Thursday, July 08, 2004

An Early All-Star Break 

Did the D-Backs' scheduler get confused and send them on their All-Star
Breaks early last night? Because nobody was there for the 11-0 loss to the

And so, appropriately, I (not being selected for the All-Star Game) am
taking my own early break. I'm unlikely to post again until Monday.

PS -- Rob from 6-4-2 posted some interesting comments in a couple past
entries on the Angels' and Dodgers' likelihood of getting free agents or
trading. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

July or September to April 

My favorite use of horns in a pop song is in Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4." The lyrics are reasonably clear, but that title -- is that supposed to be indecisiveness about the time? (Because "3:35 or 3:54" doesn't scan as nicely?)
Waiting for the break of day
Searching for something to say
Flashing lights against the sky
Giving up I close my eyes
Sitting cross-legged on the floor
25 or 6 to 4
25 or 6 to 4

What does this have to do with last night's game? Bear with me, folks.

First, I don't have a lot to say about last night's 4-1 D-Back loss to the Dodgers per se. I stopped watching at the end of the D-Backs' half of the sixth mentally preparing an entry about how Casey Fossum might be turning into an acceptable fourth or fifth starter, then turned the game on again 20 minutes later to see the 1-1 game turned into a 4-1 game, and that was the end of it. Once again, only one component of the D-Backs performed more than adequately -- it was the bullpen's turn last night. Greg Aquino and Brian Bruney (called up while Andy Green was sent down) pitched fine, though they combined to give up 3 walks in 2 1/3 innings. Aquino did a nice job getting strike three on Lo Duca (on a ball best hit with an 8-iron) to end the inning after not getting the called strike three on a pitch on the outside corner.

No, what my cryptic title means is that I enjoy a pennant race as much as anybody. I prefer my team to be in the pennant race, of course, but even the D-Backs can enjoy the NL West race as much as anybody. In fact, they can enjoy all the races. As of this morning, 20 MLB teams were at .500 or better, and 20 teams (though a different twenty teams) were 7 games or less out of first place in the division. There are only 8 teams who have a sub-.500 record and are more than 7 games out.

This means that this is a seller's market for those 8 teams sorry enough to be in a selling position. Your Arizona Diamondbacks are one of those teams.

Look, this NL West race has been great because it's kept three fair-to-good teams believing they can make the playoffs, and will probably continue to make them believe they can make the playoffs through September. That means, rather than blowing up their roster like the Giants definitely and Dodgers probably should, they'll be tempted into paying for additional roster help now rather than later. And other teams are in the same boat. Which means the D-Backs should be able to get more value for trading Finley or Bautista or Hillenbrand.

Frankly, I'm pretty optimistic about 2005 at this point, because I think the rest of the NL West will be paralyzed into trading to win now. The D-Backs need to become enablers to the rest of the league by trading some of our talent, while recognizing that we've got the upper hand here. In 2005, with Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, and Steve Finley (yeah, he's coming back, too, see below) and a couple other cheap free agents, I don't think winning the NL West is an unrealistic goal come next April (ah, yes, the cryptic title allusion is finally complete). We'd definitely be underdogs compared to the Padres, but I don't think I'm crazy.

Other random thoughts:
1. On talk radio yesterday, one caller mentioned hearing Steve Finley on a (non-sports) radio show earlier yesterday seemingly resigned to a trade but, when asked about next year, said "I'll be back." This is an increasingly appealing option to me as I don't think we have good outfield depth and I would rather pay Finley $6 - $7 million than Bautista $3 - $4 million.
2. This article mentions that Anaheim had two scouts at Tuesday's game. OK, makes sense. So did Cleveland (huh?), Houston (OK...), and Seattle. Seattle? Were they just sending a message to the D-Backs after a visit with Sexson? That one befuddles me.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Three Weeks, Three Questions (High-Low Edition) 

A day late, and a dollar short, except that it's free...

Three Weeks

The Week That Was

The D-Backs remarkably improved to just 15 games out of first after going 3-4 on the homestand. The D-Backs scored 5.4 runs per game, but also gave up 5.4 runs per game (as always, these numbers eliminate the high and low scores). Randy Johnson pitched his 4,000th strikeout, got his 10th win, and was named to the NL All-Star team while the D-Backs fired their manager and pitching coach. A lesser writer might say "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." (Just kidding, folks, about that "lesser writer" quip.)

The Two Weeks That Will Be

4 games at LA (we've already lost the first one), 3 at SF, three days of All-Star rest, then we host LA for four more. If nothing else, the D-Backs will get their chance to make other NL West teams' fans cry woe. You know, you look at the Dodgers' stats, and you wonder how exactly the D-Backs fell 15 games behind them. They don't hit much better, and their improved pitching stats aren't tremendous. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that the D-Backs should be tied with the Dodgers, just that the stats themselves don't lend themselves to a 14.5-game gap. In fact, I took a look at BP's Adjusted Standings page, which indicates that, looking at 3rd-order wins, the D-Backs should only be about 5.5 games back of the Dodgers, and just 4 games back of the Giants (actual gap: 15 games). For whatever reason, the D-Backs are the "unlikeliest" MLB team in 3rd-order wins, losing almost 7 more games than might be expected. They're still not good, of course. But not as bad as their record indicates.

Three Questions

1. What Will Gonzo Do? The Republic reports that Luis Gonzalez is considering surgery on his elbow. This is the first time I've seen Gonzo comment publicly: "It doesn't make sense for me to keep going out there and playing and if we don't even have a shot at contending at the end because my main goal is to try to get back," Gonzalez said before Monday's game. "If that's the case, I'll get ready for next season and not go into the season on a rehab (assignment)."

Looks like we could be looking at an Andy Green / Quentin McCracken / Terrero outfield by August if not sooner.

2. What Will Randy Do? Every report talks about the possibility of Randy Johnson being traded. And so far he's said nothing that would indicate anything differently. (His non-denial denials are, in fact, denials.) But how many phone calls will Joe, Jr. take from Brian Cashman or Arte Moreno before he says, "No mas" and lets them take our best pitcher for magic beans and few real prospects?

3. What Will Al Do? Good luck to Al Pedrique. As noted earlier, the sharks are already swimming for you, too.

One Pitch 

Embarrassing admission time, part two. (Part one is here.) 5:10 start times aren't good for me -- too many family obligations. So I saw exactly one pitch of last night's game.

No, it wasn't the Steve Finley 3-run homerun. No, it wasn't Chad Tracy's infield single to end Gagne's 84-game save streak. Unfortunately, it was the wrong pitch -- Choate left a pitch hanging to Shawn Green, who kindly didn't get all of it -- only getting a sacrifice fly to the right-center field wall -- so that the D-Backs only lost 6-5 to the Dodgers instead of losing to a walk-off grand slam for the second time in 9 days.

The Republic tried to paint this as a moral victory because the D-Backs ended Gagne's save streak. But it's only impressive because the D-Backs have been so incredibly lousy coming from behind this year. (Though that's only my impression which would take more research on my part to confirm. And in terms of D-Back offense in "late innings of close games," their OPS of .723 puts them right in the middle of the NL pack. Perhaps it's just their bullpen...)

Oh, yes, the bullpen. For those of you complaining about Brenly's use of the bullpen, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Brandon Webb plus six relievers.

Personally, I prefer ending relievers' streaks in more definitive fashion. I don't think many people would have called it a moral victory had Derek Jeter caught Gonzo's blooper in Game 7 in 2001, then had the relief staff blow it in the 10th inning...

Meanwhile, John Gambodoro, whose afternoon "Gambo and Ash" sports radio show gets my vote for most entertaining in the Valley has a rant on the Republic website saying that Grace is destined to be the next manager. I'm not sure Pedrique is necessarily being set up for a fall (if you're going to do that, you should probably set the bar a bit higher than it's been set this year), but it's clear that Pedrique is an "interim" manager in the most of "interim" of senses.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Memo To Self... (D-Backs 6, Twins 2) 

... when All-Star Randy Johnson gives up only his second run of the game on
an error with 2 outs in the ninth inning leading 6-2 after striking out 10,
walking nobody, I probably don't need to go out to the mound to ask Randy
"how he was feeling."

Or at least, that's what I hope Al Pedrique was thinking to himself after
his first victory as a major league manager yesterday afternoon. Sure, it
didn't show a lot of class by the fans who booed Pedrique as he walked out
onto the field. But I'm not sure what purpose the trip served -- Johnson
didn't look bad, and even if he'd let the runner score, it still would've
only been 6-3.

Kudos to the offense for getting twelve hits (at least one by every player
except Johnson) and, even better, staking Johnson to a 2-0 lead in the
bottom of the 1st by getting two two-out base hits by Tracy and Hillenbrand.

Unfortunately, it appears Randy will be the only D-Back All-Star this year.
Steve Finley at least earned consideration by being picked as one of the 5
NL starters eligible for the final spot on the NL roster. But with the
incredibly deserving Bobby Abreu and not-quite-as-deserving Cubs 3B Aramis
Ramirez also in the list, Finley is unlikely to be picked.

Pedrique sounds like he's going to pull Good from the starting rotation and
put Elmer back in: "I think [the bullpen] would be the best role for [Good]
right now." Argh. Not that Dessens hasn't pitched OK. He's just going to
get rocked like he did before, but perhaps getting rocked in the 5th inning
is better than getting rocked in the 3rd inning.

Oh, and the "Now He Says It" Award goes to Bob Brenly, who said, "It's young
talent and they're going to make mistakes, and you're just going to have to
be patient with them." Would've been nice if Brenly had been more patient
with his young pitchers and infielders when they were still his to

"Three Weeks, Three Questions" will appear, in all likelihood, tomorrow.

Sunday, July 04, 2004


Another day, another fifth starter unable to get out of the 3rd inning.
Years from now, parents will tell their wayward kids, "Better behave, or
you'll be placed as the fifth starter in the 2004 D-Backs rotation and never
heard from ever again!"

I sincerely hope Andrew Good gets another shot in the starting rotation so
we can at least get a good look at him. But yesterday's outing in the 8-4
loss was poor.

I kept saying that I was going to add more comments about Brenly's firing,
but everybody seemed to say the right thing. It did not appear to be a
"right thing for the wrong reasons" firing; management and fans both seemed
to say that it wasn't about this year's record; it was about this year's,
and next year's, team. So just two other thoughts:
1. Could Joe Jr. at least accept the fact that some of his signings haven't
panned out this year. I'm willing to cut him slack on the Schilling and
Sexson deals. But the other deals require a greater deal of responsibility
on his part.
2. I'm sorry to see Tommy Jones become 1st base coach -- it seemed like he
had a strong player development career ahead of him.