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AZ 5, Padres 2 - Completing the circle

Record 15-10. Change on last season: +4

It didn't happen in our league, but any fantasy owner who traded for Javier Vazquez after his first two starts must be rolling on the floor in hysterical laughter [especially if they dealt him for Armando Benitez] Since then, Vazquez has been a rock, topping things off with our first complete game of the season yesterday (and his first since August 2003), giving our taxed bullpen a clear day off.

Nine innings, six hits, no walks, two runs, eight K's. Oh, we'll take that, any day of the week. I think it's safe to say that the memory of that Opening Day is beginning to resemble a bad dream - I'm no longer quite sure I didn't imagine the whole thing. The feeling of dread that accompanied his early starts had now been all but replaced with a warm glow of expectation. His last four starts have gone six, seven, eight and nine innings - I almost hope the next game he pitches goes into extra frames. ;-)

Our offense showed remarkable patience, drawing nine walks to match the nine hits: Counsell, McCracken and Snyder had two each. On the hitting front, the star was Shaun Green and his three hits, including two doubles. He thereby escapes a "zero" for the series, based on his ohfer in the first two games. We scored two in the first inning, and had five on the board before San Diego responded.

Speaking of zeroes:
Heroes and Zeroes: Series 9, road vs. Padres
Estes: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 2 ER - bullpen saviour
Vazquez: 9 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 2 ER
Choate: 3 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 0 ER
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Snyder: 1-for-9, 4 K
McCracken: 0-for-7, missed bunt sign
Lyon: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, loss

Pitchers dominate the heroes, in a series where we scored only 9 runs in 33 innings - but only conceded nine too. Estes turned in a very solid performance on a day when we needed him to do it, and Vazquez's complete game came close behind. Choate's relief heroics gave us a chance to win the marathon game.

On the other end, despite continuing great defense, Snyder is still in a 1-for-21 slump, even including yesterday's double. McCracken's gaffe may have changed the whole dynamic of the opener and he's 4-for-22, while Lyon's sole appearance in Petco Park was one he'll want to forget.

Yes, Melvin dropped Clayton to the eighth spot yesterday. But he replaced Royce (now hitting .225) with Quinton McCracken - average so far, .230. That's about one extra hit we can expect every fifty games. McCracken is a little better at getting on base - thirty points, or about once a week more - but of the eight regular position players, Q is still ranked sixth in OBP.

Unfortunately, it may partly be a case of necessity on Melvin's part. Counsell leads off, and he won't mess with the G-Force in #3-5. The catcher will hit eighth; Snyder's apparently impressive .322 OBP is largely from intentional walks to reach the pitcher's spot. That just leaves McCracken, Clayton or Tracy for the #2 spot - and Chad seems to have forgotten how to draw a walk this year. He has a feeble two in 81 at-bats so far, leaving his OBP worse than Q's.

Of course, the "right" answer is, dump Clayton entirely and play someone like Alex Cintron regularly. Cintron would likely be better than Clayton (Clayton's line .225/.279/.325, Cintron's is 297/.325/.432), and may have long-term value, either for us or in trade. But might that screw up the delicate synergy of the defense? Just yesterday, we set a franchise record for errorless innings, 87 2/3 of them up until Tracy booted the ball [IIRC, he also ended the last significant errorless streak].

Our fielding was something brought up in the comments yesterday by William K and IndyDBack - thanks also to Otacon for his thoughts. Taking a quick sweep around the positions:
C Snyder/Hill: zero passed balls, zero errors
2B Counsell: leads the majors, 137 chances, no errors
3B Glaus: a credible .973 F%, 9th in the majors
SS Clayton: F% .990, 5th overall at his position
OF Gonzalez, McCracken, Green: no errors between them
Pitching rotation: one error [to Brad Halsey] combined

The only black spot is Tracy, who ranks second-last among all qualified major league first baseman in F%, but he is still adapting to his new position. Now, of course, there's more to fielding than not making errors, but it's a damn sight better than last year.

IndyDBack wonders if this is making our pitchers better, above the obvious saving of runs. He may have a point. As an "intangible", maybe they no longer feel the only way to be sure of an out is with a K, and this changes the way they pitch. Certainly, the feared explosion of walks from our rotation hasn't happened. We had the top three pitchers for free passes in the NL last year, but overall, we average only 3.3 per game, less than the league average.