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AZ 1, Devil Rays 4 - Fleeing Florida

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Record: 36-37. Change on last season: 0

We suck at home. We suck on the road. Our offense sucks. Our pitching sucks. Our defense sucks. Hmmm...what could this possibly mean? Could it be...we suck? Two wins in seventeen games now. Just in case you're wondering, the worst streak in franchise history was in 2004, when we had two in twenty-one games (2nd-25th July, or alternatively, 9th July-1st August). That was in the heart of a spell where we went 4-30 and 8-44; nobody is saying we're that bad...yet. But this road trip, on the heels of the dismal homestand, will hopefully provide sufficient evidence that this is not a contending team.

To illustrate this point further, I took a look at the eight playoff teams from 2005, to see what their worst similar, two-win streak was:

  • Atlanta: eight games [May 11-20]
  • Anaheim: eight games [August 21-30]
  • St Louis: nine games [Sept 18-28]
  • Boston: nine games [July 7-18]
  • Chicago White Sox: ten games [August 8-20/12-24]
  • New York: twelve games [May 28-June 10]
  • Houston: twelve games [May 3-14]
  • San Diego: fifteen games [July 17-August 3]

Sure, every team has its ups and downs; that's part of baseball. But playoff teams, inevitably, will have shorter losing streaks than non-contenders, and rarely go on 2-15 runs. Not even San Diego, who had the fewest wins for a division champion since baseball went to a three-up format. The last NL team to do it were the 1996 Padres: between June 2-20, they lost sixteen out of eighteen, but still took the division with 91 wins. Interestingly, they had a great April and May, going 34-20, sucked in June (9-19), and then rebounded. So, it is possible. Just not likely: that's one team, of forty who have made the playoffs on the National League side in the past decade.

And, please note, our streak has not necessarily finished yet. Indeed, after another dismal performance with the lumber today - we were three-hit by Kazmir and two relievers - it's difficult to see how, exactly, it might end. We scored just eight runs in this series, and Estrada and Hudson are now the only everyday starters batting better than .235 for June. Our offense has dried up entirely, with a league-worst runs per game of 3.76. Even in our two wins, we scored a total of seven - and one of those games went to extra innings.

I sympathize with Melvin, since there isn't much he can do. Our bench is largely sucking as hard as the starters: Easley (.220 in June), Clark (.233) and Andy Green (.143) are hardly what you'd call an upgrade. And the roster being clogged up with "veteran presence" means we can't even call up some youngsters from Tucson to shake things up and give them experience of the big-leagues. Giving Hairston a shot was a good idea; shame it didn't work out.

But as we approach the trading deadline, we need to think long and hard about who should remain on the roster. I'm thinking almost exclusively about position players here; the pitching staff has already undergone its Night of the Long Knives, with the dismissals (more or less conscious) of Ortiz, Grimsley and Mulholland. The rotation seems, to me, to be about as good as we can expect it to be, given the staff available. But has the time come to be looking at certain people and saying, "Thank you for your services. All the best in the future?"

Top of the list would be Craig Counsell. He's a free agent at the end of the year, and his value after the trade deadline is basically zero. Hopefully, we can palm him off to someone who isn't aware of the fact his performance will decline as the year goes on, as we're already seeing:

  • Apr: .324/.387/.426
  • May: .296/.339/.361
  • Jun: .234/.279/.297
    Sell! Sell! Sell!

Now might also be a good time to sidle up to Tony Clark and say, "Hey, Tony: remember earlier in the season, when you said you'd be prepared to waive your no-trade clause if it was in the best interests of the team?" The problem is, it is optimistic to think that there'd be much of a market for a backup first-baseman hitting .186 on the season, "clubhouse presence" or not. While we're at it, let's continue the process of secularizing the team, and get rid of another avowed Christian, Damion Easley. That'd put a damper on the upcoming Faith Night

[On that topic, I was amused to read that the Nashville Metros soccer team, in response to the Nashville Sounds' Faith Nights at the baseball park, held Satan Night on June 10th. Said general manager Ken Renner, "We're going to play Black Sabbath before the game, and our players will wear devil horns on their heads. We're also going to give away Satan bobbleheads to the first 100 fans through the gate, and some of the coaches will hold a flashlight under their chins during the game." Mind you, I think I'd rather have the splendid-sounding seven-headed Beast of Revelations bobblehead mentioned as a Faith Night giveway. This may, however, be a joke: Ebay reveals nothing when I search for "revelations bobblehead"]

I would also not be surprised if one or other of our centerfielders, Jeff DaVanon and Eric Byrnes, got dealt. It will probably be the latter, now that we've put a link to his official site on our sidebar. We have an unerring knack for cursing people that way: we've put two banners for movies up on girlswithguns.org: they were for Catwoman and Aeon Flux. So, if Byrnes gets traded away in the next couple months, it's my fault.

As suggested in the comments, DaVanon might be worth a long look in the leadoff spot. His on-base percentage is basically the best on the roster, and he has decent instincts on the basepaths. Counsell isn't getting on base often enough, and a 60% stolen-base percentage is well short of break-even: it's the second-worst of any National Leaguer with 10+ attempts. [Though a hearty round of ironic applause to Jeff Francoeur of Atlanta: five attempts, five failures so far]

I suppose I should mention today's game, though let's be honest - very little that the Diamondbacks did was not already covered adequately in the first half of the opening paragraph. That might be a little unfair to EdGon, who came up from Tucson (Daigle was, indeed, sent back down after 24 hours on the roster) with a decent enough start: six innings, nine hits, but no walks and six K's. He matched zeroes with Kazmir until the fourth, when a fairless pointless dive by Byrnes knocked the ball from his own glove, and the resulting double came round to score. That was it, until Huff's two-run homer in the sixth, and the Rays tacked one more on during the inning.

Still, pitching coach Bryan Price was impressed: "He threw a lot of strikes, didn't walk anybody, pitched inside really well. He was able to change speeds on both his fastball and slider. It was very impressive. Really, I thought, in control. I thought a very, very positive start." Rays SS Julio Lugo was also complimentary: "He was pitching the ball good. He was hitting his spots. He had good command. He was good. He looked comfortable out there, I'll tell you." Aquino and Julio pitched the remaining two innings, each fanning two Rays hitters.

It was the offense that was the main problem, again missing presumed dead. We went 3-for-30, with one of the hits not really a "hit": a fly-ball by Jackson turned into a double, thanks to confusion in the Rays outfield. Apart from that, all we could muster was a single by Tracy and Estrada's eighth inning homer. DaVanon was in left, with Andy Green as the DH; the stated reason was that DaVanon had prior experience of Tropicana Field, while with the Angels. Shame this stunning idea didn't arise earlier, or we might have been spared Gonzalez stumbling around the Astroturf like Blind Pew yesterday.

Speaking of Gonzo, he was given the day off. Said Bob, "It's not that he can't hit lefties, it's just that sometimes you need a mental day. These things kind of mount and just felt like it was a good day to give him a day off." Yeah, it's pure coincidence there happened to be a left-hander on the mound. Splits for Luis Gonzalez - "not that he can't hit lefties," remember...

                    BA  OBP  SLG  OPS 
Career, vs left:  .264 .351 .428 .779  
        vs right: .292 .376 .507 .883  
2005, vs left:    .198 .303 .302 .605  
      vs right:   .292 .374 .458 .832  

Sigh. Pardon me if my sarcasm is a little more scathing than usual today. It's very difficult to be enthuasiastic about a team that seems themselves to have little or no enthusiasm for playing: I'm sure they're trying, but there's no reason the Devil Rays should have the Devil's Eye on us like they do: we're now 0-6 against them in franchise history. This is a team without a direction; hell, given how badly we've played, I can't help wondering if Jason Grimsley was the real clubhouse leader. And you can take that, whichever way you want.

Thanks to the brave souls who "enjoyed" the game: Ben (at least his fantasy team, with Kazmir on it, did well out of the three-hitter), William K, Keith, andrewinnewyork and icecoldmo. William asks the interesting question, "How far behind the NL West leaders have the D'Backs to fall, before the management decides to pack it in and look forward to 2007?" Whatever the precise figure is, at the moment it seems something I'm more inclined to anticipate, rather than fear. Heroes and Zeroes for the series to follow later. Or possibly tomorrow.

[Morning update]

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Today: (No) Sympathy for the Devil (Rays)