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SnakePit Round Table: The Division Series

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The Diamondbacks 2011 is in the books, ending in extra innings of a winner-take-all game 5 in Milwaukee. While I'm sure fans of some teams eliminated in the Division Series are foaming at the mouth, the general sense is that Arizona devotees, while disappointed, are happy enough with the season and the team's performance in the post-season. But, for more detail, we turn to the SnakePit Round Table. What did they reckon?

The D-backs post-season ended at the first hurdle, but not without a terrific fight. How do you rate their performance overall?

Kishi: Watching the team in Spring Training didn’t leave me with a lot of optimism- it wasn’t so much that they lost, but that they looked bad doing it- so I started off the year thinking that I’d be okay if they finished the season around .500 and in third place. So, with that in mind, I’m pretty damn happy with how the team played. After watching the ‘09 and ‘10 editions of the team, even our losses were, for the most part, better. We didn’t have nearly as many painful, mistake-filled games. The team fought and worked with everything they had. As much as some of us may have been skeptical about the effect Gibby had on the clubhouse, listening to the players talk and seeing the way they approached the game differently really proves that it wasn’t just talk. Certainly gives me hope for next season.

 

soco: It’s frustrating.  I know I should be happy that they just made it, or that they pushed the Brewers to the limit, or whatever bullshit feel-good barometer you want to use.  I know I should be glad because there are 24 other teams that would have killed for the opportunity.  But it’s not enough.  It will never be enough.  I let myself get caught up in the fantasy: maybe this team will be like 2001.  But it’s not 2001, and there’s no such thing as destiny.  

I can’t honestly rate the performance because there were flashes of greatness, and some real crap.  Overall it wasn’t enough, because the season is over and we’re left to pick up the pieces.  

snakecharmer: I think the post-season was pretty representative of how they did throughout the season. At first, some nerves were rattled, there were some mistakes made by Williams, Gibson, Kennedy, Ziegler. Game 1 we just didn’t have enough offense, Game 2 the pitching collapsed. Things not working at the right times. Then we came home and took advantage of poor pitching from the Brewers, and our offense was on fire. Game 5 had great pitching from both sides, both starters and relievers, but we just weren’t clutch enough. Sure Parra’s double and Willie’s bunt in the 9th were clutch, but we had 2-through-7 up in the previous inning and didn’t get a thing.

Overall, I think this is a team of so many different pieces who can all perform and who can all work together at the same time, they just need to get more consistent at doing it.

ZM: I’m disappointed, sure.  It’s always disappointing when your team comes so close before losing on a walk-off hit.  But that said, I think my pride in this team outweighs the disappointment.  After looking dead in the water after the first two games, the Diamondbacks rallied back, like they have all season, improbably tying the series at two apiece.  When they trailed in Game 5 going into the ninth, they rallied back again against one of the best closers in baseball.  So while the end result is disappointing, how they got there is incredibly encouraging.

shoe: Post season performance rates a C+.  They couldn't win on the road, but played a good game in game 5.

Jim: If you;d told me at the start of the year, we’d go to extra innings in Game 5 of the NLDS, I’d have laughed at you. It’s just been interesting to see expectations change from "Maybe we’ll not finish last," through"Ok, let’s be above .500" and "I want to win the NL West", to the point where it’s a letdown not to be in the Championship Series. But the team showed huge heart in winning back-to-back elimination games and nearly snatching victory. Of course, you can question the play that dropped them into the 0-2 hole, but I think the lasting memories of this series will be the positive ones.

emily: I’m with soco. As much as I’d like to say the fact we weren’t supposed to be here makes it better...it doesn’t. I’m disappointed. I really thought good things would come of this series. There were flashes of brilliance and a lot of great baseball played, so I can’t really fault them for that.

Is it disappointing to outscore Milwaukee, yet lose the series? Do you feel they were the better team?

Kishi: It is disappointing, especially to lose the last game in extra innings. One hit at the right time going the other way, and a whole different scenario... I don’t know if the Brewers were the better team. Going to five games, and extra innings on the last one, would certainly seem to indicate that they were pretty well matched. We could have won this series, that’s for certain.

soco: It’s disappointing to lose, no matter how it’s done.  I don’t feel the Brewers were the better team.  I don’t think you can make a very convincing argument they were the better team, they just got some lucky breaks and had home field advantage.  It added up to a slight margin in their favor, which is all you need in a series that goes all the way.

snakecharmer: I think the teams were pretty balanced. Going in, both teams were known to have strong 1-2 starters, a potent middle-of-the-order offense, and nearly bulletproof bullpens. The teams had similar overall and at-home records. The first four games were large margin victories and both teams played up for Game 5. Game 5 could’ve gone either way. Maybe Chris Young doesn’t make that leaping catch, maybe those warning-track shots go a bit farther or we don’t strike out with the runners on third. I think it’s disappointing to lose mainly because it really could have gone our way. It was so close... and it was a heartbreaking loss.

soco: It seems like all the teams I followed are defined by these close, heartbreaking losses.  I wonder what it’s like to follow a team so bad it just numbs you.

Kishi: As a Broncos fan, I’ll tell you that it’s not much fun.

soco: Do we really want to have a terrible team fight?  Because I’m pretty sure I have the trump card.

ZM: I think the teams were almost perfectly matched.  The only difference, aside from random luck, was the home-field advantage thing, because I think the Diamondbacks win Game 5 comfortably if it’s played at Chase.  As for outscoring the Brewers, we’ve outperformed our Pythagorean W/L to get here, so I suppose I can’t get too upset.

shoe: It's disappointing to lose period. Run differential didn't really enter my mind.

Jim:Look at these two lines and tell me which team won the series:
Team A:
.274/.342/.474 (.816 OPS),
Team B:
 .253/.314/.410 (.723 OPS).
Team A is Arizona, B the Brewers. But oddly, all four division series went to the team that got fewer runs - the Yankees outscored the Tigers 28-17. Go figure! But it really just goes to prove, the playoffs truly are a crap-shoot. If Goldy’s homer had been in the eighth inning of Game 5, instead of Game 3, we’d be in the Championship Series.

emily: Disappointing, yes, but not entirely surprising. It’s been a theme for the Diamondbacks for awhile now...either a lot of runs to be had, or none at all. This series was no difference.

All five games went to the home team. Coincidence, or was home-field advantage crucial?

Kishi: I tend to think home field advantage isn’t that crucial, except in situations like game five, where it gives the home team the last at-bat. Obviously that’s going to be a big swing. Home field probably made the team feel more comfortable, but in the end, I think it was just being able to make the plays they needed that was the deciding factor.

soco: I wouldn’t say crucial, but it certainly helped tip things a bit, especially Games 1 and 5.  Those two games were close enough that I bet they would have gone our way in Chase.  

snakecharmer: I’m not a big believer in home field advantage, though I think it helped the Brewers in Game 1, with the energy so high and everybody on edge a bit more. Our team’s pretty young, and starting where we’re more comfortable would’ve been nice. But Game 5 could’ve gone either way, I don’t think the home field helped a lot there (except maybe some of those fly balls become home runs).

ZM: Normally I don’t think home field is anywhere near as important in baseball as it is in football or basketball, but the Brewers have such a dramatic home/road split that it’s difficult to ignore its impact on this particular series.  In particular, there were at least five fly-balls that the Diamondbacks hit to the warning-track at Miller Park that almost certainly would have been home runs at Chase Field.  But what can you do, other than win more games in the regular season?

shoe: The home field advantage is the thing I focused on the most from the minute we opened up a big lead on SFO.  I felt all along having home field was the key to getting through the playoffs.  They almost pulled it off anyway.

Jim: It’s more of what we saw this season. Here’s Arizona’s offensive road numbers:
Regular season: .239/.308/.383 = .692 OPS
Division Series: .229/.296/.400 = .696 OPS
If this team could hit on the road like they do at Chase, they’d be unstoppable. But I think it is possible that they were caught off-guard by the sheer intensity of the Miller Park atmosphere in Game 1.

How do you feel Kirk Gibson managed his first playoff campaign?

Kishi: Eh, some missteps in the first couple of games. But he did better in the last three- even in game five, I don’t really look at it and think there’s one move he made that was an obvious, game-ruining change.

soco: I think he did okay.  I know people probably want to rip him for not avoiding Braun/Fielder, but I think the big error was playing Overbay in Game 1, especially after seeing how well Goldschmidt played for the rest of the series.  Otherwise, he can’t really help that the offense didn’t show up in Game 1, and that there was one big meltdown inning in Game 2.

snakecharmer: I think he learned. I think he learned not to let his starting pitcher talk him into something if he really doesn’t feel it, and maybe that led to the early hook of Hudson in Game 2. He couldn’t have known Ziegler was going to implode, though I think he learned to have another arm up and ready, so when Parker showed the same signs in Game 4, he was able to go get him. I don’t have too many problems with his lineup or pinch hitter/pinch runner decisions. I think Gibson did the best with the players and performances he was given.

ZM: Gibson made some bad decisions in the first two games, but I sincerely doubt that he affected the end result of either game with those decisions.  More importantly, he learned from his mistakes.  He learned after Game 1 that it was important to play his best eight position players as often as possible, and it seemed like he learned the value of not running into outs on the basepaths in the playoffs as well.  

That being said, how can you pinch-run for Montero in the eighth, knowing that his spot might come up in a potential rally in the ninth???  That may very well have cost the team in the end.

shoe: Gibby and his coaching staff made a litany of blunders in the first two games, whether they own up to them or not. I know it seems harsh to criticize them for it, since the staff did an excellent job all year to help prepare the team and to get there.  But some bad choices clearly impacted the team's chances to win either of the first two games in a negative way. Tough to say if they were the determining factors though. And for the rest of the series the in game management and overall decisions were much better.  Again...those good decisions probably weren't the determining factors either, but every little bit counts in the playoffs.

Jim: Up and down. I think he unquestionably made mistakes in Game 1 + 2; basically, he seemed to be managing as if this was one game of 162, not a best-of-five where every run is of magnified importance. I think the post-season does require a different approach, with less room for error. But as ZM noted, Gibby learned: he pitched to Fielder in Game 1, and it cost him. In a similar situation in Game 5, Braun was walked. That’s all you can ask,

emily: After seeing how Goldschmidt played the rest of the series, it’s really inexcusable that Overbay started game one. Thankfully, he learned from some of those mistakes.

What one moment was the highlight of the series for you?

Kishi: For me, the Ryan Roberts grand slam in game four. First playoff game I’ve ever attended at any level above high school sports, and I’ll admit I was nervous as hell that we were going to get routed and I’d have to go home, having watched my team get eliminated from the playoffs. The crowd noise when Goldschmidt walked to the plate in with the bases loaded was fantastic, even if he Ked, but seeing the Dread Pirate knock one into the bullpen made me remember that this team wasn’t going to give up, and that this series was far from over.

soco: Considering I saw a grand total of 1 ½ game this series, I have no highlights to share.  

snakecharmer: The grand slams were amazing even on television. Chris Young’s running catch really saved the game (for a while) in Game 5. I think my favorite "moment" might be the emergence of "The Snake" to counter "Beast Mode." Our guys weren’t going to take anything lying down, they stood up and served it back and fought well.

ZM: Goldschmidt’s grand slam to break Game 3 wide open was not just my favorite moment of this series, but it was one of my favorite moments as a Diamondback fan.  I fully hope/expect that fantastic .gif at the top of every GDT for games pitched by Shawn Marcum.

Jim: What, you mean this one?

Marcumglove

shoe: Do you even have to ask?

Jim: Well, that was the point, yes... :) Nice though the slams were, I think the moment that will stick in my mind longest will be the safety squeeze bunt in the ninth inning of Game 5. I had just finished saying in our break-room, "Bunt", but to see Bloomquist drop the bat as Axford came to the plate triggered, in short order, fear, anticipation, nausea, amusement (Fielder falling down!) and exhilaration. I don’t think five seconds have ever in my life caused such an emotional roller-coaster!

emily: Everything about games three and four was amazing. First playoff games I’ve ever been to, and that was certainly a way to do it. But in hindsight, for a baseball  moment I’ll remember forever, I agree with Jim. Willie Bloomquist dropping that bunt in game five was one of the most emotional moments I can remember since 2001.

Who was the team MVP for the series?

Kishi: Honorable mention to Josh Collmenter for the absolutely crucial outing he gave us in game three- absolutely overwhelmed by the offense, but he shut the Brewers down just the way we needed him too. I’m a bit torn- I think I want to split it between Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young. Both put up good numbers on the series, showed a lot of power, and were big reasons we went back to Milwaukee. That Goldschmidt grand slam in game three is memorable, and CY’s great defensive play in game five is pretty highlight reel-worthy.

snakecharmer: Chris Young stepped it up offensively in Game 4, and his defense was spectacular all series.

ZM: Chris Young was awesome, but I’ve got to give it to Goldschmidt for providing such an awesome moment.  

/voting for narrative

shoe: Goldschmidt lead the team in batting, and had the biggest hit of the series for the team. One can only imagine what he might have done had he started in game one. (See above point about managerial decisions)

Jim: Chris Young on the position side (his OPS was actually fractionally above Goldie’s), but Josh Collmenter is the guy who basically saved our season. A poor outing from him in Game 3, we get swept and all the pundits get to say, "See, I told you Arizona sucked." But he gave us the best start of October, and righted the team ship. Not bad for someone not even listed in our top 30 by Baseball America before the season.

emily: Again, in agreement with Jim. Collmenter all the way, with honorable mentions for Goldy and CY.

Who are you rooting for the rest of the way?

Kishi: The Tigers. I like the Cardinals, but I always feel a little odd supporting an NL team after the DBacks have been knocked out of contention. Looking at the four teams remaining, as long as the Brewers don’t win it- as long as Nyjer Morgan and "beast mode" don’t win it- I’ll be okay.

soco: Agreed.  My cold, black heart now has a tiny space in it reserved for unbridled hatred of Nyjer Morgan and "beast mode."  I suppose if I had to choose a team to run the table with, it would be the Tigers, but I don’t mind the Rangers or the Cardinals.  Any of those 3 would be acceptable.

snakecharmer: Ditto. Even my everlasting love for Craig Counsell can’t get me to root for the Brewers at this point. I normally stay with the NL but I don’t like Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals either. I’ll root for the AL World Series team, but the bulk of my support is behind the Detroit Tigers. Not only are some of my best friends Tigers fans, but Verlander anchored my fantasy team all season, so he’s one of "my guys" now!

ZM: This is the most likable "final four" of baseball teams I can remember in a long time.  Honestly, I wouldn’t be annoyed if any one of these teams won.  The Rangers have some exciting young players and have never won a title.  The Cardinals are the last "team of destiny" still standing, so it would be cool to see them go all the way after their improbable run to the playoffs.  Verlander might be the most exciting player in baseball, and the Tigers haven’t won a title in my lifetime, so that would be cool to see.

And even the Brewers, as much as they annoyed me when we played them, have some exciting players.  Ryan Braun is a class act, Prince Fielder is a great player, and I like Zack Greinke for reasons I can’t quite articulate.  Also, the franchise hasn’t won the World Series in forever, so it would be novel.

Now, if only there were some way to keep Nyjer Morgan off the World Series roster...

soco: The Brewers have literally not won a World Series in forever, because they’ve never won one.  The Milwaukee Braves beat the Yankees in 1957, though.

shoe: Cardinals.  Fairly easy choice for me.  A lot of my friends are Cardinals fans, I like some of their players, especially Fat Elvis and Yadier Molina, and of course they have a very intense rivalry with the Brewers. Those two teams don't like each other at all, and Pujols and Morgan are sworn enemies.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Jim: With the Yankees and Phillies gone, I am in a serene, Zen-like state of tranquility about possible outcomes to the World Series - none of them would bother me. And, with the Rays gone, none of them would interest me. This season has already run a week longer than I expected, so I’m overdue to hit the unwatched pile!

emily: This series really amplified how much I hate the Milwaukee Brewers. I also really dislike the Cardinals (honestly, no reason at all. Just can’t stand them), so I’ll be throwing my support behind whichever team wins the American League. I’d like it to be Detroit, but I pushed for the Rangers last year (for obvious reasons) so I wouldn’t be upset with either of those teams taking it all.