August 18, 2005

11 1/3 innings.

34 hits.

27 earned runs.

21.44 ERA

3.18 WHIP

Everyone (myself included) who owned Jeff Francis, Javy Vazquez and Ben
Sheets the past week knows what those numbers mean. The tumultuous trio
managed to destroy quite a few people’s ERAs and WHIPs, as well as my
only shot at a title in 2005.

It all began last Thursday, minutes after I filed my last column.
Francis, whom I had picked up for the second time this season for a
spot start, was facing the Pirates at home. Unlike the rest of the free
world, Francis actually had pitched well at Coors this season. With the
exception of one start (July 10, the only day I previously owned him),
he was 8-1 with a 2.83 ERA in Colorado prior to last week’s start. Plus
he was going up against a Pirates team that ranked 28th in average,
29th in runs and 25th in homers. Combine all of this info, and he
seemed like a pretty good pickup for the day (although I managed to
ignore the fact that his last loss had come against the Pirates on July
21).

But after years of failure, embarrassment and humiliation, I
should know that no matter how much research I actually do, something
is bound to go wrong.

Francis not only pitched poorly, he somehow managed to allow an
unfathomable 13 hits in only 3 1/3 innings. That’s not an easy thing to
do. Normally if you hit double-digits before the fourth inning, you are
rinsing off in the showers. But not in this case.

On top of his gaudy hit total, Francis gave up nine runs (eight
earned) before exiting in the fourth inning. The one saving grace in
this game would have been if my three Pirates (in my other league),
Humberto Cota. Rob Mackowiak and Chris Duffy, had big days at the
plate. Yet, all three managed to find themselves watching as their team
demolished Francis and the Rockies. Only Mackowiak even got up, and he
struck out in a pinch-hit appearance in the seventh.

While Francis’ meltdown hurt a lot, it wasn’t enough to completely
derail my team. That would come three days later when Javy Vazquez did
his best to equal Francis.

The former Expo and Yankee allowed two runs to the Braves in
the first, then completely unraveled in the third when he yielded seven
runs without recording a single out. If Bob Melvin had not come out to
rescue Vazquez, he could have easily matched Francis’ hit total by the
end of the third.

But the next day someone did reach unlucky 13. Sure, it took
him six innings to get there, but Ben Sheets also managed to top
Francis and Vazquez in the earned runs department, giving up 10 to the
Rockies in an 11-2 loss. The most amazing part was that Sheets actually
came back out to start the bottom of the seventh, despite the fact he
had just given up five runs in the sixth and his team was trailing 8-2.
Can anyone explain how that’s possible? Even in the late 1800s, when
guys used to throw 40 complete games a year, a manager probably would
have pulled his pitcher in this situation.

The total damage was catastrophic to my pitching totals for the year.
While the three pitchers did somehow manage to strikeout 11 hitters in
the 11 1/3 innings, the 27 earned runs over that span raised my ERA
from 3.49 to 3.70 — in mid-August! I had no idea that it was even
possible to do that so late in the season. My WHIP jumped from 1.20 to
1.23 — which might not look like much, but was enough to drop me from
third to seventh in the category.

Overall, the three outings cost me seven points in the standings, and
instead of being a point and a half clear of the pack, I’m sitting in
second, 5 1/2 points away from capturing my first title since 1997.

Some other quick notes and thoughts from the past week:

? Anyone who says there is no such thing as clutch (all those
"Moneyball" worshipers out there) has never watched David Ortiz play
baseball.

? How come no one cares about Ken Griffey Jr. anymore? He’s
hitting .290 with 28 homers and 83 RBIs, yet it seems like he no longer
exists. Part of it probably has to do with the fact he plays for a
last-place team, and that people expect him to get injured every time
he takes a step, but this guy was the best hitter of the 1990s and is a
guaranteed Hall of Famer. He could easily finish the season at
.300-40-115, yet you’d think he was putting up Sammy Sosa-esque numbers
this year.

? Why do managers ever intentionally walk the bases loaded in the
bottom of the ninth (or extra innings) when there is an unreliable
pitcher on the mound? It seems like a few times every week a game ends
on a walk-off walk. Is there any worse situation to put a young,
untrusty pitcher in than this? If you eliminate the Riveras, Hoffmans
and Lidges of the world, I’d like to know what percent of the time a
pitcher walks in the winning run after he is told to intentionally walk
the bases loaded. Guaranteed it is high enough to prove that this is a
dumb strategy most of the time.

? Back in March, a bunch of us here at MLB.com sent around our
bold predictions for the year. While I missed pretty badly when I
predicted that Justin Morneau would lead the AL in homers in 2005,
nothing can be as bad as this prognostication:

Zack Greinke will win 20 games

OK, now I’m getting a little carried away because he is only 21, but
if Greinke doesn’t reach 20 wins this year, he should many times in the
very near future. With superb command, a tremendous ability to change
speeds on his pitches and a fresh arm (he didn’t start pitching
regularly until his final year of high school), Greinke has the stuff
to win a ton of games in his career. He pitches in a division with only
a handful of above-average pitchers, and shouldn’t have to deal with
too many tough matchups over the course of the season.

For those of you not aware, Greinke was 3-14 with a 6.02 ERA entering Thursday.

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