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.

The Yankees were booed last night. Did they deserve it?

Masahiro Tanaka

The boos came raining down from the Yankee Stadium faithful last night. They started when Brett Gardner grounded out in the eighth inning. More came later. A lot of it was, no doubt, based on Gardner’s disappointing performance late in the season. A lot of it was because, around that time, it seemed like the Yankees had zero shot whatsoever to mount a comeback. Which, in fact, they didn’t. A lot of it was pent-up frustration, I assume, from a late season skid which saw the Yankees lose their lead in the AL East and wind up in the Wild Card Game in the first place.

Anyone who buys a ticket has a right to boo. Especially when they buy a ticket as expensive as Yankees tickets are. It’s obviously understandable to be disappointed when your team loses. Especially when your team is eliminated like the Yankees were. And last night’s game was particularly deflating, with that 3-0 Astros lead feeling more like 10-0 given how things were going.

But isn’t booing something more than a mere manifestation of disappointment? Isn’t a step beyond? Booing isn’t saying “I’m sad.” It’s saying “you suck!” It’s not saying “I’m disappointed,” it’s saying “you should be ashamed of yourselves!” And with all respect to Yankees fans, the 2015 Yankees have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This was a club expected to miss the playoffs, full stop. Maybe some people allowed for an if-everything-breaks-right flight of fancy, but hardly anyone expected them to play meaningful games late in the year, let alone a playoff game. They were too old. Too injured. There weren’t enough young reinforcements to fill the gaps. Some even went so far as to claim that they were about to spend years in the wilderness.

But then A-Rod broke out of the gate strong. And Michael Pineda had a really nice first couple of months. And Mark Teixeira put up numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place for him several years ago. The bullpen did what it was supposed to do and more, Masahiro Tanaka held together somehow and, eventually, a couple of young players like Greg Bird and Luis Severino came in to reinforce things. The not-going-anywhere Yankees were contenders. And they led the division for a good while. Of course they stumbled late. And of course they lost last night, but by just about any reasonable measure, this was a good team — better than expected — and, unlike a lot of Yankees teams in the past, was pretty darn enjoyable to watch.

Then the boos. I just can’t see how this Yankees team deserved that.

I realize a lot of people in the media have duped a lot of people into thinking that a team with a high payroll is supposed to be dominant. And I realize George Steinbrenner duped a whole lot of people into thinking that anything less than a World Series championship for the New York Yankees is failure. But that’s rhetoric and branding, not reason. In the real world where baseball players play baseball games World Series titles are rare, even for the Yankees. At the end of the season all but one of 30 teams are either at home for the playoffs or went home after suffering a gut-wrenching playoff loss. The Yankees are the most dominant franchise in the history of American professional sports yet they still have finished their year without a title over 75% of the time.

With that as a given, fans are left to judge their team’s performance based on its talent, its health, its heart, its entertainment value and the strength of the opposition which ultimately vanquished it. The Yankees weren’t nearly as talented as many, yet made the playoffs anyway. They were a walking hospital ward, let limped on. They never quit and never got pulled down into the sort of muck a lot of New York teams find themselves in when things start to go sideways. And, ultimately, they were simply beat by a better team. By any reasonable measure the 2015 Yankees were a good story, a successful enterprise, a resilient bunch and no small amount of fun.

It’s OK to be sad that it ended as it did. But that doesn’t deserve to be booed. Not by a long shot.

Collin McHugh will start Game 1 of the ALDS for the Astros

Collin McHugh Astros
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After using ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel to get past the Yankees in the Wild Card game the Astros will turn to right-hander Collin McHugh in Game 1 of the ALDS versus the Royals.

McHugh had an up-and-down year, posting a 3.89 ERA compared to his 2.73 mark last season, but thanks to good teammate support he had a 19-7 record and his 171/53 K/BB ratio in 204 innings was solid. He was particularly good down the stretch, posting a 2.89 ERA and 69/20 K/BB ratio in 72 innings after August 1.

McHugh will match up against Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura in Game 1. Houston hasn’t named a starter for Game 2 yet, while Kansas City is going with Johnny Cueto. And then the Game 3 matchup figures to be Dallas Keuchel versus Edinson Volquez.