Monday

What Happened?! & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

So what the heck happened on Saturday in the Belmont? The short answer is that nobody really knows. But naturally that won't stop me from offering some speculation. And then I'll bring you a healthy portion of the DFTU since we missed it on Friday.

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Off we go...

Needless to say, I was terribly disappointed with the outcome of the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes this past Saturday. I attended my local race track and card club, Canterbury Park, to check out some live racing and the Belmont itself. The early races at Canterbury went mostly to form. But in the Belmont? The horses left the gate at approximately 5:30pm. And by 5:30:30pm, I knew we had a serious problem.

Prior to the race there weren't any indications that Big Brown was unhappy or otherwise ill-fit for the race. But shortly after he left the gate, the problems began. There's an adjective used in horse racing used to describe a particular kind of bad start:

Rank - A description used when a horse fights the rider's attempt to relax it during the early and middle stages of a race, before full speed is needed.

That fits Big Brown's early race to a "t". Whether it was not being used to the inside post-position, or if he was just worked up because of the heat, I don't know. But it was painfully obvious early that Big Brown was unhappy and that his response to said unhappiness was to try and break clear of the horses around him. His jockey, Kent Desormeaux tried to hold him up and find a good spot for him, but for the first couple of furlongs, they were fighting each other far too much for comfort.

Eventually Desormeaux was able to get Big Brown to the outside into some open space and it looked like maybe the horse was calmed down and in position to strike. Then came the final turn into the backstretch. When the time came, Desormeaux gave Big Brown the usual tap to the haunches to tell him it was time to fire. But the horse didn't respond. Desormeaux tried to signal him again by rubbing his neck. But again, Big Brown didn't respond. Finally, Desormeaux gave his horse a couple of raps with this whip and still Big Brown didn't respond. And it was at that point, that Kent decided that something could be seriously wrong, and pulled his horse up and slowed him to a gallop.

So why didn't the horse fire off when he was asked to? Well that's the million-dollar question. My first suspicion was that the quarter-crack we discussed on Thursday bothered him. But his trainer and owner immediately dismissed that notion. Plus if you go back and watch the tape, there's nothing in Big Brown's stride that would indicate that he was favoring that hoof in any way.

So today, after extensive medical tests, we still don't have an answer. As near as any veterinarian can tell, there's nothing physically wrong with the horse. So the best explanation I can offer at this point is that the horse just didn't have another race in him. 3 races in 5 weeks, especially at the lengths at which the Triple Crown races are run, is a more strenuous experience than a horse will have during the rest of their career . And for the last 30 years, we've been unable to find a 3-year-old that could handle it. Apparently Big Brown was no different.

Maybe in the next few days we'll get more information about what went wrong. But for now, all I can say is that he just didn't have enough gas in the tank to get the job done. And what's really got me dispirited is that if this horse can't get it done against this field, then it's only natural to wonder if we'll ever get to see a Triple Crown winner again.

Oh, and naturally, all the bets I made were keyed around Big Brown winning the race, so yeah... that's that.

Next up it's time for a catch-up version of everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 31-32 and in 2nd place in the AL Central, 5.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox. (Understand as I write this, the White Sox are looking to complete a 4-game sweep of the Twins. It's 7-5 Chicago in the bottom of the 8th.)

Oof. I use that term a lot, I know. But it may never have been more appropriate than it is right now. The past week has been a particularly rough one for the Twins. After salvaging a split a 4-game series with the Yankees, the Twins turned right around and dropped 2 of 3 to the Orioles. And unfortunately, it was only going to get worse.

Heading into Chicago, the Twins had a chance to seize the lead in the central. And they responded by getting their tails whipped in three straight games. Friday they lost 10-6. Saturday they lost 11-2. And Sunday they got beat 12-2. Surrendering 33 runs in 3 games. Not exactly what we had in mind heading into this important series.

So now what? The Twins are half-buried 5.5 games back (6.5 if Chicago holds this lead). The starting pitching's been sub-par and the bullpen hasn't been much better. Not to mention the fact that the bats have gone relatively quiet. Nick Punto's back on the disabled list and there's no sign that Adam Everett's coming back in the near future.

And things aren't likely to get easier any time soon. The Twins' lengthy road-trip continues as they head to Cleveland for 3 and then to Milwaukee over the weekend.

So the bad news is that the boys are playing terrible. The good news is, thanks to the nature of baseball, there's always another game to play tomorrow. And it looks like Carlos Gomez is finally starting to settle into his role a little bit (this last line written while Dan furiously knocks on the counter which he hopes contains some sort of composite-wood product). His on-base percentage is at least solidly over .300 at .310 now. Still not where you'd like your lead-off hitter to be, but it's certainly an improvement over earlier in the season. Plus Joe Mauer and even Delmon Young are starting to show some flashes of the power we expected from them.

So there *are* positives. It's hard to trust them when they've lost 8 out of their last 10 (Monday's game has gone final now. Chicago's your 7-5 winner. Dammit). But Twins fans have to cling to something right? Right?!

Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona is 34-30, in first place in the NL West and 3.5 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers.

The D'backs are in the midst of an east-coast road trip. So I haven't been able to see as many of their games as I'd like. But I've been following them as close as I can via the Internet.

Which is to say, not terribly closely.

Obviously the series in Milwaukee is one I'd like to forget. Losing the series? Yeah, that happens. Getting swept by the team that many of your readership root for? Well that's just cruel.

Fortunately, they headed from Brewer-ville to Pittsburgh where they proceeded to take 2 of 3 from the Pirates.

And that's just the kind of "treading-water" pattern they've been engaged in for the past several weeks. Most of that instability has come from their once red-hot offense having cooled considerably. Currently the D'backs have the 3rd-worst team batting average in the NL at .251. Fortunately, the hits they have been getting have been for extra bases often enough to keep their slugging percentage (.426) in the upper-third of the NL.

So if Arizona's hitting is slumping similarly to the Twins, then why aren't they experiencing the same awful results? Short answer? Arizona's pitching is far superior. The D'backs team ERA is 3.71. The Twins? 4.54. That 4.5 of a run is the difference between 6th in the majors, and 21st.

It'd be tempting to also point to the fact that the D'backs play in probably the worst division in baseball. But the Twins play in the second-worst. So that's not going to make for much of a difference.

So what does all this mean for Arizona? They could be in far worse shape I guess. Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are still anchoring their staff. And their Closer Brandon Lyon hasn't given up a run in 22 straight appearances. So there's a lot to like about their pitching.

The hitters, however, are going to have to make some adjustments. You might recall an earlier post where I pointed out that one thing that worried me about the Arizona roster was the lack of a veteran position player to provide leadership for that clubhouse in tough times. Right now is when a guy like Tony Clark could prove invaluable to the D'backs. That's not to put the blame on Connor Jackson mind you, but Tony provided a lot of those leadership qualities that can only be gained through experience.

So if I'm Arizona G.M. Josh Byrnes, I'm searching rosters right now, trying to find someone who I can trade for to provide that stabilizing force, while not upsetting the chemistry of the club. Far easier said than done, I'll admit. But necessary none the less.

The Diamondbacks start a 3-game set in New York against the Mets tomorrow. After that, it's back home for interleague play versus the Royals (thank you scheduling gods).

That's all for today folks. I know, only two segments. But I knew I'd have plenty to talk about with the race and the DFTU, and I didn't want to overload you! Back on Wednesday with more sports goodness!

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