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AZ 13, Cubs 6 - From Worst to First

Record: 52-55. Change on last season: +18

Opening Day, 2005. A fresh, bright new season opens, with an almost entirely re-tooled Diamondbacks team. Hope flows through the veins of every fan like water down the Mississippi. But we get pounded 16-6, and are sent scurrying, with our tail between our legs, to lick our wounds.

But I think today finally exorcised the psychological trauma of that day. We go into the Cubs' house, and it's our turn to pound them, with a 14-hit, five-homer barrage that sends their 300-game winner away before he gets an out in the fifth innings. Luis Gonzalez hits two homers. Chris Snyder, our catcher - one of the weakest offensive positions this year - smacks a grand slam, then adds a solo shot later for good measure.

I tuned in with a 4-0 lead, and left just after Snyder's slam made the score a very comfortable 9-1. We stretched the margin even wider before our bullpen decided to make things interesting, but even they couldn't blow a 13-2 eighth innings lead. And if Koplove was going to have a bad outing, and concede four runs in an innings, doing it when we're up be eleven is about as good a time as any. This also broke Webb's losing streak, giving him his first win since May, and that's crucial - if we're going to challenge down the stretch, we need all our pitchers, but particularly Webb, to be effective.

G-Force Homer Watch
[At-bats by the G-Force since their last home run]

  • Collectively: 5 at-bats [since Gonzalez, 6th innings, 31st July]
  • Troy Glaus: 5 [6th innings, 30th July]
  • Shawn Green: 56 [6th innings, 15th July]
  • Luis Gonzalez: 1 [6th innings, 31st July]

Heroes and Zeroes, Series 34: vs. Cubs, on road
Gonzalez: 8-for-17, 3 HR, 5 RBI
Halsey: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 0 ER
Aquino: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 ER, 3 K
Counsell: 3-for-15, 1 BB
Bruney: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 2 ER

Gonzo is back, with a bang, and it's good to see. Halsey's strong performance in the opener set the tone for the series, and Aquino's two perfect innings, in a one-run save situation, may have saved the season for us. Counsell continues to prove ineffective in the lead-off spot, while Bruney cost us the series sweep.

Despite my absence, a strong set of comments. Devin, Otacon, frienetic, IndyDBack and newcomer Jimmifish kept things going as I spent some quality time with my wife [ending with a viewing of The Notebook - now, that's devotion! :-)] I have noticed a distinct increase in visitors here since the All-Star break, and there also seems to be a new attitude to go with it, perhaps since we've now passed last year's win total, with fifty-five games left.

Whatever the reason, I think it's time for some unbridled optimism. Because the cherry on this particular Sunday sundae is, the Padres' loss means that we're tied for first, improbable as it seems. And we have momentum. Okay, since the All-Star break, we've hardly been an all-devouring apocalypse, but compare us to the rest of the West:

  • Padres: 3-13
  • Diamondbacks: 9-8
  • Dodgers: 7-10
  • Giants: 8-9
  • Rockies: 6-11

One of these teams will make it to the playoffs. Not on merit, perhaps - right now, nine of the eleven teams in the other two divisions have a better record that the NL West leaders! - but it's going to happen, nonetheless. And no question, we're playing the best baseball in the division right now, so why not us?

Our pitching is finally beginning to click: we've allowed only 28 runs in the past nine games. Gonzalez is out of the swoon he was in early in July - after going 7-for-57 until the 19th, he went 17-for-45 the rest of the month. Green is showing his traditional second half improvement, hitting .324 for July. Heck, even Royce is at .305. Sure, there are weak spots (Counsell sub-Mendoza and Cintron only .212 for July). But overall, it's coming together at the right time.

I'm particularly stoked that we got to the trading deadline without handing away anything of future significance. Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Sergio Santos, Dustin Nippert, Edgar Gonzalez - they're all still here, and should contribute to the expected challenges down the road. Credit to the front office for doing nothing, and making this year, effectively, a free bonus. We might still be on course for the 75 wins generally expected but, quite plausibly, that could be enough to win the division. From here on, let's just sit back and enjoy whatever happens, as we're the only team in baseball who know we're going to be better than last year.

The only deal made was acquiring another non-descript veteran [he's 40!] left-hander, Buddy Groom, from the Yankees, in exchange for a player to be named later or cash, so I doubt that's a trade which will turn round and bite us. However, he follows in the footsteps of Choate, Lopez and Almanza - it seems our eye for picking left-handed pitchers is hardly awesome, so I see no reason to expect much more here.

Groom seemed happy to be leaving New York, telling reporters, "I wouldn't encourage anybody else to come here thinking you are going to get an opportunity, because unless you are one of Joe's boys, you are not going to get much of a shot." I seem to recally Brad Halsey expressing similar thoughts earlier in the season; no wonder the Yankees are desperate to win now.

Bruney's days as undisputed closer are, apparently, over. Said Melvin, "If I feel like I need to do something different depending on how we get there, I may do something different. Nothing's changed in roles[!], but we feel like we're getting Aquino farther along to where we feel that much more comfortable pitching the eighth and ninth inning." Nothing's changed, but I may do something different. Oh, the power of double-think...

See right for a suggestion that Matt Williams might be the next D'backs GM. This comes through from the usually-reliable Will Carroll on Baseball Prospectus, though it seems to have received little or no coverage outside of there. [Google news does reveal that a Matt Williams apparently spent the off-season coaching the Scottish rugby team...]

And so, July comes to an end, with the D'backs having posted a 13-14 record. Not brilliant, but it could certainly have been much worse given the opponents. August isn't looking much easier - in particular a road trip that swings through Florida, Atlanta and St. Louis, which could wreck anyone's aspirations. However, if we can get through that, September looks better, with the only non-NL West teams we face Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. No game today, so Heroes and Zeroes for the month just ended to follow tomorrow.