Arizona had reached the All-Star break, and it has been a bit of a mixed bag, both in the past week and over the first half of the season as a whole. This week, our panel discusses both of these topics, along with the improvement by Trevor Baier, what the team needs to do in the second part of the season, and the All-Star game festivities in Kansas City. Guest panelist is dbacks25, and $-The Moneyman-$ will be up after the break. The decks are empty beyond that, so if you're interested in taking part, add your name in the comments.
At one point, this week looked disastrous, but the D-backs salvaged the last three games. Highlights and lowlights?
Sonic:: The Padres sweep was obviously scary and in many ways our season was hanging on the brink going into the LA series. I can't over-emphasize how huge those last 3 games were. Season-saving they were in my opinion.
Jim: Man, if we'd only won two of those three Padres games - which should have been easy... Still, it's amazing how things turn around. Six losses in a row, facing the reigning Cy Young winner, and already two runs behind...to now, we're all, "Why can't we play more baseball?" I liked the fight the team showed, by coming back twice against the Dodgers. We'll need more of that.
Clefo: I distinctly remember the D'Backs going through a six game losing streak last year, but it was against Atlanta and Philly, so getting swept by the Padres stings just a bit more. The lowlight was Upton's valiant effort to rob Grandal of that home run. It sort of symbolizes that no matter how hard the team seemed to try that series, nothing good came of it. The highlight was getting the last three against LA, the last game in dominating fashion.
Trevor Bauer pitched much better in his second start of the week than the first. What was the difference?
dbacks25: He didn't shake Miggy off as much as his first two starts. He was attacking hitters and throwing strikes consistently.
Sonic:: He just threw a lot more quality strikes. And he was able to count on his secondary pitches more than in the past. He has a good fastball but he will never be effective without command of some portion of his secondary offerings.
Jim: Command and control. There were still some pitches which would have needed a satellite GPS to locate the strike zone, but a lot fewer than previously, and a lot more were hitting their spots. I'm glad there was better communication between him and Montero: that's crucial for a young pitcher, even one like Bauer who clearly has his own mind about what he wants to throw.
Clefo: Better command, and a better gameplan from the get-go. It was obvious that the team worked on better communication as well. He probably won't have many games like that one the rest of the year, but all you can ask for is that the process gets better every time out.
Joe Saunders should return after the All-Star break. Who gets bumped from the rotation and who'll be dropped from the 25-man roster?
dbacks25: My guess would be Josh Collmenter - who knows how much will the charm last if he gets to stay in the rotation, but he was very efficient out of the bullpen, a job that Pat Corbin has been able to do beautifully. It will be a hard decision to make.
Sonic:: What a tough decision. If it were me, I'd send Bauer back to Reno. Not that he deserves that, but I don't see how you can demote Collmenter or Corbin. They've both been very good. Bauer was last in so he's first out sticking to the "you have to wait your turn" theory. If Saunders struggles and Bauer keeps pitching well in Reno then maybe Saunders goes back on the block before the trade deadline.
Jim: I think Sunday probably salvaged Bauer, and he'll get a couple more starts to prove that those first couple of games were the aberration, not the third one. Collmenter back to the ‘pen and Corbin returns to Reno, but as Sonic said, it's really no reflection on their talent: Josh has restored some faith in his ability to start, and Corbin showed he can be effective too. Good to have those arms on standby.
Clefo: Collmenter, Corbin, respectively. Not saying it will be the right decision, but the one most likely to be made.
Arizona finished the first half below .500, but tied for the best run differential in the NL West. What has stood out for you so far?
Sonic:: Our inability to win close games. The regression of Kennedy and Upton, our pitching and hitting leaders from last year. The growth of Goldschmidt and Miley. The awesome production of Kubel and Hill. That KT knows what he's doing. There was a lot of criticism for his off-season moves but almost all of them have proven to be spot on. The season would be a disaster if he doesn't do what he did to bolster this team. Give him his due.
dbacks25: Kennedy has been a major reason why this team is not like last year. Him and Upton need to be more consistent in order for us to have a shot at the playoffs. We've had solid pieces at the rotation in Cahill, Saunders and Miley which have kept us somewhat on the run. Our hitting has been very inconsistent with men on base, with Young and Roberts not hitting and Upton not playing at the same level as last year, I'm surprised we have the best run differential in the West.
Jim: How badly it feels like we've played, yet we've still got a 25% chance of making the playoffs, according to CoolStandings.com. We've lost our #2 starter, last season's MVP has been little better than replacement level and the bullpen has been much more shaky. Yet we still are there or thereabouts. Of course, so are a lot of other teams: half the NL is currently four games or less back in their division.
Who is the Diamondbacks MVP thus far?
dbacks25: For me it's Jason Kubel, he's having a wonderful year. If you would've told me he would have 15 jacks with 60 RBI with a .293/.367/.533, I wouldn't have believed it after the way he started the season. Miley, Goldschmidt and Hill get an honorable mention.
Sonic:: I'd have to say Kubel as well, followed closely by Hill, Miley and Goldschmidt. Kubel has just been money. He hits lefties and righties, seems to always deliver when we need it, has played better defense than everyone said he could, has more assists than Parra and uses his arm much smarter. I was bullish on the Kubel signing and was almost completely alone on that so I'm pleased that it's worked as well as it has.
Jim: Difficult choice, but I'm going with Aaron Hill. He's hitting .300 and is on pace for 20 homers, a double-punch not done in the NL by a second-baseman since 2007. Oh, and something something 1931. But it's tough: Paul Goldschmidt and Kubel have all performed well above expectations, and all of them arguably should have joined Wade Miley at the All-Star Game.
The All-Star Game is tomorrow in Kansas City. What are your favorite elements of the festivities?
dbacks25: I'm more interested in the Futures Game than any other of the festivities. It's always nice to see the future stars playing before they reach the Show. I've lost a lot of interest in the All-Star game, where a second baseman ::**CoughFreddySanchezCough**:: who hasn't even played a game this season garners 2.2 million votes and also where Brandon Freaking Crawford gets the second most votes at SS. But hey, the Home-Run Derby is always fun.
Sonic:: I've never been a big fan of the All Star Break. I just don't find it that interesting or exciting. With all the top-shelf pitching it's usually a low-scoring game so it tends to the boring side. There's too many players and they always have to get everyone in the game which doesn't help matters. The only interesting thing about the game is it does decide home field for the World Series so at least there's something on the line.
Jim: The Legends and Celebrities Softball Game. It's about the only aspect which is obviously played entirely for fun, and that's the way it should be. It's an exhibition, never mind all the "This Time It Counts" bollocks. On that basis, I also enjoy the Home-Run Derby, simply because it's something you don't get to see elsewhere: sluggers trying to hit nothing but long-balls.
Clefo: Always liked the game itself, if only because I got to see guys I normally didn't see in some way (mostly AL guys). The HR derby would be better if I didn't have to hear the word "BACK" 5 x 10 ^ 100000 times in it.
What teams, both in the NL West and the NL, pose the biggest threat to Arizona in the second half?
Sonic:: I still think we have the best team in the West. The division is totally wide open. We have a better offense than both LA and San Fran, and if our starters can just settle down a little, I think we can still win it going away. I give the edge to San Fran as our main competition just because their pitching is so good.
dbacks25: I'm still scared of the Dodgers and Giants. LAD's rotation has to regress, but they're getting Ethier and Kemp back. We all know the impact they carry. Even though Timmeh420 is struggling as much as a pitcher can, their pitching is insane. Mr. Perfect and Bumgarner can carry a rotation.
Jim: There's nine teams competing for the five spots, so anyone else can stand in our way. I still tend to think the Pirates will fade, but the Nationals and Cards will win their divisions. If Arizona don't win the West, it's going to be a real dog-fight for those two wild-card spots.
Clefo: Frisco. Even with Timmy turning into Mark Fidrych, they probably still have (arguably) the best pitching staff in the division.
And what will be the keys to the team's success going forward?
Sonic:: We have to have Upton and Kennedy return to form. I think it's totally on them. Most of the rest of our team is doing what they should be doing and more. Kennedy doesn't need to be "Cy Youngish" but he needs to be relied upon not to give up 4, 5 and 6 runs in short outings. I'm less worried about Upton. He's been good the last several weeks and I think he'll be fine the second half. A lot of people are pointing at 3B as our problem but we don't need big production out of that. The season's not on Ryan Roberts' shoulders. It also wouldn't hurt to see Young return to form, but even if he doesn't then Parra will take his at bats and we'll be fine. Upton and Kennedy, they're the keys.
dbacks25: I say health and consistency. As Sonic said, we can't afford Kennedy to have those kind of outings, he's shown glimpses of glory like last year but his control is not the same now. Young and Upton have to play better than they did in the first half. This team is going nowhere if Upton doesn't play at that level, good thing that he's started to swing the bat better.
Jim: Solid starting pitching. Kennedy, Cahill and Saunders have all been inconsistent, and it's telling that Miley is the only member of the current rotation with a winning record. Upton will certainly be key, and can carry the team for weeks at a time, but getting Chris Young back to anything above "absolute zero" [.143 in 38 games since returning!] will help.
Clefo: Play better, suck less.