PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 13: Cancer survivor Stacey Dyer of Mesa, Arizona shakes hands with Brad Ziegler #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks after throwing out the first pitch before the start of a MLB game against the San Francisco Giants on Mothers Day at Chase Field on May 13, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
I don't remember the last time a group will have been so pleased to get out of Arizona as the Diamondbacks. Insert snarky socio-political reference here... The team lost their fourth and fifth consecutive home series this week, getting their butts handed to them by the Cardinals, and after beating the Giants for the ninth time in a row, lost the rest of the set. Justin Upton can't buy a hit with runners in scoring position, Joe Saunders has gone back to being mortal, and Kevin Towers is apparently not happy. Our round-table, with guest panelist blank_38, discuss these and other topics.
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Not a good week for Arizona, getting swept by the Cardinals and losing two of three to the Giants. Why is the team struggling so much at home?
Dan: I don't think anything in particularly about being at home is causing the team to struggle, I just think they're playing better teams at home and not being them.
ZM: Well, in a literal sense, they're struggling at home because their pitching there has been atrocious, to the tune of a 5.00 ERA as a team at Chase. As for why the team is collectively pitching like Rodrigo Lopez at home, it's probably just bad luck. We all know Chase is a pitchers park, but this should improve as time goes on, if only because it can't get worse.
snakecharmer: I've never really understood what's so special about home vs road. Obviously there's comfort and familiarity, and fans, but you're still the same 25 guys going out to face 25 other guys. The game is the same, the rules are the same. The team itself is struggling. When our pitching is good, we can't hit; when we can't pitch, we also can't hit. Sure the large deficits our pitchers give us aren't good, i.e. several 7-holes, but we still need to hit.
blank_38: I honestly believe Gibby's lineups are to blame with not just the struggles at home, but the play in general. Most ballplayers need familiarity and consistency to be effective. Once Chris Young/Daniel Hudson/Stephen Drew get back, I think Gibby will find that spark that he's looking for by switching up the lineups.
Clefo: Playing the likes of St. Louis at home as opposed to Miami on the road will do that.
soco:: They're secretly the Suns in disguise.
Jim: Or the Coyotes, after tonight? They've faced some good teams, but the pitching has been brutal - that's now 26 home-runs at Chase, compared to 11 on the road. Scoring 3 runs per game, as they did on this stand, won't cut it either. That's the how; as for the why, maybe there's more pressure to win at home, because it's "expected" more. And this team doesn't seem to produce under pressure very well, as the .228 average with runners in scoring position shows.
Joe Saunders was poor in both starts, going 0-2 with 12 earned runs in 8.1 innings. But his season ERA is still 3.43. Has he finished regressing?
Dan: Regression isn't so much expecting a guy to suck more than usual until his numbers look normal, but to expect a player to slowly approach his expected numbers because those are the numbers he'll be expected to put up in the future. So, no, Saunders hasn't finished regressing in all likelihood, but I would be shocked if he continued to be this bad, because he should be expected to be around a 4 ERA pitcher.
ZM: What Dan said. I assumed Joe would finish the season with an ERA of around 4.6 headed into the season, and his amazing opening probably pushed that prediction down to about 4.2 or so. Even if it's technically "regression," I'd be pretty happy with Saunders finishing the season with an ERA of 4.
blank_38: The big thing for me with Joe is he either throws a really nice game (3 runs or less) or an absolute disaster like we've seen the past couple starts. I think this is just what we're going to get from him the rest of the way if we don't end up trading him (which I think will happen this year).
soco:: Yes and no. We couldn't expect him to continue to be that great, but we can't expect him to be that bad either.
Jim: What's annoying is that in his five first starts, where Saunders gave us a quality start every time and had a 1.24 ERA, the Diamondbacks only went 2-3. That feels badly like a lost opportunity now. Is it just me or would we rather have a consistent pitcher, who gives you, more or less, six or seven innings, three earned runs, every start? Of course, that ain't going to happen, but the next Saunders start will feel like walking on eggshells.
Justin Upton is 2-for-26 with runners in scoring position, and has 11 K's. Statistical aberration or is there an issue with his approach at the plate in these situations?
Dan: He could have some approach issues he's working through, but I'm confident that they'll get sorted out and that he'll start to contribute in the way we're used to seeing him contribute.
ZM: It's probably irresponsible to speculate about this, since I don't know the guy personally, but it seems from afar like Upton puts a ton of pressure on himself. On one hand, this ensures that he stays accountable, but on the other, it means that when he's mired in a slump, he can stay in said slump for a while. He's pressing right now, but I imagine he'll be fine. He's too stupidly talented to be otherwise.
snakecharmer: I'd have to know his other numbers to know if it's situational. I'm sure he's pressing, but it seems like he's pressing all the time, not just w/ RISP. He hasn't been "THE Justin Upton" this year. Maybe we need to ask him to change his Twitter handle back?
blank_38: Eh, I agree with ZM. The pressure is mounting on him to perform like we know and most importantly, HE knows he can do, but he's just trying to do it all with one swing. He'll turn it around. Have some patience with him as he works it out. The talent is there obviously, he just needs some time and support from us to get him on the right track.
Clefo: I wonder if his thumb is still bothering him? Either way, it seems like he's pressing at the plate too much. He'll work on it with Don Baylor (hopefully) and get out of it. It's a slow process to get out of a slump, not something that will be cured overnight by the batting fairy of a can of Skoal.
soco:: He's acknowledged before that it's not about changing his mechanics (though his mechanics might be slightly off from trying to press) but more about pitch selection. If he feels like he needs to perform when guys are in scoring position, especially with how subpar the offense has been, then he's not going to be taking the right approach at the plate. He won't be recognizing the pitches he can kill, and the pitches he should let go.
Jim: I can imagine there's a lot of pressure on him, to put the team on his back and carry it, especially with so many strugglers in other areas. It'd take a superman for that not to have any effect, and if the balls don't go your way, it's easy to see how it could create a vicious cycle of tension and reduced performance. I get the feeling that something will happen - a home-run, or a hit in a key situation - the switch will flick, and Upton will go on a monster tear. I look forward to that.
Kevin Towers hinted that personnel changes may be on the way if the team's struggles continued. What do you think he means by that?
ZM: #freejoshbell? The team should be getting Hudson and CY back soonish, which I guess counts as a "personnel change." But otherwise, there's not a whole lot of talent lying around. Unless KT has a horribly reactionary blockbuster trade up his sleeve, and let's all pray that's not the case.
snakecharmer: I was stuck with Giants broadcasters this weekend, so I missed this interview. Right now, I can certainly see us making moves for offense. I don't think we can adequately address pitching without Hudson back in the rotation. How many minor league arms do we try before trading for a major league one? I don't know.
blank_38: Beats me. I don't see him making any drastic trades to improve the team. I would say he just wants to get some new competition back in the dugout like there was last year whether that's from a small trade for a fringe major leaguer or pulling up some guys from AA/AAA.
soco:: It's hard to be certain, but it could just as easily be dumping guys that aren't producing (or even worse, moving guys who have value because hope is lost). If he doesn't feel like he can keep Miggy after this year, is he someone that we'll see moved?
Jim: Coaching staff maybe? As soco pointed out in the post-game comments, we're awful at going first to third, especially given the speed we have on the team, and I think we've all shaken our heads at Matt Williams, who would apparently wave a three-toed sloth around third. I like Eric Young's stolen-base work, but if there's little room for a shake-up of players, maybe it can be done on the other side of the locker room.
How have your expectations and perceptions of this team changed since Opening Day?
Dan: Sure, in bits and pieces. Goldschmidt is more worrisome to me, Parra's offensive surge from a year ago seems to have, in fact, been genuinely a part of him hitting in the eight spot. But, really, on a team-wide basis, I'm not completely, overwhelmingly concerned. I really believe that the team will start to play better.
ZM: I think we all sort of assumed that Goldschmidt was going to do nothing but improve, Keith Law's scouting reports be damned. And this season has shown us that there are some legitimate concerns about Goldy and his approach at the plate. I still think he'll play better than this, but he's the one I'm most concerned about right now. Against non-Giant opponents, at least.
snakecharmer: I suspected they wouldn't be as good as last year, but it seems they're struggling a lot more than they should. I am more worried than I was on Opening Day because the "slumps" have gone on for longer than I'm comfortable with. I have been pleasantly surprised with the Kubel signing though!
blank_38: The expectations for me were the same as last year. 90+ team with dominating pitching. But as of now, I would be happy with a .500 performance. It would be disappointing ya, but it would set us up for our run in the next couple of years and allow us the opportunity to really gauge how well our farm system actually plays against MLB talent. If they struggle, either deal with it or deal them for those pieces that can actually help in the future.
Jim: This is not the first month I signed up for. I signed up for the one where we'd be sitting on top of the division, with half a dozen or so more wins. Can we take this season back? I'm sure I have the receipt somewhere. Some of it was to be expected, but I think the scope of things like Ryan Roberts' regression, the bullpen's mortality and Goldschmidt's struggles have surpassed what I thought. There's hardly anyone on the team who has actually performed better than I expected - couple of bullpen arms, Kubel and Cody Ransom, though the latter seems likely to end in a steady diet of off-speed pitches.
What does Mother's Day mean to you?
Dan: A day where, for once, we can give my mom - who is the glue that keeps our family together - a day off and show her how much we really appreciate what she does for our household. She's the best (sorry, everyone else's mom...).
snakecharmer: Nu uh, MY mom's the best, and I'll challenge you to a duel! Except not with pistols, because I can't shoot. And I don't have long enough arms to make a good swordswoman. Hmmm. Anyway, I'm very close with my mom, and I always appreciate her, and she never asks for much, so for her and I it's the same as it is every day! It's nice that (two of) her stepchildren are taking care of dinner and dishes for tonight, though.
Clefo: Not a whole lot, specifically. My mom is cool enough that she doesn't mind that I don't do anything really special for Mother's Day. She does live in another town, so whenever she's around these parts I make sure to put aside time for her. I should note that on the whole, my family is weird, in a good way.
blank_38: Mother's Day to me is just an amazing day to show the person who raised and cared for you your appreciation for everything they've done. I don't like the fact that I need to sum it all up with only 1 day so for me and my family, it's basically flower day and we show our appreciation multiple times throughout the year.
Jim: Not really much. As noted in the GDT, my mother is a long way off and this day always seemed more like a creation of Halmark, designed to feed off guilt. "Every day is mother's day," my Mum said more than once. But it is kinda cool to have a day to acknowledge all women, even in a sport so male-dominated as baseball.
An odd week, with two games in Los Angeles, two in Colorado and three in Kansas City. Will getting away from Arizona help the team?
Dan: Well, I don't think getting away from home will help as much as facing less-challenging competition will. Especially with Kemp just tweaking something in his hamstring today, this is a much easier schedule of teams than we just finished getting whipped up by at home.
ZM: I guarantee that, at some point during the Dodgers' series, Daron or Grace will mention the Collmenter start at Dodger Stadium last year that changed the course of the season. That doesn't mean that anything similar will happen this year, but it's worth keeping in mind that there were plenty of problems last year too, and everything turned out fine in the end. I'll say 4-3, with the team splitting both two game series before taking two of three in KC.
snakecharmer: Ehhh. Maybe it'll be a mental "Well, glad THAT's over" move, but... wait, we start interleague play ALREADY? Dang. That means my tournament is coming up! And then my birthday! Ahhh! Oh, right, baseball. Well, the Dodgers will be tough, Colorado is definitely beatable, and I know nothing about Kansas City.
blank_38: Anything can happen with this team. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Justin Upton figures it out this week and carries us to a 6-1 roadtrip. Not to mention a surprise call-up from Mr. Bauer in a long-relief role.
soco:: Could this be an easy week that we look back on as the moment when the team started kicking it into gear? Or will it be the dreadful week where the season effectively slips away from losing to a slew of not particularly talented teams?
Jim: Monday May 16, we lost to the Padres and dropped into last place. That won't be the case this season. However, that was followed by the team rolling off a 13-1 streak. Does the 2012 team have it in them? Doesn't feel like it, but I'd have said the same thing about the 2011 version too. Certainly, a Dodgers' team without Kemp is less scary, though Clayton Kershaw is not the guy you want to face in the series opener. The Rockies have sucked worse than we have of late, and lost eight of their last nine. Building on my remarkable success from last week - hey, I said we'd go 5-1, and got the numbers right - I think we'll go 5-2. Split the Dodgers games, sweep the Rockies, and take two of three against the Royals.