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SnakePit Round Table: Lead-Stretching Edition

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Four games ahead. We haven't been that far in front for exactly three years, since August 29, 2008. The altitude is giving me nose-bleeds. The team set a new record, conceding five runs over six games for the first time in franchise history, but the week looms large, especially the series in San Francisco which begins Friday. The run of success, Kirk Gibson as a manager, the trade of Kelly Johnson and Ian Kennedy's Cy Young chances are among the topics covered by our round-table this week. Guest contributor is justin1985; upcoming weeks will see Jdub220, DeDxDbacKxJroK, JoeStock and CaptainCanuck.

Well, that week certainly went okay. Contrary to "certain expectations" (cough!), Arizona won six in a row. What changed for the D-backs?

Kishi: Our offense decided to show up. I mean, we’ve scored four times as many runs on the winning streak as we did on the losing streak, so that definitely helps. Add in that the pitching staff has held opposing teams to five runs in the past six games, and that’s a definite recipe for success.


Sprankton: Well, you see, it’s very simple *opens book*. Numbers are pretty easy to understand: 28 Runs scored : 5 Runs allowed. *closes book*. Any questions?

shoe: The quality of the opponents mostly.  

Jim: Hmm, that didn’t prevent pre-week predictions of "We will probably win one game, and handover first place to the Giants and have to come back home and regroup..." :-) Got to hand it to the pitching. Half of the six wins, we scored four runs or less, and the streak started when the offense delivered a mere two in Washington. When the pitchers were conceding five runs per game, as during the streak, that really puts pressure on the offense - I think it’s easier to score runs when you don’t have to.

emily: Well, the offense decided to come back and hang around for awhile, and it just so happened to coincide with a few solid starts from the defense.

snakecharmer: Offense helped, and the pitching stayed solid. What a fabulous run. It’s nice to be scoring add-on runs in the 8th rather than be fighting to tie it in the 8th.

soco: The schedule changed.  We can’t expect the same results beating up the Padres and Nationals when the D-backs play playoff bound (and better teams) like the Phillies and Braves.

justin1985: Like Sprankton (and others) said, we had lots of good pitching and our offense started producing. That said, the previous week we faced the Phillies and Braves...they are not the Nationals or Padres.

The Giants now sit four back. Even Baseball Prospectus now has us as the favorites, so are they, realistically, done?

Kishi: I won’t count them out until they’re mathematically eliminated. It’s not like they need a tremendous offensive resurgence to start winning again, they just need to start putting up a couple more runs a game, and that pitching will be enough to keep them in the race. Ask me again in a month.

Sprankton: Realistically? No. Offensively? Yes.

shoe: Angels were seven games back of the Rangers on August 18th. They are about to climb within one three.   Giants will be done when we clinch and not a moment sooner.

Jim: The Giants have been offensively flatlined for so long, it’s hard to see them recovering. [In fact, ‘charmer, if you notice a smell of decomposition, that would be the Giants line-up.] Since the break - that’s now 42 games! - they have averaged 2.9 runs per game and have a collective .625 OPS. As a yardstick, Russell Branyan, whom we dumped entirely, had a .629 OPS. When a team ERA of 3.00 won’t even get you a .500 record, you’ve got major, major issues.

That said, I entirely support the idea of padding the lead, and clinching in about two weeks.

emily: I’ll never count the Giants completely out, just like I’ll never really believe the Diamondbacks will do something awesome. I’m still waiting for the team to implode, and I will gladly eat my crow when I am wrong.

snakecharmer: Weren’t the Padres up by about this much, this time last year? Oh, no they lost it in early September. Still, the Giants came back late last year, and with Beltran back in the lineup, it’ll provide, well, most of their offense. Their starting pitching is still solid, and it’s the reason they’ve managed to win a few sporadically. They’re definitely not out yet.

soco: We’ll have a better answer after this week.  If the D-backs can emerge from the weekend series against the Giants still 3 games or more, than I have to believe this race is over except for the details.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t sweat out every game.

justin1985: I wouldn't count them out, but I have been thinking that taking a 3 or 4 game lead into the series the first weekend of September would be great on our chances. They can sweep us and we would be still in the divisional lead.

What do the D-backs need to do the rest of the way to clinch? Please note, "win" is not an acceptable answer. ;-)

Kishi: Sure, Jim, prohibit the easy and accurate answer, why don’t you? Fine, I’ll be specific- they need to win against the Giants. If they can take four of the remaining six against San Francisco, the Giants would have 22 games to make up a six game deficit. That’s a 17-5 record, if the DBacks played .500 ball against everyone else. I don’t think the Giants have that kind of run in them.

Sprankton: Fairly easy concept, as Kishi already pointed out. The D-backs just need to keep their heads high and focus on each game one at a time. The fifth spot in the rotation needs to continue being successful and the bullpen has to maintain its dominance. That, and, you know, they need to "win." Teehee.

shoe: Score more runs than the other teams? ....ok....not what you were going for.  Well they need to keep hitting, they need to keep pitching well, and they need to stay healthy. Still too broad?  How about just do whatever Gibson says?

Jim: At this point holding a steady course is the main thing. Avoiding any long losing streaks is key - we don’t need to win every game, or even every series, to make the post-season. Even if we play .500 ball the rest of the way, that would leave the Giants needing to go 18-10 to force a play-in game. Obviously, the series against SF remain key, but a 3-3 split there would now hugely favor the D-backs, crossing six games off the schedule without allowing the Giants to make up any ground.

emily: They need to beat San Francisco, and they need to do it in San Francisco. They don’t necessarily need to sweep the Giants, but I think team morale really depends on winning on the road.

snakecharmer: Oh, man, it would be SO nice to take the series this weekend, if not sweep, and put even more distance between the two teams. Yeah, basically they just need to maintain status quo, and that’s the status quo of this past week, not the week before. If the starters could do well and the offense could give us 4 runs a game, that’d be great.

soco:  I’ve been saying this for weeks: the path from here is an even approach.  Guys need to relax, and understand that we’re in the driver’s seat.  Just keep playing the way you’ve been playing this second half.  It’s the Giants who have to press.

justin1985: We hold the cards at this point. The Giants have to go 18-10 to tie us (while we go .500), I think that may be a tall order for them. I just hope we do not have a run like our mid September 2008...

The team dealt Kelly Johnson to the Blue Jays for Aaron Hill and John McDonald. How do you evaluate this trade?

Kishi: Eh. I don’t see Hill as an upgrade oiver Kelly Johnson, but I am at least happier having McDonald out there over Cody Ransom. It’s not something that I think is going to be a deciding factor in the season, but I’m waiting to see how it turns out.

Sprankton: I’m definitely not as ornery about it as some people are... (waits for Phil). The rationale behind the trade still seems a bit confusing, but I can’t really complain with the way things are. Not yet, at least.

shoe: It was a deal made with defense in mind. They feel like they have to grind it out from here on in.....they'll be in a lot of close games, facing a lot of really good pitching, and they want to play tight ball games with great defense.  Hill and McDonald are definitely upgrades defensively over Bloomquist and Johnson.  And it looks like Hill might have decide to bring his bat with him.  My first reaction to the trade was not overly positive, but this could actually work.  Challenge trades are crapshoot.

Jim: I think it was also an acknowledgment that Willie Bloomquist and his .655 OPS were just not cutting it as a Drew replacement, especially in the lead-off spot. Johnson’s strikeouts may have been perceived as an issue, though your mileage may vary as to whether they were or not. But it should certainly help bolster the defense, and I think shoe’s right there: it’s almost as if they were brought in purely for the six games against the Giants.

emily: Meh. I’ll miss you, Kelly :-(

snakecharmer: I think Kelly’s season-long slump was, well, season-long. It wasn’t a 3-week or 6-week slump, it was just bad, to the point where we couldn’t afford to have him in the lineup. And when you have to play Roberts at 2B and Burroughs at 3B, something needs to be done to fix that. He was going to be a FA anyway, and we got two-for-one in a deal that makes roster sense. Whether it makes performance sense, we’ll see, but I’ve been reasonably happy with them so far, mainly Hill.

soco: I like it so far, and I like the absence of KJ’s strikeouts.  So sue me.

justin1985: I actually liked it. Both players (Hill, KJ) are getting a fresh start with new teams that they might not even resign with. Hill is coming into a hitter's park, during a pennant race and out of the AL East - what more motivation do you need? That said, I am sort of sad KJ won't be here for it...but in the same way I wish Haren were here. Fan sentimentality - is that even a word? McDonald was a throw in. KT looked at our starting SS and said, "WTF? Uh.... so is your player McDonald available? He is living right?"

Sunday’s victory takes Kirk Gibson’s record as a manager above .500. How do you rate him as a manager?

Kishi: Well, it’s hard to look at this team and say that he isn’t an excellent motivator. The players certainly seem to respond to his leadership. He makes some choices that I don’t agree with when it comes to the lineup, but it’s easier to ignore those when the team is doing well.

Sprankton: Like any other manager, Gibson seems to ignore a lot of the things that drive us mad. Paul Goldschmidt not getting consistent time, Ziegler facing wwaaayyy too many left-handed batters, Hernandez pitching in every inning of every game, etc. Still, can’t complain about a win. On a scale of one to ten I would rate Gibby as a seven.

shoe: He's definitely the right guy at the right time with the right message for THIS group of ballplayers at THIS stage of their careers. You had a bunch of mid to late 20's guys that had talent but weren't winning, and they were ready for the message that Gibby brings.  If these guys were all 31-33 it wouldn't work.

Jim: In Gibby we trust. That’s about all I’ve got. We may have snickered at his banning iPads in the clubhouse, etc. - but dammitalltoheck, he’s got this team over-performing all expectations. Even Derrick Hall on Sunday’s broadcast, said he was only expecting this team maybe to reach .500. Yet, here we are, a month left in the season, and we’re in first. I’m sure we all have our issues with his in-game management, but the results are what matter, and there’s absolutely no argument with those.

emily: He does a lot of things that make absolutely no sense (which incited the #gibbyball tag on twitter). Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t...But for the most part, they’ve been working. He’s obviously a huge motivating and uniting force in that dugout, and for that? In Gibby we trust!

snakecharmer: He’s... interesting. I always think to something Bob Melvin did, and does right now with the A’s, is communication. He said that he’ll tell you the night before if you’re in the lineup the next day, whereas Gibby won’t tell anybody until he posts it on the board. Both very different approaches, and both approaches that work. Gibby’s lineups are just as confusing as BoMel’s decisions were to us back in ‘07, again, in a period of time that worked out. I don’t know what he’s done, but he’s gotten this group of 25 guys to be a cohesive unit, where they weren’t really a "team" the past two years. It works.

soco: Hard to complain with results, especially a team that at one point in the season seemed to be out of it, and just after the All-Star break seemed destined to a "surprising story but still 2nd place" role.  He has them playing as a team right now.

justin1985: He has been fiery.

It was also Ian Kennedy’s 17th win. Where do you rank him in the NL Cy Young race?

Kishi: I think he’ll get some attention for it, but I think I’d give the edge to Roy Halladay or Clayton Kershaw. IPK’s win total is fancy, but- well, wins aren’t everything.

Sprankton: I’d poop myself if I found out anyone other than Roy Halladay won. Nothing against IPK, though, who only has the 6th best bWAR for a pitcher at 4.3 (just shy of Lincecum’s 4.5).

shoe: He's still not the best pitcher in the league, or having the best season by many measures..... Halladay and Kershaw have more ip, ERA  half a run lower, and better peripherals.  But he's in the discussion now, and you never know.  If he wins out and keeps lowering his ERA anything can happen.   He's had 17 starts with 2 ER or less so far. Really it's just two bad starts inflating his ERA.  (9 er in 3 IP vs. Stl. April 13th and 7 ER in 5.2 IP vs. Oak on July 3rd)  I wouldn't worry about CY Young races too much.

Jim: His performances this year certainly merit consideration, especially playing in such a pitcher-friendly park. His road ERA is 3.14, which is better than Kershaw and not far off Halladay’s 2.86. It certainly is Halladay’s to lose, but if Hudson can keep this up down the stretch, he should be in the discussion.

emily: I mean, maybe? I wouldn’t call him the best pitcher in the league by any stretch, but we all know how much the committee looooooves wins...

snakecharmer: I don’t know that he’ll take any first-place votes away from Halladay, but he should be talked about and get some third place votes.

justin1985: He will get some votes from West Coast writers, but it will still go to Halladay or someone. I would be happy if he finished 3rd or 4th in the voting.

Three against Colorado, and then three against the Giants in San Francisco. Call it...

Kishi: Aw, let’s go with some optimism. Let’s take 4 of 6, win both series.

Sprankton: We’ve won six in a row, why stop? 12-0.

shoe: 3-3 works for me.  Just as long as at least one of the wins comes against the Giants.

Jim: Yes, we need to take one in San Francisco, but with the front edge of our rotation going, even though the Giants throw up Cain and Lincecum, I have to believe we can take that. This is, after all, a Giants team that scored eight runs over four games at home, against an Astros pitching staff that came in with the worst ERA in the NL. If we allow a run during the three games, the offending Arizona pitcher should immediately commit seppuku on the mound... I think we’ll go 3-3 overall.

emily: I would hope for 4-2, with a continuation of the current winning streak and at least one of the wins against the Giants.

snakecharmer: Um. Hmmm. 4-2 should be a minimum, if not sweeping the Rockies or the Giants. If it’s 3-3, then we did something wrong.

soco: I’m hoping for 4-2, but thinking more 3-3.

justin1985: We take 2 of 3 from both, a 4-2 record.