Baseball BeatApril 25, 2005
By The Time I Got to Phoenix
By Rich Lederer

I was in Phoenix this past weekend on a combination business and pleasure trip. I met with a client Friday afternoon, went to the Padres-Diamondbacks game that evening, and then spent all day Saturday meeting with the management team of International Speedway and attending the Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

You might say I experienced my own version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. After a scheduled one-hour flight from Long Beach took two hours, I had the misfortune of getting the next available taxi cab at the Phoenix airport. I should have known I was in trouble when I said "Mesa" and he asked me "which freeway?"

Despite giving the driver the directions from Mapquest my secretary provided me, he chose to take a circuitous route that ended up with nearly as many left turns as I witnessed the following day at the stock car race. The taxi cab driver, who hails from Guana, waited in the car during my meeting and then drove me back to the hotel. I would be shocked if the U.S. Treasury ever sees one cent of the $130 the combined fares and tips cost me.

My younger brother Gary picked me up in his SUV and we drove to the ballgame with his two boys. It was the quickest and straightest trip of the weekend, which also included a three-hour bus ride from the track to the hotel Saturday night. Two of the three hours were spent in the parking lot in one of the biggest jams since Woodstock.

Shortly after we took our seats, Troy Glaus hit another home run in his first trip to the plate for my nephew by the same first name. It was the sixth time Troy has gone yard this year. He looks a heckuva lot better than Dallas McPherson, Robb Quinlan, and Maicer Izturis, who have combined to put up a .169/.194/.292 line thus far. But do not despair Angels fans. This trio has walked twice and struck out 17 times without a single home run. And lest we forget just how well McPherson and Quinlan can pick it at the hot corner.

Although Glaus was hitting just .213 going into the game, his slugging average was .574 -- a great example of a player performing much better than what his batting average would otherwise indicate. After the four bagger on Friday night and two doubles on Sunday, the big third baseman has upped his slugging average to .648. He is leading the National League in HR and is ninth in SLG and eighth in RBI.

Glaus is one of the principal reasons the Diamondbacks are 11-8 and in second place three weeks into the season. Unlike the former UCLA Bruin, the other stalwarts haven't exactly been the higher-priced stars brought in to turn the Snakes around.

Craig Counsell has walked 15 times thus far and is doing a pretty good imitation of a lead-off hitter. His .411 OBP is .050 higher than the next best starter (Shawn Green). The 34-year-old second baseman is second in the NL (behind Jose Valentin) with 4.34 pitches per plate appearance and his BB/PA rate of .205 is nearly twice his career average. For good measure, Counsell has also stolen four bases in five tries.

Brandon Webb (3-0, 2.63) is pitching the way I had hoped for last year when I drafted him in the fifth round of our fantasy draft. Although striking out batters at the lowest rate of his young career, Webb has only allowed nine walks in 27 1/3 innings -- significantly below his norm. Not surprisingly, the man with the heaviest sinker in the game is leading the league in groundball/flyball ratio at 5.55 or nearly two times the next best pitcher (Dontrelle Willis, who just so happened to steal Rookie of the Year honors from Webb two years ago).

The player who has stepped up more than anybody -- and I mean anybody -- could have imagined is Brandon Lyon. He is leading the major leagues in saves with eight. I, for one, remain skeptical. His 1.64 ERA is misleading due to the four unearned runs he allowed vs. the Dodgers in the first week of the season. The man who did not pitch a single inning in the big leagues last year has also given up 14 hits (including two home runs) in just 11 innings of work. To his credit, Lyon has struck out eight batters and allowed only one walk.

Brad Halsey (2-0, 2.74) pitched a good game when I was there Friday night. The former Yankee is enjoying success by throwing strikes (15 Ks, 2 BB). I'm not sure if the southpaw can keep the ball in play all year long at Bank One Ballpark, but he may turn out to be a pleasant surprise. Halsey isn't the type of pitcher who will make Diamondback fans forget Randy Johnson, but he may end up outpitching Javier Vazquez (another one of my great fantasy draft picks in 2004).

I don't know if you can call me a convert just yet, but please don't call me a cab.


Good post, however, your cabbie asked a legitimate question in response to "Mesa." If you were to take the Loop 202 (Red Mountain) freeway, you would be skirting the northern side of Mesa, while the US-60 (Superstition) cuts directly through the south-central portion of the city. Selecting the wrong one could cost you a lot of time on the surface streets when you reach your exit.

Andrew - I gave him the Mapquest directions, which clearly spelled out 202, yet he took 60. Not only that, he proceeded to go south once off the freeway, taking us even further in the opposite direction from my intended destination.

I was in Phoenix last weekend and caught the Saturday night duel between Webb and Peavey (with A. Cintron's walk off single in the bottom of the 9th). The D-backs look good and have me worried about the NL West, 'specially with the Dodgers playing so mediocre of yet.

Not sure it that was a Public Enemy reference, but it was welcome if it was.