At first, I thought today might pose a tricky decision. Do I head off to work early, to hang with my homey, Commissioner Bud, over at Barnes & Noble's? Or stay here and watch my beloved D'backs play? Fortunately, I discovered I'd skipped a day in the calendar [a habitual hazard when your work schedule is so out of whack with the rest of the world] and it's actually tomorrow's game that is on TV. However, it seems the prospect of meeting Selig has thrown readers into a state of shock, going by the enthusiastic flood of questions in response to my mentioning it yesterday. Yes, that is sarcasm. ;-)
Not that said D'backs exactly sold me on watching them play either, if yesterday was any kind of trailer reel. By all accounts, their performance was pretty wretched on just about every level, as Arizona basically got hammered, 16-5 by Milwaukee. Brandon Webb was the chief culprit, getting lit up like the smoking room in a Chinese fireworks factory, to the tune of eleven hits, a walk, and nine earned runs, sending his ERA from 1.93 to 6.35. He only pitched three-plus innings, but faced 22 Brewers.
Webb was, to a certain extent, unlucky: even though his sinker wasn't sinking, he still got the Brewers to hit a bunch of ground-balls, but they just kept whizzing out of the infield. "I just didn't give my arm time to get up and out, which causes my elbow to drop and not get on top of the ball and get the good sink that I'm used to. That affected my curveball, change, everything." Hmmm...despite confident talk from earlier in spring, seems Webb is still almost entirely reliant on his sinker.
Behind him, Jonathan Castellanos, the day's contestant on Whose (Pitching) Line is It Anyway?, threw a scoreless fourth. [24-year old Castellanos was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2000. He went 10-3 as a starter at Lancaster last season, with a 4.65 ERA] But then Mulholland was equally tattooed, allowing five hits and a walk in his four-run inning. The C-line, Wilkinson, White and Howard, were sent in to mop-up, giving up two runs over the back four innings: Wilkinson managed the interesting feat of being tagged for an earned run without allowing a hit, thanks to the four walks he permitted.
Andy Green was the only D'back to get more than one hit, going two-for-three, and that was all we managed in the front four innings. Alex Frazier had his first Cactus League shot in the fifth, a three-run homer, while Jerry Gil added his team-leading fourth in the next frame. However, Green botched a grounder for his fifth error of spring - that'd be on pace for 45 over a full 162-game season; while we were charged with two errors in total, it could easily have been double that. And Stephen Drew was totally p3wNed on the basepaths, being picked off by Doug Davis once, and also getting gunned down when trying to steal off the same pitcher.
Said Melvin, "It was ugly from the start, defensively, offensively, the whole bit - it was just a lousy day. We didn't focus very well as a group the whole game... You see it more often in Spring Training than during the season. But it doesn't mean it goes unnoticed and you don't say anything about it. We had some things in the dugout at times that we said. Then you just go about your business and go on." Actually, I seem to recall quite a few "ugly" games last year: a quick glance at the schedule reveals nine of our 85 losses were by ten runs or more.
The worrying thing is, the closer we get to Opening Day, the worse we seem to be playing. We won our opening four Cactus League games, eight of our first nine, and were 13-5 after last Saturday. But since then, we've only managed a single victory, and have been outscored 50-28 over that time. I would definitely prefer that it were the other way round. With Webb's blowup, the best spring ERA of any of the six rotation candidates is now Vargas's 5.79, and Webb is the only other one below seven.
Yes, it's only spring. Yes, it's a pathetically small sample size. However, I think these games have done a fairly good job of confirming what we knew - or feared - all winter. This team can hit. Quentin has nothing more to prove in the minors. Drew has the tools necessary to become a star. Our bullpen is perilously thin as far as reliable arms. And our rotation certainly has the potential to be as big a disaster as our bullpen was last year. So, much as I'd like to believe these games are meaningless, there's a nagging voice in the back of my head, whispering that this is the shape of things to come...
Will the Cactus League gain a couple of teams in the near future? Goodyear thinks so. They're working on a proposal, with the intent of luring a Grapefruit League side to the town: there's only 42,000 living in the town at the moment, but the rapid expansion means it could be almost ten times that by the time the plan comes to fruition. Cleveland, Baltimore and Cincinnati are all coming to the end of their contracts over in Florida, so would seem the most likely targets.
And it's not just Goodyear. Casa Grande and Glendale are also reported to be looking to lure organizations. Who can blame teams, when they get, basically, something for nothing: the Surprise complex cost $48m, and the tenants (KC and Texas) paid less than a million of that between them. Similarly, Seattle and San Diego didn't have to pay anything for the Peoria Sports Complex, though they have both helped out with the cost of upgrades since. I'm somewhat ambivalent on this: I don't generally favour public money being used to support private companies, but there's no denying the Cactus League brings in a lot of money ($270m per year, according to one estimate). And, hey, the more spring training we get here, the better...