Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Snakebit: Diamondbacks 3, Cubs 2
On to the Diamondbacks, who pulled off a worst-to-first turnaround nearly unprecedented in modern history. As BPro's writeup evinces, it had only been done three times by teams residing in divisions with more than four clubs, making it something of a rarity. They accomplished this feat by
- Radically reducing offensive strikeouts. Public enemy number one was Mark Reynolds, the team's whifftastic third baseman. (Reynolds staged a minor resurgence in Baltimore, hitting .221/.323/.483, but his OBP was roughly the same as from 2010, and his -22.9 UZR ranks among the worst starting defensive third basemen in the game.)
- This move, in turn, went a long way toward improving defense. Arizona went to fourth in the NL (.701 defensive efficiency) from an exactly league-average ninth in 2010 (.689).
- Fixing the bullpen. The Snakes had the second-worst bullpen in the league in 2010, so going up from there was almost an inevitability. Bringing in former (mostly) Mariner J.J. Putz as a free agent surprisingly did not backfire, and key acquisition from the Reynolds trade David Hernandez threw more innings than anyone else in relief for a very respectable 3.38 ERA.
So, the Diamondbacks, for the moment, appear to be the class of the division, although I seem to recall thinking similar things entering 2011 about the Giants. With that in mind, we watched a split-squad Cubs team go down versus a very strong outing by staff ace Ian Kennedy, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball. Cubs starter Jay Jackson only lasted four innings but looked creditable, at least, which is all you can hope for from a minor leaguer who's hoping to eventually crack the rotation. He'll be playing out his age 24 season in AAA, and with a team as bad as the Cubs are expected to be, not to mention the usual injuries accruing to a starting rotation, he'll get his chance to shine sooner rather than later.
One of the fun parts of the game, I confess, was a guy I found myself cheering for in last year's postseason, Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy got to Jackson in the fourth with a laser shot into the outfield berms. While it's kind of a stretch to think he'll have the impact this year he had on last year's NLDS (.438/.526/.813??), it's no big leap to imagine him becoming a high-OBP/SLG star the Snakes have needed at first base for a very long time.
For a spring training game involving the Cubs, actual attendance was surprisingly light, only 11,573. An engaging game at one of my favorite spring training parks: this is what Camelback Ranch should have been.