As I sat down to write last week’s “Week in Review” there was little to complain about. Anytime your team goes 7-0 in a week you celebrate it. Period. I did point out that Francis had back-to-back bad starters which was worrying. I also pointed out that the offense was starting to see some issues, especially CarGo. But we were on the verge of another sweep. But this is baseball. Things go good for a while and then bad for a while. A great team struggles against some lousy team just because they do. And over the course of five months, you have amazing weeks and amazingly bad weeks. That is why I love the game. Failure is the norm, but as a team, it all can find its way to victories 90 or 100 times a season.
I often write that in baseball all except for the most horrific teams – like Houston and Miami this year – or really amazing teams – the 84 Tigers or the 98 Yanks – will win 60 and lose 60. It’s the 42 other games that decide your season (this is also the reason that when Keith Law said the Rox would win less than 60 he really showed how little most of the national folks have any idea about the situation here – in a year when Tulo was gone before summer, Coors Field played maybe its most offensive ever, and the team had constant injuries they still didn’t lose 100 games). This is a good team. Whether it is a playoff team or can become a great team is still to be worked out. This week was incredibly frustrating, but even in that there are some things to be gleaned.
When the Yanks won 114 games they still had 13 loses where they lost by 5 or more runs. In that season they were 21-10 in 1-run games. That means even a great team like those Yankees had stretches they lost games like the Rox lost this week. They even had a 4 game losing streak that year. So teams have had weeks, especially against good teams. The Rox did not go 2-5 this week to the Stros and Cubs.
That said the most disappointing aspect of this team is its record in 1-run games. After Saturday night, they are now 3-5 in 1-run games. I keep comparing this team to last year’s Baltimore Orioles team for a number of reasons. But that team was I think 29-9 in 1-run games. That is why they made the playoffs instead of Toronto or California. The Rox have to start winning the 1 run games again. I do think that Weiss’s strategy and focus will begin to payoff in that department, but when you play the DBacks in 4 of the week’s games, is it surprising that 3 of those 1 run losses were against a team that plays with the same focus and attitude you do?
So positives for the week?
1) The Bullpen has been tremendous. Even the loss on Saturday night came after great pitching. Had Rosario not thrown the ball into CF (where was Rutledge backing up?), they might still be playing. Bullpens will give up runs, but since Wednesday, this group has only given up the one.
2) Jorge DLR looks more and more himself. Yes he got beat (he has 2 of the 3 losses when pitching a quality start), but his stuff was higher on the radar gun, had more movement than I remember, and he was maybe an inch or two on the game-winning homer from it being either a K or a foul-ball. I think he is only going to get better and better.
3) Rosario aside from the throwing error has continued to look good on D, his bat has stayed solid, and he is starting to really take charge with the pitchers.
4) Tulo really does look relaxed and has had some very good ABs. Likewise Cuddy has looked really solid and relaxed.
5) Francis was bombed on Tuesday giving up 3 homers in his 4 innings, and another Saturday night, but after the 1st inning (seemed to take a while to really get loose), he was very good, and had he not been pulled for a PH, probably could have gone at least 1 more inning or maybe 2, which would have been his first QS since opening day.
6) Nicasio also had a nice recovery start. Last Sunday he was overpowering but not sharp, it cost him a chance of the win and hurt the pen. Friday night he looked like he was powerful and had more movement in his pitches. The paper said Rosario spotted a big issue with his head, and now having gotten that fixed, maybe the Nicasio we saw in 2011 could be coming back.
7) Pacheco and Johnny Herrera have really looked good at bat, even as they both have other issues.
8) Even though I already mentioned the pen, I want to give praise to Lopez. Yes, he lost last Sunday’s game, but he is starting to get things worked out, which is going to make a difference long-term.
Okay, those are the good things. What about the bad?
1) The 3B situation is starting to make a negative difference. According to the radio guys on Friday, the Rox have 7 errors on throws from 3B, one more than the DBacks in total. The lack of power (0 homers) to go with this makes the situation more and more glaring. I remain a Nelson fan, but when Arenado breaks out of his current mini-slump, it is probably time. Nelson has given them some good and important Abs which shows he is a valuable piece, but I have no idea of the exact WAR from the position, but it cannot be good.
2) CarGo is in a serious funk and the team is about to face more lefties. Weiss said he was not going to rest him as long as his mental state was good. Yes, his defense is probably gold glove quality and his arm is a weapon. But he is really hurting this team at the plate. Either rest him or move him back to the leadoff spot that helped fix him a couple of years ago. But he killed the rally in the first inning on Saturday night with a very weak roll-over to the 2nd baseman for a double-play.
3) Whether it is the cold, the double-headers, or whatever, the team is making more and more mental errors this week. Thursday night the hitters looked like they had no game-plan what-so-ever, which cost them that game. While they looked better on Friday, Saturday we saw several serious base-running issues and other mistakes. It happens, and against good teams (Arizona is a very good team, still my pick for the West division champs) you lose.
4) The pen has been used a lot this week. Only 1 QS plus 2 extra-inning games is going to tell even as the team heads to the Dodgers next.
5) Rutledge really looks uncomfortable at the plate. His D and running still are plusses, but the question is whether he could use a refresher at COS to work things out.
6) Right now you have 2 positions without any power on the field, and they are your two corner infield spots. This cannot continue. Again, they lost 4 1-run games. A single homer from either of those positions this week likely means 2 more wins.
Is it time to panic? Heck no. They are still in 1st place. After a pretty miserable week they start this week with only .5 game less of a lead. We can harp on those missed opportunities, but they have hung in there against the 1st place Braves and the DBacks on the road. This is a good team. But you begin to wonder with all these lost 1-run games, how many of them become part of the 42 games that decide your fate? For me I like to focus on the +/- in 1-run games and the losses in Quality Starts. That does not bode well for their long-term record, but hopefully they – and especially Weiss – are learning in the midst of this how to win. Learning how to win close games and games you should lose is what makes good teams playoff teams (again see Baltimore, 2012). So, bad week, new one starts on Sunday and time to make the DBacks pay for last Sunday. I said before the trip if they go 4-3 they have had a positive trip. That is still really possible with a win on Sunday.
Week’s Games Re-Cap
This loss hurt about as much as the season opener (also a game that was blown due to Lopez). The offense did not keep up the pressure as they had the first 3 weeks. They had one big inning with some soft hits and a homer in the 6th, but aside from that they were anemic. Nicasio pitched a perfect 3 innings and then things went downhill, keeping him from getting out of the 5th and thus not getting a chance for a win. The pitch count issue remains a big one for Nicasio, pointing back to the issues that plagued many of the Rox’s young arms last year (it remains an issue for Pomeranz down here in COS, probably the last big issue before he can take his place up here). The pen did a good job until Belisle allowed a run in the 8th to make it a 1-run game, and then Lopez was undown on some soft hits and one big one, but seemed behind in the count a lot). It was a very disappointing game, very similar to the opening game and it left the team facing snow, the Braves, a road-trip, and the loss of their ace all with only a 1.5 lead despite playing great baseball.
Snow Snow Snow – Spring is coming, don’t worry. But how much is this taking an effect on the team?
Jeff Francis has had bad timing on his outings. The previous Tuesday he threw in the ice-bowl of the 2nd game of the Mets doubleheader. Tuesday’s first game wasn’t a whole lot warmer. Francis has to hit his spots to win. When he does he can foul-up a lineup with the changing speeds and in-out-in pitching style. But against the bashers of the Braves, his misses were sent flying. Giving up a homer to JUp in the first is no crime – he has been great all season. The 2 run shot to Uggla was really painful given how bad Uggla has been at the plate this year (I admit it, a few years back I wanted to trade for Dan Uggla…really glad we didn’t). The Rox fought back to tie it and then the cardinal sin when your team scores – he gave up a run via the homer route again to the Braves suddenly all-world catcher. With the team down 4-3 it was a great pitching match the rest of the way. Rob Scahill in his one outing while up with the big team did the pen a world of good by pitching 3 scoreless innings to eat-up innings where the pen could have been ruined for a week. His reward was a return to COS. The offense continued to look like it was missing a step as was seen over the weekend against the quality pitching the DBacks threw out. The game ended on Rosario being thrown out at 2nd – you can see the thinking there but its always weird when you see your catcher thrown out on a steal to end the game.
I still think Jon Garland is going to turn out to be the best signing under 2 million in the NL. He has been lights-out for a 5th starter until Tuesday. Like Francis, his fellow post-shoulder surgery recovery mate, when Garland misses he becomes a very average pitcher. With the game 3-1, he was still holding the line going into the 5th. But 2 pitches later, both sinkers that flattened out, both to an Upton, both ending up in the bleachers, and the game was essentially over. The Roxs over the years have struggled facing young pitchers the first time, and this was true against Teheran, who shut them down over 7 innings. The pen had a blow-up in the 9th, but by then it was just a matter of getting warm and trying to salvage the finale.
This team is going to have to depth. I figure over the year they will need either 8 or 9 starters. Additionally you know they will probably use about 4 additional arms that didn’t start the year in the pen. Tyler Chatwood was a pretty good 5th starter as a 21 year-old in 2011 for the Angels. His record was not great (6-11) but his 4.75 ERA was not bad for the former 2nd round pick. At 21 that is pretty good. Last year was a lost season. He never seemed comfortable. The team moved him from pen to rotation and back again. Add to that he pitched in Coors in what was probably the worst year there may ever be at the stadium. His 5-6 record and 5.43 ERA was not what they hoped for when they traded Chris Ianetta for him. His stature works against him, as its hard for him to get leverage, but he does have a power arm. At 23, you really want to see him “get it.” At COS he looked like he turned a corner.
The Rox needed a big start from their 6th starter. Aside from the one inning he gave up 3 runs (it could have been more) he looked pretty good. He competed against a very good lineup. The 2 runs in the 6th could have been avoided if the defense had not gone south. Almost a quality start, and he put them in position to win. I am very interested in how he pitches next time out against the Dodgers. It would be great to see him take ownership on a rotation spot.
Of course the big story of this game was the pen work. The Rox’s shut out the Braves after the 6th, including some nice work with runners on. The Braves pen found out that this lineup is very dangerous. I admit that I nearly turned the radio off after EYJr struck out to make it 2 outs in the 9th. But Dex took the best closer in the biz right now almost out of Coors (were it a degree warmer, that would have been out). You knew at that point they would find a way to win the game. They almost did so in the 11th after EYJr almost hit one out (again, on a warmer day it was probably gone), but Freddie Freeman made a nice play to throw EYJr at the plate. But it just setup a great 12th, with Rosario hustling a double (great emotion) and then seeing Yorvit get hit 700 to win the game. Big Big win. Have to think this is one of those 42 other games, and this is one in the positive column.
The Rox have rarely played well in Phoenix. The DBacks of course play well at home, especially under Kirk Gibson. He has them playing hard every game, and their management has put together a very good pen with a solid rotation. That means you cannot make mistakes and win most of the time. Jorge lost his shutout streak in the 2nd thanks to an actual error by Ryan Wheeler (again, the test of this team’s depth is key, and at least this night it was a fail) and then a mental error by Wheeler cutting off the throw from CarGo. DLR then gave up a towering homer to Goldschmidt as he pumped it inside to him but the DBacks 1st baseman flat turned on it and skied it. One inch further in and it’s a K. One inch further left and it was a foul-ball. As it was it was a big homer. But aside from that Jorge was very good. His pitches were nearing 94-95 again, moving like crazy, and he flat looked outstanding to me. The offense was the issue. Time after time they wasted positive hitters counts. This resulted in a 1-11 RISP night. A walk here. A non-K there, and this game was very winnable. Nights like this happen. But if there are too many of them this team will be in serious trouble. DLR now has 2 of the 3 losses when pitching a quality start. In both games a homer has killed him (the Pence 1st inning homer in SF was the other one), but this lose was not DLR’s fault. Better defense and any timely hitting and the Rox win this one.
Some nights you just look at your team and think – they are winning tonight. That was the way Friday night was. First, they got good pitching from Nicasio, as he kept his head moving towards the plate giving his pitches another 2-3 mph, more break, and with that more confidence. His 5th inning was probably the best inning of pitching he has done in his career. The more he learns to let hitters get themselves out and not worry about striking out everyone, he will prove he is a legit starter in the bigs. Would have loved to have seen him go 6 for a QS and relieve the pen, but in the paper Weiss said the pitchers will go longer as the season progresses but with all of his pitchers coming back from injury (save Francis) he is going to not push it. With the pen throwing so well and when your long-men can give you great innings as they have done this week, there is some reason to let your starters not push it. On the hitting side Tulo did what he has been doing since 2007 – he got the key hit to drive in the runs when they were needed. He is not traditionally a strong April hitter, but he has been key to the team’s strong start and with CarGo basically playing for his glove right now, Tulo is the MVP of this team. Add in the work of Cuddy in the 1st and Rosario and you can see that the 4-6 part of this lineup is very dangerous on most nights.
I think the word we all want is sickening. How do you get 4 walks in the first inning and get 0 runs? How do you, with men at 1 and 2nd not have CarGo at least try and bunt the ball instead of bouncing into a double-play? How does the umpire give a strike against Rosario on a 2-0 count on an inside pitch after 10 straight balls (changed that AB which ended up with a K). That first inning has been the Rox this past week in microcosm. They had the bases loaded in the 5th and got 0 runs again, despite only 1 out. Then you had the 2 on with 0 outs in the 8th and Cuddy gets picked off 2nd (the ROOT guys tried to let Cuddy off on that, but sorry, you stick by the bag there period…you don’t get picked) and then Rosario I guess thought there were 2 outs? That game should have been 10-2 easily. I hope they look at the film and take their frustration out tomorrow like they seemingly did Friday after Thursday night’s misery. On the positive side, they have gotten the DBacks starters out of the game by the 6th each game so far this series, so they are doing something right.
On the pitching side, Francis had trouble getting loose it seemed in the first. The homer was a hanger (starting to see a lot of homers against Jeff) but the second run was a bit of bad luck with the strange bounce on the ball to RF. But after that…Jeff was good Jeff again. He had quick and sharp innings. Allowed only 1 hit the rest of the 4 innings. Had they not pulled him for a pinch-hitter (I wondered about that decision actually, especially as bad as the pinch-hitting has been) I think he might have gone 7 (maybe have gotten his 2nd QS). Think the pen is going to get stressed at some point. Yes, the pen gave up the winning run in the 10th, but Escalona was not rocked. Had Rosario not short-hopped the throw they get the runner, or at least hold him to 2nd. The pen is going to give up runs…all pens do, but that was a nice run since Wednesday.
So, a 2-5 week that could easily have been 6-1 and should at least have had 3 more wins. They lead the West by 1 over the DBacks, which is only .5 less than they were on Monday (and increased it by .5 game over SF, who lost again to SD). This team is just a half-step out of sync from being the same team we saw reel off 8 straight wins. They need to start the week out with a win on Sunday and then head to LA and continue the Dodgers losing ways (they miss Kershaw, which is very nice, but they face another 2 lefties).
The keys for this week? First, they need to get at least 3 quality starts (or 3 in addition to DLR). Second, they need CarGo to get out of his funk. Third, they need better corner defense, especially on throws. And Fourth, they need to have someone else step-up aside from Tulo, Cuddy and Rosario, especially on days when Yorvit is starting. They know they are a good team. But if they can get that half-step out of sync back into sync, they can really start to take off.