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AZ 2, Marlins 9 - The Song Remains the Same

Record: 47-50. Change on last season: +15

Inability. To. Drive. Runners. In. Bottom of the fourth, scoreless game: four straight hits drive in one run, and we have the bases loaded with nobody out. Cruz strikes out, Snyder pops out, Webb grounds out. The chance evaporates; the Marlins score three in the next half-innings and never look back from there - despite Devin's brave efforts at generating drama.

But it was also another disappointing effort from Webb, who started off well enough, before unravelling in the fifth - three runs - and sixth - five more earned runs. said Webb, "I can't really tell you what happened... They started getting a couple of hits, things started moving for them and I couldn't stop it." Pitching coach Mark Davis appears to have a clue: "I think he lost a little more focus than he has in a long time. He needs to get back to executing one pitch at a time. It's something we'll talk about it."

This included two home runs, something that is plaguing Webb with increasing frequency:
2003: 180.2 IP, 12 HR
2004: 208 IP, 17 HR
2005: 136.1 IP, 13 HR

In particular, his last 18.1 innings, he's allowed five long balls, and 27 hits. However, the ratio of hits/home runs looks almost the same over his career (11.67/11.41/11.46), suggests less a specific problem with home runs, than a general overall increase in hits.

It may be that hitters are no longer fooled as easily by his breaking ball, or perhaps he's leaving it up in the zone - this would explain the sharp decrease in walks this year (on pace for about half 2004's total). Out of the bullpen, Almanza pitched two scoreless innings, Medders pitched in his third straight game, while Aquino had another imperfect performance, with two hits and an earned run in less than an innings.

Clayton had another good night though, with three hits, while Glaus, Green and Counsell each had a pair. The Padres lost again, so we remain stuck, unable to gain ground, unwilling to lose any. A month ago, we were 4 1/2 games back; since then, we've gone just 10-15, but have lost no ground at all on the Padres, after their 12-0 whipping in New York earlier today. Nor have the Dodgers caught up any behind us. Here's how the whole NL West has stacked up since that date:

  • San Diego: 10-15
  • Arizona: 10-15
  • Los Angeles: 10-15
  • San Francisco: 12-13
  • Colorado: 11-13
    Yep: no-one's even at .500; overall, the division is 53-71 for the past month.

Heroes + Zeroes, Series 31: vs. Marlins, at home
Clayton: 8-for-13, 3 RBI
McCracken: 5-for-9, 3 RBI
Medders: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 ER
Cormier: 0 IP, 3 H, BB, 4 ER
Hill/Snyder/Stinnett: 1-for-13, 7 K, 20 men left on base.
Webb: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 2 BB, 8 ER

Honourary mentions to Koplove (3.2 IP, 1 H) and Vazquez (5 IP, 9 H, 5 BB), albeit in opposite directions. McCracken's bench heroics in the opener merit recognition, while Clayton produced 4-hit and 3-hit games, as well as some nice defensive plays, so takes top honours. Our less-than heroic trio of catchers score big for their inability to do anything with baserunners, as does Cormier's inability to prevent baserunners. But Webb's sudden decision to start serving batting-practice was the worst of the series.

Speaking of Brandon, his ERA has now joined all our other starters, north of 4.00, leaving us without a pitcher in the top 25 for the NL. At the moment, there are 52 qualifying pitchers in the league; if we divide these into thirds by ERA, and analyze by team, we get:

ERA <    3.60 4.40 4.40+
Team       A    B    C    Win %
Houston    3         1    .511
St.Louis   2    3         .649
New York   3         1    .511
Atlanta    1         1    .563
Washington 2    1         .568
Florida    3    1         .505
S.Diego    1    1         .526
Phil'phia  1    1    1    .516
LA         1    2         .447
Milwaukee  1    3         .484
Chicago         1    1    .511
Cincinatti      1    1    .415
Arizona         2    2    .474
Pittsburgh      1    2    .421
San Fran             4    .436
Colorado             3    .355
  1. This chart is ordered by the ERA of the team's best pitcher. Houston leads because they have the best #1 (Clemens, 1.47), then it's St. Louis (Carpenter, 2.34), and so on.

  2. Not all teams have five players listed, because of injuries, etc. But you can likely assume any replacement starters would be grade C.

  3. Only three teams in the NL have a worse #1 than ours - Brandon Webb, 4.03. That's Pittsburgh (Mark Redman, 4.24), San Francisco (Noah Lowry, 4.69) and Colorado (Jason Jennings, 5.02).

  4. Note the strong correlation between best ERA and win %. The Cubs are the only team with a below average #1, and a record (just) above .500 - I think the presence of the Triple Crown chasing Lee is likely responsible.

  5. Meanwhile, only two of the 18 grade-A starters are on teams below .500: Penny of the Dodgers, and the Brewers' Sheets. And the entire NL West has only two: Penny, and Jake Peavy of the Padres.

Here's a list, showing the team that made the playoffs with the "worst" #1 starter, along with where that ace ranked in the league:
2004: St. Louis, Chris Carpenter (#13, 3.46)
2003: Atlanta, Russ Ortiz (#18, 3.81)
2002: St.Louis, Matt Morris (#18, 3.42)
2001: Houston, Wade Miller (#10, 3.40)
2000: San Francisco, Livan Hernandez (#11, 3.75)

The last playoff team without a pitcher posting an ERA under 4.00 were the 1999 Mets, whose best man was Al Leiter (#23, 4.23). [Like us, their rotation was about uniform ability: behind Leiter, came Yoshii (#27), Hershiser (#32) and Reed, who was a dozen innings short of qualifying, but whose ERA would have tied him with Hershiser. However, unlike AZ, they had five regulars hit .300+, and led the league in OBP.] Since then, all 20 playoff teams have had a top-20 starter with a sub-4.00 ERA; 17 have had one at or below 3.50.

No game today, as we await the arrival of the Braves, so no game preview, and no post-game wrapup tomorrow. Sure I'll find something else to write about though...