Thunderbolts, lightning and a series preview

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That was quite a spectacular storm last night. Around 9:40, Mrs.SnakePit called me to the back yard to see the lightning show. Never seen anything like that in my life: a storm usually has gaps of several between the flashes. Not the one last night, which looked more like a disco inferno, even though it was at such a distance that you couldn't hear thunder from it. The overall effect was such, that I was beginning to think it wasn't actually natural: either a sub-station had blown up in Oldtown Scottsdale, or we had been invaded by Martians.

I was kinda hoping for the latter, but the TV informed me otherwise, reporting that the storm cell was towering above the city, reaching a height of 55,000 feet. That can't have been any fun for someone trying to land at Sky Harbor [perhaps including the Dodgers, he added hopefully?]. So we bunkered down and waited for it to hammer us. Around 11:30 pm, it did, a ferocious combination of rain, wind and hail hammering the house. Our poor dogs were terrified, and the noise sounded like Keith Moon was doing a drum solo on our roof. It dumped six-tenths of an inch of rain in our neighborhood in about thirtty minutes, before going on - that was small beer compared to some places, such as Van Buren and 40th street, which got 1.89 inches overnight.

As a result, the journey to work this morning was rough. Traffic lights were downed - not knocked out, but physically downed - on 40th street, and our access to the highway was blocked both on Cactus and Tatum. Mrs. SnakePit attempted to go around the damage, but that only made things worse, as everywhere we turned seemed to lead to further diversions, and the usual 25-minute trip stretched out to longer than an hour. On Seventh Street, we saw a whole series of phone lines which had toppled, and we also saw a billboard which had been torn entirely off its roof-top mounting. Word is, the Chase building downtown has also lost most of the windows on its lower floor too, and a lot of people are still without power.

Nice way to welcome the Los Angeles Dodgers to town for what promised to be a crucial three-game series. Both teams have been slumping of late, and are a combined 1-for-13 in the past week. It looks like the power outage mentioned has also been affecting the bats of both teams:
    Arizona: .222/.294/.340 = OPS .634, 3.5 runs per game
    Los Angeles: .244/.314/.358 = OPS .672, 1.7 runs per game
Yes, you read that right. During their current losing streak, the Dodgers have scored more than two runs just once. And you though our offense was scuffling.

Los Angeles, now trailing by 3.5 games, really need to win the series because, coming in, CoolStandings.com currently gives the Diamondbacks a 75.0% chance of winning the division - our best figure since June 1 - while yesterday's loss dropped the Dodgers down to only 19.6% [The Rockies aren't quite out of it yet, at 4.9%, with the Giants picking up the balance] Even though we only won one game since the start of the Florida series, we still managed to add 1.5 games to our lead, and time is not on the side of those trying to catch up.

The Dodgers have 28 games left: if Arizona plays to their record and goes 15-14 in our remaining games, Los Angeles would need to have an 18-10 record to tie us. But if we take two of three here, we'll be 4.5 up on them: should we win half our remaining games [leaving us again at 83 wins], then Los Angeles would then need to go 17-8 down the stretch to match Arizona. With Webb and Haren going in two of these games, we should feel fairly optimistic - but Webb and Haren didn't exactly help us much in San Diego [though the latter hardly deserves blame for his performance]. Let's take a look at the match-ups for the series:

Friday: Hiroki Kuroda, RHP (7-9, 3.87)  vs Doug Davis, LHP (5-8, 4.63)
Some discussion whether we should go with Davis or Petit after the day off, but the experience of Davis was seen as outweighing the better recent performances of the Petit Unit. Kuroda has made three starts against Arizona and they appear to have been directed by Sergio Leone, as we've had The Good [one run in 7.1 innings], The Bad [four in 5.2] and The Ugly [six in two]. Overall, that's a 4.80 ERA in 15 innings, on a healthy 21 hits. Davis has bounced back after a shaky month, with quality starts in his last two outings, but has allowed 11 earned runs in only 10.2 innings against Los Angeles. Edge: Los Angeles

Saturday: Chad Billingsley, RHP (12-10, 3.15)  vs. Dan Haren, RHP (14-6, 3.10)
Billingsley has been perhaps the most reliable of the Dodgers starters, and hasn't allowed more than three runs in a game over eight appearances since the All-Star break. However, he is 0-3 against the Diamondbacks this season, with a 7.71 ERA: control has been his main problem, allowing eight walks in only fourteen innings. Haren has not enjoyed pitching at Chase lately, with Pittsburgh, Atlanta and San Diego combining for 15 runs in 17.1 innings. But he faced the Dodgers here just after the All-Star break, threw seven shutout innings, and has a 3.06 ERA in three starts against them. Edge: Arizona

Sunday: Derek Lowe, RHP (10-11, 3.81)  vs. Brandon Webb, RHP (19-5, 2.96)
The two sinkerballers face off again, and if that sounds familiar it's because this is the third such encounter since the All-Star break. The first was July 20, when neither pitcher featured in the decision, thanks to Brandon Lyon's memorable five-run meltdown in the ninth, which gave victory to LA. Webb and Lowe faced off again on the 31st - this time Webb came out on top, throwing eight innings of one-run ball and Lyon locked down a 2-1 win for Arizona. Webb hasn't lost in nine starts against Los Angeles since 2004, with only Lyon's blow-up stopping him from being perfect over that time: instead, he's "just" 8-0 with a 1.19 ERA. Edge: Arizona

Overall victory therefore appears eminently achievable, but I'd be a lot happier if the offense were to wake up out of their slump. Home has been good to Arizona so far - they bat .270 at Chase compared to .234 elsewhere and we score 5.1 runs per game here, a run better than on the road. It's not going to be easy, but I do think the Diamondbacks will get back on track, take two out of three and while not putthing them away, will leave the Dodgers' season in a very precarious position.

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