Real Teams Don't Have Swimming Pools in Their Outfields
by Mark T.R. Donohue
The Arizona Diamondbacks were really bad last year. Really bad. They lost 111 games. Then they announced that they had to trade their best player, claiming debt coming out of their ears and declaring a commitment to rebuilding from within the organization. Then, oddly, they started handing out blank checks, even hiring an agent as their new GM. Not only were their signings out of thin air, they were also what some might call in the parlance "stupid." They gave depressingly average starter Russ Ortiz, he of the career 4.03 ERA, 4 years, $33 million. They gave Troy Glaus, whose shoulder is made of bone china, 4 years, $45 million. They even gave Shawn Estes $2.5 million for a year for good measure. In the three-way Randy Johnson trade, they brought on board the greatest Jewish Dodger since Koufax, Shawn Green, and the $30 million remaining on his deal. What happened to their debt? Maybe they forgot to cash one of their paychecks. Maybe someone stole their ATM card.
Even if these players were good (or in Glaus's case, consistently healthy), they would have to be otherworldly to make the difference between 111 losses and the playoffs, even in the watered-down West. The D-Backs are a slightly illusory 20-15 right now; their run differential suggests a more pedestrian 16-19. (For consistency's sake, they were indeed exactly as bad as their record last year, or to be precise a game better.) Ortiz certainly hasn't contributed to the improvement. Russ is 2-2 with a 5.21 ERA, a .288 BAA, and an invisible 3.79 K/9 figure. Green has been his usual underachieving self as well: .258/.313./.402, 18 RBIs.
Glaus, on the other hand, has been fantastic. Near MVP-level, actually, and not a sniff of the disabled list so far. .288/.384/.640, 10 homers, even 3 stolen bases for variety's sake. And continuing one of the great mysteries of the universe, Shawn Estes is having another one of his weird Shawn Estes seasons, like when he won 15 games with a 5.84 ERA for the Rockies last year, or almost won 20 for the Giants in '97. Estes' 3.74 ERA so far this season is almost a full run lower than his career 4.68 mark, despite his strikeout rate being significantly lowered and his pitching his home games in a pretty good hitters' park. I would say that this cannot continue, except it's Shawn Estes -- anything could happen.
The Rockies will face both Estes and Ortiz in this four-gamer as well as erstwhile Yankee minor-leaguer Brad Halsey and the D-Backs' own product Brandon Webb. It's Ortiz-Chacon, Halsey-Francis, and Webb-Wright in the three night games, then Estes-Jennings (there's a matchup for the ages!) Sunday afternoon. Webb is emerging as the staff ace (4-0, 3.30 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) and Halsey (2-1, 3.46, 1.22) has been just as good. Closer Brandon Lyon (13 saves, 1.56 ERA) has been Arizona's biggest pleasant surprise on the young season. Setup man Lance Cormier has yet to allow an earned run in 15 innings. The Diamondbacks' bullpen takes a serious dive after that, though, so the Rockies' homefield advantage should come into play big-time in this series. You can beat these guys in the middle innings.
With the improved play of the Colorado bullpen in the last few series, expectations have to be raised for matchups at home with weaker teams like Arizona. The D-Backs offense is punchless (13th in the NL in OPS, ahead of only Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Houston) and their pitching has overperformed to this point. We shouldn't hope that the Rockies win 3 of 4 -- we should expect it!