The Inconsistent Diamondbacks
by Robert Ferringo - 05/10/2007
The most predictable attribute of youth is that it will always be unpredictable. And unreliable. And inconsistent. And altogether maddening.
In Major League Baseball the most recent manifestation of this certainty is a little team out in the desert that has been at one minute dazzling and at the next disastrous. That team would be the Arizona Diamondbacks, an amazingly streaky team that can be a bettor's best friend or worst enemy.
The Diamondbacks are the only team in the league to this point with two winning streaks over six games or more AND two losing streaks of five games or more. They have also had a pair of instances where they've put back-to-back wins together and three situations where they dropped a pair. There has been exactly one time this year where Arizona has alternated wins and losses over a three-game period.
It's been feast or famine for the Baby Backs but for savvy gamblers it's been a non-stop buffet. My strategy has been simple - play on the Diamondbacks after a victory and then play against them. It has worked like a charm and, while I certainly don't think the trend will continue for the entire year, I think that their inherent streakiness will be the No. 1 indicator this season on how to handle betting on or against Arizona.
There are several reasons why I think the Diamondbacks are predisposed to prolonged stretches of hot and cold. The first is obviously the relative inexperience and exuberance of their starting lineup. They start seven position players under the age of 30 and six of those seven are under 26. The result is that the tempestuous swings of fate that affect all big leaguers are magnified. Because of their confidence and excitability when things are going well, the hubris and adrenaline may carry them a bit further. And when a slump hits these youngsters don't have the comfort of experience to draw on to get them back into the groove.
A second reason for the hit-or-miss nature of the Diamondbacks is that their style of play lends to closer, more low-scoring contests. They are just 25th in the league in runs per game with 3.89 and are No. 10 in the league in runs allowed with 4.08. Of the 36 games they've played entering Friday, 23 of those games have been decided by two runs or less. Just a single run has decided 16 of their 36 outings.
Because the Diamondbacks are involved in so many tightly contested match-ups, the margin for error is razor thin. Something as simple as a few missed pitches, an untimely error or a botched sacrifice can be the difference between a win and a loss. Because they do lack the experience of a more veteran team they are going to be less consistent in executing their small ball game plan. The Baby Backs are No. 6 in the league in batting in "close-and-late" situations (seventh inning or later with the game tied or within one run). But if they go cold in those clutch situations things can get ugly in a hurry.
A third reason for their penchant for winning and losing streaks involves their pitching, and the fact that they posses one of the finest rotations in the league. They have two Cy Young winners in Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson, two inning-eating veterans in Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis, and a young flamethrower in Micah Owings. Arizona is No. 1 in quality starts on the year, No. 5 in strikeouts and ninth in ERA.
But Livan and The Big Unit are past their primes and can't be expected to perform with the ferocity, reliability and consistency that they once did. Brandon Webb did win the Cy last year, but he is still just 49-47 in his career. Davis is hot and cold, and rarely overwhelming, while Owings falls into the same young-and-unpredictable category as so many of his mates. In keeping with the theme, this group has the potential to be lights out one week and lit up the next.
As I mentioned, it is improbable that the Diamondbacks continue this roller coaster ride for the whole year. However, I do think that they will be one of the streakiest teams in the league. My advice is to look for certain situations - in their schedule, in their pitching match-ups, in their lineup - where things could either get really good or really bad and play accordingly. Don't be afraid of playing them as a dog and don't jump on them as a heavy favorite when they're mired in a bit of a slump.
And hope that they don't grow up too quickly.
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