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AZ 2, Pirates 16 - The mother of all losses

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Record: 18-14. Change on last season: +4

Well, that's gotta sting. But as a poster child for the peril of run differential, we could hardly have asked for a better example than the Mother's Day Massacre we endured at BOB. For the 14-run margin is more than the total margin of every other defeat we've suffered, all the way back to April 19 - almost three weeks. But, it still counts as "one", and only one, in the loss column.

After 32 games last season, we had a 14-18 record and a 173-186 run differential. Pythagenport projected this to a final record of 75-77 - 24 games away from what we actually achieved. Now, this doesn't mean that over the course of time - many teams over many seasons - it may be more accurate than other predictive techniques. But it appears clear that you can not project forward from 30-odd games to an entire season with any degree of accuracy.

About all it is good for, is to let you look back at games that have already happened and get some idea as to how "lucky" the team has been. But even if a roulette wheel comes up 20 nine times in a row, it has absolutely no impact on the chances of it coming up the tenth time (unless you're a flame-haired Teuton). I feel a large proportion of the difference between Pythagenport and actual performance is down to little more than luck; and using past luck as a guide to performance in the future is...well, we're back to the pig entrails again.

As a parting shot, I submit the image of Mark Grace on the mound in 2002, doing Mike Fetters impressions. Pythagenport and their supporters would believe that all runs are equal, and that one scored off Grace is just as meaningful as one scored off the best closer in the ninth innings of a tied game. I really can't find it in myself to agree.

There's an obvious reason I'd rather wax lyrical about the perils of Pythagenport, than discuss yesterday's game. Or, to be more precise: sixteen reasons. But despite the score, we were actually in this one, right up until the eighth innings, at which point we were only 4-2 down. As guest previewer Marvin the Paranoid Android might have said, "It's the hope I can't stand..."

But he probably still feels a lot better than most of our relievers who took the field. Not the best day for our bullpen: 2.2 innings, 12 hits, two walks, 12 earned runs. Brian Bruney escaped unscathed - one out, two pitches - but it was carnage from then on. Jose Valverde faced three hitters, got none of them out, and they all scored on Matt Lawton's grand slam off Javier Lopez, who also allowed another run before escaping the innings.

And even that was just a warmup for the main event, a jawdropping appearance from Kerry Ligtenberg (whose surname is apparently German for "batting practice"). Yes, in just nineteen pitches, he gave up seven hits, and seven earned runs - while still finding time to get three outs. Let's relive that ninth innings, pitch-by-pitch:

#1: Castillo flies out
#2: Strike looking to Wigginton
#3: Foul off by Wigginton
#4: Wigginton single
#5: Ball to Cota
#6: Cota single, Wigginton to second
#7: Redman flies out
[Two outs, no runs scored. Brace yourself...]
#8: Mackowiak single, Wigginton scores, Cota to 2nd
#9: Strike swinging to Lawton
#10: Strike swinging to Lawton
#11: Ball to Lawton
#12: Ball to Lawton
#13: Lawton double, Cota scores, Mackowiak to 3rd
#14: Foul off by Wilson
#15: Wilson single, Mackowiak and Lawton score
#16: Bay ground rule double, J Wilson to third
#17: Ward homer, Ward, Wilson and Bay score
#18: Ball to Castillo
#19: Castillo flies out

On the plus side, at least Ligtenberg didn't waste much time, plus it was nice to end with the same player making the same out; and, hey, if you're going to have a seven-run ninth, it's best to do it while already 9-2 down, rather than 9-2 up... This somewhat overshadowed an okay performance by Brad Halsey, who allowed four runs in 6.2 innings, but still got tagged with the loss - though he was really a drop in the bucket. Albeit a "seven hits and four walks" drop - which is probably pretty large, as drops go.

The turning point seemed to come in the third innings, where Halsey - yes, Halsey! - walked on four straight pitches. Counsell went to 3-0, but the normally patient leadoff hitter then had a rush of blood to the head, swung at a pitch and popped it up. Cintron immediately grounded into a double play, and it wasn't our day. Only six hits (over the past two days, we've been outhit 31-8), Cintron's 0-for-5, with six left on, likely the nadir. Don't you want to play in Chicago, Alex?

I think this series has served as a welcome reality check, after the heady delights of taking nine of twelve from our NL West rivals (and not even Colorado, at that!). The Washington sweep did the same thing, and we should never forget that if we even play .500 ball this year, that'll be the biggest turnaround in over a hundred years of the game.

Jaw-droppingly awful article in the Banana today: Melvin faces tough decision in clearing spot for Cruz Jr.. "We feel like all the guys we have here we need," said Melvin, who expects it to be "our toughest decision of the year, by far." Here's a clue, Bob - since you don't seem to have one:

Quoth the Melv: "Q's struggling a little bit with the stick right now, which everybody does from time to time." Yes, like for the past seven seasons in McCracken's case: his career average is .279, but since 1998, the only time he has reached even this barely-adequate level of production was in 2002. After that, he's hit just .239. In 217 games. I guess that's "from time to time," in Melvin's book.

Certainly, as William K said in the comments (thanks also to IndyDBack for peering at the wreckage as they drove past), we have two gaping holes in our offensive performance at the moment: centre field and shortstop, and there's not much of promise in the tank at Tucson for those two positions.

The current nightmare scenario has us limping along into July, still just about in contention, perhaps a few above .500: management then decides to trade away the future (Quentin + Jackson), for an badly-advised and ill-fated attempt to get into the 2006 playoffs. Perhaps, on that basis, a few more unpleasant losses this side of the All-Star Break might not be such a bad idea after all.