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AZ 1, Giants 3: Game over, man - game over!

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Record: 77-85. Change on last season: +26

There's a startling emptiness in my soul this morning, as I get up and realise there will be no Diamondbacks game tonight. Or indeed, until March. There'll be no more Clark home runs, Webb gems or smoothly-turned double plays. Of course, there'll also be no more Clayton grounding into DP's, feeble Ortiz excuses or Glaus wild throws, but with the next six months in Arizona set to contain only the NFL, NBA and something called the "NHL" (what's that?), I'd take even those...

Of course, the season isn't over yet - as I write, the Cards and White Sox have the upper hand in their series openers - but we are left pressing our noses against the glass, like starving urchins watching rich aristocrats enjoy a banquet. We can drool and whimper on the outside ("Anyone but the Yankees," we beg!), but on the outside we must stay. There's a really good party going on - with, y'know, beer 'n' babes 'n' pizza - and we're not invited. Quite takes me back to high school. :-)

[Interesting feature at CBS Sportsline. For each playoff game, they're posting their own version of a Gameday Thread, called a "Glog" - game log. However, as it's only one person writing their thoughts, it doesn't have the same give-and-take as the "real" thing, but it's nice to see the mainstream media taking inspiration from the blogosphere]

The season finished on a bit of a down-note: we couldn't quite pull off another sweep, and complete the longest undefeated road-trip in franchise history. Webb pitched well enough - two earned runs over seven innings, to give him a season ERA of 3.54 - and also had a hit, to end the season at .097, but Tomko was better, pitching a six-hit complete game, and allowing just an RBI single to Glaus.

McCracken had two hits at leadoff, but credit to him for preserving the integrity of the game. Melvin's plan was to have Estes at #1, but immediately pinch-hit with McCracken, so he had a shot at beating the franchise record for season pinch-hits. But Quinton declined: "I'm just a little too old-school for that. I just didn't feel comfortable with it. I really appreciate what [Melvin] was trying to do. That means a lot, but I've had ample opportunities this year to set the record." Definitely increases my respect for Q a notch.

Otherwise, everyone seemed keen to get out of there - the game was over in only 1:55, and 216 pitches - and head home. It was as if people had better places to be (even the recap devotes one paragraph to the game), and I can't really blame them: save perhaps for the starting pitchers involved, there was nothing much at stake for either team. Final positions had been established, and with the exception of McCracken (and perhaps JT Snow's 1,500th hit), there were no records to break or milestones to reach. It's probably fair to say that both teams had almost the seasons expected from them; the Giants without Bonds, the D'backs coming back from 111 losses.

Heroes and Villains, Series 51: vs. Giants, on road
Vazquez: 8 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 1 ER, 4 K
Webb: 7 IP, 9 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 5 K
Worrell: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 0 ER, 1 K

Again, the pitching staff ruled, conceding 7 runs in 29 innings, including seven scoreless frames by the bullpen. Over the last two series, they've pitched 17.2 innings and allowed just one earned run - since September 1st, the combined ERA of our relievers has been only 2.59 (93.2 IP, 27 ER). Where was that when we needed it?

Vazquez had another great outing, and should have got the win - Webb was hardly any worse, while Worrell anchored the pen. If we get him back next year, I think a 7-8-9 of Medders, Worrell, Valverde would be at least a good start to having a decent bullpen. Filling it out might be tougher though. Lyon and Villarreal have yet to prove themselves after their injuries, while Cormier has to overcome a dismal second half (ERA before All-Star break: 2.70; after: 9.20).

Villarreal, at least, will play for Hermosillo in the Mexican Winter League, along with Andy Green, Brian Bruney and Edgar Gonzalez. AAA-men Josh Kroeger and Sergio Santos will also play winter ball, while according to scouting director Mike Rizzo, the D'backs want Conor Jackson "to play at least a little this winter to get some more at-bats". This appeared to be news to Jackson, who said "he wasn't sure what his winter plans were at this point." After hitting a meagre .200 in 40 games since being called-up, I hope that resting on his laurels wasn't part of them...

I'll let the Zeroes slide by for the final series, especially as Melvin switched around the lineup to get everyone in there - only Chad Tracy and Shawn Green started all three games. There were a couple of contenders (Glaus 1-for-9, Green 2-for-12), but since it's the baseball equivalent of the end of school, we'll declare it a half-day, and send everyone home early.

As the season draws to a close, I want to thank everybody who stopped by, commented, signed-up, didn't sign-up, voted in a poll, click on an advert, or simply got a laugh out of something I wrote. I've been amazed at the response here - moments like the first time we reached 100 comments in a game were among the highlights of my year (sad though that might be!) - and helped keep me going more than you can imagine. I'd name-check individuals, but would probably forget someone, so I'll just say thanks to everyone. Without you, I might still have been scrawling, but it wouldn't have been anywhere as much fun.

The D'backs certainly finished strong, winning 10 of their last 12 games, to end with an improvement of 26 games over last season. "The division wasn't the toughest in the world, but when you look at it from the perspective of where we were last year it was positive," said Melvin. Given last year's performance was one of the worst by any team in the past century, Melvin finishes the year pretty much as he started: stating the bleedin' obvious.

Equally obviously, I don't think 82 wins will win the division by five games next year, but we did end up with the best record in the NL West against the NL West, at 41-32. It was our pitiful 11-21 campaign playing the NL East that largely sunk us - no team in the league had fewer wins against any division. Versus the Mets, Marlins and Nats, we were 5-14; the Padres vs. the same teams were 11-7. That's the margin of victory right there.

Here's Jeff Moorad's thoughts on what needs to be done: "There will be some moves that we'll make in the offseason. How significant remains to be seen. I think the club has shown an awful lot in the couple of weeks closing out the season and really, I think, given all of us a confidence that we do have the right nucleus on the field. I think the goal at this point is to make some adjustments - certainly to tweak the roster a bit - but I'm not sure that wholesale changes are required...I think the free-agent market is a thinner one than in years past, but again, we have some needs. We'd like to improve our production at the catcher position. We're committed to going into next season with as close to a bulletproof bullpen as we can get."

But there'll be plenty of time for analysis and future planning over the six months or so between now and Opening Day 2006. We'll be doing a lot right at this very site, as we chew over what worked and what didn't - through the playoffs, there should still be something new here every day...well, more often than not, shall we perhaps say, choosing to err on the side of nebulous caution. Tomorrow, I think we'll take a look back at some of the polls and see how our opinions stacked up.

And congratulations to No Necks No Names, winner of our inaugural Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league. Rookie Stephen B. put on an intense performance, changing his roster more days than not (121 moves during the season!) and overhauled William K's Blah Blah Blah in the final weekend. The latter actually led in more categories, 4-3, but William's decision to punt saves, where he finished only seventh, may have been fatal. Proof that the 'closer by committee' thing never works? ;-)

We bloggers did fairly well: immediately behind the owner of BabyBacks: TNG came Random Fandom, and my previous incarnation, But it's a DRY Heat. I'm satisfied with fourth, given I was as low as eleventh mid-season, and largely ignored my team for the first three months, so feel this was a credible turnaround; I was hurt by Helton and Suzuki, my top two picks, both having below-average years. Will do it all again in 2006: first option goes to "proven veterans", but there should be some slots for interested parties here.