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AZ 3, Giants 2 - On the use and mis-use of the intentional walk

Record: 13-11. Change on last season: +2. Pace: 88-74

Quote of the day: "It was obviously not on purpose or anything" -- Doug Davis, on plunking Bonds in the first. Buy you dinner if you do it again, Doug.

Good: Barry Bonds comes up with two outs and a man on second, but first base is open. The score is 0-0, 1-0 and 3-2. You send up four of the widest pitches imaginable. Ray Durham, hitting behind Bonds, grounds-out twice and fans the other time. Bad: Conor Jackson is up, with a man on second and first base open. The score is 1-1. Your left-handed starter falls behind in the count 2-0, and you decide it's best to pitch to leftie Stephen Drew, who's up next. Two more wide ones follow, for an "unintentional intentional" walk. But Drew smacks a pitch off the outfield wall for a two-run double, that basically won the game for Arizona.

That's because the Padres didn't do their homework: for some inexplicable reason, Drew hits lefties at a far better clip (OPS over 200 points higher) than he does righties. Okay, that's in a pretty small sample size, only 66 major-league plate-appearances against southpaws. However, exactly the same thing happened when he was playing for Tucson last season too: his OPS there was 159 points better against left-handed pitching. I think we just have to write this off as one of those inexplicable things; hope the rest of the National League doesn't notice and their lefties keep issuing those walks to get to him. Events like last night will get their attention though.

It was a very good game to watch, a lot of fun, and rarely more than one swing of a bat from a lead change. Davis had his best start of the season, with a Game Score of 61; he pitched seven innings, and the only damage was Winn's homer. [Maybe, by that last time, he should have been more careful with Winn, who came up three times to face Davis with two outs and the pitcher up next. Winn ended the night a triple short of the cycle] The Giants did get runners into scoring positions five of those seven innings, but were 0-for-5 there.

Despite a 3-1 lead, our bullpen persisted in making it "interesting", with some help from the defense. In the eighth, Lyon allowed two singles, and Drew's bad positioning as the cutoff man allowed the tying run to reach second with one out. However, Feliz hit a bullet to Callaspo, who was playing third [no way Tracy was getting to face an LHP Cy Young winner like Zito], and they caught Bonds in a...well, run-down is far too active a word for what ensued, so let's call it a lumber-down between third and home. I recall Mark Grace's comment about Bazza having the range of a highway cone, and this was an ample demonstration.

The ninth, thanks to Valverde, things were even more interesting. Sweeney led off with a homer to the picnic-tables in center, making it a 3-2 game. After Roberts fanned, Vizquel doubled, again putting the tying run on second with one out. However, Clark proved why he was in as a late-inning defensive replacement, snaring a pop-up in foul territory, over his shoulder with a basket catch. And, after four fingers to Bonds, Durham grounded out to Clark to end the Giants' winning streak, and run the Diamondbacks' own to three.

Very little offense outside of Drew: he and Snyder each had two hits, but we only managed six in total (the Giants had eleven). Scott Hairston got the start, with Quentin being given the day off, and went 0-for-4 to drag his average down to the Eucker line. All those predictions of 20+ homers for him are basically no more than dust in the wind now, and more generally, thus far, it does look as if we did seriously over-estimate the hitting ability of our young players, for this season at least. [Between them, Young, Quentin and Drew have four homers in 185 at-bats] While I've no doubt they'll contribute down the line, it looks as if most of our 2007 victories are going to come from our pitching.

Thanks to Goose, npineda, IndyDBack, singaporedbacksfan, DiamondbacksWIn, seton hall snake pit, VIII, dzuckerman, npineda and Muu for their contributions in the Gameday Thread. You'll be on your own for tonight's one, since we'll be at the game, for Orlando Hudson's Gold Glove presentation and Bobblehead Night. Hope we're one of the first 35,000 in attendance, not that that should be a problem, given the franchise-low who turned out for Thursday's game against the Padres: less than 17K. It was barely busier than usual when I left work, though in mitigation, I believe there were other things on involving local sports that night. :-)

Gameday Graph

[Click graph to enlarge, in new window]
Master of his domain: Doug Davis, +28.5%
God-emperor of suck: Eric Byrnes, -9.8%

Elsewhere in baseball, I notice that other, far more renowned closers than Valverde had much rockier nights. Trevor Hoffman blew saves in back-to-back appearances for the first time since 1997, allowing four runs in the ninth and having to be unceremoniously yanked. Adding insult to injury, this was the night he was honored for becoming the all-time saves leader: he was presented with a gold-plated pitching rubber and his sons threw out the first pitch. [In another case of an intentional walk mis-firing, the go-ahead run came after he pitched around Gonzo. Why, I'm not sure: Luis is begin to hit his true form - in the past two weeks with LA, he's batting only .233 (10-for-43), and has seen his OPS slump by over two hundred points.]

And on the East Coast, Mariano Rivera also gave up four runs in the ninth. That was in a non-save situation - but then, after almost a month, Rivera does not have one single save, and his ERA is a ghastly 12.15. Anyone who used a high-round draft-pick on him in their fantasy league must be feeling really peeved right now. The Yankees slump is attributable to much more than Rivera: more often than not thus far (11-for-21), their starters have failed to pitch five innings. In contrast, we're 1-for-24 in that department - and the only failure came on Micah Pwnings' injury. But seeing the $195-million NYY team prop up the AL East is undeniably enjoyable.

As noted by npineda: "Bonds played in his 2,879th game. The Diamondbacks' eight position players have appeared in 2,048 games combined." That's no surprise: this average age of our batters this year is just 26.8, lowest in the National League and beaten only by the Tampa Bay Baby Rays [whose starters include Delmon Young (RF, aged 21), B.J.Upton (2B, 22) and Dioner Navarro (C, 23) - Baldelli and Crawford are also only 25]. And I also note that it's not just our young hitters who are struggling in the pitching-packed NL West:

  • Tulowitski, SS, Rockies, age 23, hitting .188
  • Iannetta, C, Rockies, 24, .167
  • Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres, 25, .117
  • Betemit, 3B, Dodgers, 25, .133
  • Ethier, RF, Dodgers, 25, .242
  • Feliz, 3B, Giants, 32, .200

Okay, the last-named probably wouldn't count as "young", but even at 32, he is the youngest player on the Giants roster with more than 35 at-bats... Finally, Jon Weisman asked me some questions for an article over at Sports Illustrated. They were originally posed to me about a week ago, when we had a 10-6 record. The piece was originally posted the morning after we'd lost our fifth game and Randy Johnson had got whacked about, so I was kinda embarrassed to bring up my optimistic remarks about our rotation. But after three games where our starters have allowed six runs in 22 innings, a 2.45 ERA, I feel a little more justified in my trust of them!