Record: 64-67. Change on last season: +5
Credit to Brandon Webb for a fine performance last night. His heart probably wasn't in it, after the death of his former college room-mate and team-mate in the Kentucky plane crash. But he sucked it up, went to the mound and came away with his best performance in a month. He was helped by three double-plays and though he still walked three hitters, none of them scored.
He pitched into the eighth inning, allowed three earned runs (one of which scored after he left the game) and picked up his 14th win of the season, to keep him in contention for the Cy Young award. Here's a chart showing the leading NL Cy Young contenders at this moment - to qualify, you must be in the top five for wins or ERA:
ERA W-L WHIP OPS K/9 Josh Johnson (Fla) 2.87 12-6 1.26 .668 7.83 Chris Carpenter (Stl) 2.96 12-6 1.05 .643 7.30 Brandon Webb (Azd) 3.02 14-5 1.21 .692 6.61 Roy Oswalt (Hou) 3.23 10-8 1.23 .731 6.35 Jason Schmidt (Sfg) 3.23 10-7 1.18 .650 7.47 Carlos Zambrano (Chc) 3.31 14-5 1.28 .672 8.77 Aaron Harang (Cin) 3.67 13-9 1.32 .745 8.34 Brad Penny (Lad) 3.88 14-7 1.29 .729 6.75 Steve Trachsel (Nym) 5.00 13-5 1.57 .840 4.30
Webb is still the only one of the top five in wins, who's also in the top five for ERA. If I'd to predict a result at this moment, it'd be 1) Webb, 2) Carpenter, 3) Zambrano, but it's still tight enough that everything could change over the last month of the season, with about half-a-dozen starts for each contender. It is notable the nine pitchers listed play on nine different teams, only three of whom lead their division (and I think we can all but rule Trachsel out of consideration). That's something voters seem to take into account, even though this is not the "Most Valuable Pitcher" award, and should go to the best arm. Of course, there is always the possibility of a closer: the Mets' Billy Wagner being the obvious contender here, and also has the advantage of East-coast bias.
Oh, and Webb drove in two runs with a 410-foot double in the second inning, which turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. His nine RBIs for the season has already set a franchise record for a pitcher and ties him with Carlos Zambrano for the lead at his position. [Zambrano has, however, hit four homers, and is in an elite club with more home-runs than walks (just one for Z) this season. As well as Zambrano, the other members with four or more homers are Joe Crede (28 HR, 20 BB), Jeff Francoeur (24/14), Juan Uribe (16/13), Miguel Olivo (14/7), Eduardo Alfonso (10/7), Todd Hollandsworth (6/4), Robb Quinlan (6/2) and Vance Wilson (4/1). Johnny Estrada just misses out on membership, with eleven of each currently.]
Back on the field, Arizona had some production from an unusual place: the clean-up spot. That has been an abysmal black hole of suck for the Diamondbacks this entire year, regardless of who played there, but Eric Byrnes, starting at #4 for the first time this year, went 4-for-5 with 4 RBIs. We still blow chunks, with an OPS of .745, way below the NL median of .883. In today's "well, duh" moment, can anyone explain why it took us 132 games to put the guy who leads the Diamondbacks in home-runs, in the clean-up spot? [He had five at-bats there all season, before last night.]
Every starter, including Webb as noted, had a hit, with Tracy chipping in with two. He was dropped all the way down to the #7 spot in another one of Melvin's weekly line-up shakedowns. Counsell was back battling leadoff - Drew was rested because of his sore right hand that has been nagging him for most of August - and scored two runs. Hudson followed him at #2, with LuGon, Byrnes and J-Strada the heart of the order. I'm unconvinced this kind of fiddling is of much significance, but the results, for whatever reason, were pleasant enough.
Thanks to singaporedbacksfan, William K, VIII, andrewinnewyork, azdb7 and icecoldmo for their thoughts during this one. It was nice to get a win, but according to Baseball Prospectus, that improved our chances of making the post-season by only about 2%. To avoid further disappointment, I absolutely refuse to let myself get excited about the team this year, in any shape, size or form connected to the playoffs, until they have won at least three games in a row. When they do that, I'll revisit things and we'll see where we lie with regard to resurrecting enthusiasm for our chances.
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Today: Webb the Winner
Jeff DaVanon is done for the season. The "sprain" in his left ankle turned out, on a second opinion, to be a split tendon which will require surgery, and a three to five month recovery period. If I was Josh Byrnes, I would be asking pointed questions of my medical staff, as to how such an apparently serious injury was misdiagnosed. This could save the D'backs cash for next year, however: the cost of DaVanon's player option for next year depended on the number of days he spent on the active roster. Assuming he doesn't come back, it'd be $900K for 2007; that seems like good value to me, if he's healthy - but it's entirely up to DaVanon whether he wants to exercise it or not. He could even do so if his leg falls off entirely, which is why I tend to reckon player options are a bad, bad idea.
As promised, a few thoughts on who we might see called up from the Sidewinders in a few days. I think we'll probably be quite restrained initially: while they remain in the PCL playoffs, Tucson deserve better than to have their roster strip-mined for players, who probably are going to spend a lot of time sitting on the bench. Sure, if those concerned can legitimately help us, then by all means. Otherwise, let them help Tucson make a run at the Triple-A title.
On that basis, I imagine Andy Green will be up immediately, since he has been languishing on an extended rehab assignment in Tucson. Alberto Callaspo will join him as a back-up infielder, and I think either will be credible alternatives to Damion Easley for the next month. Another catcher also seems likely: either Miguel Montero (batting .323 with 29 RBIs in 130 AB's) or - and here's a name from the past - Robby Hammock (.292, 19 HR) are the most likely contenders, though we also have Juan Brito.
Seems unlikely any starters will be pulled up, except possibly to work as long relief out of the bullpen. Micah Owings, with his 9-0 record, may get a look, but I think he'll be left as a linch-pin of the Sidewinders rotation through the playoffs. Obscure trivia: our Triple-A affiliate have three pitchers who've started games this year, with a combined record in 2006 of 26-0. Mike Bacsik is 11-0, Owings is 9-0 as noted...and then there's Randy Choate, who has gone 6-0. Choate qualifies, since he started the division-clinching game on Monday, and threw two innings, allowing one run on three hits.
I think it's more possible that a couple of genuine relievers will get the call instead. A left-hander or two would be nice; contenders include Mike Bacsik, Doug Slaten and Evan Maclane [the last-named being who we got from the Mets for Shawn Green]. Bacsik, however, is taking part in the Olympic qualifiers and - assuming the US team suffers no disasters, anyway - won't be back until after it finishes on September 5. MacLane has been having problems getting into games for Tucson, and hasn't actually appeared for them as far as I can tell, so he'll probably be left there too. Slaten, however, with his 0.47 ERA and 20:6 K:BB ratio, seems a sure thing.