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AZ 10/3, Cubs 4/7 - Let's Play Two!

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Record: 55-53. Change on last season: +3

Win some, lose some. As in life, in baseball; and as in baseball, in this double-header. We outscored Chicago 14-10, but each team took one game of the set, and Arizona ends the road-trip with a record of 5-5. Generally, I'd settle for that, but after the solid performance of the first game, and facing a pitcher making his major-league debut in the night-cap, I must confess to being somewhat disappointed.

The first game was blown open early, with Cruz getting to bat before he pitched, as the Diamondbacks scored five times. Luis Gonzalez had a two-run homer, while Stephen Drew added a towering two-run triple into the right-field corner, and came home on a single to left by Snyder. Gonzalez had another RBI in the second, and it looked like we would dispose of Marmol early; however, he settled down and ended up lasting as long as Juan Cruz. As a starter, Cruz is even more fragile than Vargas: in thirteen starts, he's pitched 63.2 innings, less than five per game.

As a result, despite the final score, the game probably wasn't as much of a blowout as it seemed. Each team had ten hits, but the Cubs left thirteen men on base, and had the bases loaded with less than two outs, more than once. However, a couple of timely double plays meant that the Cubs were unable to put together the big inning that would have brought them back into the game. Cruz only allowed one run over five innings, but seemed to be pitching almost permanently out of the stretch, allowing five hits and four walks. It took him 104 pitches to get through the five frames.

This forced us to use the bullpen earlier than we would have liked, and they were a little wobbly too. Medders, Vizcaino and Aquino allowed five hits and two walks in four innings, but again, the Cubs couldn't do much. Aquino surrendered the only other Chicago run in the ninth, but it would have been much worse had Mabry not swung at the first pitch he saw, and grounded into a double play to end the game, after the Cubs had loaded the bases.

Fortunately, Arizona had their hitting shoes on, with homers provided by Drew and Luis Gonzalez, and triples by Drew and Hudson. Drew, Gonzalez, Jackson and Snyder all had two hits apiece, with Drew driving in four runs, Gonzalez three, and Snyder two. Eric Byrnes reached twice, on a hit and a walk, and stole second base on both occasions, giving him 15 for the year - he's still only been caught once. And the victory brought our record for the year level with the Padres at 55-52, at least briefly...

However, we lost all the ground gained in the past 36 hours thanks to the defeat in the second game, coupled with a Padres victory. Enrique Gonzalez took the loss, and probably deserved it. Once again, our starter went only five innings, with EnGon allowing ten hits and two walks, which led to six earned runs. He wasn't helped by three first innings runs, two coming on a bungled fly-ball to right-field, which Carlos Quentin lost in the sun, found, lost again, and eventually fluffed into a double. I guess these things come with experience, but it didn't seem the only ball that caused trouble in right-center.

After EnGon's departure, Tony Pena entered, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it inning of an appearance that lasted five pitches, three hitters, and lowered his ERA to 0.84. And here's a name you might remember: Mike Koplove. Called back up to replace the "injured" Andy Green (I think "seized up due to lack of use" may be closer to the truth - he has only 13 plate-appearances since June), he pitched his first inning in the majors since August 10th last year. He allowed a run on two hits, before Julio got some work in for the eighth.

Koplove's arrival is probably the first of some roster moves over the weekend. We may need a starter for Saturday, though Brandon Webb felt fine after throwing a side session today, following his negative MRI result. A decision on that will be required before too long: think Bass would be the scheduled Tucson starter. We also require someone to pitch Monday: that would be EnGon's scheduled start, but the rainout yesterday means he'd be on four days rest - given his longevity issues, I am very uncomfortable about even contemplating that. Edgar Gonzalez threw on Wednesday for the Sidewinders, so would seem the likely candidate. But it could be that Webb's start gets pushed back rather than skipped, so he may be good to go Monday, with a couple of extra days rest.

Arizona put together eight hits, including four doubles, but left seven men on base. Probably our best chance was in the fifth, after Hudson drove in DaVanon, to make the score 4-3, and put himself (representing the tying run) at second with no outs. However, Luiz Gonzalez hit a rocket at Nevin, who then doubled off Hudson, and the threat evaporated. Our other good opportunity was similarly killed in the third, when Enrique Gonzalez grounded into another double play, with the bases loaded and one out.

All told, however, we didn't make the major-league debutant Mateo work very hard for his first win, He walked three hitters, but we averaged only 3.83 pitches/plate appearance, and he didn't really look anything special. We had even less success against the Chicago pen, getting just two baserunners over the final four innings. Two hits and an RBI apiece for DaVanon, Hudson and Drew - LuGon's hitting streak came to an end, as he went 0-for-4. Green and Quentin both reached base twice with a walk and a hit.

So, we remain one game behind the Padres in the NL West: the Reds game against the Dodgers was delayed by rain, but at the time of writing the Reds are 2-0 down in the seventh, [Maddux had a no-hitter for six]. If that holds up, we will be tied with the Reds in the wild-card. But don't look now, as that'd mean the Dodgers have won six in a row - it's clearly their time to surge in the ever changing NL West. Thanks to all the commentators over the course of the double-header today and yesterday: azdb7, dahlian, dbacksfan23, Just Me (pointing out the difference between a conversion van and SUV!), William K, Devin, trevjohnson, Wimb, unnamedDBacksfan, singaporedbacksfan, andrewinnewyork and npineda.

Heroes and Zeroes
Series 34: vs Cubs, on road

Drew: 6-for-11, 2 HR, 6 RBI
Hudson: 6-for-15, 2 HR, 8 RBI
Byrnes: 5-for-14, 2 HR, 4 RBI
-----------------------------
Tracy: 2-for-14
E.Gonzalez: 5 IP, 10 H, 2 BB, 6 ER
Vargas: 4 IP, 8 H, 0 BH, 7 ER

Got to have issues with our rotation, when only one of the four starters this series got past the fifth inning. That was Brandon Webb, but even he didn't have his finest night; Cruz had the best return (5 IP, 1 ER) but his performance didn't merit more than an honourable mention. No, it was all the offense who stepped up for this one, with the trio named combining to go 17-for-40, with six HR, four doubles, two triples and 18 RBI in the series. That's a line for the trio this series of .425/.489/1.075. Counsell's return may be coming, but Drew will not be benched quietly.

Down at the other end, Tracy has been in a slump almost since the All-Star break - he's 17-for-73 (.233) with only one homer in the past three weeks. The strikeouts may be decreased, but so are the hits: his season average is down to .270, where it hasn't been since the first week of the year. Starters EnGon and Vargas fill out the Zeroes, and the rotation is still a huge cause for concern. Here are the stats for the current starters (as starters only):

Name         ERA  WHIP  BAA IP/start
Webb        2.74  1.14 .256   7.28 (23 starts)
Batista     4.71  1.52 .296   6.26 (22)
Cruz        4.95  1.43 .255   4.90 (13)
E.Gonzalez  5.51  1.30 .261   5.79 (11)
Vargas      5.54  1.48 .283   5.28 (20)

One man has an ERA better than 4.70. Three go less than six innings per start. Three with WHIPs of 1.40 or worse. These are figures you expect from the back-end of your rotation: not everyone apart from your ace. I think we knew coming in that the rotation was going to be a problem: I'm not quite sure how we've managed to get as far as we have, with what we have. Batista seems to be the lucky winner so far: a 4.71 ERA and a 9-5 record do not go together. Only one other NL pitcher has an ERA worse than four and less than six losses: Steve Trachsel of the Mets (5.12, 10-5).

Our starters ERA is 4.76 overall, 9th best in the NL, but of the teams below us, only the Cardinals are better than four games below .500. On the other hand, would you believe it, the Rockies starters actually have the best ERA in the National League at the moment, at 4.09, some way ahead of the second-place Marlins (4.25)? And only three teams (Padres, Reds and Brewers) have struck out more people, so I guess we're doing something right...

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