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Dodger Ball

It's nice to open the season with a nine-game homestand; gives us a chance to set the tone for the entire season, and nail a message to the door of the divisional church, so to speak, announcing our intentions for the rest of the year. The first three games against the Cubs turned out far better than would have been anticipated after Opening Day - looking at various Cublogs, they seem as disappointed with the results, as we D'backers were pleased.

Now we get last season's NL West champs coming to our turf, which will be the first test of how we stack up against the rest of the division. Despite being defending title-holders, the consensus pick seemed to be LA for no better than third - at least up until Bonds' knee met the table.

The Dodgers' off-season moves centred on an eyebrow-raising contract to Derek Lowe, but the back end of their rotation, thanks to Brad Penny's injury, now consists of Elmer Dessens - a man whose starts proved ulcer-inducing for us in 2004 - and Scott Erickson. Erickson is 37, hasn't posted an ERA under 5.50 since 1999, and has only appeared in six major-league games over the past two seasons.

On the hitting side, they lost three top power men in Beltre, Green and Finley, as well as Cora, Lima, Hernandez and Ventura, and it's unlikely that the arrivals of Kent, Drew and Valentin will fully balance the departures. In addition, they start the season with left fielder Jayson Werth on the DL, as are two key components of their bullpen, Wilson Alvarez and - worst of all - uber-closer Eric Gagne.

They do have the intriguingly-named Yhency Brazoban to replace him, and Brazoban is no slouch; beyond that as relievers, however, it's Giovanni Carrara and Duaner Sanchez, then not much. Carrara had a career year in 2004, posting a miniscule 2.18, but will likely regress sharply towards his career ERA of 4.85 (and is day-to-day with a hamstring injury). Sanchez is a former D'back - though you probably blinked and missed the 3.2 innings in 2002, which was his entire career here before being traded...for Mike Fetters. Sorry about that, Duaner.

What this means for the D'backs, is a good chance to take their second series, with pitching matchups that favour Arizona in the main. We only won three of 19 against the Dodgers last year, and have a chance to go into uncharted territory: a win today will lift us higher above .500 than we've been since the end of 2003. Ok, so we're talking a whole two games, but little steps of improvement will do for now.

I was about to mention the milestones beyond that, but I don't want to jinx them. It's weird how superstitious I get when it comes to baseball, while in my real life, I go under ladders, run over black cats (because, to quote Bloody Mallory, "you never know...") and have no problems staying on the 13th floor of hotels. Yet I will insist on Chris putting on her Kim shirt for the third day this afternoon, because we won the last two games while she was wearing it. [As mentioned previously, I wore mine on Opening Day - it has now gone into deep cover at the back of the closet]

Of course, it likely has no impact at all, and if we lose tonight, I'll forget all about it - Chris is probably hoping we don't go on a 12-game win streak, or she'll find herself being trailed by every dog in the neighbourhood when she goes out! But this kind of thing oddly mirrors history: when the Giants came back from 13 1/2 games back in 1951, manager Leo Durocher wore the same suit every day to the park.

Baseball is full of such stuff, with perhaps the most famous superstition of all being the Billy Goat Curse of the Cubs. The last time they made the World Series, in 1945, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, William Sianis, had a box seat ticket for his pet goat, but they wouldn't let the animal in the ballpark. Sianis hexed the team: the Cubs lost that Series and haven't been in one since, despite strenuous efforts to lift or negate the curse.

In comparison, I don't think asking my wife to wear the same shirt again is all that much, do you? :-)