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AZ 8/5, Braves 0/9 - Swings and Roundabouts

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Record: 56-62. change on last year: +21

The one thing consistent about this team is its inconsistency. We can slump into the depths against Florida, first getting shut-out, then succumbing to a trick play. But then we turn around, our pitching allows one run in 18 innings, and slap the team with the second-best record in the league, 8-0, on their home turf. Then it's our pitchers' turn to crumple (admittedly, not unexpectedly in the case of Russ Ortiz), and surrender nine runs.

But first, the good news. All hail Claudio Vargas and Tony Clark, almost certainly our two best pickups of the past year. Vargas allowed just two hits over seven shutout innings, while Clark smacked a pair of two-run homers his first two times up, to give us some early breathing space, and we cruised from there on.

Clark now has a homer about every 11 at-bats: only the damaged Frank Thomas (12 in 102 AB) has a better ratio in the majors, of all 262 players with five or more homers. Said Braves 1B, Adam LaRoche: "That guy's unbelievable. That's some serious pop. The guy's huge. I felt like a little girl standing next to him at first base. No offense to girls."

Meanwhile, Vargas didn't just mow them down, he also knocked in two runs with a bases-loaded knock, the first RBIs of his career. Said Melvin, "His confidence just keeps growing every time out there to where he is a fixture right now." Two hits, two walks and five punchouts over seven innings, means another quality outing for our Washington reject. In eight starts since the start of July, his line is:
Vargas: 52.2 IP, 38 H, 14 BB, 13 ER, 40 K, 2.22 ERA

Aquino and Groom tidied up in the eighth and ninth, and on the hitting side, Counsell had two hits, and Green three, including his 17th home-run of the year. With the Padres' loss, that moved us back to three games off the pace in the NL West.

A whole bunch of roster moves over the past couple of days. As expected, Hill was sent to Tucson to make way for Russ Ortiz on the roster; Shawn Estes was moved to the 60-day DL; and, most importantly of all, Brandon Lyon is back, with Mike Koplove dropped down to Tucson. Lyon's not expected to close immediately, but will likely move back into the position after a few low-impact outings.

The Sidewinders are playing the Las Vegas 51's - one of the most amusing names in baseball, a reference to the alleged, but officially non-existent, government test facility for captured UFOs in the desert outside the city. Tucson lost the opener of the series 6-5 on Friday, with a sixth-inning RBI double off Matt Herger proving the game-winning hit. Brito and Kroeger both homered for the Sidewinders, while Kroeger and Barden had two hits each. Gosling started, and allowed five runs over five innings in his first start since being sent down, on eight hits and three walks.

Back in the big-leagues, today saw the return of Russ Ortiz to the Diamondbacks rotation, and the results were about as mediocre as anticipated: five runs on eight hits and a walk over six innings. However, he didn't get tagged with the loss, since our offense kept pace off the Braves' DL-returnee, Thomson: it was Cormier in the seventh who coughed up two runs, and Lyon's return in the eighth wasn't any better, allowing two runs in 2/3 of a frame.

The dynamic of the game might have been a little different save for us losing a couple of runners at home-plate early on. Counsell was thrown out challenging Francoeur's arm (more evidence of poor advance scouting by Arizona), while Clayton was somewhat more unlucky, when a wild pitch ricocheted nicely off the backstop to the catcher.

Instead, we spent most of the time digging ourselves out of holes - 0-1, 2-4 and 4-5 - before finally succumbing tamely from the seventh innings on. We couldn't muster anything off the Braves' bullpen, just two walks in three innings, and one of those was erased on a double-play.

Two hits for Counsell, Clayton and Green, the latter driving in two with his 18th home-run of the year. Gonzalez was not in the starting lineup; McCracken got the start in left, and went 0-for-4. Gonzo pinch-hit in the ninth, but came up empty - Conor Jackson batted for Ortiz, and walked.

All told, I wasn't expecting to win this one. Hell, I wasn't even expecting to be still in this one at the seventh-innings stretch. We now have to keep our fingers crossed Philadelphia beat San Diego this evening, so we can stay three games back. We've already won more games this series than anticipated. Vazquez faces another recent DL returnee tomorrow, Mike Hampton, who was caned last time out, so I'm more optimistic about taking that one and the series.

The Justin Upton drama looks like it may prove a long-running saga. The East Valley Tribune reports Upton is asking for a mere $6.25 million - somewhat above the D'backs last offer, supposed to be around $4.7m. "We have nothing to talk about with him," said an un-named but 'high-ranking' team source on Friday.

Hello? Upton is seventeen. Stephen Drew had three years' college development under his belt when he was drafted. Given the 2004 top pick - another high-school kid, Matt Bush - was signed for $3.15m, the Arizona offer seems more than reasonable. Call Upton's bluff: let him risk blowing his knee out against some no-name junior college, and then spending the rest of his life bitterly serving fries in Mickey D's, muttering about how he could have been a major-league player...