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Brandon Webb To the Bullpen?

Just a day after I had written off Brandon Webb’s season, he pops up in the news. I was correct in my supposition that he will not start again this year, but he may yet actually pitch (but call me skeptical).

Here is what Webb had to say about it:

“I think starting is now out of the question. Starting is unrealistic.”

“My arm feels good, but in order to face some batters, I need to get some more velocity. That’s the only thing that is standing in my way right now. I feel like if I get my velocity, if I throw a couple of ‘pens and a couple of simulated games, it’ll be right around Sept. 1 and no Minor Leagues are going to be playing, they’ll be done. I’ll have to throw out of the ‘pen here.”

Webb in the bullpen. Too bad it’s too late for the team. They could have used an arm like that a long time ago.

Of course, had he been able to pitch earlier in the year, the team would probably not be in the situation it is in now. That’s the difference an ace makes.

Webb – Haren = success on team

Webb + Haren = team success

Haren – Webb = disaster on team

Now don’t mistake this with saying that Haren is not a very good or even a great pitcher, but he has not been the ace that Webb was, and an ace makes a difference on the team.

We will soon find out if he can get back to that form. One thing I know is that if he can pitch in the bullpen, he will by default be the best option to close.

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The Curious Case of Brandon Webb

No, this is not about a pitcher that gets better with age. This is simply about how a fan favorite and team ace can, in just a couple of years, become forgotten and seemingly disappear.

Brandon Webb’s career started with a bang, debuting in New York in 2003 and out-dueling Tom Glavine with seven scoreless innings and ten strikeouts. He finished his rookie season 10-9 with an ERA of 2.84. He was spectacular.

His sophomore season was a struggle. He battled control all season, leading the league in losses (16), walks (119), and wild pitches (17). In his defense, there was no defense behind him (Alex Cintron and Scott Hairston were his middle infielders) and the team was terrible. Even still, his ERA was a solid 3.59.

After a much improved 2005 campaign, he earned himself a $28 million contract.

With his new contract, Webb became a star in 2006, winning the National League Cy Young award with 16 wins, three shutouts, and only 50 walks. His sinker was considered the best in baseball.

The 2007 season saw him continue as an ace, but on a magical team. The Diamondbacks won their division and made it to the NLCS, all while sporting one of the youngest teams in the league.

Webb also put together his own magic, running a streak of 42 consecutive scoreless innings. I personally remembered the Orel Hershiser 1988 streak and how magical that was for me as a Dodger fan at the time.

I saw a lot of parallels between Webb and Hershiser. Both threw incredible sinkers, although Hershiser threw his a little harder and was called a “sinking fastball” as opposed to a “sinker” because it was thrown harder. Both wore No. 55 (Webb changed to 17 in ’07), both had amazing streaks, and both played for teams that overachieved to make the playoffs (I was in awe of how similar the ’07 D-backs were to the ’88 Dodgers and thought at the time that it was going to be another special championship year. It could have been).

Webb was the team’s best player and was loved by Phoenix fans not only for his performance, but also for his small-town charm and overall likability.

However, something happened during the 2008 season.

It was arguably his finest season, even when the team could not hold it together after a torrid start to the season. He went 22-7 with an ERA of 3.30, and many believe should have won his second Cy Young. He finished second, behind Tim Lincecum.

Amid the success he had, things changed. The team began to negotiate contract extensions for him and for teammate Dan Haren. Everyone knew that it was going to cost a lot, but that he would get one done.

Oddly, Haren got his extension first. Then, strangely, negotiations with Webb were “tabled” for unknown reasons. This was after the framework was reportedly in place for a three-year, $54 million deal.

Since the reasons were kept quiet, some fans started talking about how he was trying to cash in and being selfish. Webb was hurt by this, and even went on the radio to plead his case.

Although he never came out and said it, nor did his performance go down, he seemed hurt by how things were handled.

There was also an ESPN The Magazine feature on him and his off-day routine. It did one of two things for fans. It either made him look amazingly talented that he didn’t work out much, didn’t study video or scouting reports, and played around between starts, or it made him look lazy.

The fact that he did not end up winning the Cy Young award seemed to bother him, too. He frequently mentioned his win total and how no one with his amount of wins had not won the award unless another had that many as well.

The 2009 season lasted four innings for Webb. Shoulder tightness took him out of the game and he hasn’t pitched for the team since.

Not long after this, it was leaked that the reason for his contract talks being tabled was because of abnormalities in his shoulder, meaning his contract could not be insured.

Then, the shoulder issue went from not missing a start, to a few weeks, to no surgery needed, to yes, he needed surgery. Of course, surgery didn’t happen until August, so five months passed that were essentially wasted.

The local media and fans wondered why it took so long for the decision.

When his shoulder surgery happened, I was reminded again of Orel Hershiser, who had reconstructive shoulder surgery in 1990, just two years after his magical 1988 season. He was never the same dominant pitcher he was, but he went on to win another 107 big league games and was a very good player.

The team decided to exercise the $8.5 million option for the 2010 season, citing that basically they had no choice if they wanted to compete as a team. That turned out to be a very poor business decision.

Move forward to 2010 spring training and there was hope that he would be ready to pitch early in the season. No progress was made.

He missed the start of the season, hoping to pitch for the team by June. Then July. Then six-to-eight starts total. Now it is doubtful he will pitch again this year. At this point, it would actually surprise me if he pitches another big league game ever.

The worst part is that there has been nothing physically wrong with his shoulder for months. He just hasn’t been comfortable and has been fighting mechanics.

It hasn’t been a loud clamoring, but there have been whispers by fans and media that he is just sitting on his option money. Louder has been the criticism of his mental toughness and dedication (which leads us fans to believe the ESPN The Magazine feature was an indictment of his laziness or lack of toughness).

It really is a shame. Webb was a true ace, a streak-buster, a guy you could send to the hill and feel all but certain of a victory. He was a difference-maker. He goes down, and the team falls apart.

Now he is a dead man walking (at the very least, he should be a dead man pitching or should have been one of the trades). No one sees him the way they once did. He is not exactly despised, but he is basically an afterthought, something puzzling with a former ace.

I wonder what will happen in the future. Obviously, there will be no big contract coming. If he comes back and is the Brandon Webb we all saw from 2003 and from ’05-’08, then we can figure that there was something personal going on with him and the team or something.

From the perspective of a baseball fan in general, I hope that Webb makes a full recovery and can dominate like he once did.

From the view of the Diamondbacks fan, I secretly hope he is never the same, because then it would mean all of it was real and not some spiteful way of getting back at the team for not giving him the extension to begin with.

On the bright side, there is a young pitcher in Barry Enright that reminds me of Webb’s rookie year. I may be way off the mark, but with two years of terrible baseball in Arizona and wasted money (Webb, Eric Byrnes, Bobby Howry, the GM/manager combo), I’m looking for anything to grasp onto.


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Arizona Diamondbacks Finally Finish Their Chores

My four kids, like most all kids, hate doing chores at home. Over the past couple of seasons, the Diamondbacks have been much like my kids and doing chores, they just don’t get the job done. In the case of Arizona, the chore they have struggled at is getting the sweeping done.

As a parent, it upsets me when my kids don’t get their jobs done, much like fans do when their teams are able to do the job, but don’t. Even more upsetting is when their teams let another team do their sweeping job for them.  In the past two seasons the Diamondbacks have let their opponent do the sweeping 19 times.

Wednesday night, thanks to Chris Snyder and Arizona’s bullpen, the sweeping got done. As you probably heard dozens of times, it was the first time they got the sweeping done in a three-game set since they finished the job in Houston last August.

If you include the two-game sweep of San Francisco earlier this season, Arizona has completed their chore only four times in two seasons. Mostly, they have not had the chance, but even in the opportunities they’ve had they just didn’t do it.

In May 2009 against Oakland, the D’backs took the first two games, but could not beat a guy who had only started a handful of games in the majors.

In August 2009 against the Mets, they took the first two games of the series, only to have Jon Rauch give up two runs and the lead.

The very next series, they won the first two against the evil Dodgers, but Yusmeiro Petit got rocked in the final game, losing 9-3.

In September of last season, it was against the Padres. After winning the first two games and going into the ninth with the lead, Esmerling Vasquez blows the lead and San Diego wins in extra innings.

This past May, they had a chance against Toronto, but Billy Buckner pitched the final game of the series. You can guess that it didn’t go well.

In June, they had a chance against the Rockies, but ran into Colorado’s buzzsaw (aka Ubaldo Jimenez), losing 3-2, but at least making it close at the end.

Now we won’t even go over the many times that they lost the first game, basically telling Mom and Dad, I mean the fans, that they flat out had no interest in getting their chores done. Nonetheless, even with all the disappointment that these kids, I mean this team, has given us, it is relieving to see the job get done at least once when the opportunity was there.

Of course, just like kids who are sometimes bad, it took everyone past their bedtime to get it done. But, hey, you take what you can get with some kids, right?

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What Hopes Do the Arizona Diamondbacks Have in the Second Half?

As we all know, the first half of the baseball season has been nothing short of a disaster for those of us who claim the Diamondbacks as our team.

As painful and embarrassing it is to admit it now, I am one of those poor fans.

Even with the shame and disappointment of the season, this second half still holds value for me as a fan.

Now, since the team is completely out of contention, the priorities change.

There is no way that they can win the division or even get close, but there are some things I wish to see in the final 73 games of the season.



The team’s current roster does not work.

The mix of players, however individually talented, is not working as a team. There are issues with strikeouts, starting pitching consistency, and relief pitching in general.

Additionally, a once heralded farm system is now seemingly bare.

Who should go? First should be Chris Snyder (this saddens me because he is No. 2 on my favorites behind Mark Reynolds—I mean, be honest, how can you not love a guy who literally busted his balls for the team AND THEN FINISHED CATCHING THE INNING. I WAS THERE AT THAT GAME!).

Miguel Montero is turning out to be the best hitter on the team. Snyder is starting worthy and deserves to go somewhere to have that shot.

Plus, if you want a low average, defensively-minded catcher, John Hester is a lot cheaper. Moving Snyder would mean adding some young talent.

Honestly, I think a change of scenery will be beneficial. I seem to recall another very similar catcher that played for Arizona that left. He was a defensive catcher, hit poorly, but had power.

His name was Rod Barajas, and he has been a starter now for a few years. He still only hits about .240, but has hit over 20 home runs in a season three times since leaving Arizona and been considered a solid player.

I foresee this type of play from Snyder if he leaves.

Who else should go? I think that Kelly Johnson should go so that Tony Abreu can play everyday, even though some doubt that he is an everyday player.

I would let Stephen Drew go for a pitcher like Ricky Porcello, as it is rumored that is being discussed.

I waver on Adam LaRoche because of his glove. He drives in runs, but he is like so many other players and strikes out a lot.

Both have reasonable contracts for next season and have value. Dan Haren should go only if there is a great deal on the table.


Player improvement:

Without the pressure of a pennant race, the players should focus on development. I want to see my man Mark Reynolds (currently on pace for 222 strikeouts) NOT pass his previous two records.

I want to see his average end up at about .250 (meaning he hits between .270 and .280 for the second half). I want him to end up with at least 35 home runs and 110 RBI.

I want to see both Chris Young and Justin Upton end up with 30/30 seasons. I want Upton to avoid 200 strikeouts (currently he is on pace for 202).

I want to see Upton hit .300 for the second half and stay healthy. He needs to be that type of player to fulfill the expectations we all have.

I want Miguel Montero to finish the year with a .300 average or better. I want to see Upton, Reynolds, and LaRoche (if he is on the team the rest of the season) all have at least 100 RBI.

I want to see either Cole Gillespie or Gerardo Parra to establish who should be the starting left fielder of the future.

Personally, I want to see Parra develop into the high average, slap and gap hitter that the team lacks in the lineup. Those attributes would be nice combined with his solid defense.

I want to see at least ONE guy in the bullpen claim the closer job and be at least okay. I don’t EVER want to see Chad Qualls closing a game.

I want to see Brandon Webb actually pitch in a game.


General play:

What I hope to see out of the team is emotion.

I want the players to be fired up, win or lose. If a bad loss, I want to see pain and disappointment, like it matters.

I want to see grit and determination. I want to see Kirk Gibson having a tangible influence on the squad.


Wins and losses:

I know the season is shot, but I want to see the talent start coming together, especially offensively (since the bullpen seems to be a lost cause).

I’m not expecting much, but I would like .500 play the rest of the way. The team is on pace for a 61-101 record.

If they can go 37-36 for the second half, the record will still be a putrid 71-91, but it would be solid progress considering what has happened thus far.


What will likely happen:

As much as I want to believe that all these things will happen, more than likely we will see more of the same.

Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds will both have 200-plus strikeouts, but Reynolds will hit 40 home runs. However, he will probably hit only about .230. Upton will stay about .260.

I would be surprised if Webb pitches in the majors. It will have officially been the biggest con in history, as he would have weaseled the team out of over $8 million for doing nothing.

No one will take over the closer’s role effectively. The bullpen will continue to be disastrous and will set the record for futility in ERA.

The team will make no meaningful moves and not change much, which means little will change this year or next.

So, while I am not oblivious to the likelihood of continued meagerness on the field (in fact, I already am hoping for new and exciting ways to lose just for entertainment, like a sort of loser bingo ), I want to find hope and excitement about the future of the club.

We shall soon see how it goes.

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2010 Arizona Diamondbacks: A Game of Walk-Off Bingo

Nine walk-off losses this year for the Diamondbacks. They have come in all shapes and sizes. There have been extra inning losses that just come from a simple base hit. There have been game-ending home runs.

Some have been a bit more absurd. There was a game ending in a balk. Last night, two throwing errors led to three runs to score, ruining an otherwise stellar start by Dan Haren. It was a horrible loss to suffer, one that prompted Cardinal player Skip Schumaker to say, “You don’t see mistakes like that much in the big leagues.”

Yes, this season has been terrible to watch for the most part. As fans, we are left to look to individual achievements, like an improbable no-hitter, homeruns by Rob Deer, er, Mark Reynolds, hits by Dan Haren, and watching Justin Upton and Chris Young in general.

Another thing I am almost ready to do is start a sort of bingo game for the season. I’m ready to start rooting for all the different ways that the team could lose, particularly in walk-off style.

For the sake of seeing it all, here are the yet unused spaces I have left on my Walk-off Bingo card:

1. Walk-off wild pitch

The Diamondbacks actually won one game in this fashion, but it didn’t happen TO Arizona, so I don’t count it. The pitching candidate? None other than Esmerling Vasquez, Señor Balk-off.


2. Walk-off passed ball


3. “Walk”-off (ending the game on a based loaded walk)


4. Walk-off steal of home

This bingo space could be marked off one of three ways—a straight steal of home, a busted squeeze play, or a catcher’s brain fart (runners on first and third, runner on first goes for second, catcher throws instead of letting the runner go, and the runner on third scores when the runner on first gets into a rundown).


5. Walk-off squeeze play


6. Walk-off hit batter


7. Walk-off sacrifice fly

For an added flair for this bingo space, preferably it would be on a deep foul ball where the outfielder never would have a chance to throw out the runner. One of those situations where the outfielder should not catch the ball because it is a guaranteed loss.


8. Walk-off inside the park homerun


9. Walk-off grand slam


10. Walk-off score on a play where a player gets knocked out or injured

For sheer “How in the World?” and “Really?” factor, I believe this type of walk-off would be an automatic Bingo win. Is there anything better (worse) than that?


So, Diamondbacks fans, get those cards out and mark off the walk-offs losses we already have suffered. With any luck, it won’t be long until you become the winner of this year’s D’backs Walk-off Bingo.



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Did 2007 Success Derail D’Backs?

The 2007 season was truly magical for me as a baseball fan. For me, it rivaled 2001. Obviously it was very different, but still magical.

It is well known that the Diamondbacks were a statistical anomaly. They allowed more runs than they scored. They were an absurd 32-20 in one run games. They had the lowest team batting average (.250) in the National League. Outside of Brandon Webb, no starter on the staff had an ERA under 4.25.

Ninety wins, a division champion team, and a playoff sweep of the Chicago Cubs. This was a very successful season. Unfortunately, it was the success in 2007 and then the 20-8 start to the 2008 season that led to where the team now finds itself.

How is this?

Well, how I recall it, when Josh Byrnes was hired as general manager in 2005, there was an organizational plan. The plan was to develop minor league talent and then rely on that talent to contribute at the major league level. There would be strict salary budgeting, so to live through the debt left from the championship team. There would be no big splashes in free agency, and there was the expectation that success was a long term goal. Improvement each year was the goal, but to win the division was probably 3-4 years away.

The 2007 season and 2008 start of the season changed some plans. Decisions were made to try and return to the postseason. It turns out that the success that I viewed as magical was as much as an anomaly as the statistics were. It was fool’s gold, a fluke.

First was the trade for Dan Haren. Now, I don’t question this move because it has worked out well for the most part.

However, it cost the team Carlos Quentin (the player, Chris Carter, who came to Arizona from the White Sox for Quentin, was in the deal), Carlos Gonzalez (the prize prospect who now is playing very well in the majors), Brett Anderson (11-11 last season and 2-1 this season with 1.88 ERA), Dana Eveland (who is in the majors, but has not been much), Greg Smith (also pitching in the majors, albeit only OK), and Aaron Cunningham (no real major league impact yet).

The bullpen, which was so brilliant in the 2007 season, was overhauled. Jose Valverde was traded for Chad Qualls, Juan Gutierrez, and Chris Burke.

This was a calculated risk that I agreed with in part. Valverde was volatile and was looking for a big payday.

Historically, closers come and go. The sell high principle was the plan. Too bad that Chris Burke was the worst player ever to put on a Diamondback uniform, neither Brandon Lyon nor Chad Qualls have been solid closers, and Juan Gutierrez is Tony Peña reincarnated (dynamite and unhittable at the start, then an erratic gas can).

In hindsight, it seems that keeping the team’s strength together would have been a better plan, especially since the past two seasons have shown the bullpen to be the fatal flaw in the team.

Then were three ill-fated trades in the 2008 season, intended to bolster the bullpen and add needed power to the lineup so that they could win the division. Jon Rauch (Jon “Ouch”) was acquired for Emilio Bonifacio (who was slated to be the replacement for Orlando Hudson at second base) and Adam Dunn for Micah Owings.

Trying to recreate the bench magic from the previous year, the team traded Scott Hairston for Tony Clark. Hairston, while not spectacular, has been a contributor in San Diego.

To make matters worse, after obtaining Dunn before he was to become a free agent, the plan was to get back compensatory draft picks when he signed elsewhere, but then the team did not offer him arbitration, thus losing the picks.

Rauch turned out to be a disaster and was traded at the end of 2009 season, netting pitcher Kevin Mulvey, who has done nothing with the team so far.

Tony Peña, the seventh-inning lock in 2007, was traded for first baseman Brandon Allen, who has not shown he can hit big league pitching.

This past offseason brought reliever Aaron Heilman for prospect Scott Maine.

Now I understand that sometimes you have to trade prospects because you can never count on them all to be solid major league players.

The issue I am seeing now is that management got caught up in trying to recreate something that was simply a fluke.

They should have seen that, after April 2008, the team was simply showing its true colors. Instead of bailing on the long term plan to try and win in 2008, had they stayed the course, the past two years would not have been so miserable. Perhaps they would not have been great, but they should have been improving.

Now it appears that we will be starting over again, which is always a painful process.

At the very least, I can only imagine that we would not be experiencing the disaster that is the 2010 season. It has gotten to the point that I will start watching games for the comedic value—how will they lose next? It’s time for a new plan, and it stinks.

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Don’t Get Too Excited About D’backs’ Bullpen Yet

The past two games for the Arizona bullpen? 6 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball. Yes, I know. It is an amazing feat. One might actually think that a corner has been turned, that things will improve.

This is, indeed, possible, but before there are parties and wagers about how the season is turning around (I doubt people are doing that yet, but still relax), take a deep breath and look at the reality. The bullpen just did that against the Astros, a pathetic excuse for a major league team at the moment.

How bad are the ‘Stros? Offensively, they are terrible. In 26 games, the team has scored a total of only 73 runs, an average of less than three per game. They have hit only nine home runs as a team (remember that BOTH Mark Reynolds and Kelly Johnson have hit as many individually).

They only mustered one run against D’backs’ starter Cesar Valdez in five innings, a pitcher that, previous to Saturday when it was announced that he would start, I had never even heard of.

I was encouraged by the quality of pitches that I saw both Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez throw, but Gutierrez was also aided by a generous strike zone that caused both Hunter Pence and Lance Berkman to argue with the umpire after being punched out by Gutierrez.

Basically, I am happy that the bullpen had success, but I am also a long way from declaring that the problems are over. As fans, we should expect the bullpen to do its job (regardless of how bad things are, that is still the expectation we have), but based on what we have seen so far this season we shouldn’t expect to actually see it.

I hope I am wrong, but I just can’t see it happening. What do you think? Were you encouraged? Do you think it is the start of a new trend? Leave your comments.

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A Very Fond Memory of Ernie Harwell

I was making dinner for my family Tuesday evening when I got a text  telling me that Ernie Harwell had died at age 92, having suffered from cancer.

Normally, I do not react much when hearing about the death of somebody famous. I feel bad for those who knew the person, but since I don’t know the person, I don’t feel a need to mourn.

More importantly, because of my faith, I do not see death as something terribly sad because I do not believe it to be our end. The only sadness I feel when it is someone I know is that of my own personal loss, and if it is someone I do not know, I feel sad for the loss of those close to the person.

All that aside, hearing of Harwell’s passing reminded me of a wonderful experience I had as a teenager with him, even while I lived here in Arizona.

It was early 1993. I was almost 16 and was a sophomore in high school. My combined Advanced English/History class was to participate in the National History Day competition.

That year’s theme was “Communication in History” and I decided to research the radio voices of baseball (at that point in my life, it was the career I desired for my future).

As part of my research, I sent letters to several major league teams, asking for information about their broadcasters. I wrote to, among others, my then beloved Dodgers about Vin Scully, the Brewers about Bob Uecker, the Cubs about Harry Caray, the Yankees about the late Red Barber, and the Tigers about Ernie Harwell (who at the time had been let go and brought back to booth).

To my disappointment, there was little response to my correspondence.

I only heard back from two teams. One was the Brewers, who (a whole year after the competition I might add) sent me an autographed picture of Bob Uecker.

The other was prompt. It was a letter from the Tigers’ spring training home in Lakeland, Florida by Connie Bell, the team’s public relations director, informing me how to get a hold of Harwell’s office.

I called the number and there was no answer, but I left a message. At best, I expected to get a call back telling me when to call. I didn’t really expect to get a call back; after all, I was just a 15 year old kid.

To my surprise, on a Sunday afternoon, my mom tells me I have a phone call. I take the phone and find out that it is Ernie Harwell himself.

I couldn’t believe it.

I talked to him for a few minutes, conducting what was probably a very poor interview, but I was impressed, to say the least. He, a famous broadcaster, took time out of his weekend to return a phone call to a teenager across the country to answer a few questions. To this day it still amazes me.

It has been 17 years since this happened. I didn’t end up going into broadcasting, and I hate the Dodgers now. I don’t know if I even ever heard an Ernie Harwell game call after that date.

What I do know is that Harwell was not only one of the game’s best broadcasters, but he made an impression on a young me as a man and the Detroit Tigers impressed me as an organization. They forever have my respect.

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