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4th Quarter: What is the True Identity of the 2017 Squad?

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Can the team prove the first half wasn’t a fluke?

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Houston Astros Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The third quarter of the season has been frustrating for most Diamondbacks fans. At 81 games into the season, the team had the 3rd best record in the league at 50-31. They were 2.5 games ahead of the Colorado Rockies for the first wild card, and a whopping 9.5 games ahead of the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs. Dave Stewart was popping off at the mouth that this was the team he had assembled all along, and it was nearly certain the Diamondbacks would advance to a one game play in to the postseason. Since that time the team has played at a .425 clip going 17-23, the equivalency of the 2016 squad if you will, and our good friend Dave is nowhere to be found. Shocking.

The final quarter of the 2017 season and its outcome creates more questions for the future of the team. No need for me to rehash the tremendous analysis that has been published by writers here and elsewhere this week. Sean Testerman took an in depth look at the offensive and pitching peripherals and feels that the team should regress positively during the stretch. Jeff Wiser from Inside the ‘Zona reminds us how well the team has performed at home, but unfortunately they have more games on the road in the stretch where the offense has fallen off a cliff. Jim McLennan then took the time to break it down on an individual level, and it is no surprise to see that much of the roster has not been able to maintain the first half pace. This brings me back to the preseason power rankings I featured in one of my first Snake Bytes. Although the win percentages in the team chart were off by a substantial margin, the trend predicted is mostly what we have witnessed over the course of this season.

The Diamondbacks have the advantages of remaining relevant in a race for the first wild card with the equally struggling Rockies, as well as being ahead of the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals who are closer to the NL Central lead than they are the second wild card. Torey Lovullo’s squad only needs to manage playing better than the winner of that division to make it to the play in. Remaining schedule for all teams in the hunt favors the Diamondbacks if they can return to early season form. The Cubs face the Brewers and Cardinals 7 more times each, 3 at home and 4 on the road against both teams. The Cardinals and Brewers have 2 games remaining in Milwaukee and 3 in St. Louis against each other. Arizona has a chance to regain steam and control their own fate with remaining August series against the Twins, Mets, and Giants before finishing the month at Chase against the Dodgers. 3 games remain against the Rockies in Coors and 4 in Phoenix in September. The NL Central race might result in two of those teams playing themselves out of the postseason entirely.

It is certain that nobody could have imagined the Diamondbacks getting off to one of the best starts in franchise history, but that red hot start has jaded fans in 2017. Some would consider anything short of a playoff berth a disappointment. Others are just ecstatic that the team is playing relevant baseball in August. The Diamondbacks are now at a crossroad, and the final season outcome will likely dictate offseason arguments regarding the future of the team. If the Diamondbacks continue at the .425 win percentage pace from the 3rd quarter into the 4th, the team will finish around 84 wins and in real danger of not making the playoffs. However, playing at the entire season pace of .554 will put the team around 89 wins and likely in the one game play in for October baseball.

Limping to the finish line, hello 2008, will demonstrate that the 2016 season was closer to reality, and it is time to strongly consider the future of this team in the offseason. The silver lining is that the team’s moveable assets have reestablished value should it come to that point. However, failing to make it far in the playoffs does not make future decisions much easier. Is the core group of this team capable of sustained success? Are they just a few pieces short of a deep postseason run? Did we just witness lightning in a bottle for 81 games proving that this team, as currently constructed, cannot get it done?

Arizona has to return to first half form if they do not want to be playing golf in October. The return of Robbie Ray to the rotation and an MVP push from Paul Goldschmidt should help that cause. Jake Lamb and A.J. Pollock can elevate this team by improving their second half performance. Zack-Zack & Associates, Zack Greinke and Zack Godley, can put the team in a position to win on a nightly basis. Playing better than 20-19 in 1 run games will bring the team’s record closer to its expected W/L. So who are the real Arizona Diamondbacks? Can they compare to the 2007 “Anybody, Anytime” squad, or will they fade into irrelevancy over the second half like the 2008 team? Will the real Arizona Diamondbacks please stand up?