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The Calm After the Storm

You can tell the Diamondbacks' season is over: for the first time in a long while, there was absolutely no mention of them to be found in the Republic sports section this morning. Not even all that much baseball, just a little bit about Eric Wedge of the Indians, whose team are one game from the World Series. That is, if Fox executives do not stage a mass kidnapping of the entire Cleveland squad, to prevent the nightmare scenario (ratings-wise) of a Rockies-Indians finale. I think the 1994 World Series probably had better viewing figures than that one.

The Tribune does have a piece, so that likely needs to be mentioned. The most interesting element is probably from Josh Byrnes, who says, "It is prudent that we try to get as much pitching as we can. We have to plan as if you can never have enough pitching. If Randy is throwing like he has in the past, he is always going to have a spot in the rotation." Just to map things out, here are a few of things we will be covering, during the hot-stove season.

  • End of season awards. Rookie, Cy Young, MVP, Game and Play of the Year will all be up for grabs - naturally, we're talking from an AZ perspective. There'll also be the SB Nation awards, for which myself and Charmer voted, so we'll be providing our ballots and explaining our choices.

  • Review of the season. We'll take a detailed look back at the performances of the past year, compare them to our community projections (that promises to be somewhat embarrassing!) and see if we can work out what to expect going forward.

  • Preparations for 2008, #1: the rotation. We likely have only one starter's spot that really needs to be decided (though a lot will depend on the Big Unit's recovery). In the article above, Byrnes says of RJ, "Once he is throwing off the mound, with full exertion, we'll see how he throws and recovers from that. This year, once we did the MRI, we knew he had a herniated disk and it was a case of managing the symptoms. The surgery went well. He is going to have more time to recover." Assuming he's okay, do we fill the remaining place internally or look for an external candidate?

  • Preparations for 2008, #2: the corner infield. Will Tony Clark be signed? Rumblings suggest he'll be looking for a raise, despite hitting below .250 - his HR ratio, one every 13 at-bats, was excellent. A left-handed bat off the bench would be nice to have. However, it's possiblw Tracy could be that, depending on his recovery from knee surgery, also spelling Jackson at first and Reynolds at third.

  • Preparations for 2008, #3: the outfield. The signing of Byrnes through 2010 threw a spanner in the expected trinity of Upton, Young, and Quentin, with Carlos Gonzalez waiting in the wings. Now, Quentin's future seems decidedly shaky, and some sections believe Byrnes' contract could end up being an albatross around our necks.

    [On the other hand, think what you like about Byrnes, he certainly doesn't dodge the issues. The article above quotes him as saying, "Look, I'm always going to speak my mind. I spoke my mind the other day and I was telling the truth. I'll stand up here and tell you the exact same truth. One of the main reasons we did not win the series was because I didn't hit (expletive). Simple as that. Your middle-of-the-order guy has to produce. It definitely started with me. I'd like to think I did a couple of things to get us here, but did nothing to get us past this point."]

  • Monitoring the competition. While I don't expect Arizona to be all that active in free-agency, that doesn't mean that our NL West rivals will be sitting on their pocketbooks similarly. Here's the 2007-08 free agents list, it includes names like Bonds, Clemens, Andruw Jones and, potentially the biggest one of all, A-Rod. Where they end up could certainly have an impact on our prospects for 2008.

Certainly plenty to keep us going, I think, even if I won't be posting something new here every day. If you're looking for something to read though, I had my last post-season article posted by the Hardball Times - should anyone feel like rehashing the gory details. Had some good feedback on the piece, which is worth including here. Firstly, Greg S wrote:

I have to disagree with one of you assertions, that "the Championship Series is not the time to experiment with roles, or test your closer's stamina." I'd say just the opposite, that in a series this important, it's the exactly right time to try to get a bit more out of your best reliever. Obviously the results weren't good, and maybe Valverde should have been pulled before issued that last walk, but I can't fault Melvin for going with his best at a crucial juncture. And I think you'll agree that experimenting with roles sure worked well at the end of the 2001 World Series, when Game Six starter Randy Johnson came on to close out Game Seven, right?

Ooh...but I guess, there, it was notable that Brenly did not go with his closer. :-) I think it was simply asking too much of Valverde to battle fatigue in addition to it being such a crucial situation. It's less the attempt that bothered me, as Melvin failure even to have any alternative warming up in the bullpen, in case it went horribly wrong. I was at the game, and it was painfully clear to everyone that Valverde had nothing left, well before the time it came for him to face the last couple of batters. Eric L also had some good points:

The fact that just killed me was Melvin's fascination with Augie Ojeda. Augie is a nice fill-in but until Game 4, Melvin treated him like an everyday player which he isn't. People will point to the Cubs series and spout how wonderful he is but here's a couple factoids. Ojeda is a switch-hitter and has a career 672 OPS from the left side and a career 502 OPS from the right side. Ojeda was given 5 ABs in the NLCS against left-handed pitching - so Melvin basically conceded 5 outs in the most important series of the year - but wait, it gets better - 3 of those 5 ABs came in the 7th inning or later with the DBacks trailing!! One in each of games 1,2 and 3. Ojeda is a fine fielder but certainly in those situations, his glove wasn't going to help. The crusher for me was Game 2, bottom of the 8th, 2 outs, man on 1st, down 2-1, down 1-0 in the series. Only 4 outs left and you waste one of them on a 502 OPS.

It should also be mentioned that the DBacks made a huge number of Little League caliber mistakes: Montero oversliding 2nd in Game 1, Young sliding into Tulowitzski's foot on a steal, Upton getting called for interference on a play where they weren't going to turn 2, Drew mindlessly wandering off 2nd when he was called safe, Young getting picked off 1st to start Game 4 and so on. Fact is, the Rockies didn't hit well but they did everything else well and the DBacks just simply played worse and lost because of it.

Melvin has always been a fan of the "hot hand", and few were hotter than Augie during the Cubs series. It didn't carry forward to the NLCS, and in hindsight he certainly could have pinch-hit for Ojeda. The problem in Game Two is, who would then have played second-base? The normal backup, Alberto Callaspo, had already been used to pinch-hit earlier in the game. Jeff Cirillo was, I think, the only infielder left on the bench, and in fourteen seasons, he has only 48 games there - most of them more than a decade ago. Can't argue with the last point though: second-base, for some reason, was a black-hole of suckitude for Arizona in that series...