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Ins and Outs

As William K noted in the comments yesterday, pitching coach Mark Davis and first-base coach Brett Butler will not be with the Diamondbacks next year, as the D'backs opted not to offer them new contracts. Davis has been around for a few years, but the performance of the pitching staff - and especially the bullpen - was probably the main reason why we didn't win the division, so his departure was likely inevitable.

Melvin, naturally, made all the right noises: "It was an incredibly hard decision. I absolutely do not have a bad thing to say about either of those guys. It's just that you are constantly tweaking to try and go in a different direction." Such as, one hopes, the direction of a bullpen capable of posting an ERA under 5.50, the worst in the league? The likely replacement is Bryan Price, the former Mariners pitching coach, with whom Melvin has enjoyed working before and with whom he is - purely coincidentally, I'm sure - going mountain-biking today.

The loss of Brett Butler is somewhat more enigmatic - what does a first-base coach actually do? As far as I can tell, his duties apparently are limited to collecting unwanted equipment from hitters who reach first and patting them on the back. I found the following - it was written about youth baseball, but I suspect the principle is basically the same:

"The first base coach's responsibilities are few. He encourages the runner to run through the base so that the runner does not slow down. He may signal the runner whether to make the turn to go to second or to hold at first. He congratulates the hitter for his hit. He also tells the base-runner when to steal second...He must notice the depth of the infielders. He tells the runner when there is an infield fly - he can't wait for the umpire to call or signal it. He must be sure the base-runner knows the current number of outs. He needs to know the strength of the catcher and where the catcher normally throws the ball when he is throwing out a runner trying to steal second. He needs to know who takes the throw-down - whether it is the second baseman or the shortstop. He then uses this information to tell the base-runner where best to slide to avoid the tag at second base."

Hell, I could pretty much do that. Frankly, if you're incapable of performing these tasks adequately, the only career alternative probably involves minor janitorial duties at Wal-Mart. I mean, you're not even given the responsibility of relaying signs from the dugout, which would seem the most complex part of any of the sub-coaches jobs: "Now, was it nose, elbow, chest-wipe? Or chest-wipe, elbow, nose?" So getting fired as a first-base coach would seem as unlikely as being fired as President.

Butler also apparently worked with the outfielders, and taught bunting - two areas of obvious deficiency which I suspect probably had a lot to do with his exit. Actually, the pitchers bunted better, but I seem to recall a number of painful attempts by position players which suggested a wild unfamiliarity with the basic concept involved, while an outfield which ended up consisting of two out-of-position players and a man with half an elbow is hardly the best foundation on which to build.

But he seemed indifferent to his dismissal: "God's got a plan," Butler said Wednesday. "If He wants me to manage at the big-league level, that's what I'll do and I'll do the best I can. We'll see what He has in store for me and my family." Theologically, this is where I diverge from Butler, since I believe any divine intelligence has better things to do than micro-manages the lives of baseball coaches, and our free will is proof of that. But on the whole, religion - much like sex and politics - should be firmly kept out of sport, so I'll move rapidly on.

Not that I actually have much more to add today: I intend to tally up the Heroes and Zeroes for the second-half of the season, but I haven't got round to that. Am intending to chill-out tonight and watch Alias, having (inexcusably) failed to notice the season premiere last week, and then it's back to work tomorrow.

Playoffs going much as expected so far, though was surprised to see the White Sox taking two from the punchless Red Sox. However, after 2005, you'd be an idiot to write off Boston at any point, so this one won't be over until one team wins three games. Delighted to see the Yankees drop one to Anaheim yesterday; I have a feeling the winners of that one will likely be the AL pennant winners this year.

Over in the National League, the Padres have been an embarrassment to the Western division. We might hardly have been any more deserving champions, but I doubt we'd have performed the convincing impression of a bunch of stiffs we've seen so far from San Diego. Losing Peavy to a celebratory broken rib (file alongside Clint Barmes as a 2005 inductee in the Weird Injury Hall of Fame) seems to have taken all heart, hope or fight out of the Padres, which is understandable but still irritating.

Tonight sees Smoltz vs. Clemens in Atlanta, which is the kind of matchup the playoffs were designed to create. Think that might be the destination of choice during the commercial breaks in Alias, though I wouldn't be surprised it was all over by that stage. It's pretty much a must-win game for the Braves, but even if they do, I still can't see past Houston in this series, though even their starters will be hard pushed to cope with St. Louis in the NLCS.