For 18 years, the Royals ended each season in third, fourth, or fifth place in their division. That streak was broken when they made it to the World Series in 2014 and 2015. Last season they started another streak with third place. That streak is likely to continue for years.
This off-season, 9 players reach free agency (one with a $10 million option) - they would be expensive to re-sign. Next season, $36 million will be spent on albatross contracts of Ian Kennedy (SP with ERA+ of 82) and Alex Gordon (LF with OPS+ of 63). Next season, $8.5-$9.75 million will be spent on players who have left the team.
Nevertheless, the Royals are an above average team. Max Rieper wrote an article that explored the question, “What if the season had started on 1 May?” The Royals would be in the lead for the second wild card spot in the American League. The biggest improvement would be in their offense, which would jump up to league-average runs-per-game. The biggest downside would be Ian Kennedy, who pitched well in April.
The focus of the last series of the regular season should be starters staying sharp by playing together, set the rotation order for the playoffs, stay healthy, and make winning a habit. Because Ian Kennedy is a former D-back, winning the game that he starts would be satisfying. Winning the series against the former world champion Royals will be worthwhile preparation for the wild card game.
Greinke and Ray had a one-game drop in strikeouts (Greinke only had 3 strikeouts on 22 September, and Ray only had 6 strikeouts on 20 September). In those two games each pitcher experienced a season high for homers in a single game. Regardless of the cause, I have high confidence that these two pitchers will carry the D-backs far into the playoffs!
Friday. Zack Greinke (151 ERA+, 9.6 SO/9, 2.0 BB/9) vs Ian Kennedy (82 ERA+, 7.5 SO/9, 3.6 BB/9)
Zack Greinke’s start was moved to Friday so that when he pitches the wild card Game, it will be after the usual 4 rest days. This game will be a tune-up for the wild card game. The key stat to watch is the number of strikeouts - 6 or more means he is at the top of his game.
Former D-back Ian Kennedy pitched well in April. From 1 May onward, his ERA is 6.25, FIP is 6.12, K/9 is 7.13 K/9 and BB/9 is 3.53. Although he improved his ERA a small amount in September to 5.68, I predict the D-backs will win this game.
Saturday. Taijuan Walker (135 ERA+, 8.3 SO/9, 3.5 BB/9) vs Jake Junis (103 ERA+, 7.3 SO/9, 2.2 BB/9)
Three observations about Taijuan Walker.
- On 17 September, Taijuan Walker was bitten by a bad luck inning against the Giants. The fifth inning started with three consecutive singles, followed by a walk, and 3 runs scored by the end of the inning.
- Taijuan Walker pitches better away than at Chase (ERA of 2.99 vs 4.18). That’s good because this game against the Royals is an away game.
- This season, Taijuan Walker is pitching very well (ERA+ of 135). I predict he will pitch much better than Jake Junis, earn a win this game, and show he is ready to pitch in the playoffs.
Rookie Jake Jarvis started 8 times in August and September. He averaged 6 innings per start with an ERA of 2.42. Wow! These two months show improvement! Jake Jarvis will be a challenge for the D-backs’ hitters.
Sunday. Robbie Ray (167 ERA+, 12.2 SO/9, 4.0 BB/9) vs Jason Vargas(112 ERA+, 6.7 SO/9, 2.8 BB/9)
This game will be Robbie Ray’s tune-up for the playoffs (just like Friday’s game was for Greinke). The key stat to watch is the number of strikeouts - 8 or more means he is at the top of his game.
In April/May/June, All-Star Jason Vargas started 16 games with an ERA of 2.22. In August/September, he started 10 games with an ERA of 6.52. Obviously, it’s easier to face him now than in the start of the season.
State of the Season: Playoff Bound
Like walking in space, the D-backs’ success is an exciting adventure. This season, much more has gone right than has gone wrong. I am not yet over the shock that I have my ticket to the wild card game! For that week, I turned my life upside-down and sideways to make plans to attend that game. I look forward to meeting a few Snake-pitters! Win or lose, it will be a memory of a lifetime. Go Diamondbacks!
Mental Habit of the Series: What Could Go Right?
Let’s start with two observations.
When I ask a great question, it can impact my life. For example, “How can I obtain a ticket to the D-backs’ wild card game?” Before I asked, I visualized a run-down hotel lobby where I would meet a man with an overcoat full of tickets, each worth a briefcase full of money. Wrong I was. After asking, I discovered many answers – register for the D-backs’ lottery (I loved the chance to “win”), buy a resale ticket at StubHub (I was amazed at the many choices), call or buy online starting at a “magic” day/hour for the public, and pre-sales (I called a representative of the D-backs and he surprised me by telling me that pre-sales included more than just season ticket holders). Instead of being difficult and dangerous and prohibitively expensive, there were almost too many possibilities. Now, I have my ticket to the sold-out wild card game!
When I am uncertain about something, I do things that surprise me. For example, I recently started growing earthworms in a small bin to create vermicast. I was uncertain whether they would survive the first two weeks. I was told they love watermelon, so I brought home a watermelon and gave them the first piece. Later, when my head had cleared, I was surprised at myself. Who buys a watermelon for worms?!
What would a person be without questions or uncertainty? He/she knows what will happen - both the good things and the bad things. He/she feels comfort in that knowledge and predictability. The words “success” and “failure” are labels to describe the status quo of their lives. That kind of life can be full of happiness and very much worth living. Is there a downside? I think so.
The downside is that person’s life does not include the discoveries and adventures that can result from good questions. The downside is that life does not include the surprises that result from uncertainty.
Baseball players’ lives are remarkable because they include questions and uncertainty. They occur naturally because the players challenge their abilities nearly every day. With that challenge comes uncertainty. In that context, they must choose what to think and what to question. Their choices include, “What could go right?” and “What could go wrong?” These questions have a profound impact.
Perceptions are impacted. An amazing truth is that people find what they are looking for! If I am not finding what could go right, I will likely miss those opportunities!
Actions are impacted. If I am thinking about what could go right, I will quickly and naturally think of what I need to do to make it happen. Another way to think about this is I am prepared to act because I know what I want to happen. And on the other side, if I am thinking about what could go wrong, I can think of options to minimize the impact of the undesired outcome.
Emotions are impacted. When I think of what could go wrong, I could feel fear or anger or sadness. When I think of what could go right, I could feel energy or happiness or excitement. Awareness and control of those emotions can contribute to my success. As bad as it would be to experience disappointment when what could have gone right fails, it is even worse to experience regret of missed opportunities for what could have gone right.
Knowing answers to both questions (what could go right and what could go wrong) can lead to strategic moves. One example is the barbell strategy. In summary, the barbell strategy is to keep most of my eggs safe (nothing can go wrong) while risking a small amount of eggs for spectacular returns (what could go spectacularly right). How could the barbell strategy apply to a baseball player? When he decides how much time to allocate to developing his different talents and abilities, he can spend most time on becoming an all-around excellent player, and a small amount of time developing his most spectacular ability.
So what could go right for the D-backs team? They win the wild card game, and it cascades into a series of playoff series wins until they reach the World Series. Then, the D-backs win the World Series. Although I accept the possibility of disappointment, I will experience energy and happiness and excitement while things that could go right, do go right!
We talked about how uncertainty and asking questions can impact my perceptions, actions, and emotions. We talked about the barbell strategy and what could go right for the Diamondbacks team. “What could go right?” is the mental habit of the series.