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AZ 0, Dodgers 2 - A salutory lesson on the dangers of small sample sizes...

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Record: 72-81. Change on last season: +2
Rookies in starting lineup: 2

...vis-a-vis batter/pitcher matchups and their use in lineup construction. Or, "I told you so".

You may recall, yesterday, the Republic noted four D'backs regulars were hitting better than .400 off Derek Lowe. I predicted their immediate insertion in the lineup last night, but warned that the sample sizes were so small as to be almost meaningless. And lo, it did come to pass: Counsell, Hudson, Gonzalez and Byrnes were duly inserted into the lineup in the first four spots. And they did go 2-for-10 against Lowe, combined. Which, for the mathematically challenged, is .200, rather than .400. Small sample size, though. ;-)

The lack of runs is becoming something of a chronic, late-season issue. That's a total of only twelve in the past five games - and five of those came in one inning against San Diego. We've scored two runs or less in four of those contests, and have been unable to take advantage of some generally decent outings by our pitchers - they've been conceding only 3.38 runs/game over the past ten days. The data suggests that winning games without offense is a key, to this team's success at least. We played our best baseball between April 30 and June 4, going 23-9; sure, our offense was on fire, scoring 7+ in half those games. But we also went 4-5 over that period, in games where they scored three runs or less.

However, in such contests since Brandon Webb out-dueled Barry Zito on July 2nd, Arizona are 2-23. Now, obviously, you can't expect to win most, or even many of those games, but a .080 winning percentage? That is, of course, not just our hitters' fault, but the components go hand-in-hand with one another. When our offense is not scoring any runs, it's up to the pitchers to toe the rubber and shut the opposition down; conversely, when we have a poor day on the mound, it's up to the hitters to pick them up. And that just isn't happening lately.

Looking at the recent figures, poor Septembers are being had by a number of players: Eric Byrnes is probably the worst, batting .225 for the month with 13 K's and 3 BBs. Craig Counsell is 5-for-32, but is at least taking walks. And that bunt single in the seventh inning last night by Andy Green was his first hit of any kind since August 1st... Quentin (.250, 13/52) and Young (.209, 9/43) are struggling, but both Jackson and Drew are hitting over .300 in September (.311, 19/61 and .308, 12/39 respectively). Orlando Hudson may not quite be there, but as noted yesterday, has discovered the joys of walking, with an OBP above .400.

Anyway, back in Chavez Ravine, before a crowd best described as "rabid" (there were times you could barely hear the commentary on the radio), Vargas had a fine outing through the first six innings, matching zeros with Derek Lowe. However, the seventh was the crucial inning for both teams. The Dodgers took the lead, on a homer by Stephen's big brother, and added another run on a pair of two-out doubles. And in the bottom half, Arizona squandered their best chance of the game, after Hudson's double put men on second and third with one out. But with the tying run a bloop single away, Luis Gonzalez popped out weakly, and Eric Byrnes watched strike three sail past. The same pair also crushed a two-on, nobody out rally in the first.

Speaking of Byrnes, negotiations have started with our future left-fielder. According to his agent, "We'd like to get something done and a longer-term deal is something we would definitely consider entertaining." Danger, Will Robinson! Not least, because I'm unconvinced Byrnes is a long-term answer in LF, rather than CF - production expectations for his new position are rather higher, and I'm not certain Byrnes is up to it. Here's the stats for Byrnes, and the NL average for the two positions this year, from Baseball Prospectus:

             BA  OBP  SLG  OPS    
NL Avg. CF .263 .334 .418 .752
E. Byrnes  .270 .319 .484 .803 
NL Avg. LF .279 .361 .481 .842

Basically, Byrnes has been an above-average center-fielder, but would be a below-average left-fielder, mostly because he doesn't walk enough. He might be an adequate stop-gap for next year, sure. But by 2008, the likes of Carlos Gonzalez and Justin Upton may be knocking on the door. I would like to think lessons have been learned from the affair of Shawn Green, and the danger of locking up "proven veterans" without regard for what's coming up the pipeline.

Very little to applaud offensively, as you'd expect from a shut-out. Byrnes was the worst offender: sure, he had a hit, but he was then caught stealing, and also hit into a double-play and left five men on base. Drew and Hudson both managed a pair of hits, but we had two more double-plays beyond Byrnes's, as Lowe's sinker did what it does best: sink. Eight hits, the same as the Dodgers, but AZ only got nine bases out of them. Vargas went 6.2 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits and a walk: Slaten and Lyon tidied up the remaining four outs.

Thanks to William K and Devin for their comments - apologies to the latter for the math, but I'd like to assure him there will be no end-of-season test. :-)

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Today: Oh where, oh where has our offense gone...?