19 April 2010

Thoughts Before 'The Apocalypse'

After a round of spectacular losses to sadly soft foes, reminiscent of last year, fans are predicatbly hissing venom at their April Diamondbacks. I've joined in on occasion, picked my spots, but as one who's been tarred a hater in some circles, I want to formally disassociate myself (and this blog) from the kneejerk fatalism that can overwhelm azcentral.com

It seems like everybody there, or almost everybody, thinks the season is more or less doomed. That we have no chance against the Cardinals or Phillies. I dont think either is true. Not because I respect the Diamondbacks organization, particularly, but because I have too much respect for baseball. I've seen popular 'knowledge' get thrown out on its ear too many times, once the games are played. Just when you think you have the game figured out, it has a way of flaunting convention, and occasionally, consensus. I dont mean the enterprise of MLB. That's predictable as hell. I mean the game, where powerful teams only win sixty percent of the time.

Early on, the Dbacks are sending mixed signals. The good news is the bullpen's been unsustainably bad, and a pen can be leveraged during the season in ways one's rotation or offense typically cannot. The bad bullpen news is the early failures have been disturbingly broad based. It's not like one guy hasnt found his arm slot. Similar to stretches last year, it seems like there are games - indeed entire series - where no one can record three outs in less than twenty minutes - or with less than a run or two. It'll improve, but uncharacteristic of Diamondbacks baseball, they're getting behind and walking batters.

My early take on the rotation is that Josh Byrnes has cobbled together a group who know how to pitch for cheap. Jackson has good stuff. Kennedy changes speeds and locates well. I think Lopez may struggle against stronger lineups, but is smart and durable enough to eke out some wins with offensive support. There really is no fifth guy. Benson, I guess. It's certainly not a rotation that scares by reputation, but this offense is so superior to recent Arizona predecessors that the no name rotation's gonna win games.

The more daunting concern is durability. Last year, Davis and Garland didnt scare anybody either, but threw 371 innings before the latter was traded. Add Scherzer and that's alot of competitive innings to replace. I generally defer to Byrnes on this subject, because his acquired starters have had a terrific knack for exceeding expectations. The big fear is your 200 inning studs (Haren and Jackson) are really the only bankable guys to throw even one hundred innings - at least based on recent high level history. That's scary, but may also be worst case, given Byrnes' history. If Webb returns in a month starting with J, this might morph into a competitive rotation, especially with this offense.

It's important to understand that the schedule is tough right now. Not just the Cards and Phils, but it's very challenging through the All Star break, including interleague play. Then it gets relatively soft in August and September. In other words, fans shouldnt freak out if the Dbacks spin their wheels coming out of the gate. These are times to stay close and hope NL West rivals beat up on one another and dont separate too much, because if the Dbacks are hanging around at the end of July (still a significant "if"), I'd call them odds on favorite to take the division.


  • Because the schedule really softens up after July.

  • The club lost two critical left handed hitters this week - LaRoche and Montero - and is still hitting well. As I said earlier, this year's offense is primed to take off - it may just take longer due to the injuries (which as of today include Conor Jackson).

  • Defensively, the club looks better ( except for two supernaturally bad throws from Stephen Drew and Tony Abreu). I'm impressed with Mark Reynolds. Some plays, I've caught myself thinking, "That looks like Matt Williams". He'll never have Matty's hands, but looks like an entirely different Reynolds. There's a methodical calmness to his dives and throws now. Like he knows how much time he has and exactly what he's doing. He's slowed it down. Reynolds worked with Williams this spring, and it shows. Upton has also clearly put in some work. Fans are harping over a throw he recently airmailed, but he's not just 'athletic' this year. His footwork's improved, he's concentrating on grounders better and doing a great job in the right field corner.

  • The bullpen cant possibly be this bad for the whole season. The rotation's somewhat fragile, but given GM Byrnes' demonstrated acumen in this area, probably a little better than most people think. And Brandon Webb is still out there. Lurking.

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