Quite a game tonight - Brandon Backe pitches a 4-hit shutout, and Morgan Ensberg goes for 3 HR and 5 RBI!
Backe really had a serious curveball working tonight - if batters can't lay off it, he's going to rack up the K's. He really seems to feed off the crowd's energy at home - maybe that explains his ridiculous splits (4.26 ERA at home, 4 / 21 walk-to-strikeout ratio, 7.54 ERA away, 7 / 10)
Ensberg had a 3 run HR in the 1st (opposite field), and 2 solo shots to LF in the 5th and 8th innings. He's now hitting .325 / .419 / .581 (exactly a 1000 OPS) with 7 HR and 18 RBI, and is looking like the Ensberg of 2003. What's even more impressive is that he did this hitting in front of the fearsome foursome of Viz / AE / Ausmus / Backe. He has to move up in the batting order, hopefully to the 2 spot, because...otherwise....Palmeiro is going to start there a lot. And that might mean a lot of what happened in the 1st innings: Taveras walks. Palmeiro sac bunts to 2nd. It happened again in a later inning, but Taveras stole 2nd first, and Palmeiro sac bunted to 3rd. As good as our pitching has been, it is RARELY worth sacrificing an out for a base, particularly early on in the game. Jimy Williams was particularly fond of that move; I hope Garner doesn't make the same mistake his unpopular predecessor made.
However, the game was overshadowed by Jeff Bagwell's announcement that he will have shoulder surgery next week and will miss 3 months. I had mixed emotions upon hearing the news - Bagwell has been a great player for a long time, and we'll miss him, but if there was some kind of surgery that he could have had, why wouldn't he have had it earlier or during the offseason? Regardless, it's a shame that it has come to this. I honestly don't expect Bagwell to come back at all - will he want to hurry back if / when we're out of contention by the time he can play again?
The big question this brings up is who's on 1st? It looks like the options are:
I'm sure you can guess who I'm going to eliminate first - Viz is below-average offensively and defensively for a MIDDLE INFIELDER, much less a 1st baseman. Every box score that has Jose Vizcaino batting 5th or 6th as a 1B cuts me to the bone.
Of the next 3, I'm pretty tired of moving guys to positions they're not used to (Lamb as an OF, Viz as a 1B, Burke as a LF). So leave Lance Berkman in LF. That narrows it down to Lamb and Self. Man, I really wish they could platoon, but Self has the nerve of hitting lefty. He also has the nerve of putting up .400 OBP's wherever he goes, and he certainly has a better glove than Lamb. I think you see where I'm going here. However, it's true that Self has never played at the major league level before, so he should have an adjustment period. I can only hope that Garner will be patient with him, since Self could provide us with a much-needed OBP boost at the top of the lineup. But wait - you can't have your 1st baseman bat at the top - he has to be in an RBI spot! Well, the Dodgers seem to be doing ok with Hee Seop Choi batting 2nd.
Anyway, Lamb is a known commodity - he'll hit around .280 / .350 / .475 or so (his career average is .280 / .336 / .411, so I might even be overstating his case), which is pretty strong....for a pinch hitter, or a backup 3B. It's not great for a 1B. And his glove is rough. I'm not saying Self will be the next Bagwell, but he just might be the next Mark Grace, and put up something like .300 /.400 / .450. Man, I hope Self gets some playing time, because it's not like Mike Lamb is going to get any better.