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And with a deep breath...

Ah, an off-day. How soon it's over, and it's back to the grind. The good news is that the Marlins should be flopping around and ready for gutting, having to fly back from the West, having lost both ends of a double-header to...the Rockies. Might make us feel better about our performance over the weekend, to realise the Rockies are tied with the Cardinals, for the best record in the NL over the past ten games.

Russ Ortiz's start in Omaha went about as well as could be expected, and screams "not ready!" at the top of its lungs:
Ortiz: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 HR, 2 BB, 3 K, 7 R, 6 ER
Despite this lacklustre performance, Tucson took the game into extra innings, only succumbing 10-8 when Brandon Medders allowed a walk-off homer in the 10th. Brian Barden had a two-run shot, while Keoni De Renne had three hits and three RBIs.

I would not be surprised, however, if Ortiz is still deemed "ready" somehow, with the Diamondbacks frantically spinning his appalling rehab performances into replacing Gosling on Saturday night. Ever glanced in your rear-view mirror while stuck in traffic, and seen a 16-wheeler careening out of control towards the school-bus that's right behind you? That feeling of utter helplessness is kinda how the inevitable return of Ortiz makes me feel - with our playoff hopes as the school bus.

Jose Cruz Jr's stay in Boston proved a short one. He's been designated for assignment by the Red Sox after 12 AB's; someone (I forget who, but I can't claim credit!) suggested we should pick him up off waivers and then trade him somewhere else... Maybe after changing his name to Cruz Jose, or summat. :-) At least we know this is one deal that's not going to turn around and bite us; now, will the two prospects we received from Boston pan out into anything? They're generally regarded as worth a bit more than a bag of balls, so we'll see.

And so we embark on a road-trip that could very well determine the rest of the season. Stop me if you've heard that one before. As Stefan points out over at Random Fandom, we've been through these "make or break" series previously - most recently when we faced the Padres after the All-Star break, which ended in an irritatingly indecisive 2-2 split. Stef reckons we could come back 6-6, but personally, I doubt that, even with a road record that surpasses our home one; perhaps it's the morgue-like atmosphere at BOB?

I'm thinking 4-8: we'll win one vs. Florida, get swept in Atlanta, drop two out of three against the Cardinals, then finish strong, taking the series against the Reds. I anticipate the Padres going 7-5 in the same period (5-1 vs Mets/Phillies, 2-4 on the road against the Marlins + Braves), leaving us six back as the team returns to Phoenix. Comparing how we and the Padres fare against Florida and Atlanta will be a good litmus-test for the two teams.

Of course, this team has shown it's more than capable of going 0-12 or 12-0; I've long ceased being surprised by either our incompetence or invulnerability. Much will depend on whether Ortiz gets to start two of those games, and which Javy Vazquez turns up for his three outings. I'm also hoping for plenty of action for Conor Jackson, but suspect we'll see more of Clark, to justify singing him through [choke!] 2007.

Speaking of Clark, according to the poll, opinion so far is split right down the middle with regard to his signing. For what it matters, I tend to think it's a poor decision, but is cheap enough to be worth a shot. It might work out, and if it doesn't, $2m isn't going to break the bank; I'm happier with that than if we resign Royce Clayton for 2006. Given his recent resurgence at the plate, that is looking a distinct possibility.

Game preview to follow rapidly: must remember, we're on the East coast now, so late afternoon or even morning games will be the norm for a while!