Springtime Storylines: I am obliged to ask if Brandon Webb can help the Diamondbacks

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Diamondbacks.

big question: Brandon Webb, of course.

This is my 29th preview in the space of just over a week, so I feel I’ve got some leeway to go a little meta here. Bear with me.

I couched all of these previews in some “burning question” for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I’m a product of a law school that still leaned heavily on the Socratic Method, so I’m just sort of wired to analyze things in terms of questions. For another, questions tend to encourage people to click and comment because they often think they have better answers than I do. Which they usually do. Both clicks and interactivity matter here, so yeah, questions are good.

But I gotta admit, some of these questions are forced. It’s one thing to ask questions about a team that is challenging for the division, because the answer to any single question — or many questions — could mean the difference between making the playoffs or not. Are the Twins going to be able to overcome the loss of Joe Nathan? Is the Dodgers’ rotation good enough? Those sorts of questions suggest themselves.

But for many teams — like the Diamondbacks, for example — the questions are a little on the boring and repetitive side, usually dealing with team health or whether there’s, generically speaking, enough pitching or enough hitting. These things matter, of course, but they don’t exactly plum the depths of insight. Flawed and non-competitive teams have lots of questions. More questions than answers, really.

Which makes Brandon Webb’s shoulder an utter godsend. To prepare for these things I try to read as many other previews and offseason analysis as possible. A lot of them use the “burning questions” model too, and I couldn’t find a single one of them that didn’t lead with “will Brandon Webb be healthy enough to contribute?”  I banged my head against the desk for a long time this afternoon trying to avoid asking that myself while also avoiding the “is there enough pitching” kind of thing as well.  I’m sure Diamondbacks fans could tease out some subtle nuance of this team that lends itself to some other point of analysis, but as a generalist I couldn’t do it. Upton good. LaRoche new. Scherzer trade perplexing. Reynolds strikeouts. They all bored me, frankly, because at the end of the day this team seems laser-locked into fourth place no matter what happens.

So let’s get this over with: yes, Brandon Webb will contribute this year. Probably not until May at the earliest though, and his entire 2010 season will be an audition for a make-good contract once he hits the market next fall. He’s from Kentucky and has said he wants to be near home, so maybe the Reds will spend some of their freed-up Harang and Arroyo money on him.  A pretty nice fit, actually.  

else is
going on?

  • Webb aside, I think the rotation will be pretty interesting to watch. Dan Haren is one of my favorites, Edwin Jackson certainly has his moments and Ian Kennedy has the potential (please note the word “potential”) to be an above average starter one day. But interesting does not mean good, and I think that Dbacks fans will really miss Max Scherzer, Doug Davis and even Jon Garland this year.  As a whole, the group is decidedly worse than it was last season, and I think that’s the case with or without Brandon Webb. 
  • Conor Jackson and Chris Young are a couple of guys the Diamondbacks really need to return to form if the team is to be respectable this season. Newcomer Kelly Johnson can be added to that list too.  If all three play to their potential they could make some noise. If they don’t, the Padres are lurking.

  • The heart of the lineup is pretty darn respectable for a team that should lose more games than it wins.  Justin Upton is a stud, of course. Mark Reynolds is probably the least-appreciated 40+ home run guy in baseball because strikeouts are all socialist and evil and everything. Adam LaRoche is no slouch, and I think he’ll avoid that whole first-half slump thing he’s famous for due to Arizona’s refusal to participate in daylight savings time.  It’s science.
  • I’m pulling for A.J. Hinch. He caught a lot of hell when he was named manager last year with a lot of the players and one departing coach famously taking shots at him for his lack of experience. I know experience matters in most walks of life, baseball managing included, but as anyone who has ever looked for a job or tried to do something new in life can tell you, being told right out of the gate that you’re hopeless or unwanted because you lack experience sucks. Hinch isn’t some nepotism case or anything. He’s just coming to the job with a different background than you usually see and I’d like to think that people would give him a chance to fail before they call him a failure.

are they gonna do?

I just don’t see them having the starting pitching to make a credible run at even third place in the West. If things get ugly San Diego could sneak up on them, but I kinda doubt it because there is a lot of talent here, even if there isn’t enough to contend. I’m still scratching my head at their involvement in the Curtis Granderson trade.

Prediction: Fourth place in the NL West.

Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga to throw out first pitches in Games 1 and 2

CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 05:  Kenny Lofton #7 of the Cleveland Indians runs to first base against the New York Yankees during Game Two of the American League Divisional Series at Jacobs Field on October 5, 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Major League Baseball just announced the details for the ceremonial and off-field stuff in connection with Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. The one most people were wondering about was the ceremonial first pitch. Sorry, Charlie Sheen fans. Sorry fans of “Major League” in general. Two real baseball stars are handing first pitch duties: Kenny Lofton before Game 1, Carlos Baerga for Game 2.

Lofton needs no introduction. He should be a Hall of Famer but is criminally overlooked, perhaps because he bounced around to a lot of different clubs. He made his name in Cleveland, however, doing three separate tours with the Indians, leading the AL in stolen bases for five straight years early in his career and putting up a line of .300/.375/.426 in ten seasons on the shores of Lake Erie.

Baerga played for the Tribe between 1990 and 1996 and was, for a time, quite the superstar, even if people don’t talk about him much anymore. His career fell off pretty quickly in that way that often happens for second basemen and/or stars who end up on the Mets, but there was a time when he was perhaps the biggest star on some excellent Indians teams. People had “will Carlos Baerga be a Hall of Famer?” conversations and stuff. The mid-90s were a special time.

Beyond the first pitches, the National Anthem will be sung by Rachel Platten before Game 1 and by the group Locash before Game 2. As I am an old man out of touch with most things, I have no idea who they are, but I am sure their fans are passionate and their renditions of the Anthem will be fine and non-controversial. Fox, MLB and the folks at major record labels are pretty good about that sort of thing and everyone will be especially vigilant in light of what happened with that Canadian tenors group at the All-Star Game. If nothing else, I bet you pick up the check for the Anthem performance after the song, and not before these days.

I guess the White Sox don’t count

CHICAGO - APRIL 04: General Manager Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox shows off his World Series Championship ring during ceremonies prior to the start of a game against the Cleveland Indians on April 4, 2006 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images

I realize everyone is super excited about the Cubs being in the World Series for the first time since 1945, with the chance to win it for the first time since 1908. But you’d think folks would remember that it’s just the Cubs — and not Chicago as a whole — who have been away from the Fall Classic for so long.

I know their recent struggles makes it seem like a long, long time ago, but the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. They were in the World Series in 1959 too. You wouldn’t know that, though, if you looked at some prominent media outlets:





I understand the impulse to tell the “a whole city is coming together!” story every time stuff like this happens, but there are a lot of White Sox fans in Chicago. A good number of them don’t give a crap about the Cubs. Many even resent them for being the glory franchise in the city in the eyes of many. They certainly don’t feel like there’s a championship drought afoot, and I imagine they’re somewhat cranky about having their team’s glory plastered over like this.