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Arizona Diamondbacks Game Preview, #84: Momentum! Momentum?

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So, it turns out you CAN score more runs than the other team. Who knew?

Darin Wallentine/Getty Images
Albert Suarez
RHP, 3-1, 3.83
Robbie Ray
LHP, 4-7, 4.69
Gregor Blanco - CF Jean Segura - SS
Grant Green - 2B Michael Bourn - CF
Buster Posey - 1B Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
Brandon Crawford - SS Jake Lamb - 3B
Mac Williamson - RF Yasmany Tomas - RF
Trevor Brown - C Phil Gosselin - 2B
Jarrett Parker - LF Brandon Drury - LF
Ruben Tejada - 3B Tuffy Gosewisch - C
Albert Suarez - RHP Robbie Ray - LHP

One line-up note: Chris Herrmann was a late scratch from the game today, due to a balky hamstring. Drury moved to the outfield, with Gosselin coming in to play second.

After the 10-9 win in Colorado, on June 25, Brad Ziegler said it felt like things had finally turned the Diamondbacks way, and it could be something special. The team then lost their next six games, conceding a total of 47 runs in the process. I mention this not to mock Ziegler, just to illustrate the ephemeral and unknowable nature of momentum. We don't know what's going on in the clubhouse and what the atmosphere is like there, but Ziegler does. So, if anyone should have a handle on things, it's Brad. However, instead of any surge, we got one of the worst-pitched stretches of games in the last five years.

There's no doubt that morale plays a part in performance. Some may mock "clubhouse chemistry", and not without grounds, for it's sometimes used as a lazy excuse to explain bad teams doing well, e.g. on April 30, it was written, "the Phillies’ clubhouse chemistry is apparent." Philadelphia since then? 22-36. Wonder how their "chemistry" is doing these days? On the other hand, baseball is no different from any job: a happy, enthusiastic workforce is likely to perform better than a bunch of malcontents. But it's only one factor. Pit the same players, a happy Team A vs. a disgruntled Team B, and A would win more. But maybe only five out of nine. Or twelve of twenty-three.

It possibly matters more in other sports, where there's less noise in the signal. Few other major sports have quite the directly adversarial nature of the hitter vs. pitcher conflict, where one person is trying to do something, and their opponent is doing their damnedest to stop them. In other team sports, you have team-mates, for example, trying to set you up for a good shot. That's not the case in baseball, and this balance means random fluctuations can make all the difference. A fraction of an inch in variation where the round bat hits a 95-mph fastball can be the difference between a grand-slam and an inning-ending double-play. When that's in play, "momentum" will be hard to see.