A Cornucopia of Baseball Storylines

Yesterday happened to be one of those days when just about a million different things occurred that could potentially be a blog entry. We had player transactions, an explosion by the opposing manager, injury news, strange and unusual game experiences, and of course the game. My head is swimming in the minutia and I’m not exactly sure which direction I should go. So rather than attempt to choose one single theme for this entry I decided to take the National Rifle Association approach and just shotgun blast everything in sight and hope that one of them was a good target, This of this as a smorgasbord of thoughts, some coherent and others that are just out there. I bring you the ramblings of the mind of a deranged Diamondbacks fan.

Word came out late afternoon that the Arizona Diamondbacks had made a trade with the Washington Nationals. The snakes received reliever/closer Jon Rauch and in exchange sent infielder Emilio Bonifacio to Washington. This is an interesting trade. It signals that the Diamondbacks front office is interested in winning now and is willing to part with some of the future in order to do so. In Rauch the Diamondbacks get some much needed bullpen help. Perhaps this will minimize the late inning meltdowns that have occurred as of late. There is some question as to what the ultimate roles will be in the bullpen. Rauch had been the closer for the Nationals and has 17 saves this season. He could take over the closing role from Brandon Lyon moving Lyon to set-up as he was last season. Pena could then move back to the seventh inning late relieve leaving Qualls to be a middle reliever. Right now the Diamondbacks are saying that Lyon will remain the closer and Rauch will become the eighth inning guy. It is assumed Pena will move back to the seventh inning. This of course may change depending on match-up.

Jon Rauch is listed at 6′ 11″ and 290 pounds. That is one big dude and gives the Diamondbacks a very potent frontcourt. We now have Rauch who can play center, Randy Johnson can play one forward position and Tony Clark can play the other. We have a lot of frontcourt options with Dan Haren and Brandon Webb giving the Diamondbacks one of the largest line-ups in the league.

Jon Rauch was only half of the trade. The Diamondbacks had to give up Emilio Bonifacio who was recently named to the Futures Team during the All-Star break. Bonifacio was listed as having the greatest speed in the Diamondbacks system. He was identified as the heir apparent to take over second base when Orlando Hudson left in free-agency at the end of this season. Last year Arizona decided to sign outfielder Eric Byrnes for 3 years. To a lot of fans the economics of the game dictated that the team could probably sign Byrnes or Hudson but would not be able to afford to sign both. With Byrnes under contract it appeared as though Hudson would be allowed to walk. This was further validated when rumors surfaced that the O-Dog would be looking for Chase Utley type of money putting him well out of the Diamondbacks price range. Hudson has denied these rumors and stated publicly that he would like to remain with Arizona. With Bonifacio now gone it puts even more pressure on Josh Byrnes and his staff to try and come up with a way to keep Orlando Hudson. The prospects of having Chris Burke or Augie Ojeda as the everyday second baseman are not the most appealing thoughts I have ever had. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Brandon Webb became one of the most dominating pitchers in the National League after Hudson and his gold glove arrived from Toronto. It is vitally important to have good defense up the middle for a sinker ball pitcher and Arizona needs to come to some sort of an agreement with Hudson and his representatives to keep him at Chase Field for the next few years.

The Rauch/Bonifacio trade was not the only roster moves that were made by the Diamondbacks. Arizona sent RHP Connor Robertson to Triple-A Tucson and purchased the contract of infielder Jaime D’Antona. D’Antona has had an interesting career. He was drafted in the 2003 draft that included Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin. D’Antona was originally a highly touted prospect but after struggling a little his stock dropped and Jaime found himself on the outside looking in. Rather than dwell on the way his baseball career was going he worked harder to prove he was capable of becoming a major league player. This season he was given the starting third baseman’s job after an injury in Tucson. He has made the most of his opportunity and had a batting average of .367 before being called up. D’Antona was also selected to play in the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium. He followed that up with an appearance at the Triple-A All-Star game and an invitation to the Triple-A Home Run Derby. Jaime won that event showing the Diamondbacks that he had some pop in his bat. In order to make room for him on the 40-man roster the Diamondbacks moved outfielder Eric Byrnes from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list further punctuating the thought that Byrnes is done for the season regardless of how optimistic Eric is that he could return this year. The question is what role doe the Diamondbacks see for Jaime D’Antona? Arizona already has a glut of corner infielders with Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, Chad Tracy, and Tony Clark; adding another person who can play first or third doesn’t make any sense. Manager Bob Melvin stated that D’Antona would be used primarily as a pinch hitter off the bench especially late in the game against left handers; similar to the role of Tony Clark. Personally I think D’Antona’s appearance is a way for the Diamondbacks to showcase his abilities dangling him as trade bait to potential suitors. That is sad to say as I think Jaime has earned this promotion and could be a valuable addition to this ballclub but I just do not see a lot of opportunities to show his talents. I hope that D’Antona and the Diamondbacks prove me wrong.

The Chicago Cubs came into town with the best record in the National League. The baseball press had anointed them as the team to beat to get to the World Series and some have even gone as far as proclaiming them the World Series favorites. That is big talk for July especially when we are talking about the Cubs. Having been a long-time Cubs fan I can tell you that 100 years of misery is a long time and too many things happen in July and August that breaks a Cubs fan’s heart. The first two games of this series are prime examples. The Cubs have one of the most potent offenses in all of baseball yet they have looked completely inept against Diamondbacks pitching. There were signs of life last night but those signals were quickly extinguished. Arizona hitters took advantage of a few Cubs pitching mistakes and took the first two games of the three-game series and will now go for the sweep. This of course is not sitting well with Cubs manager Lou Piniella who went absolutely ballistic after Monday’s game ranting and raving like a madman. Last night Sweet Lou was much calmer but you could tell there is a volcano just waiting to erupt if things don’t start to turn around soon. If the Diamondbacks get out to a quick start tonight I look to see Classic Lou run from the dugout and go off on an umpire. This could be the night that Piniella goes for the Guinness Book of World Record for base tossing. That would be sweet indeed.

It is not just the Cubs coaching staff that is starting to show its frustration. The Cubs fans were again out in force last night at Chase Field but by the later innings they too were voicing their displeasure with their team. Poor play, two consecutive losses to the Diamondbacks and a show of arrogance by Diamondbacks fans led to several altercations in the stands which resulted in some expulsions. Tonight could be another busy night for the security personnel at Chase Field trying to maintain the peace between these two fan bases.

I thought I would share an interesting historical coincidence. Last night Yusmeiro Petit started for the Arizona Diamondbacks and threw 5 innings of 3-hit baseball as a spot starter. Exactly 1 year to the day, Petit was the starting pitcher for the Diamondbacks. Arizona had lost the first game of the 3-game series in Chicago and were looking to slide out of contention for the play-offs. Petit threw 6 innings allowing 3 hits and the Diamondbacks won that game. That was the igniter that began a winning streak of 17 out of the next 20 and solidified the Diamondbacks standing atop the National League Western Division. You have to ask yourself, could lightning strike twice? Is that the game that will awaken the sleeping Diamondbacks giant and return them to the April form where we saw them dominate opponents and become the team with the best record in baseball? I know Diamondbacks fans would like to think that is the case. We’ll have to wait and see for sure how it plays out.

It’s interesting how just one 24 hour period can provide so much food for thought. This is what makes this time of year so exciting, there are storylines at every turn. It is a good time to be a baseball fan. Now if we can just complete the sweep of the Cubs, all would be right with the world.

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