoyable. We're lucky here in Arizona to have watched him pitch these past few years.

To continue, however, I need to make an embarrassing admission:

I didn't watch and barely heard any of the game last night.

It happens, of course. Other things get in the way and you're not able to pay attention to the game.

So when I picked up the Republic in the driveway early this morning I wanted two questions answered:
1. Did Randy get his 4,000th?
2. Did the D-Backs win or lose?

And the paper answered those questions (that is #1 -- yes, #2 -- lose, 3-2). But when I tried to find the answer to the corollary to question #2, that is:

2a. How did the D-Backs lose?

That answer was nowhere to be found. Not in the main article, not in the notes. Only by reading the boxscore did I find out that the winning run was given up by Johnson on a homerun to Khalil Greene.

Now, I understand the desire to not focus on the downsides of the game -- the 11th straight loss, for example. But if you're going to blast the weakly performing offense, the error by Cintron, and the missed bunt sign by Hairston, can't you at least mention the homerun? Or maybe the decent pitching performance by Sweeney? It might put the picture of a ticked-off-looking Johnson on the front page of the paper into a little more perspective. It's not like you shied away from tough articles -- this article talks about fans' reactions to the possibility of a Johnson trade.

Again, congratulations to Randy on the 4,000th strikeout. But when it came to covering the game, the Republic struck out.

On the subject of bases-loaded situations and the D-Backs' missed opportunities, yes, the D-Backs seem to have been bad in these situations, but let's look at the statistics. To begin with, they rank 11th in the NL in bases-loaded opportunities, just shy of the median. So at least they're not awful in getting into those situations.

But statistics bear out the impression that when presented with those opportunities, they fail. They've generated just 31 runs from 64 bases-loaded opportunities. The 31 runs ranks them 14th, as does their .484 runs per opportunity and .450 OPS. (The Dodgers are abysmal -- 21 runs in just 55 opportunities with a .320 OPS; the Mets are sort of between us and the Dodgers.) Unsurprisingly, we are tied for last in number of walks (1), though our strikeout percentage is not so bad. And, yes, we hit into a lot of double plays -- only the Cubs hit into more double plays as a percentage of opportunities (12% vs. our 11%).

Despite the fact that statistics seemed to confirm our gut feelings, I'm still not happy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Cultural Diversions: Brows, High and Low 

As we are known to do around here, a Tuesday wrap-up of some recent cultural diversions.

Wilco: A Ghost Is Born
Their trip from the alt-countryish A.M. to this album is a pretty long one. Are you sure it's even the same band? Since A.M., it sounds like Jeff Tweedy is having less and less fun. But the music is no less beautiful. The album starts off slowly, tempo-wise, but slowly wakes up. "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is a nearly 11-minute jam that sounds like a cross between Krautrock and Bachman Turner Overdrive that is definitely my favorite song on the CD. The middle of the CD has some uptempo rockers, though with the classic Tweedy depression. (The phrase "I've been puking" appears in "Company in My Back," and not in a good way.) Then we come to "Less Than You Think," which includes the phrase "It's high pitched and it hums." Wilco then proceeds to assault the listener with about, oh, 11 minutes of noise feedback which, well, "it's high pitched and it hums." It's supposed to represent Tweedy's struggles with migraines. And it sucks. Now that I've listened to it twice, I need never listen to it again. Count me among those who hope they don't play it in concert. The last tune is a fun, throwaway rocker, so just fast-forward to the last track.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I don't want to discuss the movie much for fear that of giving too much away. (Oh, yes, one of those kinds of movies.) I'll just say the following -- some of which I've said before:
1. Charlie Kaufman must be a weird guy, because his scripts come out of nowhere.
2. I quite enjoyed Being John Malkovich, but thought Adaptation was too much thinking, and not enough enjoying. It was a puzzle that challenged your mind but not your heart.
3. Sunshine merges the quirkiness and puzzle-ness of Malkovich and Adaptation with a romantic drama. And does it really well. When you've finally figured out what's going on, it matters because you've been given a reason to care about the characters. There's something at stake.
4. Michel Gondry's direction is showy (perhaps too showy at times), but for the most part the special effects serve the story.
Good movie. Go see it.

I went to a puppet show for a whole bunch of kids this weekend. Whenever the plot dragged (which was most of the time), a good puppet-y knock on the noggin was usually good enough to draw gales of laughter from the preschoolers. ("Punch and Judy" lives.)

It's that same concept that drives Dodgeball -- whenever the plot threatens to take over, hit somebody in the head or pelvis with a dodgeball. It's so clear that this was a concept movie, because the plot, well, is pretty much non-existent and the biggest laughs are from things in the movie that have no relationship whatsoever to the movie and its characters. To tell too much would ruin the surprise and much of the humor. It's not a bad movie, it's very funny at points, but 90% of what's funny could easily have been stripped from this movie and put into some movie about, oh, department store salesclerks or river rafters. Stick around for the very ending -- it's rare that you get to see trenchant commentary about American cinema in such tasteless form.

FasTEN Your Seat Belts... 

My mom has been visiting for a long weekend; as a result, I have not watched or lisTENed to much of the past few games. In retrospect, this has been a good thing, as the combination of walkoff homeruns in TENsion-filled games, errors, and inconsisTENt pitching at best would have been difficult to watch.

Last night, Shane Reynolds did nothing to encourage D-Back supporters, giving up six doubles and six in just two innings on the way to a 10-5 loss to the San Diego Padres. Sure, the error by Tracy Brenly sounded like he was considering giving Reynolds another start -- "Hopefully next time out he'll be better." I can see the steam rising from Robert's Veteran Presence head all the way from here.

The offense did OK -- Steve Finley and Danny Bautista each had 3 hits. The Republic reported that Red Sox and Cubs scouts were at the game hoping to get a good look at Elmer Dessens... just kidding. They were there to see Finley.

Will this hasTEN the departure of Bob Brenly? Perhaps, although it's hard when the pitching staff (save Andrew Good) implodes. You can't win with poTENtial, however.

All I know is that the team is very quickly heading toward irrELEVENce.

(OK. That last word is spelled incorrectly. But it was a good ending.)

Monday, June 28, 2004

Three Weeks, Three Questions (Quick Edition) 

What to do about a team that has, of late, been looking like its games belong more on "The Ocho" (Ryan, you know what I'm talking about) than on any real sports network? You write an abbreviated version of Three Weeks, Three Questions.

Three Weeks

The Week That Was

0-6 road trip. Three walk-off homeruns. Worst record in one-run games in the majors. 15 1/2 games out of first, 21 games below .500. Outscored (high-low scores eliminated) 4 to 2.5. As Bill Simmons might say, "Not good times."

The Two Weeks That Will Be

Hosting San Diego for 4 and the Twins for 3, then out to LA for 3 against the Dodgers and up to San Francisco for 4 against the Giants. Then, mercifully, the All-Star Break and an unbearable raft of "What went wrong?" articles.

Normally, I'd do some slightly detailed analysis of the two teams we're facing this week, but it's not like the Padres of this week are that different from the Padres of last week, and I covered them last week, and Ryan, as always, does his series preview here. The Twins, well, I have some history with the Twins, and so I feel like doing something less (or more) than half-assed for that series.

Three Questions

Really, are there any other questions than...

1. Where will Steve Finley go to?
2. Will Shane Reynolds do any better than the previous fifth starters?
3. Will Randy get his 4,000th strikeout Tuesday or Sunday?

For Question 1, see discussions here and on Ryan's West Coast Bias last week.
For Question 2, who knows? I would say it would be hard to do any worse than this...
E. Gonzalez 6/5 -- 4.0 IP / 8 H / 6 R / 2 BB
A. Good 6/12 -- 3.2 IP / 8 H / 7 R / 1 BB
L. Cormier 6/19 -- 1.1 IP / 6 H / 7 R / 1 BB

Look, I'm not trying to suggest that Shane Reynolds is a better pitcher than these guys. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. But the bar has not been set very high for the veteran Reynolds to come in and pitch and stay in the starting rotation.

Frankly, the best option would be for Reynolds to pitch well in 3 or 4 starts and for him to be dealt to a contender as a fifth starter so that the three pitchers above can be evaluated with more starts.

As for question 3, Randy gets it tomorrow night. Why? No reason. Just contrariness.

At Least It Wasn't Another One-Run Game... 

I knew we should've watched the funeral.

It was Sunday afternoon and I finally turned on the D-Backs game a little before 1:00, in time to see the D-Back batter fly out to end the D-Back top of the 9th.

I saw the score. 5-5, heading to Detroit's bottom of the 9th. My wife wanted to watch the Reagan funeral, which we'd taped but never got around to viewing. Ignoring the sinking feeling in my stomach, I convinced her otherwise.

I mean, we wouldn't lose in yet another gut-wrenching fashion, would we? We'd already taken over the distinction of having the worst record in one-run ballgames -- doing so by losing twice by one run to the previous leader. (That would be the Tigers.) We did so by a walkoff homerun on Saturday night. That ignomious distinction wouldn't happen again, right?

OK, you know what happens. Double, then the bases-loaded, then a Pena grand-slam and an incredibly happy Tiger squad mob-jumping Pena at home plate. Good for them.

As for the D-Backs, they've now been swept by Montreal, Detroit, and Tampa Bay this season. OK, so maybe the last one is, in retrospect, not so humbling, but all of a sudden losing just 2 of 3 to the Yankees doesn't seem so bad. With talk of fire sales all over talk radio and the papers this morning, however, I think it's fair to say that the community as a whole has pronounced the Diamondback season over.

Maybe I did see the funeral yesterday.