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Diamondbacks 2, Nationals 0 - Balk This Way

Record: 45-45. Pace: 81-81. Change on last season: -3

Not quite the offensive surge I was hoping for. Four hits - including the side going 3-for-22 over more than six innings from the Nationals' bullpen - and two unearned runs are all we had to show on our side of the scoreboard. Thank heavens Webb and the A-pen were on top form, combining for a six-hit shutout, albeit against a team that has now posted zero runs in eleven games, That includes the past three times we have faced them, with Webb (twice) and Haren being largely responsible for the twenty-seven inning scoreless streak.

It certainly did no harm at all when opposing starter Odalis Perez was thrown out in the third after committing his second balk, the third such pitcher this season (Nolasco and Burnett being the others - the only Diamondback ever, was the Big Unit, on April 20th, 1999 vs Philadelphia). I can somewhat understand his frustration, since he isn't a balky pitcher - before today, his last such call was back in August 2006, and he only had fourteen in his career, going back to 1998. It wasn't the balks that got him tossed, however: It was charging home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who no doubt understood perfectly the Spanish-language profanities being hurled at him. I withhold judgment on whether they were genuine balks or not, following the lead of former umpire Ron Luciano, who once said, "I never called a balk in my life. I didn't understand the rule."

The first balk, in particular, proved crucial, as it moved Chris Burke - who had reached on an error - into scoring position. A single by Chris Young then brought Burke home, and that was all the offense Arizona would need. they did add another run in the sixth - though that was equally as dependent on a defensive mistake by Washington. Hammock hit a single to center, which went right past the Nationals fielder, and allowed Reynolds to score all the way from first. Outside those two gifts, our best chance was the fourth, when an Upton double put runners at second and third with one out. However, Hammock flew out, Burke was intentionally walked, and Webb struck out looking. Young and Reynolds each had a hit and a walk.

This was a game which was won by the pitching. Webb slugged his way through six scoreless innings, allowing six hits and two walks, but striking out six too, and bearing down whenever necessary. If that seemed to be quite often, Brandon was up to the challenge, leaving the Nationals 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Perhaps his best work was also in the fourth, after a Washington hit-and-run put men on the corners with one out. Flores and Pena became back-to-back strikeout victims, and another zero was posted on the board. The fifth was equally nerve-wracking, after a Reynolds error gave the Nationals a fourth out: a Webb walk loaded the bases, before he got Kearns to fly out to Young in center.

Brandon Webb seems to be throwing fewer pitches this season - it was 112 today, and that was only one below the most this year. I looked at Webb's career since he became a full-time starter, and divided the starts up into four categories, based on the number of pitches. Here are the results:

<= 90 91-100 101-110 111+ Avg. Med.
2008 3 8 5 3 97.8 98
2007 6 10 10 8 100.8 101.5
2006 4 10 16 3 100.8 103
2005 5 9 9 10 102.1 104
2004 7 11 13 4 97.8 100

Just to explain the difference between average and median. The former is the number of pitches, divided by the number of starts. The latter is the number of pitches where half his starts were more and half less - this is perhaps a better measure, since it helps reduce the impact of outings cut short by injury or ejection. It's notable that this is the first year since 2004 that Webb has had more starts at or below 100 pitches, than above - 11-8, even after today. Last year, the ratio was 16-18, and it was 14-19 each of the two seasons before that. At first, I thought that might be because he goes deeper into games in the second half, but that's not the case: he faced 28.2 batters per start before the All-Star break, and it dips slightly, to 27.4 after the break.

Impeccable - indeed, perfect - work by the bullpen. Qualls, Peña and Lyon retired all nine batters they faced, with a mere 28 pitches covering the final three innings. They therefore avoided any potentially stressful situations, such as the Nationals getting the tying run to the plate. Mind you, as the entire roster has only hit six homers in their last dozen games, putting someone on base wouldn't necessarily have been the worst thing in the world. Peña looked particularly effective, striking out two of the three batters he faced and touching 97 mph on the radar. Though I am probably not alone in taking more comfort from Qualls' solid 1-2-3 inning, as his performance becomes a good deal more important with Juan Cruz sitting on the disabled list.

[Click to enlarge, in new window]
Master of his domain: Brandon Webb, +38.1%
Honorable mention: Chris Young, +11.6%
God-emperor of suck: Orlando Hudson, -12.3%

Exactly 300 comments in the Gameday Thread today - thanks to some late padding! Also present were a good number of others, so thanks to the following for their participation: nihil67, TwinnerA, Muu, unnamedDBacksfan, Turambar, Zephon, soco, srdmad, dahlian, utahdbacksfan (welcome!), kishi, hotclaws, Diamondhacks, emilylovesthedbacks, luckycc, Wimb, garyho, BleedingSedonaRed, golfmanthee, SongBird and Geno Ardi. First time since the Oakland series that we've managed to put back-to-back wins on the board, and it gives us another shot tomorrow at three victories in a row - that would be the first time we've done so since May 16, having gone 0-4 in Arizona's attempts to three-peat since then.

Equally as important, it's looking set fair for a Dodgers defeat, as they are 7-1 down to the Braves in the bottom of the eighth. A win would once again give us sole possession of first place in the NL West. Elsewhere, Scott Hairston has gone 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBI for San Diego. His average, at time of writing, is up to .254: that would have been good enough for fourth-best in today's starting D-backs lineup, behind only Hudson (.298), Jackson (.296) and, just, Reynolds (.256). Our starting left-fielder, Burke went 0-for-3, dropping his season average to .168. utahdbacksfan asked a very pertinent question in the Gameday Thread, wondering if Augie Ojeda can play left-field...