Before we get to the wild-card game, let’s start with one question I forgot to put in the last regular season round-table…
Here are our pre-season wins prediction. What did you predict? Explain yourself. :)
ISH95: I predicted 84 wins, which was not the most wrong I was in my prediction. I predicted that we would get bounce back seasons from “a combination of Grienke, Goldy, Pollock, Corbin, and Walker, which will prompt the front office to do drastically stupid to try and chase the much better teams in SF and LA” but really, how can I be blamed for not realizing the Giants would be so terrible? :D
Turambar: Looks like I had them pegged down for 85 wins, guess optimism does win the day after all :). Last year appeared to have the team’s pendulum swing wildly in one direct, whereas this year has seen that course correct itself. What a difference a year makes?
James: I picked 77 wins. The Diamondbacks fared much better in close games than I expected them to, and also, managed to stay relatively healthy through most of the season. The losses of Owings, Ahmed, Goldschmidt, and Mathis toward the end of the season were worrisome to me, and the team did seem to struggle but they also had some room to struggle thanks to a solid early season. This season just goes to show that games won in April and May can be just as important as games won in September.
The pitching for this team is much better than I could have anticipated or hoped for. When a team pitches as well as Arizona has in 2017, plenty of extra games are going to be won.
Jim: 75 wins, though hedged that with “I'm being cautious here, and hope I'm on the under side.” I did tag the pitching as key, saying it “should be better… I'm just not sure how MUCH better” and that proved to be the key factor. Virtually everyone pitched better than in 2016, for whatever reason. Better catching? Better scouting? Whatever the cause, it did appear to show Mike Hazen knew what he was doing.
Makakilo: I predicted 84 wins by looking at each position and estimating WAR. I credit the better results to two factors. The starting pitching was better than I predicted (best in the Majors). While I predicted the bullpen would be average, it was above average (4th best in the Majors).
Keegan: 76 wins and a sworn allegiance to pre-season projections. No whipped cream with my humble pie, please. I said that I could see this team catching lightning in a bottle, and that largely seems to be an understatement now. I wasn’t completely clueless though, as I called for improved performance from the pitching staff a possibility for success. Going in with low expectations isn’t all that bad.
Where will you be on Wednesday?
ISH95: Chase Field. Wouldn't miss this for the world.
Turambar: Chase Field, I’d rather die than miss this game. The Brute Squad will be there in full force and the heckling will be glorious.
James: Celebrating my daughter’s birthday. Where we do that is still to be determined. I may still be making it to the game that evening, but if I don’t, I’ll be sitting with my best mate, watching the game on his big screen.
Jim: In Las Vegas, it being the 20th anniversary of meeting there the woman who would go on to become Mrs. SnakePit. This was planned a long time ago, when the idea of us hosting a wild-card game seemed unlikely at best, and we’re going through with it, the tragic events of Sunday night notwithstanding [there will be no safer city this week than Las Vegas]. So the D-backs had better win tomorrow, because if I have to wait another six years for a post-season contest, I’ll be miffed.
Makakilo: At 2pm, I will be at Seamus Mc Caffrey’s to meet fellow SnakePitters. Then I will walk to Chase Field to enjoy a rare and amazing experience - the wild-card-game.
Keegan: I will begin my gameday as I typically do at Alice Cooperstown at 1:00 PM before I hunker down in Chase Field. It could be another 6 years or longer before we experience this again, so no time to take this for granted. The last time I watched the Diamondbacks face the Rockies in the playoffs was 10 years ago in the NLCS, in a game where fans hurled trash projectiles on the field after a game changing call as Justin Upton slid into second base. Let us pray this contest goes in Arizona’s favor.
Why are you optimistic about the post-season?
ISH95: This is probably the best top-to-bottom rotation we have ever had. Goldschmidt and Martinez singlehandedly make this the most impressive in the playoffs.
Turambar: It’s hard not to be optimistic after such a magical year, but I’m scared to death about the 1-game playoff we have with the Rockies. If we get through that, then I’ll start to allow my optimism to wander further afield.
James: Down the stretch, the Diamondbacks showed they are capable of hanging with the Dodgers. Robbie Ray has had L.A.’s number all season. If/when the Diamondbacks advance beyond the play-in game, I like that Robbie Ray faces off against Clayton Kershaw. I think that matchup is much closer than it would at first appear. If the Diamondbacks can take one of two in Los Angeles, then I love the fact that they still have Greinke and Ray for two of the final three games.
Jim: Pitching, pitching and more pitching. If we end up facing the Rockies, Dodgers, Cubs and Indians into the World Series, we have gone .500 or better against every one of them this year. J.D. Martinez is a true game-changer.
Makakilo: This season, the D-backs have exceeded expectations. That is reason for optimism! I feel energy, happiness, and excitement when I think about, “What could go right?”
Keegan: The Diamondbacks had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, and J.D. Martinez can absolutely take control of a game with one swing of the bat. This Diamondbacks team has scary talent, the best we have seen since 2001-2002, and can go a long way if they can get past that pesky coin flip on Wednesday.
And what concerns you most?
ISH95: Have you seen how this team has played the last two weeks? Sunday’s offensive outburst aside, they haven't really been playing the best baseball. Yes, yes I know, nothing up to this point has mattered, it all starts over now, etc etc etc, but they still haven't been exactly inspiring recently.
Turambar: Please see above. If you’re not concerned about the WC game on Wednesday then you’re blinded by your fandom or a complete fool. Anything could happen in that game to torpedo our amazing season, and we won't have any other chances to make up for it. It’s one game and that scares the crap out of me, no matter how good we are at home, against the Rockies or with Greinke pitching.
James: I have a pair of concerns. The foremost concern is Wednesday’s play-in game. I am not a fan of a one-game play-in, since anything can happen in the course of one game. A hot grounder hitting a divot on the dirt can cost the better team the game, and thus, the season. With the way the Diamondbacks have played of late, I am a bit concerned that the great season they have had could come to an untimely end.
Assuming that the play-in game goes the way it is supposed to though, and Arizona wins, my larger overall concern is the number of quality left-handed pitchers that Arizona must face. The Dodgers have a number of them in Kershaw, Wood, Hill, and Ryu for the rotation, with Paredes, Cingrani, and Avilan in the bullpen. That’s just the NLDS. Arizona, even with Martinez in the fold, has not fared well against left-handed pitching this season. With the way the playoffs are structured, I expect Arizona to see a steady, consistent diet of quality left-handed arms, all the way through the postseason. Arizona pitching is going to have its work cut out for it in order to make sure that the offense doesn’t need to explode against the left-handers.
Jim: Any one-game contest is always going to be a coin-flip, albeit one where the odds do favor the D-backs somewhat. The gap between the starters and the Y-boys of Sherfy, Bradley and Rodney: if our bullpen isn’t pitching with a lead, it’s unreliable. Goldschmidt’s September struggles. The potential for everything to fall apart is certainly present.
Makakilo: In a one-game playoff, it is easy to think of what could go wrong. My energy and Chakras are not the same every day - and I hope Wednesday is a peak day for the D-back players.
Keegan: The Rockies offense can put a hurting on the Diamondbacks quickly. I have nightmares of Greinke’s meltdown against the Rockies last season. Jon Gray is the best pitcher they have had in a long time. The Rockies have had ridiculous luck this season playing under their expected win loss record for much of the season. The randomness of 1 game scares me. I would hate to see this season vanish in front of a national audience in a single night.
What are the keys to success on Wednesday?
ISH95: We need Greinke to be the ace his contract says he is and we know he is. We need Goldschmidt to make all the MVP voters regret not voting for him, and we need JD Martinez to continue reminding us what a power hitter really is.
Turambar: Gotta agree with ISH95 above; we need Greinke to go deep into this game. More than offense or anything else we need our ace to play like an ace, because their bats can put a crooked number on the board as fast or even faster than our guys can.
James: We need to play clean, fundamentally sound baseball. The Rockies can score in a hurry, giving them extra outs is asking for trouble. If Arizona can limit Colorado’s scoring opportunities, I like Arizona’s chances. If Arizona can limit the mistakes, and do what it is supposed to when it comes to situational baseball, then I like the Diamondbacks’ chances. At that point, it is a matter of the various players playing up to their talent; whether that is Greinke throwing 7+ innings of stellar ball, or Goldschmidt and Martinez going back-to-back, it doesn’t matter. If everyone just plays to their talent level, this team is the better team.
Jim: Greinke needs to Greinke. Keeping the top of the Rockies order in check is essential. We don’t want Blackmon and LeMahieu getting on base in front of Arenado. Conversely we need our top two to get on base in front of Goldschmidt and Martinez. Get through six innings with a lead, then turn it over to the A-bullpen, to do their thing.
Keegan: Set the tone early on in the 1st inning. Get the offensive train going against Gray early and get into his head. The Rockies bullpen has had their struggles this season. Take Charlie Blackmon’s leadoff bat out of the game and refuse to allow him on base. Don’t put Arenado in a position where he can drive in multiple runs. Keep the ball off the middle of the plate. Greinke needs to go 7+ innings of solid baseball and pass the torch to Archie and Rodney.
Should Chris Iannetta or Jeff Mathis catch Zack Greinke? Any other line-up suggestions?
ISH95: I just don't know how I feel about trusting a game this important to a catcher who has had one “rehab” start since coming back from the DL, so Iannetta seems logical to me. Everyone on the team seems to think that Mathis being a pitch framing god is the only reason we haven't cut Grienke yet though, so I'm conflicted.
Turambar: Anything to make Greinke feel comfortable, thus Mathis should start. Yes I’d rather have Iannetta’s bat, but by all accounts Mathis and Greinke work perfectly together so let’s build on that.
James: This is a rough one for me, since I don’t know what other lineup thoughts Lovullo is kicking around. My gut instinct is to have whoever Greinke chooses be the man behind the plate. If he would rather throw to Mathis, then so be it. I would rather have Iannetta’s bat in there, but it isn’t like his bat is something special. Besides, if he is on the bench, I absolutely prefer him in a pinch-hitting situation to Jeff Mathis, so for late-game switches and match-ups, starting Mathis might be the better call.
If Greinke were to tab Iannetta though, then I’d start Iannetta. Basically, I am putting this game on Greinke’s shoulders and letting him carry the team to the NLDS, so I am giving him whatever he asks for to make it happen. This game is why he was given the contract he was. If I am going to have him do the cooking, I’m letting him pick the groceries.
Jim: Greinke seems to have done perfectly well with Iannetta, and the positives CI brings to the offense would also tip the balance that way, for me. At least with the Rockies using a rightie, we don’t need to agonize about the Jake Lamb question, and the rest of the line-up more or less writes itself. But, hey, I would laugh if Lovullo started Herrmann, Fuentes and Rosales, and the team would then surely reach double digits!
Makakilo: Mathis would not be back unless he was medically cleared. Torey Lovullo said defense wins playoff games. Mathis is the better pitch framer, so Mathis should start the wild-card game.
Keegan: I would prefer to see Iannetta start behind the dish as he has been more than serviceable since Mathis’ injury. Ride the hot hand there and hit him in the 2 hole. Start Descalso over Drury at 2B to begin the game saving Brandon to come off the bench. Not much more tweaking than what we have seen in the past month of play.
Predict the World Series a) with your heart, b) with your head
ISH95: With my heart, I want it to be the Diamondbacks against whoever is the AL championship, after they play seven 19 inning games in the ALCS. With my head, probably Nationals vs Indians, with the Indians being the new curse breakers
Turambar: Heart: Dbacks crush their enemies, see them driven before them and hear the lamentations of their women. Head: Indians kick it into cruise control and complete their roll as the team of destiny.
James: My heart is with a Diamondbacks and Yankees re-match. It’s not that I like the Yankees, so much as I think there would just be something “right” about it. The last time around it was “Destiny in the Desert”. This time around, it would be the two top wildcard teams facing off against each other, creating another somewhat intriguing narrative, as well as giving the Diamondbacks to beat up on not one (the Dodgers), but two of the biggest-spending teams in the game. If the Diamondbacks could take out the Yankees (again), that would be something to behold, and give Arizona some serious bragging rights over New York for a generation.
My head sees the Nationals and the Indians. I think Los Angeles might actually be a better team than Washington, but I think Washington will be better situated for the NLCS. Once the World Series starts, I think it comes down to Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper. If the Nationals get MVP and Cy Young performances out of both of them, then it is a series and maybe Washington pulls it out in six or seven. Otherwise, I have a feeling that Cleveland is on its way to a World Series championship, after facing their toughest competition, not in the World Series, but in the ALCS, against the Houston Astros.
Jim: I’d love to see a D-backs versus Twins World Series, not least to watch Fox execs hurling themselves from the windows. D-backs versus Yankees would also be an all-you-can-eat buffet of narratives. Realistically? Indians versus Nationals. But I would settle for anyone except the Dodgers winning it all. Even the Cubs again.
Makakilo: With my heart, the Diamondbacks win the World Series. In August/September, the D-backs and the Indians had long winning streaks. Wouldn’t it be great for those two teams to play in the World Series? The Indians had the longer streak (22 games vs 13 games). For that reason, my head would predict the Indians win the World Series.
Keegan: My heart wants to see Diamondbacks v. Red Sox. I want to see Lovullo and Hazen get the chance to win a championship against their former team in their first season in Arizona. I might even consider dropping a hefty penny to attend a game at Fenway should it get that far. My head tells me it will be the Nationals against the Indians with Cleveland winning it in 5. I do not think the Dodgers will make it out of the NLDS regardless of which team they face.