27 April 2009

The Last Big Game

The moment Conor Jackson lobbed a deep fly beyond a drawn in outfield, sealing Sunday's walkoff win in the twelfth, optimists opined on The Big Game. The momentum builder and desperately welcome confidence boost, before three with the Cubs, that would, could, or should turn the season.

But Sunday's ughfest with the happy ending was a small game. Not just the way it was played, which was hard and poorly, by two weak teams. It was rendered small even before it started.

We went out on an April limb, predicting the young, talented Diamondbacks needed to take this early Giants series to salvage reasonable playoff hope. By losing the first two "big" games, they failed, and rendered the final feelgood victory, small.

This team is 7 and 11. If they take two of three from a superior Chicago nine, they'll be 9 and 12. People will whoop and cheer about the magnitude of those moments, but dont be fooled. Those wins, if they materialize, will be small victories. It's not because the Dbacks cant climb back over .500 (they can), or because the Dodgers are unstoppable (they're not), or because a five or six game lead in April is insurmountable.

It's because, when you play MLB's fourth easiest SOS thru an entire month, and turn that into the worst run differential in baseball, it says something about your team. It doesnt say everything, but it says something. When a young squad is gifted with 19 of 22 home starts, and winds up with a losing record, that says something too.

Sure, there have been injuries (Webb, Drew) and subpar performances (Jackson, Upton, Snyder and Rauch) bound to improve, yet several starters (Lopez, Haren, Ojeda and probably Reynolds) are playing over their heads, tempering the question of exactly how much better this team can play. They will have to win a great deal more, against ramped up competition, primarily on the road, to compete for this division.

This organization, well, it's predecessor really, started playing it's first big games a decade ago, when Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams led an expansion team to 100 wins and it's first playof berth. Many big games followed. Then some down times. Ten years after, and four to five years into the new owners' rebuild, the Diamondbacks were favored this spring over midmarket brethren to battle Los Angeles for the NLW crown.

Whether the players or fans knew it or not, these early home games had playoff ramifications and possible long term implications about this organization's direction - two definions of "big games". After a lackluster 6-9 start, the biggest of all were the San Francisco set. Lincecum threw first, on Friday, and we lost. A great pitcher, but more importantly, the Giants arent a good team and baseball can be a very quirky game - just the previous week, Doug Davis outlasted Lincecum for a win - but this time that didnt happen.

On Saturday, our season was on the line. The Diamondbacks flailed against a pitcher with next to nothing. No stamina, no bite, no control. Seven walks in three and a third. They even hit a homer off this bum, and our pitcher (Max Scherzer) roped a deep double. Yet somehow, we found a way to fall, descending to 6 and 11.

The 'bum', of course, was Randy Johnson. The Big Unit has pitched so many of the Arizona Diamondbacks' landmark games, when the world was watching. Old and fragile now, he didnt win, but with more than a hint of irony, may've presided over the Diamondbacks' Last Big Game. Not merely for this season, but for the very core this franchise has built up, and around, for half a decade. It will be a while before this franchise plays a genuinely big game again. I hope I'm wrong, but my guess is it will not be this season.


Michael Norton said...

Welcome to Baltimore 8(

Michael Norton
Some Clubhouse - It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere!

Jeff said...

I don't know if the Cubs are really a "superior 9" right now. Their offense is almost as non-existent as Arizona's.