Arizona Diamondbacks "learning lessons" down the stretch
Two teams took the field on Friday night in Phoenix. One, a division leader, had an eight-year veteran who threw a perfect game earlier this season on the mound. The other, a sub-.500 team who entered play 10 games back in their division, called upon a young southpaw making his fifth career start to inch them closer to a postseason berth.
The former team won.
Indeed, the Giants and Diamondbacks are two teams at odds, headed in different directions and, evidently, toward different destinations.
As Major League Baseball's trade deadline approached in late July, the Giants, who then had a one or two game lead in the National League West, made their roster strategy clear: acquire difference-making veterans who will shore up the weaknesses and fortify the strengths. And they did just that, landing Hunter Pence from the Phillies -- Friday night's offensive star and pioneer, who hit a third-inning grand slam to put his team up 5-0.
The Diamondbacks, too, made their down-the-stretch roster plans apparent: part with under-producing veterans, save money, and experiment with in-house talent. Stephen Drew, Ryan Roberts, and Joe Saunders were each traded to American League Wild Card contenders, while prospects like Ryan Wheeler, Jake Elmore, Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs and, most recently, Adam Eaton were called up. Zero big league games between them at the onset of the 2012 season -- and just nine total by the start of the second half of the season, this is the group of rookies who were called upon to string together a run at the postseason.
Well, that's what many thought they were called up for, nonsensical as it seemed.
It's quite plain now, however, that winning -- and the postseason, in general -- is just a bonus that would complement the real reason such unproven rookies are starting in big league baseball games at this juncture of the season.
"He's young," Gibson said of his rookie starting pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, after Friday's game. "He's very young. You can look at all the 21-year-olds who have been in the game and they learn a lot of lessons."
Gibson went on, "Your hope is that he (develops) the character that will make him better. If we didn't believe that, I don't think he'd be here."
The contrast between the Giants and Diamondbacks was glaringly lurid on Friday. Matt Cain, the Giants' starter, practically hosted a workshop on how to pitch out of jams, allowing just one of 11 Diamondbacks baserunners to score as he coped with an off-night.
Both Hunter Pence and relief pitcher Santiago Casilla hit with the bases loaded. And, although they only tallied one more hit than their opposition, they managed to plate four more runs.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks went 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position and made a myriad of mistakes. Pitcher Tyler Skaggs failed to cover first base on a low line drive which was snagged by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt along the first base line and walked the pitcher in the third inning, who would score the first run of the game. Later in the inning, the 21-year-old left a letter-high fastball over the plate for Hunter Pence to crush to the left field bleachers.
"As a young pitcher, you have to learn to get out of jams," Skaggs said of himself after the loss. "You can never walk the pitcher... It has just been unacceptable on my part the last two outings. It's been almost embarrassing."
Adam Eaton was caught stealing third base in the first inning with Goldschmidt at the plate and Aaron Hill on first. Eaton, who has been repeatedly praised for his patience at the plate since being called up, later swung at the first pitch he saw from Jeremy Affeldt with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning, grounding into a fielder's choice that got lead runner Justin Upton out at home plate.
The Diamondbacks' may be favorable down the stretch, but let's be clear -- this team, this group of players, is here to build character and learn lessons. The postseason is just a cherry on top.