The Diamondbacks split their six games, but the Giants transformation into an apparently unstoppable force resulted in some twitchy glances over our shoulders in the second half. Still, at five games up with just nine to play, Arizona firmly hold fate in their own hands. Can they close things out this week against the Pirates and Giants? Our panel discusses this, the San Francisco surge and how much the long home-stand at the end will help the D-backs. We're joined by guest panelist JoeStock; Captain Canuck will do the honors next week, in the final round-table of the regular season.
Nervous? Or did Sunday’s win calm the butterflies?
shoe: Obviously winning Sunday helped calm the jitters a bit. Still.....can't afford a slip up against the Pirates, so the pressure is still really on.
Jim: If we’d lost this afternoon, a four-game lead with nine to play isn’t all that different from a five-game lead. However, a four-game losing streak would have, mentally, been very different from our current situation. I think it’s safe to say yesterday could well have been Joe Saunders’ biggest game since he came to Arizona, and total credit to him for coming through in the pitching clutch.
DbacksSkins: Nervous anyway, because our team has big difficulties hitting on the road. We saw it on the last big road trip, too; and we’ve seen it elsewhere in the season. We also continue to have trouble against lefties.
JoeStock: No. Yes, we should have done a lot more against the Padres, a very weak team. However, I’m one of the few people who thinks the league should go back to 154 games. 162 just seems to be too much and at the end teams seem to often be on fumes. That seemed to be us in Petco.
snakecharmer: Sunday’s win definitely helped. If we’d had only a 4-game lead that had the possibility of shrinking to 3 with three games vs the Giants coming up... whooo boy I would’ve been nervous. Still not ideal, the magic number still at 5, but I do feel better.
The last road-trip of the regular campaign ended 3-3. Glass half-full or half-empty?
shoe: Under normal circumstances, we should be OK with a 3-3 road trip. But considering we held SD to just 5 runs in the first games, and 6 runs for all 3 games, we really should have come away 4-2, and our magic number down to 4, not 5.
Jim: That’s what I expected, but as above, a big difference between 3-3 and 2-4. The main reason that the result isn’t as great, is because the Giants have gone bat-crazy - literally. 57 runs in eight games? That’s their best stretch of offense since May 15-23, 2006. I doubt it’ll last, and they’ll revert back to the team they were the first 145 games, averaging 3.3 runs per game. Tuesday night against Clayton Kershaw seems a likely point for that.
DbacksSkins: Exactly what I expected, though I figured the results would be flipped. Half-full, I suppose, because we’ve used up another week in the schedule.
JoeStock: Glass half-full.The saying still holds. Your goal on the road should be .500 baseball. So 3-3 falls perfectly in line there. We did damage on the magic number end and at this point, it almost doesn’t matter what the Giants do. We finish the season at home and just need 5 wins in 9 games. And 3 of those games are against the Giants.
snakecharmer: Glass half full. We struggled in PetCo and against Kerhshaw - who doesn’t? Our pitching was solid for the week. Obviously we need more offense on the road, and better fundamentals, but it wasn’t a complete collapse.
The offense went pretty stone-cold of late. Just a blip or something more serious?
shoe: The offense is still not where we need it to be, but we all know that some good ol Chase Field home cooking can solve that pretty fast. It's tough to figure out exactly where we are as an offense without getting ridiculously bogged down in selective begin and end points. But Drew went down on 7/20, Goldschmidt was called up August 1, and of course we brought in Hill, Overbay and McDonald in late August. So the team we have now compared to the first half of the season is really not the same. Through July 20th, we were actually hitting decently on the road.
.760 Home OPS 4th in NL
.699 Road OPS 6th in NL
Since July 20th though, it's been pretty ugly
Road .680 OPS 14th in NL
Home .831 OPS 1st in NL
Jim: A good chunk of it was simply a lack of clutch. Over the three-game losing streak, they had just one hit with a runner in scoring position, in 13 at-bats. Now, that’s not many attempts - they’ve been averaging about eight per game this year - so there was something of a broader issue. The struggles of Justin Upton didn’t help, but this afternoon’s dozen hits were the most since we left Colorado, so hopefully point forward a little better.
DbacksSkins: Again, road troubles are troubling.
JoeStock: This tends to be a long-ball team, despite Gibson’s efforts. The downside of a HR-heavy offense is that it can run hot or cold at times. That’s what is occurring right now. I’d rather be cold for a couple of weeks now, rather than during the playoffs. Also again, see my comment above about being on fumes.
snakecharmer: Could be just end-of-season slump, could be an on-the-road slump. Though, seriously guys, it’s just L.A. and S.D., it’s not even a time zone shift. The bats don’t have to travel far, they should not get lost. Chris Young is picking it up as of late, Montero and Parra have stayed sort of hot, and the guys all had a good day Sunday. Consistent offense is something the team has struggled with all year, it feels like. Going back to Chase will be nice, and all the more reason to try to open at home.
How much of an advantage is it for the D-backs to play the last nine at home?
shoe: See my above point on the offense. It's huge that we finish last 9 at home. We should insist on this every year ;)
It's also still pretty damn important that we not only hold off the Giants, but keep trying to beat out Milwaukee so we can get home field advantage in round1 of playoffs. Thats why the notion of extra rest for Kennedy and Hudson is a non starter for me. Home field advantage is the most important thing (after clinching in first place of course)
Jim: With regard to that, I note that the Braves might be the team on shakiest ground as far as post-season play goes. They’ve been terrible of late, and are only 3½ up on the Cardinals and four on the Giants, so this week’s opening series is big for them as well. If the Giants get the wild-card, that would also give us the Brewers, albeit perhaps on the road. If we clinch, maybe we’ll pull a Rockies and "rest" everyone, to help the Giants? Somehow, I suspect that isn’t #gibbyball!
For Arizona, I think it’s very helpful. We have generally played well on the road - only the Phillies have more wins away from home in the NL - but it can only help the team to have a home crowd and play in familiar surroundings.
DbacksSkins: It’s definitely nice, and given that we’ve hit much better at home, perhaps it’ll give us a nice rhythm going into the postseason.
On the other hand, going on the road against the Phillies may also break up that rhythm, so we’ll really have to hope that we can beat out the Brewers for the #2 seed.
JoeStock: Every successfully offense is built around it’s home stadium. The D-Backs are a successful team. Ending the season at home and doing it for 9 straight games is just huge. Just the fact players get to sleep in their own beds is something that has a big effect on morale. Also, I expect these games to get pretty good crowds, that should pump them up even more.
snakecharmer: You guys covered most of it already. We hit well at home, less animosity to deal with in the stadium atmosphere, less humidity. I think the home fans would react better (and believe in them more) to seeing the team win at home in front of them.
The Pirates and Giants come to town this week. Thoughts?
shoe: Pirates have been terrible and we need to take full advantage. Really winning the series is the lowest of my expectations. I think it would be great if we sweep and pretty much put the Giants on the brink of elimination with just one loss to us in the 3 game set. (For some reason I am not counting on the Giants losing a game to LA, even though LA has been playing great too, and would love to be a spoiler to the Giants)
Jim: With the front of our rotation going, it has got to be a home banker, and take two of three at the very least, against a Pirates team which has absolutely imploded since Mealsgate in the 19th inning against the Braves. A sweep would be better, but you never know with baseball. Then, it’s the Giants, and two more wins would clinch it for Arizona, regardless of what San Francisco do in Los Angeles. Think the D-backs can do it.
DbacksSkins: I think 3-3 will be good enough to clinch, but I fully expect the Dbacks to go 4-2 and win each series. Hopefully, the Dodgers can be buzzsaw that cools off the Giants just before they come to town. (How’s that for mixing metaphors?)
JoeStock: I’m predicting the D-Backs go 4-2 also. Because we all know 42 is the answer, right?
snakecharmer: The Giants have just won 8 in a row, I don’t see them slowing down in L.A. We have to take the Pirates series, if not sweep, to make this weekend series vs S.F. a foregone conclusion.
Does the team clinch this week? If so, when?
shoe: OK, if I MUST predict, just so Jim can beat me over the head with my erroneous predictions later, then the D Backs take 2 of 3 from Pittsburgh, and the Giants Take 2 of 3 from LA. We start the series vs. SFO with a magic number of 2. We lose Friday night, just to ratchet up the tension, and then we clinch on Saturday behind Ian Kennedy in front of a packed house.
Jim: Erroneous predictions? You? Shurely shome mishtake... :-) I think it’ll be Sunday, simply because that’s SnakePitFest 4.3, and it would be very cool to a) be in attendance, and b) beat Lincecum to win the West. Of course, if they were to do so earlier, I wouldn’t mind too much...
DbacksSkins: Yes. Magic number is only 5. We clinch Friday by beating the Giants head-to-head, after we take 2 from the Bucs and the Dodgers take 2 from the Giants.
JoeStock: Yes. Take 2 games from the Pirates, while the Giants just drop 1 to LA. We lose a nail-biter on Friday night. Then on Saturday night, in front of a sold-out crowd, Miguel Montero hits a 2-run home run to right field in the bottom of the 7th. In the 9th, J.J. Putz comes out and records the save, clinching the NL West.
I also have Saturday’s lotto numbers if anyone wants them.
snakecharmer: I actually think it would be pretty funny to clinch the NL West against the Giants themselves, though preferably early in the series, say Friday.