Friday, April 22, 2005

Cultural Diversion: U2 On Tour 

My ears were ringing a day later.

Not so much, I suspect, from the sound of Edge's guitar (though he sounded great) or Bono's voice (not quite as great as Edge's guitar), but from the sound of 17,000 other people singing at the top of their lungs last Friday night. It's not that loud when matched up against stacks and stacks of amplified sound, but plenty loud when the band quieted down and let the crowd sing. To abuse an often-abused rock cliché, the crowd made the concert "go to eleven."

Of course, any concert can be loud; what separates U2 from many artists is that feeling that you're a part of something bigger than you. Believe me, I had a great time at the Pixies concert, but this was entirely different. I think of all the great U2 songs -- "Pride (In The Name of Love)," "Elevation" (not great, but lots of fun) -- and think of how well-built they are for crowd participation. Perfect for singing along. In fact, I remember listening to "City of Blinding Lights" off their new album and thinking, "this would sound great in concert as people sing 'OH YOU LOOK SO BEAUTIFUL TONIGHT' in the chorus." The band led off with the song, and I couldn't have been more right.

It's why in part we go to sports events. Sometimes we go to see human beings perform amazing feats, or sometimes we go to drink beer and be with friends. But there's something about cheering that binds us with people one row down or the next section over that can transcend those other, simpler pleasures. And so it is with U2.

There was nothing in the concert that would change your opinion of Bono if you think he's an overproselytizing weenie. I can handle Bono's preaching (a deliberate choice of verb there), but can understand why it might set some people on edge. I think that's part and parcel of enjoying U2, though -- the sense that there are other things bigger than yourself -- and it's possible to really like U2 even if you wish Bono would just stop talking about Africa for awhile.

But, dude, how was the concert?

It was great. I had general admission tickets, got to Glendale Arena about 7 PM (and saw the new half-finished Cardinals' stadium just to the south -- very Frank Gehry-like, all swoops and juts). The line was long but orderly, and by 7:30 I was inside with my friends. I didn't get randomly picked to be inside the "ellipse," but found a nice spot maybe 10 feet away from the circular ramp that extended from both sides of the stage and which created the ellipse.
And so several times throughout the night one U2 band member or another would stroll by singing or playing (even, yes, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.) ten feet away. For somebody like myself who was hundreds of feet away the last (and only other) time he saw the band (Sun Devil Stadium for the Popmart tour), being so close was great. Song selection was great -- mostly "hits," but enough back-catalog stuff to keep the casual fans (like me) intrigued and the hard-core fans pleased.

So if you're a casual U2 fan, I heartily encourage you to find a ticket to these concerts (they're coming back through the US in the fall). You don't have to be a super-fan like this writer to enjoy the show. Her comment near the beginning of the article probably explains why bloggers blog:

"Everyone has one beautiful obsession, something trivia and drudgery haven't worn down. A band, Star Wars, NASCAR, scrapbooking. Something that says the real you is still in there."

I couldn't agree more.

The Glass 

Half Full: The D-Backs were playing against Jason Schmidt, one of the two best pitchers in the division… and winning…

Half Empty: They lost anyway.

First, credit where credit is due: Russ Ortiz pitched very well. 7 IP, 3 hits, 2 walks, 2 Ks. Chad Tracy had a home run that traveled about 399 feet, 6 inches, or about 6 inches beyond the center field wall (and then made a nice scoop of a throw in the dirt by Alex Cintron in the bottom of the inning).

And, you know, I find it hard to blame the bullpen. They pitched 5+ innings and gave up 2 runs -- not shutdown work, but not implosive, either. Melvin's decision to have Bruney start the 8th is easy to second-guess, given the result, but it's not like Bruney hadn't pitched well thus far this year and Ortiz had reached 101 pitches. In Bruney's 9 2/3 IP prior to last night's game, he'd given up just 4 walks; who knew he'd give up 2 more in this one inning of work? (Let the overwork arguments begin!) Cormier and Gosling also pitched well (that is, until the 3rd inning).

Still, news that Jose Valverde is progressing well with his rehab is welcome, welcome news.

No, if we are assigning blame here (and, hey, I'm human and I need to assign blame, just like everyone else does), let's blame the offense, which continues its recent anemia. Scoring just 3 runs against Jason Schmidt is one thing -- acceptable, in my mind -- but failing to score against the 7 Giants pitchers over 6 innings is not. It's the baseball equivalent of a "coverage sack." The offense ground into 3 double plays, which is one way to score just 3 runs off 11 hits.

Half Full: Royce Clayton didn't bat second (uhhhh… because he didn't start, though he went 1-fer-2 as a late-inning substitute)

Half Empty: Quinton McCracken batted second. Really, an OBP of .300 is good only in comparison to Clayton's .281…

The team is still doing OK getting people on base thus far (5th in the NL in OBP), but they're tied for 2nd in GIDP, which helps explain why they're in the middle of the pack (9th) for runs scored.

So now the D-Backs head home for a brief 3-game set against the Padres. The marquee game is Saturday's Brandon Webb-Jake Peavy matchup, which sadly will not be on TV. I always like the D-Backs' chances with Webb on the mound, but with Jake Peavy -- the other one of the two best pitchers in the division -- going for the Padres, I'm not overly optimistic. The other two games are definitely winnable -- Our chances of ending the weekend above .500 are probably about… .500.

So which will it be -- half full or half empty?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Mr. Javier Vazquez 

Javier Vazquez, thanks to his 7 scoreless innings last night, has driven down his ERA from 37.80 to 7.65. This gradual improvement mirrors the progress of a certain Diamondbacks pitcher last year whose first performance merited a 27.00 ERA but who pitched a scoreless game in his fourth start.

Unfortunately for us, that pitcher was one Mr. Casey Daigle.

The weirdness in Vazquez's 7-inning shutout (and eventual 2-1 win over the Giants) is that he arguably didn't pitch much better than he did in his second and third starts:

4/4: 1 2/3 IP, 10 hits, 0 walks, 2 Ks… and 7 runs (WHIP: 6.00)
4/9: 5 1/3 IP, 5 hits, 3 walks, 7 Ks… and 6 runs (WHIP: 1.50)
4/14: 6 IP, 8 hits, 1 walk, 8 Ks… and 5 runs (WHIP: 1.50)
4/20: 7 IP, 8 hits, 2 walks, 2 Ks… and no runs (WHIP: 1.43)

Now his starts on the 9th and 14th include one homerun each, so that explains part of the run differential, but it's not clear that the starts have improved much.

Except for the pitch count per inning:

4/4: 25.2
4/9: 19.3
4/14: 15.7
4/20: 12.9

Of course, Vazquez was bailed out by 3 double plays, making 23 for the D-Backs this season thus far. This number leads the league. The number per game, 1.53, is close to double the rate at which the team turned two last year, when it turned 144.

Then again, Royce Clayton hit into a double play of his own, giving him 5 for the year. If that seems like a lot, it is -- he's tied for the major league lead with Marquis Grissom (who hit into a double play of his own last night). Not that anybody else hit well last night, either.

Tonight we face our first "A-list" pitcher of the year in Jason Schmidt. I'm not hopeful of our chances (especially given our offensive anemia of late), but at least we can do no worse than a split...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


My parents got married twice. Not in an Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton-sort-of-way, mind you, but for more mundane reasons (if marrying someone can in fact be called mundane). They got married in Germany and got married at City Hall for real on a Friday and again for show in a church the next day. (I'm told it was a lovely ceremony, but, as you can probably guess, I wasn't there at the time.)

My parents always considered that second day, that of their church ceremony, the date of their anniversary.

And so it is that I come to my own anniversary. This blog started a year ago yesterday, with a post that was little more than "First." But I consider today my true anniversary, for it was a year ago today that I wrote my first real post, in which I outlined a few ground rules for this fine blog:

1. Focus on long-term issues. While I reserve the right to express my frustration with the latest lost lead or express happiness about the latest 2-game power surge, I don't want to praise or criticize without some long-term basis for that. So, to begin with, I'm not going to use any statistics until the D-Backs have played at least 20 games.
2. Statistics / quantitative analysis / sabermetrics -- like many baseball blogs, I'll be using this to analyze the team. You can't use sabermetrics to make every decision -- there are other, perfectly reasonable prisms through which to view decisions on and off the field -- but statistics are the only source I expect to use regularly.
3. Baseball is a game. I know, it's completely obvious, except when it's ignored. For most of us it is a diversion, not the main source of our interest. I work, eat, sleep, and spend time with my family. Beyond that, baseball is just one diversion of mine.
4. It's not just baseball. Like the blog description says, I'm not going to limit myself to just D-Backs baseball. Music, movies, TV, and other media will make occasional appearances here in the blog. If I get really creative, I'll figure out how to link the baseball and non-baseball diversions, but first I've got to post on a regular basis.
I would like to think that I've held true to those ground rules. I've tried hard not to fall to short-term thinking, including panicking or exulting at every minor change in the team's status. Though I haven't used a lot of stats thus far this year, it's because the season is young -- give me time, and I'll get back into that.

Writing this blog, however, has been more difficult than I expected. I have even more admiration for bloggers who are able to craft wittily told and detailed descriptions of games or statistical trends -- my adherence to ground rule #3 (loosely translated as "I have a life") has restricted me in spending the time I might otherwise spending writing and rewriting text or researching random statistical questions that intrigue me. Please note, I'm not suggesting that the bloggers I admire don't have a life, just that I haven't been able to squeeze more blogging time into my life than I do currently. (It's up to you to decide whether that's a good or a bad thing.) I also so totally understand now how easy it is for daily writers to get into a rut -- it doesn't excuse the repetitive nature of many newspaper columnists, but it certainly makes it more understandable. It probably also explains why rule #4 (loosely translated as "Don't make me write about baseball all the time") is a good one for me.

I do want to thank my fellow bloggers and those of you who stop by on a regular basis, though I'm amazed at how much the baseball blogging landscape has changed since I compared D-Backs bloggers to the Scooby-Doo gang. For those of you who are relatively new to this blog, I encourage you to check out some of the old stuff linked in the above post. In addition, I also think these were nice reads (or, at least, I had fun writing them):
-- my goodbye to Mia Hamm
-- that brief period in which we'd hired Wally Backman
-- Randy Johnson and the DC City Council
-- Running a half-marathon
-- Previewing the 2005 squad using limericks

In any case, thanks again for reading and commenting. If you ever need to get in touch with me, don't forget my e-mail address up there in the right-hand corner.

Diddle Relief 

All I ask is that the bullpen make up its mind as to whether it is good or bad. This, I believe, is not an unreasonable request on my part. But if you look at Randy Choate's line thus far this year, you'll see that he has 2 miserable outings (combining for 2/3rds of an inning, 5 hits, a walk -- yes, a WHIP of 9.0 -- and an untimely error in yesterday's 8-1 drubbing by the Rockies) to go with 3 1/3 IP in which he's given up 2 hits and 2 walks (a WHIP of 1.2). Will the real Randy Choate please stand up? Is he our LOOGY or our LNOGY?

Same with Mike Koplove -- again, 2 miserable outings (combined 1 IP, 5 hits, 4 walks -- again, a WHIP of 9.0) and 7 mostly OK outings with 7 2/3 IP, 6 hits and no walks.

The collapses these past few days have been dispiriting, especially since they've occurred to the two guys in our bullpen making more than the league minimum. But it'll take a little while longer before we see if this is still just the exception or if it's become an unfortunate rule.

Oh, and Shawn Estes is a lucky, lucky man. A WHIP of 1.2 is good -- a WIP of 1.2, or 6 walks in 5 innings, is bad.

And as for the offense… I just keep repeating to myself, small sample size… random fluctuation in success… it'll get better… now, where are my worry beads?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Must. Win. 

Can you really have a must-win baseball game in April? At Coors Field?

As strange as it sounds, I think last night's game turned into one of those must-win games. The more the D-Backs struggled against Shawn Chacon for the second game in a row, the more I thought how bad a loss would be. Fourth loss in a row, loss of faith in the offense, sinking under .500... Maybe it wasn't a must-win, but it was definitely a big win.

The D-Backs couldn't get anything going -- even Glaus' homerun in the top of the sixth seemed more like a drop than the forerunner of something slightly more torrential in the seventh. Of course, that's because Rockie manager Clint Hurdle had his bullpen try to hold on, and it appears that the Rockies' bullpen is Not A Good Bullpen. The seventh inning -- 6 hits, oh, my goodness, 6 hits!

And the D-Back bullpen, after such a collapse in the seventh inning in the last two games, once again rescued an acceptable performance from Brandon Webb. Webb may not be pitching as well thus far this year as he did last year, but clearly he's had better luck with his offense, defense, and bullpen support.

Finally, maybe this is just me, but isn't it really weird that the state's major newspaper would have to use a "special" reporter to report on the game? Hope nothing's seriously wrong with one of the cast of dozens who've served as D-Backs beat reporters.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Three Weeks (Three Up, Three Down Edition) 

Without further ado:

The Week That Was

Record: 3-3
Runs Scored/Runs Against: 3.25 - 4.00 (again: high and low scores dropped on both sides)
Transactions: Villarreal on the 15-day DL (4/11), Lance Cormier called from Tucson; Cruz on the DL (retro to 4/10), Scott Hairston called from Tucson; Claimed Javier Lopez off waivers (4/15); DFA Adam Peterson. Signed Darren Oliver to minor-league contract (4/10)

I'm gonna give it another week or so before I actually use some statistics. But the good news is that our starting pitching has started to gel -- Vazquez hasn't had a good outing yet, but they're no longer bad, either. The bad news is that our bullpen was a little schizo during the week. And the ugly news is that the offense had a bad week. Really, those two series were awful offensively. (And there isn't much news at all about the defense, which is probably good news.)

I was hoping we'd be above .500 when the week ended, so I'm a little disappointed (especially after the sweep of the Rockies), but we are, after all, still .500.

The Weeks That Will Be

4 on the road (2 vs. Colorado, 2 vs. San Francisco)
3 at home vs.San Diego
6 on the road (3 vs. Dodgers, 3 vs. San Diego)

Wins are important at any point in the season, but it does seem like it's especially true for the D-Backs this year. To dispel thoughts of last year's disaster from their own minds and from the minds of Phoenix fans, who will shortly become obsessed with the Suns. And the thing is, now is the time. We need to beat Colorado, any time, any place. We need to beat San Francisco now, before Alou and Bonds come back. We need to beat San Diego when they're a little beat up. By the time the D-Backs go on the road next week, we should get a better sense of what this team actually is.

Three Is A Crappy Number 

Every sweep has three losses
Every bad inning has three pitchers
Every opponents' rally uses gopher-ball tosses...
Yes, three, it's a crappy number...

Apologies to Schoolhouse Rock, but when you lose three games in a row (for the third time in a row) by scoring three runs each game, it's time to abandon in-depth analysis for snarky rip-offs of songs familiar to thirty-somethings.

But it's not like it requires incredibly in-depth analysis. Our bullpen collapsed on Saturday and Sunday and our offense, which looked so good that first week of the season, has become much, much quieter. Was it a minor slump in a pitcher's park, or was the first week the outlier?

Sunday's 7-3 D-Backs loss to the Nationals looked a lot like Saturday's 7-3 loss. Substitute generally reliable setup guy Mike Koplove on Sunday for generally reliable LOOGY Randy Choate on Saturday and it's the same implosive story. Yes, lots of bullpens are shaky in middle relief (they are, by definition, the least best pitchers on the staff), but it doesn't make it any less frustrating.

The nice thing about this being the beginning of the season is that a couple collapses like we saw this weekend is still more likely to generate frustration than the resignation with which we fans greeted such collapses for the second half of last season. We still feel like the D-Backs have something to play for, so these two games are symbolic more of lost opportunities than lost causes.

Drop by later today for some Three Weeks thoughts.