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AZ 1, Padres 2 - Snakes are a Pain

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Record: 62-62. Change on last season: +4

That was awful. Nine innings against the Padres bullpen, after their starter leaves following the first, with a strained back, and all we can manage is a single run? Total for the series = eight runs in 28 innings. Two of which were driven in by our starting pitcher, another came home on a wild pitch, and today's sole offering was unearned. Overally, we batted .211 this series - 20-for-95 - and our 3-4-5 hitters were just .188 (6-for-32) with 2 RBIs. That level of production won't win many games.

Another...interesting performance from Batista. Grace called him "The Amazing Kreskin", but I fear Mark may be mixing up his vaudeville acts. Kreskin was a mind-reader, and I suspect that the Amazing Houdini might be more appropriate to Miggy's performance today: how often does a starting pitcher give up six walks, as well as six hits, and still escape with allowing only one earned run? A couple of huge double-plays helped him out, none more so when Piazza hit into the second, with one out and the bases loaded in the seventh inning.

That was the last hitter Batista faced, having thrown 119 pitches, and only once did he retire the Padres in order. Vizcaino and Lyon pitched perfect innings to get through the eighth and ninth, but Medders handed the game to the Padres in the tenth, facing four hitters and not retiring one of them. Is there some kind of hangover from his career-high three inning outing at Coors? Has Melvin blown out another bullpen arm? Certainly, this series, Medders has been remarkably ineffective.

And while we're on the subject of our relievers, where the hell is Juan Cruz? He was demoted to the bullpen after his start on August 8th. Since then, he's been seen just twice, throwing just 36 pitches. His last appearance was that marathon in Denver, when he threw one inning, but he might as well have been taken off the roster for all we saw of him this series. When removed from the rotation, Melvin said, "We feel like Cruz gives us another option in the bullpen for another dominant arm... as a team, we're better right now with him in the bullpen." What, as the waterboy? :-(

Meanwhile, our offense struggled woefully. Tracy scored the only run, on a sacrifice fly by Estrada. He was the only Arizona runner who reached third all day, and only got there because of a Padres' throwing error. Byrnes had two hits, but scratch one out for getting picked off in the top of the first inning and Shawn Green was thrown out, with embarrassing ease, by Mike Piazza. I use italics, because he's the easiest catcher to steal off in the majors and that had only happened to nine base-stealers in eighty-four previous attempts. [89% success, 51st of 51 catchers with 25+ attempts off them.]

Thanks to unnamedDBacksfan, johngordonma and icecoldmo for their comments. This loss was a big one, as our main rivals for playoff spots (the Reds, Dodgers and Padres) all won, so we dropped significant ground on them all. The Dodgers' 4-game lead is a season high for any team, and Baseball Prospectus knocked our post-season chances down to 16.9% as a result of the defeat, and it means that this upcoming set against the Giants takes on a lot of significance. We cannot afford to keep losing series, particularly against our divisional rivals, and should be looking to go at least .500 on this road trip.

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Today: Offensive indifference

Heroes and Zeroes
Series 39: vs Padres, on road

Vargas: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 1 ER
Batista: 7 IP, 6 H, 6 BB, 1 ER
Lyon: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 ER
Hudson: 1-for-10
Julio: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 3 BB, 2 ER
Medders: 0.2 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 2 ER

Can't argue with the performances of Vargas and Batista: the former, in particular, was a very pleasant surprise, and it'd be nice if he could keep that up down the stretch. Batista deserved better than a no-decision, but that's becoming standard of late: he has seven no-decisions in his last nine starts. Lyon was another strength out of the bullpen, and I suspect will be replacing Medders in the set-up role.

On the hitting side, while there were a lot of lacklustre performances, only Hudson made the zeroes, and is .172 (5-for-29) on this road-trip so far. According to the Republic this morning, Medders is "becoming a serious concern," whatever that means. Also seems that Julio's woes are being noted. Said Melvin in the Tribune, "I don't think he's been aggressive enough as of late. We've seen a lot of breaking balls in off counts. I think it is a little bit of a pitch selection (issue) going right now. Still, you have to throw your fastball for strikes, and obviously he is having a little trouble doing that."

No kidding. In June, he threw 62.4% of his pitches for strikes (138 of 221). In July, it was 57.8% (111/192). And so far in August, the ratio is down to 55.4% (97/175) - over the past three outings, it's worse still, a woeful 43.5%, with just 37 of 85 pitches finding the zone. Not that this necessarily proves anything - his best month this year was May, where he posted a 1.42 ERA over eleven games, and only threw 56.3% strikes. But the trend is worrying.

Speaking of trends, the Drew K Watch has been added to the sidebar, to monitor our free-swinging shortstop. Obviously, as you move through the minors and into the majors, adaptation is required, and this K-ness is not unprecedented in his career. At the end of 2005, after promotion to Double-A Tennesse, he struck out 24 times in 101 at-bats (4.21 AB/K). However, he adjusted, and this year at Tucson, the ratio was much improved, at 6.84. So, particularly while he's hitting .315, it's less the absolute figure that's important, than the trend. Is he showing himself capable of making the necessary adjustments - in particular, laying off breaking balls that move out of the strike zone? We'll see...