Tagged: Diamondbacks

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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It may be small consolation to their frustrated fan base, but if the Orioles can find someone halfway decent to patrol
left field, they can make an argument for having the best outfield in the game.
Center fielder Adam Jones has blossomed in his second season, adding a robust
bat to his already imposing glove. Right fielder Nick Markakis is now a
legitimate star, having elevated his game each of the last three seasons. Unfortunately, left field remains a problem for the Birds. Felix Pie (.158
batting average and .238 on-base percentage) has hit just as poorly in Baltimore as he did in Chicago, while utilityman Lou Montanez is no
more than a stopgap solution. A more immediate short-term answer might be found at Triple-A, where the
Orioles just assigned Joey Gathright, freshly acquired from the Cubs.
Gathright, who is still one of the three fastest runners in the game (I’ll vote
for Emilio Bonifacio and Brett Gardner as the others) and can handle left field
defensively. As to how much Gathright will hit, that remains the eternal
question…

 

On Saturday night, Steve Stone provided another example of
why he’s one of baseball’s best color analysts. During the broadcast of the
White Sox-Rangers game, Stone listed Josh Fields and Carlos Quentin as the Sox’
two best runners in terms of going hard into second base and breaking up potential double
plays. That’s just great information. How many color announcers even pay
attention to such overlooked aspects of baserunning, especially in an era when
hitting and pitching are so much the focus of on-air discussion? Keep up the
great work, Steve…

 

It’s really no mystery why Zack Greinke has been so
masterfully overpowering for the Royals. He has two phenomenal pitches–an
exploding fastball and a biting overhand curve–and throws everything in his
arsenal for strikes. His start to the season is no fluke; he’s a legitimate No.
1 starter that the Royals can build around for years to come. With Greinke, Gil
Meche, and Brian “The Animal” Bannister now in the rotation, and former No. 1
pick Luke Hochevar on the way, the Royals have the makings of a starting staff
that will contend–if not in 2009, then next summer…

 

Just how low have the Yankees sunk? Fresh off their
disheartening five-game losing streak this week, the front office decided that
answers to their problems could be found in journeyman mediocrities Kevin Cash
and Brett Tomko, recalled from Triple-A Scranton. Cash is the ultimate
good-field, no-hit catcher, a limited player of borderline major league capability.
Tomko pitched horribly for the Padres last season, despite the benefit of
pitching in Petco
Park half of the time. While
it’s undeniable that the Yankees have been hit with a crushing tidal wave of
injuries, it’s inconceivable that such a wealthy franchise has such little
organizational depth. It’s also an indictment of general manager Brian Cashman
and his stunning lack of attention to detail. Remarkably, Cashman failed to put
in a waiver claim on hard-hitting backup catcher Brayan Pena, who was demoted
to Triple-A Omaha by the Royals…

 

I understand that A.J. Hinch is a bright young mind who has
done well in developing Arizona’s
farm system. But wouldn’t it have made more sense for the Diamondbacks to tap
someone with at least some on-field experience in hiring their new manager,
especially in the middle of the season. There are some legitimate managerial
candidates who have track records in running ballclubs. Torey Lovullo is a
terrific young manager who has won two minor league titles in the Indians’
system. Why didn’t the D-Backs at least approach the Indians about the
possibility of hiring Lovullo? Another possibility would have been Davey
Johnson, fresh off his stint as manager of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Or perhaps the D-Backs could have stayed in-house by promoting bench coach Kirk
Gibson, who could have at least managed the team on an interim basis. Gibson
certainly doesn’t lack fire, which was one of the criticisms aimed at fired
skipper Bob Melvin…

 

Rickie Weeks, a notoriously poor fielding second baseman,
has been one of the game’s most improved defenders through the first five weeks
of the season. Much of the credit goes to new Brewers coach Willie Randolph, who
was hired as part of Ken Macha’s new-look staff. Randolph was one of the most
fundamentally sound second baseman of his era, so it’s no surprise that he’s
having such a positive impact on the talented but erratic Weeks…

 

Sandy Alomar, Sr. has been a player, coach, or minor league
instructors for 49 straight years, dating back to 1960, his first year in
professional ball with the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. Yet, Alomar had
never managed even a single game–mostly because he had no such aspirations–until
this weekend.  Alomar’s debut took place
on Saturday, as he managed the Mets during Jerry Manuel’s one-game suspension
for incidental contact with an umpire. The Mets won that game against the
Pirates, 10-1, which means that Alomar will have a perfect record as manager
for awhile, at least until the next time that Manuel is suspended. Good for
Alomar, one of the solid men who have been a life-long servant to the game…

 

Of all the team statistics I’ve heard bandied about, none is
more shocking than this. The Phillies are a meager 3-and-9 at home in games in
which they have faced right-handed starting pitchers. That is simply stunning
for a team that is so heavily loaded with left-handed hitting studs like Ryan
Howard, Chase Utley, the switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins, and new sensation Raul
Ibanez. The Phillies’ poor record against righties is a severe indictment of
their shaky starting pitching, which has too often failed to keep them in
games. None of Philly’s starters–particularly ace Cole Hamels or the
prehistoric Jamie Moyer–have pitched anywhere near their 2008 levels.

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A Smattering of Intelligence: Hinch, Freel, and The Little Professor

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Less than six weeks into the season, the Diamondbacks have
decided that a major change is in order for their underachieving team. By
sacking Bob Melvin and hiring front office farm director A.J. Hinch to manage
the team, the D-Backs have signaled a radical change in the direction of their
on-field leadership. Hinch has no prior managing or coaching experience at any
level, not even in rookie ball. What he does have is an eye for young talent,
an ability that the D-Backs hope will translate into an ability to develop that talent. The latter area is
where Melvin fell short; too many of Arizona’s talented young players (like Mark
Reynolds and Chris Young) have failed to become significantly better than they were in
2007, when the Baby Backs came within two games of the World Series.

 

Did Melvin deserve to get fired? Perhaps, but not at this
early stage of the season. I tend to think that managers–like young unproven
players–deserve at least two full months of the season before we make
wide-sweeping judgments about their ability. I would have given Melvin until
the end of May; if the D-backs had shown no signs of a turnaround, a move would
have been mandatory. And what about Hinch? I know he’s a bright guy who has
drawn good reviews for his work as an Arizona’s
front office whiz kid, but his lack of any kind of on-field coaching or
managing experience is alarming. Contrary to what most Sabermetric general
managers like Josh Byrnes (and Billy Beane) seem to think, you cannot put just anyone into the managerial chair. It’s
not an interchangeable position. Rather, it’s a highly demanding and important
job that requires the right kind of temperament, personality, and experience.
Who knows how Hinch will do…

 

The Cubs made an interesting, if not major, transaction on
Friday, acquiring utilityman Ryan Freel from the Orioles for spare outfielder
Joey Gathright. Is this Chicago’s
way of trying to right the wrong that was done when GM Jim Hendry dealt Mark
DeRosa to the Indians for three middle-road prospects? Or is Hendry simply
trying to fortify his bench while ridding himself of a player (Gathright) who
had become so extraneous that he was sent to the minors earlier this week?

 

Freel isn’t the player that DeRosa is, either in terms of
power or versatility, but he does provide some flexibility. Freel can play
second base, third base, and all three outfield spots, while giving Lou
Piniella a decent pinch-running option in the late innings. Gathright is
certainly the more dangerous baserunner, but he’s strictly an outfielder, a
position that has become especially deep for Chicago given the resurgence of Kosuke
Fukudome and the presence of supersub Reed Johnson. This is really a no-brainer
move for the Cubs, who will benefit from Baltimore’s
inability to find a role for Freel…

 

In the late 1990s, Ted Williams championed Dom DiMaggio for
the Hall of Fame while serving as a member of the Veterans’ Committee. Even
with credit for the three seasons he lost to World War II, I felt that DiMaggio
fell short of the Hall of Fame standard. He was a very good player, but a bit
short of Cooperstown greatness.

 

That’s a trivial point, however. In many ways, Dom DiMaggio
represented everything that is good about baseball. DiMaggio, who died early
Friday morning at the age of 92, was a five-foot, nine-inch outfielder who wore
glasses; “The Little Professor” looked about as imposing on the ballfield as Chicken Little. But as
an overachiever performing in a sport where size plays little importance, he made
himself into a fine player who hit for average, drew walks, and played a dandy
center field–a very substantial player on some fine and underrated Red Sox
teams of the late 1940s. He was also, by all accounts, a true gentleman who was
highly regarded for his character by teammates and opponents alike. And that
matters a lot more than any argument about whether DiMaggio belongs in the Hall
of Fame.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Heilman, The Donkey, and Baseball Cards

It’s become plainly evident that the Mets can no longer trust Aaron Heilman to close out games during Billy Wagner’s tenure on the shelf. After watching Heilman blow a save on Monday afternoon against the lowly Pirates, Jerry Manuel has to try someone else–anybody for that matter–in an effort to clot the bleeding. While there is no slam dunk choice, given the bullpen’s ERA of more than 6.70 since the All-Star break, I would nominate Pedro Feliciano. The lefty specialist has been arguably their most consistent set-up reliever over the past three years, and while he’s certainly no sure thing against right-handed bats, he’s more deserving of a shot than Scott Schoeneweis. The only other option for the Mets is a waiver trade. Omar Minaya should put in a claim for any serviceable reliever who is put on waivers. Perhaps a team looking to shed some salary will just say, “Take him,” to the Mets, and ask for no trade compensation in return…

Assuming that neither of the players to be named later are top prospects, the Diamondbacks did very well in securing Adam “Big Donkey” Dunn in a waiver deal with the Reds. The D-Backs need offense in the worst way, particularly in the form of a left-handed bat who can balance their righty-heavy lineup. Dunn is a two dimensional player–he hits home runs and draws walks–who does nothing else well, but his power and patience are so exemplary that he’ll lift the spirits of Arizona’s offense. The D-Backs plan to use Dunn in right field while Justin Upton works his way back from the disabled list; once Upton is ready, Dunn will move back to his more accustomed position in left field. The trade will also give the D-Backs, if they’re so inclined, a head start on negotiations for a long-term contract with the impending free agent. Good move on all fronts for Arizona…

Finally, it’s time to change the baseball card image on our home page. We’ve had Willie Mays (the greatest living ballplayer) up for more than a month, but we’re now ready to move on to another selection. If you’ve got a card you’d like to nominate, just post your suggestion here, along with your reasons. Perhaps you like one of the 1973 Topps cards we’ve featured on “Card Corner” (like Norm Cash, Dave McNally, or Joe Rudi), or perhaps you’d prefer something completely different. Just let us know.

Postseason Notebook–The Rockies as the New Reds

Where does one begin in handing out bouquets to the National League champion Rockies? Incredibly, the Rockies have become the first team since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds to win their first seven games of the postseason. Given that those Reds featured the Hall of Fame likes of Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan and would-be Hall of Famer Pete Rose and won the LCS and the World Series with those seven games, the Rockies have taken their place next to some of baseball’s immortals.

The Rockies have played well in all facets in winning 21 of their last 22, but two areas have stood out in my eyes: their remarkable ability to hit with runners in scoring position their sensational defensive play. The third and fourth games of the series exemplified Colorado’s clutch hitting, as the Rockies twice mounted game-winning rallies with two outs. Defensively, the Rockies have shown almost no weakness, whether it comes to surehandedness, range, and athleticism. Other than Matt Holliday, who is a bit clunky in left field, the Rockies have no below-average defenders who play regularly. They also have several terrific fielders, including the rangy and power-armed Troy Tulowitzki, the fleet Willy Taveras (who is reminding me more and more of Garry Maddox), and the ever-reliable Todd Helton at first base.

As well as the Rockies played in sweeping the National League Championship Series, that’s how badly–and stupidly–the Diamondbacks performed throughout the four games. The D-Backs committed a host of baserunning errors, from Miguel Montero making the final out of Game One at second base to Justin Upton’s forearm shiver of Kaz Matsui to Chris Young being picked off at the start of Game Four. Then there was Stephen Drew stepping off the base when he wasn’t sure if he had been called out and Eric “Captain America” Byrnes foolishly diving into first base, the latter bringing a fitting end to a series filled with mental mistakes and an inability to hit in the clutch. Putting aside Game One, the D-Backs lost the final three games by a total of six runs, giving Arizona fans plenty of “what-if” ammunition for the long winter ahead. If the D-backs had hit just a little bit better with runners in scoring position or run the bases appreciably better, then this series would be moving on to Game Five.

Fortunately for the Diamondbacks, they are a young team loaded with talented players and have every right to expect to contend in the NL West for the foreseeable future. If Drew, Young, and Upton fulfill even 75 per cent of their perceived potential, they will be playing in plenty of All-Star games over the next decade. Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, and the injured Carlos Quentin (remember him) also have chances to be very good players, giving the D-Backs a terrific core of everyday players. Then it’s just a matter of finding two young starters to supplement Brandon Webb in the rotation and adding one more bigtime arm to a bullpen that already features closer Jose Valverde and the Other Tony Pena. That could spell some long-term trouble for the Dodgers, Giants, and even the Rockies in what remains a balanced NL West.