Record: 72-57. Change on last season: +9. Pace: 90-72
Playoff odds: 59.5%. Playoff Magic Number: 30
Quote of the day: "I've got some kids here that I've got to remain confident in, which I do. But we're having some struggles at times... We have confidence in a lot of these guys. But we still have to win." -- Bob Melvin
Our offensive woes have returned with a vengeance: in the last five games, we've scored only 11 runs, and batted just .206. We appear badly outclassed at the plate, without a clue, and it's not even as if most of the outs we are making are hard-hit ones, right at people. The frequency of lazy flies and weak grounders last night was almost scary. The only comfort is, it reminds me of that week we had just after the All-Star break, where we scored sixteen runs in seven games, and hit .193. That turned around suddenly, and I'm hoping we can break ouf of this funk similarly.
I just didn't have a good feeling about this one, right from the opening batter - an eight-pitch walk. It took Micah Owings 37 pitches to get through the top of the first: Chicago were two up by the final out, and the first of the noxious "Let's go, Cubbies" chants were being bleated. Still: let's go out there, see what Marshall has got, take some pitches and get those runs bac...or, alternatively, go down 1-2-3 on a total of six pitches. That works, too. :-( Is it late enough to leave?
To his credit, Owings fought back: you'd have got long odds on him still being around in the seventh inning after that first impression, but he was. He retired Chicago in order in the second (seven pitches), third (twelve), fourth (ten) and fifth (seven), and in between times, got our first hit. Not just that, it was his fourth homer of the year, which is getting him into pretty rarefied company. Since 1974, only two starting pitchers have had that many: Carlos Zambrano had six last year, and Mike Hampton seven in 2001, though most of those did come at Coors. We should mention Brooks Kieschnick, who had seven as a combination reliever/outfielder for the Brewers in 2003, and was the first player to hit home runs as a pitcher, DH and PH in the same season. However, they all had 70+ at-bats, and Micah is currently only at 46, so time yet!
[Digging around reveals a couple of other statistical quirks. Probably the most impressive season was Jorge Sosa last year: he batted .125 on the season, going 3-for-24...but all three hits were homers! Another credible candidate was Robert Person: he batted .083 in 2002, going 2-for-24. Not only were both hits homers, both came in the same game. If the name's familiar, that's because he drove in seven runs that day, one of only two pitchers to pass Micah Owing's figure of six RBI in a game. I'm wondering how long it's gonna be before Pwnings move high up on the all-time HR list for pitchers. He's already tied at #232... The recent (post-1975) champion is Hampton, who had fifteen in his career. End of 2009 for that, maybe?]
The turning point probably came in the bottom of the fifth, after Snyder roped a lead-off double down the left-field and reached third on a wild pitch, still with nobody out. And yet, we still failed to score, though at least this time, we managed not to score in a creative fashion. MarKKK Reynolds struck out, and Justin Upton hit one to the Cubs shortstop, who made a diving grab, and came home to nail Snyder at the plate. That would have tied the game, and I can't help thinking Snyder got a bad read and/or a bad jump on the play. Difficult to tell from right-field, but it also seemed he got underneath the tag, one of many calls not to go our way.
The Cubs, meanwhile, were kind enough to demonstrate how it should be done in the sixth. After their own lead-off double, two sacrifice flies brought the runner around to score, and make it 3-1 Cubs. I trust MarKKK was watching. The seventh inning marked another possible turning point. Owings finally tired, allowing a double and a single, and was replaced by Cruz, who walked the first hitter he faced, to load the bases with no-one out. However, Ward bounced one back to Famine, who went 1-2-3 for the double-play and, with the home crowd finally audible for the first time since Owings' homer, struck out Theriot to salvage the quality start for Micah.
With momentum now perched on the D-backs dugout, surely it must be time for the offense to wake up? Er, no. Momentum: it's vastly over-rated. Jackson singled with one out - only our third hit of the night, but that was all. After another zero from Cruz [getting his ERA back down below three, as he extended his scoreless streak to 7.1 innings], Melvin botched it badly, waving the white flag by bringing in the B-bullpen, in the shape of Dustin Nippert and his 5.42 ERA, even though it was only a two-run game. He allowed the first six Cubs hitters to reach, and the streaming started at Chase.
We almost made it interesting in the ninth, getting the tying run to the on-deck circle, but the Cubs brought in their closer, and Jupton flew out to end the game. I'm growing increasingly convinced that Justin is not ready for prime-time yet. In the fourteen games since his almost-cycle on August 7, he's batting .140 with eighteen K's. Upton will have his chance to find his feet, but a pennant race would not seem to be the appropriate moment. It's time to put Jeff Salazar in, full-time: I'm also unconvinced by Upton's defense; he's showing good range in right, but made at least one utterly horrible throw.
And while we're revamping the lineup, let's start Jeff Cirillo instead of Reynolds, until our rookie learns how to put the ball into play - a necessary skill, as was shown in the fifth inning tonight. MarKKK has struck out 32.7% of his plate-appearances this year. The all-time single-season champion (Adam Dunn in 2004, who whiffed 195 times) only struck out 28.6% of the time. Reynolds currently also has the fewest plate-appearances of anyone with 96+ strikeouts in baseball history. Again, applying lumber to leather, when necessary, is something you should be grasping in AAA, not here and now.
So, to summarize, a nauseating exercise all round. Our hitters blew chunks, albeit not helped by some woeful umpiring, and we had to endure the sickening spectacle of Cubs fans trumpeting wildly around Chase. Things had better show a marked improvement today and tomorrow, or things could get ugly.
Is there more unpleasant company than winning Cubs fans away from home? By all accounts, those at Wrigley are fine, knowledgeable people, but the ones at the park last night were the very antithesis of "gracious in victory": gloating, taunting opposing fans at every opportunity, and reminding us why I'm glad when the Cubs end up extending their losing streak. If we don't hear from you when you're losing, we don't want to hear from you when you're winning. Maybe like hyenas, they get courage from their numbers. There were, as anticipated/feared, lots of them - odd, how they feel such fierce loyalty to Chicago, but apparently have no desire to live there!
Good find, food-wise: Garcia's. Decent value, and surprisingly tasty. Mrs. SnakePit had a burro, while I had the Angus Beef Sliders, with both being devoured and thoroughly enjoyed. For $7.50, very good, and filling enough that we didn't feel the need to pop over to Cold Stone for dessert.
Interesting to listen to guys in the row behind us talk about the Diamond Club. They were comparing the place unfavorably, with its "$20 entrance, $10 beers and $15 burritos" to the same outfield area at Coors, dubbed the 'Rockpile', where seats are $4. And these were the young, upwardly-mobile, target audience for the place that were deriding it, not a middle-aged, married Scotsman. ;-)
Amused by Melvin's ejection. Again, from near the Cubs bullpen, it was difficult to see whether his ire was justified, but going by the reaction of the fans to some of the strike calls, he had a case. It may have been counter-productive, since Ball Four when Cruz loaded the bases, after the ejection, provoked the loudest cat-calls of the night.
Like many in the Gameday Thread, I was also amused by the pronunciation of Felix Pie's last name - in case you were wondering, it's Pee-AY. "So I guess that makes their right-fielder Jack-AY Jones?" said Mrs. SnakePit.
I'm perplexed by the apparent double-standard involving baseball and gambling. Two of the big sponsors are the Gila River Casino and the Arizona Lottery - heck, you can even buy lottery tickets in the Team Shop now. And, yet, gambling has been a bête noire of baseball, all the way back to the 1877 Louisville Grays.
There are times when working two blocks from Chase has its advantages, in the form of a parking pass. I noticed that all the "car-parks" near the stadium doubled or trebled their prices for the game. I'm fully in favor of screwing the Cubs fans for every penny. Maybe they should introduce a two-tier pricing system: $X for those wearing D-backs shirts, $2X for those wearing Cubs shirts. Or simply slash their tires after they've left. No jury in Maricopa County would convict.
Thanks to those who stuck it out here in my absence - and the absence of the Arizona Diamondbacks' offense, it has to be said. johngordonma, icecoldmo, Sunil (welcome!), hotclaws, snakecharmer, batster, DbacksSkins, andrewinnewyork, Muu, bjn, TwinnerA and soco endured the pain. Though, believe me, it was nothing like the pain we were feeling at the ballpark. Oh, well: today's another day. If anyone fancies a beer beforehand at this one, I'll be at Jackson's on Third around 5:30pm for the hour before the contest. Providing it's not too full of Cubs fans, anyway, otherwise I'll be forced to torch the place. :-)
[Click graph to enlarge, in new window]
Master of his domain: Juan Cruz, +15.3%
God-emperor of suck: Justin Upton, -19.6%
Honorary "Well done!": Micah Owings (hitting), +7.0%
Looks like johngordoma may get his wish, with the team apparently interested in Bob Wickman. Could be interesting, though let's hope it goes better than the other waiver-wire acquisitions we've made. He does have a sub-four ERA this year, and has only allowed two earned runs in August, in 7.1 innings, which is credible enough. I sense a DL stint for Pestileñce could be on the horizon if we get him, though we're likely to be far from the only team interested. We'll have to pay him close to a million bucks for the remaining games, no small chunk of change.
The D-backs are getting a new scoreboard for next season. It's going to be 144 feet wide, and 55 feet high: basically, if you put that on the infield, it would stretch from third-base to first, including the base-paths, and almost from the pitcher's mound to home-plate. Estimated cost: $12m, though apparently, the cost "likely would be funded by the Maricopa County Stadium Authority with help from the Diamondbacks," so it's not as if they buy starting pitchers. On the other hand, in the litany of "why we don't go to the ballpark", I don't recall seeing one complaint that the scoreboard was out-dated. I have little doubt it will be used to bombard fans with more advertising - just like the LED ribbons, which serve little other purpose.