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SnakePit Round Table: First Thoughts On The 2011 Season

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No game today for the Diamondbacks, who head to Chicago with a .500 record intact, to take on the Cubs in a three-game set. Zavada's Moustache will be covering that in due course, but for the moment, we asked our panel of SnakePit writers what the (very) early going showed for the team and their prospects in the 2011 season, now that's finally under way. Other topics include the wisdom of scheduling Opening Day in Colorado, and our predictions for the post-season.

One series in, and have the Diamondbacks played better than, worse than or about what you expected?

IHSB: I think it’s certainly hard to put one label on it, though "better than" probably at least holds the plurality of emotions.  Undoubtedly, winning the Opening Day game was fantastic.  IPK pitched well in game one, Huddy pitched well in game two, the bullpen was electric in both games, and Putz assuaged many of my fears.  The offense pounded in a few runs, TJU has given us glimpses of hope early that he’ll hopefully sustain, and yes, even Willie Bloomquist has been impressive filling in as the leadoff man.  Who knew the old fart could still steal a base?  Also... GERARDO PARRA DREW TWO WALKS TODAY!!!  I don’t want to jinx the kid, but if he can break out this year and become an everyday-caliber player, a) that will make our outfield special and cheap for a long time, and b) Josh Byrnes will be livid.

The offense getting shut down like that by JDLR in game two is obviously not a good thing.  Neither was Melvin Mora’s Opening Day charade (the only thing it can be called, even from a defender of Mora’s), and the fact that Ryan Roberts got the start in game two makes me wonder what the team’s plan is at third base.  Miguel Montero’s defense behind the plate appears to be a tad rusty so far with a couple of gaffes already.  Additionally, the fact that Xavier Nady started at first base (and subsequently went 0-3) is a travesty - the guy’s bat just isn’t good enough to play there, and the organization should know this.  I will say that I like the fact that we’re using Russell Branyan primarily as a bench bat/clubhouse man, but we just need to use that opportunity to give starts to Juan Miranda or Brandon Allen, NOT to Xavier Nady.

soco: It’s hard to say how it will all play out, but beyond some bum players there isn’t a categorical weakness yet.  Bullpen has done its job, they showed some scrap one day to get and win, and none the next day to take a loss.  I imagine it’s going to be a lot of that this year: a step forward and then a step or two back.

Kishi: Better than expected, I’ll say. Far better than I feared, to be certain. After the past two seasons and then spring training, I’ll admit there was a voice in the back of my head that was concerned we were going to go out there and just look embarrassing. So the fact that we’re two games into the season, and there have been more moments I’ve been proud of the team than moments I’ve been cringing? That’s better than I’d hoped for.

soco: Considering the past 2 seasons: they won each Opening Day, and last year won the opening series.  They still have plenty of time to be embarrassing.

Jim: Hey, we split the series, better than I expected. I think I’m most encouraged by the fact that we played not-exactly brilliantly in the opener, and still won. I don’t remember many games like that last season. We lost yesterday, but were in the game almost the entire way. As kishi says, I was fearing this would be humiliating, but we’ve gone toe-to-toe with one of the teams expected to be in the race for the division, in their park, and not disgraced ourselves.

Wailord: Evaluating the series relative to my expectations, I’m very pleased. Although we’ve had more defensive mistakes than I’d care for through the two games, overall the two games showed a few hopeful signs for the 2011 campaign. Sure, the offense couldn’t take advantage of any of their opportunities in the second game, they still managed to make the game exciting late (and came within a few feet of a dramatic come-from-behind home run). The bullpen’s been great so far (knock on wood), and quite frankly, I’ve raised my expectations for this next season. Granted, they weren’t exactly that high before the games, but still. They’re now higher than that.

Sprankton: Pleased. Really, that’s about as much as I can say. The defense was a bit shabby but that’s sort of expected at the beginning of the season with five players who have never played opening day before.

ZM: I guess we don’t have too much cause to complain, since the team split a series on the road against a well-regarded opponent.  Neither Kennedy or Hudson pitched great, but they both kept us in the game.  The offense looks to be a work in progress, with positions like 1B and LF that could use a little more continuity.  But overall, the first series of the season went better than I expected.

DbacksSkins: After two games, it’s tough to say one way or the other. I certainly wasn’t expecting to have a chance against Ubaldo Jimenez at Coors on Opening Day, so that was a pleasant surprise, but it sounds as though Ubaldo wasn’t exactly himself, either. The offense was particularly "unclutch" on Saturday, but Gerardo Parra drawing walks was a nice surprise.

We’ve all been wanting more from Daniel Hudson than he maybe showed yesterday, but it could also just be that the scouts are right about him.

The defense overall in the first game wasn’t particularly good, but the bullpen in both games has shown up. Willie Bloomquist has been better than advertised.

snakecharmer: All 2 games of the season thus far? Well, I’m pretty pleased our bullpen hasn’t allowed a run yet, that’s pretty promising. The offense is still anemic though, and that’s... well, I don’t know that I had much hope for this offense coming in and they haven’t helped their image.

Who has particularly impressed you against Colorado?

IHSB: JDLR mowed us down, there’s no doubt about that.  But after two games, it’s not like anybody has stood out, and it’s not possible for anybody to really stand out after two games.  People can have good performances or bad performances (i.e. the two paragraphs worth I wrote up for the first question), but particularly since I can’t watch, it’s hard to have impressions of the other team’s players.  I can really only have impressions based on surprising numbers and roster decisions from my own team that I have a fairly complex (or so I hope) understanding of...

Jim: You do realise the question was against Colorado, not for Colorado? :-)

Kishi: Poor IHSB’s in "timed essay" mode, I think- just take a deep breath between questions, man! Who has impressed me: Our bullpen, obviously. Especially on Friday, with Putz mowing down the heart of the Rockies lineup for the save and Guti not letting a couple of bad plays by the defense rattle him. Our running game in general, I think, has been exciting to watch, and has at least yielded some good results so far. At the plate, J-Up’s had some good at-bats- it seems like he’s hammering the ball when he makes contact, so that’s good to see. Branyan’s appearance at the plate in Saturday’s game was great, too, an absolute battle and he came so close to winning it. I know we should put too much stock in just one plate appearance, but it was a great at-bat. Oh, and Parra’s flashy glovework in the opener was pretty good.

Jim: You can’t argue with a 0.00 ERA from the bullpen, and it was particularly good to see Putz make a great early statement, with a 1-2-3 ninth in a one-run game. We didn’t see many of those last season either. Mickolio also looked pretty good yesterday. On offense, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Bloomquist in the lead-off spot, not just for going 4-for-10, but with three stolen-bases - those off the leftie yesterday were particularly impressive. After struggling there in spring, to be 4-0 in SB attempts is a solid start.

I also enjoyed the feistiness displayed by the team. Upton taking out Ianetta at home-plate proves his detractors wrong in some ways, and Parra chirping at De La Rosa (even if not very justified) shows that we won’t simply be anyone’s doormats.

Wailord: Hate to be the lame guy that says what’s already been said, but the bullpen’s been the most pleasant surprise. And how could it not? After us fans were forced to endure last year’s Diamondbacks pen, going through seven innings without giving up an earned run to start the season - plus, we actually have a closer now - there’s definitely a fair bit of optimism in the air.

ZM: Several people have already touched on it, but the bullpen has been a pleasant surprise, giving up no earned runs in the first two games.  Sure, it’s a miniscule sample size, but considering that the bullpen allowed five runs in the opening series last year, I suppose I’ll take it.  It’s also nice to see Miguel Montero get off to a hot start with the bat (if not the glove) after being named the guy when Snyder got traded.

DbacksSkins: BULLPEN, BULLPEN, BULLPEN. Even Gutierrez did what was asked of him, although the poor guy got nailed with a blown save. Upton had a pretty nice game on opening day, and would have nailed a runner at the plate yesterday had Miggy been able to hang onto the ball. As noted above, after walking in only 5.1% of PAs in 2009 and 5.9% in 2010, Gerardo Parra has already drawn 2 walks. (His 49th and 50th of his MLB career) Bloomquist has a double and several stolen bases while leading off.

snakecharmer: I was impressed that J.J. Putz threw such an easy inning after such a short spring!

DbacksSkins: WHAT spring? He retired four batters!

soco: Melvin Mora.  Just kidding, the bullpen, obvs.

And on the other hand, who has been disappointing?

soco: I’d like to see more from Kelly Johnson.  I wouldn’t call it disappointing after one series, but he’s a guy I have expect to do good things.

Kishi: Mostly in our new veteran arrivals- Mora and Nady. I also think Miggy’s play behind the plate leaves something to be desired- both that bad throw to first, and it seems like we’ve had more passed balls than I’d expect. While I was happy with Parra’s defense in the first game, in Saturday’s game, I think it left something to be desired. But I have to say- it’s nice to have more played I’m pleased with than disappointed in at this point of the season.

Jim: Mora was historically awful in the opener, as already covered. I think it’s perhaps significant that, had today’s game gone ahead, both he and Nady would have only started one game each in the series. Miggy has always been a bit shaky defensively, but if he keeps hitting 4-for-9 with a homer, I’ll settle for that. Little room to criticize our pitching, but it hurt to see Hudson give up back to back RBIs to the catcher and opposing starter yesterday.

Wailord: In my continued efforts to sound like a broken record, both Nady and Mora managed to put a nice little blemish on what was otherwise a pretty upbeat opening series, even with the loss.

DbacksSkins: Mora sucked in the opener -- badly. Nady sucked yesterday. Miggy hasn’t been great behind the dish. Bloomquist hasn’t shown much range filling in for Drew at SS, and a better throw to Miggy yesterday would’ve gunned down a runner at the plate. Willie B also got himself out trying to turn that double into a triple.

snakecharmer: I wasn’t happy with Miggy’s defense. He’s never been a defensive star, but last spring he came in early particularly to work on defense and took the job away from Chris Snyder. I sure hope the first series was an anomoly.

soco: I can’t be disappointed in guys I didn’t expect anything from.

What area does the team most obviously still need to work on?

Jim: I didn’t get to see either of the two games to date, but there still seem to be some fundamentals e.g. hitting cut-off men, not making the first out at third, which can be improved; this should be second nature to anyone in the majors. Both games certainly had some room for improvement on defense too.

Wailord: I’ll just go ahead and say it was the defense - just a bit too many mistakes (although not all went for errors). Miggy’s passed ball, errant throw to first, Willie’s missing of Montero, Miggy’s dropping the Jupzooka throw... all in all, I’d like to see the team fix these sort of errors. They seem like the most avoidable mistakes, and the easiest to fix. If you wanna win, it’s enough to beat the opponent. No need to have to beat yourself, too.

Kishi: I’m with Wailord- I’d like to see some improvement in the defense. Other than that, I think, as always, I’d be happy to see some better hitting with runners in scoring position. 6 of our 14 strike outs have come with runners on, so making contact there will be important. On the other hand, we’re at least getting opportunities- our 26 at-bats with RISP leads the National League. We just need to follow through.

DbacksSkins: I’m definitely willing to forgive the defensive mistakes of the first two days, because even the worst defense doesn’t screw up like that in the pros everyday. But the fact is, in getting rid of LaRoche and Reynolds (and Snyder to a degree), we weakened our defense -- a defense that ranked #1 in the NL last year by UZR. Replacing Drew with Bloomquist in the short term doesn’t help, either. I know defense was supposedly going to be a focus this season, but that hasn’t happened yet.

We also need to be more "clutch". Branyan nearly whacked a game-tying homer yesterday which unfortunately was caught. We had a lot of missed opportunities yesterday and the day before by not coming up with hits in big situations. Of course, as we know, this isn’t really a repeatable skill.

snakecharmer: Yes, they need to play better fundamentally, but I’m going to say clutch/timely hitting is more important. Singles and doubles won’t do much good unless you get a few more of them in a row.

soco: They need to get better at everything the Gibson Kool-Aid drinkers think he brings to the table.  

Any thoughts on the line-up and other tactics used by Kirk Gibson early on?

IHSB: As mentioned above, Xavier Nady should not be a first baseman.  If that’s where we’re going to have to play him, we might as well just DFA the guy now.  If he can’t play left field (or if Parra dramatically out-plays him in left field and takes all of his PT), we should let him go.  He isn’t as valuable to us as someone like Brandon Allen or Cole Gillespie could be off the bench due to either a) their powerful bat or b) their good defense.  If we believe Nady can play in left field, then fine, play him in left field.  Keep him away from first base.  There’s a reason he was below replacement-level for the Cubs last year.

On the positive side, I like how Branyan is being used, and I enjoy that Willie Bloomquist is suddenly being utilized as a stolen base threat.  We’ll obviously see if these trends can continue throughout the year, but if Branyan can mash off the bench while Miranda/Allen gets starts, and Bloomquist can steal a significant number of bases - NOTE: at a very high efficiency to make it not detrimental to the team overall... - then I’ll be very satisfied.

Jim: Given what we’ve got on the roster, I think he has managed it well enough. Certainly, he has minimized the impact of Nady, and in some ways, out-managed Jim Tracy in the opener, as far as handling pitching went. I like the feeling of having Branyan on the bench; to borrow the famous line from Tony Clark, "Anybody, anytime..." and having Russell the Muscle there is like having a loaded gun in your pocket, ready to be pulled out at any point.

Kishi: Not so crazy about some of the lineup choices, generally. Willie Bloomquist has proven me wrong so far, but I’m not convinced that Mora starting over Roberts or Nady starting at first is the way to go. For the most part, though, I think his moves in-game have been pretty good. I like the aggressiveness on the basepaths, and though I think calling for a pinch-bunt from Enright wasn’t the best choice, I think he used Branyan right on Saturday.

ZM: I’m not sure that pulling Mora for Roberts after one bad game (if that turns out to be the case) is the smartest decision in the world.  I mean, granted, it was a terrible game, but giving up on a guy who has proven over the course of his career that he can play 3B in favor of a guy who has never played 3B might prove to be a poor choice.

DbacksSkins: Willie Bloomquist is probably not going to keep up a BABIP of .400, meaning he’s not going to catch Ted Williams on the season, but he’s been a pretty good baserunner thus far. With Drew out and KJ having a cold start, I don’t have much of a problem with him leading off yet.

If we were willing to give the starting job to Mora, we can’t be so eager to sit him after one lousy game -- much as I would like to see Roberts in the lineup everyday.

snakecharmer: I don’t mind Gibby playing so much with the lineup these first two/three days finding good combinations and watching for matchups.

soco: I like that he didn’t completely squander the bullpen in 11 innings like Jim Tracy tried to do.  He hasn’t had enough time to do anything really stupid.

Scheduling the opening road-trip in Denver and Chicago. Dumb decision or the dumbest decision?

Kishi: It was dumb even before we had our series closer cancelled. I’m not saying that we should avoid the northern half of the country for the entire month of April, that’d just be impossible. But come on, MLB, starting San Diego, Arizona, and Houston all on the road? That’s just poor planning.

Jim: "Oh, but we have to spread the joy of Opening Day around!!" Well, maybe we should...I dunno, have every team play on Opening Day, rather than only 40% of them? It seems to me that decisions are being made purely for commercial reasons, rather than on the basis of common sense. Which never works well.

ZM: Maybe the Diamondback front office were the ones who wanted to open on the road, so as to spare them the decision of whether to open the roof and offend about a dozen old folks who don’t like having sun in their eyes at a baseball, or close the roof and offend people who enjoy good whether.  IT’S A CONSPIRACY!!!

/Puts on tinfoil hat

snakecharmer: GUYS. GUESS WHAT. We’re not actually the only ones who have opened in cold weather in the history of Major League Baseball. It happens every year! Not all the southern states can host opening day every year, and it’s not like they can see the forecasts 6 months in advance. Yes, we’ve opened the year a lot on the road lately, but that means we’ll have a few more home openers soon. Opening Day is all about ratings, and they match up division rivals. Of course, that means eventually Arizona should come to San Francisco for an opening day......... right??

DbacksSkins: The White Sox had to start in Cleveland, too, which wasn’t much better. (And never is -- seems like every year, the Indians get Opening Day at home, and the weather is ALWAYS awful)

At least Texas got to start at home (against the Red Sox), although the Astros had to play in Philly. The Padres played at St. Louis, which isn’t a TERRIBLE place, but San Diego would be better.

MLB is kinda stupid like that.

soco: As a fan I obviously think it’s stupid.  Games shouldn’t be snowed out.  I can imagine owners (remember, the ones that employ Mr. Selig) wouldn’t be happy, though, if their team never got to host a series for Opening Day.  It’s a reality we’ll have to deal with, one I’m sure we’ll complain our way through.

Upcoming this week, it’s the Cubs in Chicago, then home for our opener against the Reds. Six games in total - how will the team do?

IHSB: Good against the Cubs, bad against the Reds.  Three wins (two @Chi, one vReds).  Optimistic, I know, but why not?  It’s April.

soco: D’backs always do well against the Cubs, so it’s a good series to feel confident about, even with the unholy start times in the work week.  Not so confident about the Reds, but maybe the D’backs will get some extra fire from it being the home opener.

Wailord: Two in Chicago and one against the Reds sounds about good to me.

Jim: I’ll agree with the three wins concept, but choose to remain vague on the specifics of where they will occur.

Kishi: We take the series against the Cubs, win the opener against the Reds, and we get snowed out for the rest of the series against Cincinnati. Oh, wait, that’s in Phoenix? Never mind. I’ll err on the side of madness- four wins over the next six.

ZM: I’m with the majority: 3-3 (not sure who they’ll come against though).

snakecharmer: 3-3 sounds about right. People have been saying the Reds are a better team this year, though I didn’t see any of their games this weekend. If we can go 3-3 and go home at .500, I think the fans would consider that a success. (But I think the team expects more from themselves.)

DbacksSkins: 2-4 or 3-3. I don’t like the Dbacks at Wrigley (1-3 last year in Chicago, IIRC, or it may have been an 0-4 sweep) and I haven’t seen the matchups yet, but it’s gonna be tough against the defending NL Central champions.

SEASON PREDICTIONS

Winners: NL West, Central, East?

soco: Dodgers, Reds, Phillies (Braves)

Jim: Giants, Reds, Phillies (Brewers)

Wailord: Giants, Reds, Phillies (Brewers)

Kishi: Rockies, Reds, Phillies (Diamondbacks- naw, kidding, Braves)

ZM: Rockies, Brewers, Phillies (Reds)

snakecharmer: Giants, Reds, Phillies (Cardinals)

DbacksSkins: Giants, Reds, Braves (Phillies)

Winners: AL West, Central, East?

soco: Rangers, White Sox, Yankees (Red Sox blech)

Jim: Rangers, Twins, Rays (Red Sox. Sorry, jinnah!)

Wailord: Rangers, White Sox, Red Sox (Yankees)

Kishi: A’s, White Sox, Red Sox (Twins)

ZM: Rangers, Twins, Red Sox (Rays)

snakecharmer: Rangers, White Sox, Red Sox (Rays)

DbacksSkins: Rangers, White Sox, Red Sox (Twins)

AL Pennant, NL Pennant?

soco: I want to look at this, before the season has even really been played, and say Phillies vs. Red Sox.  It’s hard to not look at those two teams and see them on the path of least resistance (the path of the Dark Side) to the World Series.  The Reds have good pitching and a great offense, though, so if I could see them upsetting on NL side.  I think the White Sox have a good chance of being the dark horse again for the same reasons.

Jim: Phillies vs. Rays. The Phillies have an amazing rotation, and I can’t see them imploding in the post-season again. The Rays are young enough that they should be better this year, and after they won 96, I can’t see why everyone is writing them off this year

Wailord: Well, at the time of posting, the Rays are on their way to 0-3 (against the Orioles!) and Evan Longoria just found his way onto the DL. That’s why I’m not seeing them in the postseason - it’s hard enough losing all of the pieces they did, but to lose Longo on top of that... nyeh. Anyway, I’ll actually go ahead and say that I see the Brewers (my WC team, yeah) in the WS for the NL and Boston there for the AL.

Jim: Hey, Boston are 0-3 too...

Kishi: The Phillies have the pitching, it’s just a question of if they’ve kept enough offense to support it. Aw, to hell with it. I can either pick the easy teams and possibly be right with thousands of others, or I can go dark horse and have a very, very slight chance of looking brilliant (read: lucky). Braves-Twins in the World Series. Wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of veils in the MLB marketing department.

ZM: Red Sox and Phillies.  Not too many people outside of San Diego really appreciated just how good Adrian Gonzalez actually was for the Padres.  But now that he’s in a major market, and a hitter-friendly ballpark, I predict an AL MVP for him.  Meanwhile, I don’t expect the Phillies to be as dominant as everyone else expects in the regular season, but once they get to the postseason, their four phenomenal starters give them a tremendous advantage in a short series.

snakecharmer: I had a hard enough time picking division winners, I’m not going to try to go any farther, I’m just going to look silly. Wait, what do you mean that’s the point? Heeeeeey, Jiiiiim.......

DbacksSkins: Not sure. Either White Sox or Red Sox in the AL vs., probably, the Phillies in the NL. Take the Phillies in 6 in the World Series.

World Series Champions

soco: I’ll be a homer and say White Sox.

Jim: Phillies in six. Keep it in the NL!

Wailord: Boston in five.

Kishi: Braves take it in seven in one of the most dramatic, poorly-watched World Series of all time.

ZM: Phillies in seven.

snakecharmer: No idea.

DbacksSkins: I just said this! Phillies.

Total wins for the 2011 Diamondbacks

soco: 70

Jim: 72

Wailord: 74

Kishi: 76. I was actually going to say that originally, not just because it continued the pattern.

ZM: Hate to be a combo breaker, but I’m going to stick with 74.

snakecharmer: I want to stay positive and say 78.

DbacksSkins: 72. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 72-90.