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AZ 3, Reds 1 - Seven Up

Record: 18-13. Change on last season: 0

So that's now nine games in the past twelve, that we've kept the opposition to two runs or less. It certainly didn't look like it was going to be number nine during the first inning tonight, when Vargas allowed an inside-the-park home run, and walked the bases loaded. Though he fanned Phillips to escape, it took him 42 pitches and the prospect of another long night for the bullpen loomed large over Chase, like a large, loomy thing.

However, Vargas was great the rest of the way: over the following five shutout innings, he gave up only three hits and walked no more hitters, taking just 65 additional pitches to go through until the end of the sixth. From there, it was our increasingly-awesome 1-2-3 punch of Vizcaino (2.25 ERA), Lyon (1.32) and Valverde (2.92) who chewed up the Reds, with a leadoff walk in the ninth by Papa Grande, the only blemish on a trio of otherwise perfect appearances.

For the first time in the winning streak, we outhit the opposition by a significant margin - the previous best in these seven games was 10-7 over the Giants in the first victory of the run. But tonight, it was 12-4 in our favour, with Estrada clubbing three doubles, Shawn Green, Hudson and Tracy adding two each, and Counsell driving in a pair of runs. Inevitably, Green failed to get any RBIs himself, though he came close, Tracy being thrown out at the plate when he tried to score from second on a single.

Thanks to Devin, npineda and VIII for chipping in on what turned out to be an even better night than Thursday for Arizona sports. We win our seventh game straight; the Suns win the deciding seventh game in their playoff series, next door in America West Arena...or whatever it's being called this year. I dunno: just as Chase Field will always be BOB in the back of my brain, it'll probably take a while to get used to "US Airways Center"!

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Today: The Magnificent Seven(th Win)

Anyway. :-) So far in 2006, we're scoring 5.1 runs/game. That's better than any team save the Reds in the NL, despite an OPS that, at .775, is only good enough for seventh [mostly because we're ranked down at #11 for home runs, with 27 - after our slow start, we're now batting .274, behind only the Brewers and Rockies]. The main reason we're scoring is because we lead the NL in production with runners in scoring position: we're at .281/384/.442, for an OPS of .826. The next best team, Milwaukee, are down at .802.

This is somewhat worrying. Conventional sabermetric wisdom states that there's no such thing as "clutch" hitting; if so, we can be expected to regress towards the median (currently much lower, at .252) for the rest of the season. This would, undoubtedly, have a chilling effect on our run-scoring, assuming everything else remained the same.

A useful touchstone would be the Astros. Their OPS is close to the D'backs (only 8 points above), but their RISP average is a near-average .253, and they've scored ten runs less than Arizona. AZ's Pythagorean record - based on the current 158-125 run differential - would be 100-62. Deduct the ten runs due to our unsustainable clutch hitting, and we're predicted to have a 95-67 record; five wins less, but probably still enough to win the West.

On the pitching side, our overall ERA is a highly-credible 3.90, with only the Mets and Cardinals better. This is particularly due to our solid bullpen: our starters have a 4.11 ERA, but our relievers are down at 3.54. It's odd how many of the teams with great starters appear to have awful bullpens:

  • Astros: #1 starter (3.43), #15 reliever (5.66)
  • Dodgers: #3 starter (3.94), #14 reliever (4.67)
  • Brewers: #5 starter (4.06), #13 reliever (4.59)

One red flag is that we're getting less than 17 outs per game from our starters, better than only the Cubs and Marlins. On the plus side, one of the main causes of this, Russ "14.1 innings in four starts" Ortiz, is no longer with us. On the other hand, Brandon Webb can't be expected to keep pitching into the eighth inning all season, as he's been doing so far.

But five games above .500 (the first time since last June 4th) and tied for the NL West lead? However it's been done - imaginary clutch hitting and clinging to Webb like a life-raft or not - I don't really care. So far, it's probably true to say that the team had performed better than expected, the starting rotation in particular. So let's enjoy it while we can, and ride this winning streak till the wheels fall off.