Yep, still in first-place - I suspect I'm not the only person who woke up this morning and checked the standings, just to be sure... The Diamondbacks are currently riding an ongoing streak of 14 wins in their last sixteen games, their best streak since going 15-2 from June 11-30 in 2003. While that alone doesn't guarantee them anything - they finished 16.5 back that season - the NL West looks a lot more interesting for us than it did two weeks ago. In this week's round table, we discuss how we got here, Armando Galarrago, Josh Collmenter, and rules changes.
Almost one-third of the way through the season, Arizona is alone in first place. What has brought them there?
Jim: I don’t think you can underestimate the power of a reliable bullpen. We are 21-2 when leading after five, and 21-0 if ahead at the end of the seventh. I needn’t spell out what a complete contrast that is to last season. When we have the lead, we have kept it. When we don’t, we know we can come back - Arizona has 15 comeback wins so far.
Kishi: Obviously, magic. There’s no other reason to it. No, really, I think the bullpen is a huge key here. I was listening to the game Saturday night and thinking to myself, "Okay, Duke, give us six or seven solid innings and let the bullpen handle it." He did just that, and it worked out, but that would have never been something I would have hoped for last year- last year was "Okay, starter- give us nine scoreless and hit some home runs, too." It is also a very, very different attitude on the field- these guys don’t give up. It makes a more fun game to watch, and a team that’s going to succeed more.
shoe: 13-7 in one run games. 4-1 in extra inning games. Come from behind victories on a frequent basis.
ZM: A very solid bullpen + A rotation that has cut away its dead weight and is now average or better + An offense that’s significantly less awful than any other in the division (team OPS+ of 97, while the next best in the NL West is the Dodgers at 88) + A sprinkling of luck = First Place!
snakecharmer: And when was the last time you were able to say "We just need 6 or 7 innings and the bullpen can handle it"!?!?!?? It has helped SO much having a solid bullpen. Starters have been great the past week. Offense is starting to get consistent but we’re still missing some of the fundamentals.
soco: Bullpen is the obvious difference, but another key (pointed out late last week) is how good the Diamondbacks have been when the third time through the order. They’ve been coming back because they’re surging at the end of games, and using a lockdown bullpen to keep the win.
Sprankton: The bullpen, mos’ def. Our largest blown lead this year? 3 runs. It also doesn’t hurt when the team’s OPS+, ERA+, SB, TB, (and more) are all above league average.
Series wins over the Rockies and Astros for the Diamondbacks this week. Any thoughts about the team’s recent performance, beyond "Woo-hoo!"?
Jim: I was superstoked by the performance in the Rockies series, after we got blown out in the opener of the double-header. Our starters there the rest of the series really stepped it up, and gave the bullpen a chance to recover. Taking three on the road, against a tough opponent, was a genuine statement. Following that up with a sweep of the Astros is what good teams do. if you can win two-thirds of your games against the sub-.500, and split the games against other winning teams, you should be good for around 90 wins. The D-backs are now 19-14 and 10-10 respectively.
Kishi: Hey, this baseball thing can be pretty fun sometimes! No, after spending most of the past few seasons wondering why I follow this sport again, it’s nice to be reminded just how enjoyable it can be. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the good times.
shoe: Going with the theme of holding them to higher expectations, I had called for a 5-2 trip and they went 6-1. Rockies aren't playing well, and the Astros are a bad team. But still, thats a really impressive road trip they just had.
ZM: I’m impressed that they’re overcoming their early-season bugaboo: beating the teams they’re expected to beat. As shoe mentioned, the Rockies are slumping and the Astros are just plain bad, but the team took care of business, and it was really nice to see.
snakecharmer: I wasn’t expecting to take 3 of 4 from the Rockies. At the moment I’m really tired so I can’t remember that far back but, yeah, woohoo. Good to keep up the energy against the lowly Houston Astros. (Sorry, but, true.)
soco: Both of the series started slow; the Rockies started with a blowout, and the Astros series started the same way. So in both cases, it was easy to doubt the team had it in them to keep pushing up the leaderboard. But that’s why it’s been so fun, the Diamondbacks refuse to quit.
Sprankton: I’m just glad we got free tacos for three straight days.
Zach Duke’s return was a triumphant one, admittedly against a poor Astros team. We can’t expect seven shutout (and a three-run homer!) every time, but what should we be looking for from him?
Jim: I’d be hoping for something in the low-fours, ERAwise. His career ERA is 4.50, but he had a crappy .343 BABIP last year, and he’ll be helped by our decent defense [especially in the outfield, as a fly-ball pitcher]. If he can avoid the home-runitis which seemed to affect some of our pitchers, he’ll be a solid #3 behind Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, fingers crossed. Oh, and he’s a decent hitter too, with a .169 career average.
Sprankton: LOL at his -44 OPS+ last season, however.
Kishi: I’m expecting him to hit three run homers every game now- he’s set precedent. We’re looking to plug him into the back half of the rotation, and that’s the sort of situation where quality starts come in to play. If we can get six or seven good innings, around 3 runs from him, that will make me happy. I’m not expecting him to come in and be lights out every time, just something to keep us in the game.
shoe: The glass half full line of thinking with Duke is that with a competent defense behind him, he would have gotten much better results in Pittsburgh. So I'll go with that for now, and have a reasonable hope he can be around 100 ERA+ when it's all said and done, although a more rigorous attempt at projecting him would probably come in with something a good deal less than that.
ZM: I’d love an ERA around 4.30, something in the neighborhood of 20 starts and 120 innings, and a generally reliable presence as a number 4 starter. Well no, actually I’d love six shutout innings and a home run to go with them every time out, but I’d settle for those things I just listed.
snakecharmer: I just felt like saying "I have absolutely no clue."
soco: 2007 Micah Owings.
Sprankton: Numbers similar to what he produced in ‘09 with the Pirates would be welcomed - 4.06 ERA, 10% HR/FB, and a 2.07 BB/9. ZIPS updated his projection to be slightly bleaker than that, but even their estimate of a 4.54 ERA and 5.20 K/9 ain’t all that bad.
Looks like Collmenter will stick in the rotation with Owings moving to the bullpen. Does that make sense?
Jim: Collmenter returned to throwing more strikes, though at 61.1%, still short of what he was doing in his first few games. It helped to be facing the Astros, who are not awesome offensively. Of course, Sam Demel and Juan Gutierrez will be back up, hopefully below too long: I suspect Kroenke will get the first ticket to Reno, with Owings the last man standing. Maybe we can get a few PH off him while he’s here? He may well be the best option off the bench right now.
Kishi: I’m pretty happy with what we’ve seen from Collmenter as a starter. Even his start in Colorado wasn’t catastrophically bad- sure, short at 4.1 innings, but only two earned runs. I think Owings is pretty much a known quantity in the rotation. Let’s see what Collmenter can do for the team.
shoe: I'm fine with that. I think that Owings is a finished product, while Collmenter still has a chance to develop into a starting pitcher who might stick. See it through.
ZM: Collmenter certainly brings more of an excitement factor, given his crazy delivery and weird peripherals, but Owings has pitched very capably in two starts so far. I say stick with Collmenter until he stops getting results, then they can go back to Micah. If Collmenter sticks, then great, if not, they can always stick him back in the bullpen, where he’s been lights-out.
snakecharmer: Until the league adjusts to Collmenter’s delivery, he is probably a solid starter. But if they start adjusting, his funky delivery may be better coming in in relief.
soco: Agreed on all points?
Sprankton: As much as I’ve fallen in love with Collmenter I just don’t see him having the "out pitch" to stick around as a starter. In any case, I’d be perfectly pleased with the team sending Kroenke and Burroughs down when Demel and Guti return. We’d have a weird 14-12 roster of pitchers-batters but Micah, as Jim said, could certainly be useful as a pinch hitter.
Xavier Nady, Why?
Jim: After today, I’ll just reload and aim for my other foot, shall I? But even given that display of clutchiness, his OPS is only .695, which is what you’d expect from a fringe roster presence, not someone who starts close to 40% of the time. He and Sean Burroughs are certainly weak spots on the roster, and it also looks like Willie Bloomquist (6-for-30, one BB, one XBH since coming back off the DL, season OPS .651) has run out of pixie dust. I think it’s only a matter of time before we look to upgrade the bench.
Kishi: Today’s clutch display aside, I’m not sure. We’ve been pretty lucky of late, but I think we’ll see some changes in our bench pretty soon. Wily Mo’s got to be itching for a call up.
shoe: Cuz Kevin Towers said so.
ZM: Kevin Towers, being somewhat old-skool, is probably unlikely to tinker with the roster too much as long as he’s getting results. And for what it’s worth, Nady’s marginal contributions have come in big moments, as evidenced by his 14 RBIs despite a .695 OPS. I don’t think it will continue, but we’ll probably continue to see him until the team stops winning or he totally stops hitting, whichever comes first.
snakecharmer: Because he’s cool.
soco: Why what?
Sprankton: Only 2-10 with two walks and three strikeouts as a pinch hitter as well. With Miranda killing it, though, I’m not concerned with what Nady is doing.
Is Armando Galarraga now a dead man walking?
Kishi: I don’t think he should be making plans for a return trip to Phoenix any time soon. Between his pitching and his recent comments, we’ll need to see either a distinct change in attitude (including probably an apology) or major injuries to our pitching- or a combination of both- before we see Galarraga in Sedona red again.
Jim: I think the only way his reputation could get sink any lower if he’s found in the dugout with, to borrow the famous political quote, "either a dead girl or a live boy." The contrast between how he took his demotion and Barry Enright his, is spectacular. I’d send him down to the lowest level available, and let him ride the buses the rest of the year.
Kishi: Honestly, I wouldn’t even send him down, Jim- I wouldn’t want to have him passing on that attitude to our prospects.
Sprankton: Plus, Reno seems like a fitting place to torture a pitcher.
shoe: Performance cures all ills. If he goes down to Reno and pitches really well......(wait while I go find out what he did in his first start)......no, he sucked, despite only giving up one run. Well, anyway, if he turns it around, he'll get another chance. It's really up to him. It might not happen with the D Backs, but you never know.
ZM: I think his time with the Diamondbacks organization has run its course. It’s still possible he could revive his career as an innings-eater or bullpen piece somewhere else, but he’s done too much damage here, both with his performance and his words.
snakecharmer: I don’t want to see him back unless our pitchers are ALL decimated by injury. I’d rather see Parker come up next week than see Armando back. I don’t think he realized his words to a reporter in Reno would have such repercussions, but I’m sure management - and other teams - will consider his attitude in any future dealings. (Second-most popular story on the ‘Pit right now, stats-wise! Yeah baby!)
soco: I don’t think he’s the pariah people are making him out to be. He’s still relatively young, and someone will take a flier on him if the Diamondbacks let him go.
Sprankton: He’s still a decent enough pitcher to warrant attention from other teams. There’s definitely far worse players in the MLB right now. In any case, I feel bad for him. It’s like he’s delusional.
We saw two catchers hit the DL this week with injuries caused by collisions at home-plate. Do you think it’s time to change the rules?
Jim: I don’t like seeing any players injured (despite rumors to the contrary!). That said, if we change the rules there, logically, we also need to ban the slide into second to break up the double-play, which can be even more dangerous because a) middle-infielders have no armor, and b) their attention is usually elsewhere. I’d say it was something worth looking into, but not in any kind of emotive rush. We need to preserve the balance of the game, which is pretty delicate.
Kishi: I heard that when Scott Cousins got back to the dugout, he had an envelope waiting with $100,000 from Jim. Just saying... What rules change would they make? Banning contact and making the baserunner slide around? Seems like that would make it far too biased towards the defense.
shoe: The Baseball Think Factory Thread is a good read Maybe it's time to enforce the rules already in the books.
ZM: I think MLB should look into ways to prevent these collisions, either through rule changes or enforcing currently existing rules. It’s not a black and white issue, and I don’t know how exactly to go about changing it, but the entire "collision at the plate" thing feels generally anachronistic to me.
snakecharmer: I think we should do what we can to reduce injuries while not reducing the value of a run nor making players give less than 100% of their efforts. I don’t think that means a change in any rules.
soco: I feel like I’ve gone over this too much, but no they shouldn’t change the rule. For those that don’t read comments, here’s my basic argument: bases are valuable, home plate exponentially so. Runs are even more valuable, and to tip the balance between offense and defense (one side wants to protect the plate, the other wants to capture it) would destroy some of what makes baseball exciting and interesting. It’s less compelling if teams are forbidden from making a play at the plate. And given the inherent value of home plate (and by extension, runs), it is not only probable but inevitable there will be collisions at the base.
Also, there’s no crying in baseball.
Sprankton: Agreed on all counts with soco. I also find it interesting that both injuries were leg/ankle injuries rather than spine or back injuries. It’d be interesting to find a stat comparing injuries with slides on any of the other bases compared to home plate. Like Jim noted, the double play can get pretty gruesome at times. Let’s not jump the gun, shall we?
If you could combine two D-backs to make one much more complete player, who would those two be and what are you trying to achieve?
Jim: Ryan Roberts and Chris Young. In my mad laboratory, I’d take Roberts’ plate discipline (26 BB, 27 K this year) and Young’s power, to create a gazelle-like animal capable of playing infield or outfield. With some mad camouflage to boot.
shoe: Ian Kennedy with David Hernandez. The ability to hit your spots and knowing how to pitch combined with 95 MPH velocity and overall electric stuff would be awesome to watch.
snakecharmer: Oooh good question... maybe Chris Young and Gerardo Parra. That would be some AWESOME coverage in the outfield plus some good offense. Or Nady and Miranda, defense plus offense. (Miranda’s defense at 1B still needs work.)
Sprankton: Ryan Roberts and Kelly Johnson, for the same reasons that Jim picked CY.
Three against Florida and four against Washington this week. Can the team keep up its recent run of success?
Kishi: I think so. Florida will be a bit more of a challenge, but Vazquez and Volstead have struggled early on, and that IPK vs. Anibal Sanchez matchup should be a good one to watch. Get past the Marlins, and I think we should have a good shot at routing the Natinals- I’d say a 5-2 week is a definite possibility.
Jim: Yeah, I am looking forward to Tuesday’s pitching match-up as well. All three games should be close, but home edge is Arizona’s and we’ve played well there (16-10). We should certainly dominate Washington, and 5-2 seems very credible.
shoe: Florida has a .588 W%, and are 9 games over .500. They have a good team. Washington is reeling. They went from 20-21 to 22-30 as they've gone 2-9 in their last 11.
Some kind of regression just seems inevitable. The D Backs are unlikely to go 6-1 through every 7 game stretch. Believe it or not, despite being at home, I'd take 4-3. Fatigue may be a factor. By the time they finish these 7 games they will have played 14 games in13 days without an off day. Gibby seems to have tried to get out in front of that with the position players, rotating and giving days off. But the pen is likely to be gassed by the time Sunday rolls around. The key to this week will be average innings pitched from the starters.
ZM: I’m going to be daringly optimistic (this is new for me) and say 5-2. I think we have an advantage in the pitching matchups against Florida, and I think we have an advantage over Washington by having an offense with a pulse.
snakecharmer: I think we should be okay. Like shoe says, regression has to happen a little bit eventually though (after a 20-game win streak maybe?!), so I agree and say 4-3, maybe 5-2 because they do like to play at home.
soco: A couple weeks ago the Diamondbacks were ending their streak of 1 run losses and we were fearing the team would go on a losing streak to match May 2010. Now we’re feeling good because the team won most of the games of the past two weeks, but they could just as easily falter the next week. I think Florida gives us trouble, while Nationals roll over. 4-3.
Sprankton: If the bats stay alive we shouldn’t have too many issues with Washington. I’ll go ahead and be optimistic and say we go 5-2. We take two from Florida and three from the Nationals.