A Webb of Deception

When this home stand began I thought there was a very real possibility that the Diamondbacks could end it with a 5-2 record or perhaps 6-1. They had just finished a road trip through the National League West where they went 7-3 and would be facing two teams in the Pirates and Braves who had both been struggling. After taking the first two games of the Pittsburgh series I was feeling very confident in my prediction. Even the near perfect final game with the Pirates didn’t dissuade my confidence. But when the Diamondbacks dropped the first two games with Atlanta I had to begin questioning whether this team had what it would take to be competitive down the home stretch of the season; still I had faith that the ship would right itself with Dan Haren on the mound. But after the events of last night my confidence was extremely shaken.

Now today the Arizona Diamondbacks find themselves with their backs against the wall. They have already assured themselves of a losing record during this home stand. They question has now become how bad will it be? Will they head out to Colorado with a 2-5 record or could they salvage at least one game against the Atlanta Braves and finish with a 3-4 record? Quite honestly neither of those two outcomes would do much to restore the faith of the Diamondbacks faithful. The only positive out of this whole thing is the fact that no matter how bad the Diamondbacks seem to be playing, the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to be able to be just a little bit worse.

Last night when Orlando Hudson went down and the Diamondbacks shortly followed I figured it would be the end of Arizona’s streak of being in first place. With only a half game lead over the Dodgers and losing 11-4 the table was set for Los Angeles to take control of the NL West. Instead the Dodgers allowed the San Francisco Giants to score 2 runs in the tenth inning to lose the game 3-2 lengthening Arizona’s lead in the West to 1.5 games.

Today Arizona would be relying on the one pitcher that they have come to rely upon for the past 2 years, staff ace Brandon Webb. In 2006 Webb put together his best season of his career and ultimately was rewarded with the NL Cy Young award. He followed that up in 2007 posting even better numbers than he did the previous year including a franchise record 42 innings of not allowing a run. This season again sees Brandon Webb at the top of the leader board in several categories including most wins by a pitcher in the Major Leagues. Today would be a game where the Arizona Diamondbacks would ask their number 1 starter to put the team on his shoulders and carry them out of this 4-game losing streak.

The game started out very well for the home team. After Brandon Webb retired 3 of the first 4 batters he faced, the Diamondbacks offense came to life scoring 3 runs in the bottom of the first. With Brandon Webb on the mound a three-run lead seems nearly an impossible hurdle to overcome. Webb was masterful on the mound with his signature sinker and nearly unhittable change-up. He held the Braves scoreless until the sixth inning. During that inning Webb ran into some trouble walking Chipper Jones, giving up a single to Brian McCann, and walking Casey Kotchman to load the bases with no outs. Omar Infante hit a sacrifice fly to left field scoring Chipper Jones and it looked as though the Braves would mount a comeback. Mark Kotsay singled to again load the bases with one out. But in typical Brandon Webb fashion he got Jeff Francoeur to hit into a double play back to the pitcher ending the rally and maintaining a 5 run lead for the Diamondbacks.

Webb left the game after 6 turning it over to Chad Qualls and Jon Rauch who shut down the Atlanta Braves offense for 3 innings to preserve Webb’s 17th win. And with one game the Diamondbacks proved to themselves and their fans that this race was not yet over. This team is capable of overcoming any obstacle. When team leaders Eric Byrnes and Orlando Hudson are injured others such as Alex Romero and Augie Ojeda step in and take over to provide necessary offense and defense to maintain the team in first place.

There are still a lot of question marks around this team. Will they be able to overcome the loss of defense they suffered with Orlando Hudson’s injury? Will Justin Upton be able to come back and be productive providing the offense with the pop they will need to make a run at another NL West title? Can the bullpen overcome their problems of late to maintain the lead they are given in the late innings? For a team who has been in first place since April 4 there appear to be a lot more questions than anyone is comfortable with. I’m just not sure they have what they will need to keep the Dodgers at bay for another 7 weeks. Still, you have to like your chances when you can run someone like Brandon Webb out to the mound every 5 days no matter who you might be playing.

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