May Day

There are several connotations that are associated with the term “May Day”. It originally was used to describe a pagan holiday that in many countries celebrates the end of the winter half of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). One of the earliest celebrations was the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers. During the celebration it has become traditional to dance around the May Pole to celebrate the wonders of spring and rebirth of life. This of course fits very well within the baseball commentary. Ok, that might be a stretch but in my universe everything is connected with baseball so you have to go with the flow on this one.

The celebration of the end of winter is something that every baseball fan can relate to. We have been stuck in a hibernation state since the final pitch of the World Series. Finally when the snows begin to melt so do our hearts and we begin to think about the blooming flowers and trees; the warmer temperatures, and of course Spring Training. The problem with Spring Training is that unless you live in Arizona or Florida it seems far away and foreign. Most parts of the country look out their windows and still see snow. When Spring Training concludes another new beginning occurs with Opening Day. The snow is starting to recede and temperatures are slightly warming but it still doesn’t quite feel like winter is willing to relinquish its grasp on us. The baseball season is too young for us to really assess how our favorite teams are doing. Managers and analysts continually remind us of how long the season is and that we should not panic. Players start out slowly and we should not read too much into performance during the first month. A better indication of how the team will perform can be made after playing for a month.

May Day would seem to be the perfect time then to begin assessing a team and how the remainder of the season may go. It is a fresh start and a new beginning on the calendar. The sun is shining brightly and all around us we are seeing things bloom and be renewed. The Arizona Diamondbacks must be very excited for May Day and the turning of the calendar. After the first 22 games of the 2009 season the team finds itself 9-13 tied for last place in the National League West with the Colorado Rockies. They are 5.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is of course a far cry different than a year ago when at the first of May they had the best record in the National League at 20-8. Since the core of the team is the same as it was in 2008 fans are rightfully concerned with the direction that the team is going.

So far this season the Diamondbacks have won back-to-back games only twice and have won two series out of seven. Initially the problem appeared to be a lack of hitting. The offense was nearly non-existent through the first couple of weeks of the season. Lately though that has not been the case. The Diamondbacks hitters are collecting hits they are just unable to string them together to drive in runs. Over the past 7 games the Diamondbacks have averaged nearly 8 hits per game; more than enough to win a game if they are able to drive in runners. The problem has been that most of these hits have come early in the inning and base runners are being left stranded. The Diamondbacks hitters not only need to hit but they need to get timely hits that will move runners across the plate.

Before the season started starting pitching was seen as the strength of the Diamondbacks. This has indeed been the case over the first month. Starters have for the most part been spectacular limiting opposing teams scoring opportunities. Unfortunately the offense’s lack of run production has put a lot of pressure on the pitching staff since each pitch may be game changing. This cannot continue over the remainder of the season if the Diamondbacks hope to have any success. Indications point towards the hitters starting to warm up like the temperatures. If this comes to fruition the starting pitching dominance will definitely act in the Diamondbacks favor.

This brings us to the bullpen which has been horrific throughout the first month of the season. Last night’s game in Milwaukee was a prime example. Holding a 1-0 lead the Diamondbacks turned the ball over to the bullpen who gave up 4 runs in the seventh leading to a 1-4 loss. It’s not as though you can place the blame on one single person either. Granted Jon Rauch has struggled mightily he is not the only culprit. Each of the relievers has had at least one game where they could not get anyone out. The bullpen failures have become more contagious than the swine flu. Fans and media are beginning to call for changes to be made. Looking over the Diamondbacks 40-man roster there does not appear to be any help available that would not require some drastic moves. Nearly every pitcher that is major league ready has already been given an opportunity and has not found success. There are 10 pitchers on the 40-man roster that are not currently with the team: Billy Buckner, Jonathan Coutlangus, Bobby Korecky, Jose Marte, Kyler Newby, Leo Rosales, Leyson Septimo, Doug Slaten, Cesar Valdez, and Clay Zavada. Of this group Buckner, Korecky, and Slaten have already been on the roster without much success so you would have to discount them as options. Leyson Septimo is pitching in Class-A Visalia and is not yet developed enough to consider. Clay Zavada and Kyler Newby are both in Double-A and given the Diamondbacks conservative handling of their pitchers (a policy I wholeheartedly agree with) neither would seem to be good candidates to make the jump to the major league level. This would leave Jon Coutlangus, Jose Marte, Leo Rosales, and Cesar Valdez as the only options. Valdez is a starter and probably needs to remain in Reno as a starter to provide the Diamondbacks with insurance if one of the pitchers in the rotation gets hurt. Coutlangus currently has a 6.75 ERA in Reno in 13 innings work with a WIP of 2.03 meaning he is allowing a lot of base runners. That’s the problem with the current bullpen so adding him wouldn’t help. Jose Marte has a 3.21 ERA in 14 innings with a WHIP of 1.00; he could be a candidate but is unproven and fairly raw. Rosales has been with the club before and was scheduled to make the team out of Spring Training but struggled and lost his spot. He is pitching well in Reno with a 0.90 ERA and 0.80 WHIP. Rosales appears to be the only option so if there is a move to be made he is probably it. The problem seems larger than one piece and if that is the case then the Diamondbacks will have to look elsewhere for help and that could prove costly.

If the bullpen continues to struggle and cost the team games, you might just see the other use of the term May Day when the team sends out a distress signal and starts moving people off the sinking ship. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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