NL West Report: Who Deserves Credit For Arizona's Worst-to-First?

Baseball can be a tough game to predict.  In one area, you can feel like a genius, like you have everything figured out, only to see something completely inconceivable happen just around the corner.  I more or less pegged the Giants' collapse to the letter in March:

Brian Sabean appears to have fallen in love with his 2010 squad. The status-quo-after-success method didn't work with the Rockies three years ago, and Dan O'Dowd had the benefit of expecting some growth from the young core. Brian Sabean is instead betting that his line-up is immune to Father Time and that the Off! he keeps in his office is actually Injury Repellent.

I picked the Giants to fall to third place.  But then there's the Diamondbacks.  

They absolutely will be better. How much better is the question, and I wouldn't bet on very much.

In fairness, few saw this coming.  Obviously someone deserves credit for turning a team from a 97-loss team to a club that's one game out of hosting a playoff series.  

Kevin Towers:  The Diamondbacks' new general manager is a popular place to start.  The bullpen has had a complete make-over and now has 2.8 fWAR for the season, vs. -2.1 in 2010.  Henry Blanco was a nice addition, but other than the bullpen, Towers' handiwork has been closer to inconsequential.  He stocked the team with Juan Miranda, Russell Branyan, Geoff Blum, Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, Willie Bloomquist, Zach Duke and Armando Gallaraga.  That's a whole lot of nothing.

Kirk Gibson:  The change of atmosphere due to Gibson got a lot of press in the spring, and Daniel Hudson gives Gibson a lot of credit for that in yesterday's twitterview with Steve Berthiume.  Is an atmosphere worth a 30-win swing?  I'm rather dubious - it seems to be a go-to answer to explain the inexplicable.  "We just believe now.  We didn't before.  I love these guys."

Look closer and you'll realize both of these men jumped aboard a rebuilding ship on its way back up.  How about:

Josh Byrnes:  Yeah, he was fired, but the man made an unpopular trade in 2010 to acquire Edwin Jackson and current Cy Young contender Ian Kennedy.  The deal has worked out famously for Arizona.

Jerry DiPoto:  As the interim GM in July of 2010, DiPoto dealt Dan Haren to the Angels.  While that trade is a net loss on an MLB roster in 2011, Joe Saunders has pitched 183 solid innings.  Ask the Rockies how much that would mean.  Far more important, DiPoto dealt Edwin Jackson to the White Sox for Daniel Hudson, who has pitched better in some ways than Kennedy this season.  Two of Arizona's top three players were acquired year, each by a different GM before Towers' arrival.

Luck:  It hasn't all gone Arizona's way.  Yet every worst-to-first story contains a good amount of luck, or just the right collection of well-timed goodness.  Ryan Roberts suddenly became a 4.0 WAR player.  Justin Upton finally chose to break out, in the right year.  Aaron Hill has become Chase Utley.  Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra are having career years.  They are 23-14 in one run games.  It (mostly) has fallen better than even Diamondbacks fans could have hoped for.  

More than the trio of general managers or the field manager, sometimes, you just have to chalk it up to happy happenstance.  That doesn't mean Arizona isn't a talented team.  No one should be shocked Hudson, Upton and Kennedy are having their success...it just wasn't supposed to happen yet.  I am officially afraid for the next half decade.

 

Two weeks' worth of divisional news after the fold

Yeah, so I got very bust last week and did not produce an NL West Report.  Chances are if you clicked past the jump, you're one of the few who might have noticed.  I made up for it though, ignoring my fiance and son for the night to catch you up on the last two weeks in the NL West.

NL West Report

Arizona (83-61, 1st, W2)

Last Two Weeks: 6-0, 4-2.  3-0 vs. Padres.  3-0 vs. Rockies.  2-1 @ Giants.  2-1 @ Rockies.  1-0 @ Padres  

You Should Know:  Arizona is just one game back of Milwaukee in the loss column.  This is significant.  If the Diamondbacks overtake or even tie the Brewers' record, they would host round one of the playoffs against the Braves rather than go on the road to face the Phillies.

Divisional Change: Increased their lead to 7.5 games in the division.

This Week: Last three games of a four game home series vs. Padres.  3 game road series @ Dodgers.

News:  As Arizona races to their fifth division title in just their 14th season, Diamondback fans get to remember the franchise's first World Series championship, one decade ago, with a reunion of players on that team this weekend.  And just in case you wanted one of those hideous teal and purple jerseys, they'll be on sale this weekend.

In other news found in the alumni newsletter, Randy Johnson has been in contact with the Diamondbacks about a coaching position.

"I've been in touch with [Kirk Gibson] on multiple occasions this year, and even reached out to a couple of the pitchers behind closed doors. Had conversations with them just to kind of have my input, so I'm not that far from getting back in the game." - The Big Unit.

Randy Johnson

#51 / Arizona Diamondbacks

6-10

225

Sep 10, 1963

Grant Brisbee asked if we should have seen the Diamondbacks' season coming.  He lists a lot of good reasons why many underrated the team, but the any answer other than "hell no" is a wrong one.  

As R.J. Anderson pointed out, in the midst of their worst-to-first season, the Diamondbacks somehow have dusted off four long forgotten names and brought them back to the big leagues:  Sean Burroughs, Yhency Brazoban, Wily Mo Pena and Robby Hammock.  Someone find out what Junior Spivey is doing.  

Paul Goldschmidt hit a home run off Tim Lincecum for his first MLB home run, then hit a 2-run home run off Cliff Lee, the only two runs Lee allowed in August.

Transactions: Outrighted IF Cody Ransom to AAA Reno (8/27).

September Call-Ups:  RHP Sam Demel, RHP Ryan Cook, C Robby Hammock.  

Injuries:  Activated IF Geoff Blum and LHP Alberto Castillo from the 15-day DL (9/1).  Juan Gutierrez underwent Tommy John surgery Tuesday.  

Arizona Diamondbacks Injuries

60 Day DL / Out for the season

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Juan Gutierrez elbow 05/25/2011
Stephen Drew ankle 07/21/2011
Jason Marquis leg 08/15/2011
Star-divide 

Los Angeles (70-72, 3rd, W2, 12.0 GB)

Last Two Weeks: 5-1, 5-2.. 2-1 vs. Rockies.  3-0 vs. Padres.  1-0 @ Pirates.  2-1 @ Braves.  2-1 @ Nationals.  Los Angeles' four game series in Washington features two postponements and one make-up game.  With the Dodgers and Nationals out of the playoff race, this means the Dodgers cannot be .500 this season, as Jon Weisman points out. 

You Should Know: Courtesy of the always insightful Eric Stephen:

In 128-year history of the Dodgers, 2 players have had 5 straight seasons of 30+ doubles: Jackie Robinson (1947-51) & Andre Ethier (2007-11)

Oh, he had another gem:

Most stolen bases by a Dodger in his first 36 career games (since 1919): Dee Gordon 16, Davey Lopes 15, Rudy Law 14, Mariano Duncan 9

And again:

Matt Kemp & Juan Rivera, first Dodgers teammates with 20 RBI in same month since Kemp & Andre Ethier in August 2009

Divisional Change: Moved into third place in the division, yet still lost one game on the division leaders.

This Week: 3 game road series @ Giants.  3 game home series vs. Diamondbacks.  Game 1 of a 4 game home series vs. Pirates. The rainout in Washington forced a Tim Lincecum/Clayton Kershaw match-up tonight.  Kershaw has already beaten Lincecum by a 1-0 score twice.

News:  Three days after I wrote the Dodgers must trade Andre Ethier, Ian Casselberry of Yahoo! Sports wrote a piece examining where Ethier could potentially be shipped.  The Ethier drama exploded after that NL West Report, with the right fielder telling TJ Simers the Dodgers are forcing him to play through an injured knee, because they don't believe in the seriousness of his injury.

Ethier backtracked the next day through his agent and was soon back hitting well.  In fact, Ethier actually had the Dodgers' first AND second hits in one inning.  That's hard to do.  The whole episode concluded yesterday, as Los Angeles shut Ethier down for the season.  He went to see Dr. Andrews yesterday and will likely have arthroscopic surgery.

Andre Ethier

#16 / Right Field / Los Angeles Dodgers

6-2

205

L

L

Apr 10, 1982

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Andre Ethier 135 487 67 142 30 0 11 62 58 103 0 1 .292 .368 .421

Ben Badler gave some perspective:  

Clayton Kershaw is about to finish his third straight MLB season with an ERA under 3.00. And he's younger than Kyle Drabek

Frank McCourt reportedly was offered $1.2 billion to sell the Dodgers.  That's 50% more than any MLB team has ever been sold for, shattering the Cubs record.  But if that sounds suspicious, you can joinMLB in thinking it's too good to be true.

Eric Stephen writes that "Dee Gordon is a fascinating study in head versus heart in baseball fandom"

Catcher Tim Federowicz was called up along with the September call-ups.  Federowicz is the guy Ned Colletti coveted enough to trade Trayvon Robinson away.

Transactions:  Optioned RHP Josh Lindblom to AA Chattanooga (8/25).  Released C Dioner Navarro (8/30).  Recalled RHP Josh Lindblom (8/31).  

September Call-Ups:  LHP Dana Eveland, 3B Russ Mitchell, SS Dee Gordon, RHP Ramon Troncoso, RHP John Ely, C Tim Federowicz, OF Jerry Sands.

Injuries:   Activated RHP Kenley Jansen from the 15-day DL (8/25).  Activated SS Dee Gordon from the 15-day DL (9/1).  B Casey Blake underwent season-ending surgery on his neck (9/6).  RHP Jonathan Broxton threw bullpen sessions this week but there is still no timetable for his return.  RF Andre Ethier will likely have surgery on his knee and is out for the year.  IF Juan Uribe underwent surgery on a sports hernia Wednesday and is out for the season.  Transferred RHP Vicente Padilla from the 15 to 60-day DL (9/6).  

Los Angeles Dodgers Injuries

15-Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Jonathan Broxton elbow 05/04/2011
Rubby De La Rosa elbow 08/01/2011

60 Day DL / Out for the season

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Casey Blake neck 09/01/2011
Andre Ethier knee 09/07/2011

Star-divide 

San Diego (62-82, 5th, L1, 21.0 GB)

Last Two Weeks: 0-6, 2-4.  0-3 @ Diamondbacks.  0-3 @ Dodgers.  1-2 vs. Rockies.  1-2 vs. Giants.  0-0 @ Diamondbacks.

You Should Know: Tim Stauffer walked seven batters in 1.2 IP, becoming the first Padres pitcher ever to walk seven batters without getting six or more outs.  Proof

Divisional Change: Fell NINE games further back in the division in just two weeks.

This Week: Last 3 games of a 4 game road series @ Diamondbacks.  3 game road series @ Giants.

News:  The Padres are close to a television deal with Fox Sports for 2012 and beyond.  When this comes to pass, the Padres' payroll potential will increase.  

Cameron Maybin is hitting .297/.347/.406 since the All-Star Break.  His strong season has started buzz of an extension for the center-fielder, who is still only 24-years-old.  

Cameron Maybin

#24 / Center Field / San Diego Padres

6-3

210

R

R

Apr 04, 1987

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Cameron Maybin 118 441 72 121 19 7 8 36 38 105 34 5 .274 .332 .404

RHP Josh Geer is going to get back to pitching next month, six months after having surgery to remove a Stage III melanoma (skin cancer).

For the second straight season, the Padres lost nine straight games late in the year.  It didn't go to ten this time though, thanks to the Rockies, and they weren't in first place when it started.

Transactions:  Optioned 3B James Darnell to AAA Tucson (8/25).  Recalled CF Blake Tekotte from AA San Antonio and optioned RHP Erik Hamren to AAA Tucson (8/30).  Optioned CF Blake Tekotte to AA San Antonio, called up RHP Brad Brach from AAA Tucson, designated C Kyle Phillips for assignment and claimed OF Jeremy Hermida off waivers from Cincinnati (8/31).  Claimed RHP Jeff Fulchino from the Astros (9/1) and RHP Drew Carpenter from the Phillies (9/2) off waivers.  Outrighted C Kyle Phillips to AAA Tucson (9/6).

September Call-Ups:  Hamren, Darnell, 1B Anthony Rizzo, IF Luis Martinez.

Injuries:  Activated OF Chris Denorfia from the 15-day DL (9/5).  Placed RHP Evan Schribner on the 60-day DL (9/2).  UT Logan Forsythe is out for the season with left knee pain and had surgery yesterday.  3B Chase Headley is expected to swing a bat tomorrow and could return in a week or two from a broken pinky finger.  Transferred LHP Clayton Richard from the 15-day to 60-day DL (8/26).  Transferred RHP Dustin Moseley from the 15-day to 60-day DL (8/31).

San Diego Padres Injuries

15-Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Chase Headley fingers 08/07/2011
Evan Scribner shoulder 09/02/2011

60 Day DL / Out for the season

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Brad Hawpe elbow 06/19/2011
Dustin Moseley shoulder 07/27/2011
Clayton Richard shoulder 07/05/2011

Star-divide 

San Francisco (75-68, 2nd, L1, 7.5 GB)

Last Two Weeks: 2-5. 2-1 vs. Astros.  1-2 vs. Cubs.  1-2 vs. Diamondbacks.  2-1 @ Padres.  Tim Lincecum allowed three home runs in one game.

You Should Know:  Zack Wheeler, the top prospect dealt for Carlos Beltran, has a 2.00 ERA in six starts for the Mets High-A affiliate with 31 K's and just 5 walks in 27 innings.....Aaron Rowand finished his 2011 season one of the 14 worst K/BB ratios with 350+ PA in MLB history. h/t GiantsNirvana

Divisional Change:  Fell from 3.0 games out of first to 7.5 games out of first, essentially ending their playoff hopes.

This Week: 3 game home series vs. Dodgers.  3 game home series vs. Padres.  Game 1 of a 4-game road series @ Rockies.

News:  Ryan Vogelsong has had an incredible comeback season, but he isn't the only Giants farmhand to do so.  Jerome Williams, a Giants' 1999 1st round pick and BA #19 prospect in 2001, is 3-0 with a 3.51 for the Angels with 19 K's to 4 walks.  He hadn't been in an MLB game since 2007 and hadn't won an MLB game in six years.  So how has he done it?  Location, location, location.

I doubt I'm in the minority here.  I've been to well over 100 MLB games and never caught a foul ball.  But Barry Bonds got one recently.

Brian Wilson is at 0.9 rWAR and Jeremy Affeldt at 0.8 fWAR.  If they manage to reach 1.0 rWAR by the end of the season, the Giants will tie an MLB record with five 1.0+ rWAR relievers.

Grant Brisbee broke down and finally vented about the veterans on the roster.

Finally, after the Giants are essentially out of contention,Brian Sabean released Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada.  The expensive and useless over-the-hill duo forced the Giants to eat approximately $14million in salary, $12million to Rowand alone.

A Giants fan wrote about Tim Lincecum's decline.  Decline?  Yes.   He's still a phenomenal pitcher, but as GiantsNirvana points out, he's 3rd on the team in fWAR after leading the Giants the previous three seasons.  So what's the problem?  Being 4th in MLB in walks is a good place to start.

Tim Lincecum

#55 / Pitcher / San Francisco Giants

5-11

165

L

R

Jun 15, 1984

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Tim Lincecum 12-12 29 29 1 1 0 0 190.0 150 65 58 14 77 200 2.75 1.19

Brett Pill, another first baseman, made his MLB debut last week and hit a home run his first two MLB starts.  He is the second Giants hitter to do so, but in case you're worried about Pill, you should know the other Giant to accomplish the feat was .... John Bowker.  Todd Helton did it as well, but so did Kevin Kouzmanoff.  So it goes.

So if Pill won't make it and the front office continues to forget who Brandon Belt is, who plays first base?  Not Aubrey Huff, unless his even year voodoo is for real.  How about Pablo Sandoval at first base,  with Buster Posey at third base?

For all Buster Posey's insistence that he will be the starting catcher on opening day, there is a strong undercurrent in the front office for moving him to first base -- or maybe even third base, with Pablo Sandoval grabbing a first baseman's mitt.

And now, for the best gif of the year, by Chad Moriyama:

Pablo_medium

Grant's explanation and fabricated dialogue here.


Transactions:   Optioned C Hector Sanchez to AAA Fresno (8/25).  Called up LHP Eric Surkamp and designated LHP Clayton Tanner for assignment (8/27).  Optioned LHP Dan Runzler and Eric Surkamp to AAA Fresno (8/28).   Released LHP Clayton Tanner (8/29).  Designated SS Miguel Tejada and OF Aaron Rowand for assignment and called up 1B Brett Pill (8/31).    Released Tejada and Rowand (9/8).

September Call-Ups:  C Hector Sanchez, Pill, SS Brandon Crawford, OF Darren Ford, 3B Conor Gillaspie, IF Emmanuel Burriss, RHP Waldis Joacquin, OF Justin Christian, LHP Dan Runzler, LHP Eric Surkamp.

Injuries:  Activated C Eli Whiteside from the 15-day DL (8/25).  Activated RHP Sergio Romo and CF Andres Torres from the 15-day DL (8/28).  Activated OF Pat Burrell from the 15-day DL (8/31).  C Buster Posey is walking withhout his boot, but he has not begun running.  LHP Jonathan Sanchez has played catch but could be out for the season with a sprained ankle.  Placed OF Nate Schierholtz on the 15-day DL with a right foot fracture (8/27); he may return in a week from a right foot fracture, but he would only be available for pinch hit duty.  LHP Barry Zito has played catch off flat ground Sunday and could return in a week or two.  RHP Brian Wilson threw a 22-pitch bullpen session Wednesday in an attempt to return from an inflamed elbow.  He has no timetable to return. 

San Francisco Giants Injuries

Questionable

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Aubrey Huff lower-back 09/08/2011

15-Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Barry Zito foot 08/01/2011
Jonathan Sanchez ankle 08/17/2011
Brian Wilson elbow 08/16/2011
Nate Schierholtz foot 08/22/2011

60 Day DL / Out for the season

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Buster Posey ankle 05/26/2011
Freddy Sanchez shoulder 06/11/2011
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