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SnakePit Round Table: Opening shots fired

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The first series is in the books, so let’s talk about what we learned...

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Please over-react wildly to a small sample size of your choice.

Makakilo: Nick Ahmed leads the team in homers and RBIs, with an OPS+ of about 412! (latest is 272). He is arbitration eligible next season. The D-backs should immediately buy out his arbitration years and first year of free agency before it’s too late! Let’s hope he gives the D-backs a home-team discount.

Keegan: Paul Goldschmidt is now hitless in twelve plate appearances and will never live up to the remaining two years on his contract. 13/10 would DFA. Actually, screw that. Leave the overreactions to the paid professionals. David Schoenfield sees no way that Robbie Ray can turn his season around and win the Cy Young after one (!!!) bad start on the season. Yeah, because Max Scherzer never gave up seven earned runs in a game last season...

Dano: AJ Pollock is back! Three games in, he’s batting .364, with a oduble, a triple, two walks, and a stolen base! Jarrod Dyson is the real deal! 2 for 6 so far this season, with a triple on opening day that he made look far easier than it actually was, along with a walk and a stolen base so far! Peralta’s still got it! Also batting .364, with three walks and a stolen base! Our outfield doesn’t suck! It’s gone from being a definite weak point to being one of the strengths of the team! And that’s without Souza, so when he gets well again, it’ll be even better! All the exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jim: Our starters have a K-rate of 13.8 per nine innings! That’s on pace to destroy the previous best of 9.4, set last season (and that broke the 15-year-old mark of 8.4, from 2002). The K:BB ratio of 6.25 is also a franchise high. But let’s get through Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley, then see where we stand - it likely also helped that the Rockies seem pretty free-swinging.

What about that humidor, eh?

Makakilo: Only 1 Diamondback homerun in 3 games. At that pace, it will be 54 homeruns this season - quite a huge drop from last season’s 220 homeruns. Perhaps the humidor has changed the answer to the question, “How does a team win at Chase?”

And I thought the humidor would help Robbie Ray more than any D-back starter. Now, I am not so sure. After his start, Ray said his 6 earned runs in 5 Innings was caused by his technique needing an adjustment. And Ray said he needs to use his curveball more often. A larger sample size is needed to decide whether Ray will benefit from the humidor.

Keegan: Difficult to tell. This will have to be something we revisit month after month and perhaps after each half. It will be a real head scratcher if the ball continues to fly out of Chase Field like it did on Friday night. Ironically, the panels were closed Saturday evening after that slugfest.

Dano: I suspect it makes a bit of a difference, but my feeling right bow is that it’s relatively small. Nick Ahmed has our only dinger so far this year, but Charlie Blackmon has three, along with one apiece for Arenado, Desmond, DJ friggin’ LaMahieu and Gerardo Parra. This suggests to me that our lack of longballs so far can’t be blamed on the humidor...it didn’t seem to faze the Rockies at all, so.

Jim: One home-run hit, seven allowed. #UnplugTheHumidor. Of course, it’s hard to tell exactly what impact it might have had, in terms of home-runs prevented, but when the entire team is on pace for 54 home-runs… Oh, hang on: this seems to have seeped in from the first question. Perhaps it was just that the Rockies’ pitchers were already well-used to throwing with humidored humidorified balls in a state of humidoriciousness?

What do you take away from this opening series?

Makakilo: My concern about Greinke has been alleviated. He struck out 9 batters with no walks in 5.2 innings. I liked what I saw in his start.

Keegan: Not much. It’s the first three games of the season, and there is still a ton of baseball left to play. Great job by the Diamondbacks to come out and win two of the first three. The yardstick for success, for me at least, is winning two out of three in home series and at least half on the road. We will need our starting pitchers to give Torey Lovullo that 7 inning minimum he looks for.

Dano: First, the Rockies are a lot shakier than people seem to think, which is heartening. Second, the weak bottom of our lineup may not be so weak after all, as we got a lot of contributions on offense from the bottom half of the order, especially in the first two games. Third, Ray has some work to do to shake off the rust and get back to what he was doing by the end of last year, but Greinke, to me, seems fine.

Jim: Our bullpen may need some tinkering. The A-bullpen (Bradley, Hirano and Boxberger) are entirely right-handed. The B-bullpen (De La Rosa, Chafin, McFarland and Salas) are all lefties bar Salas. That has the potential to pose match-up problems, as we saw last night. If we had a lefty in the A-bullpen, that would help alleviate the risk of the opposition sending up a steady stream of left-handers off the bench, especially in Corbin or Ray starts.

Are you more worried about Robbie Ray, Paul Goldschmidt or neither?

Makakilo: Neither.

Success in baseball includes continually improving, making adjustments when needed, and keeping mentally strong. I am not worried because Ray and Goldschmidt have the right stuff for success.

Last season, Paul Goldschmidt had a streak of 5 games without a hit, two steaks of 3 games without a hit, and seven streaks of 2 games without a hit. At the end of the season, he had an outstanding OPS+ of 140 with BA/OBP/SLG/OPS of .297/.404/.563/.966.

Keegan: Neither. I’ll begin to panic when Goldy is hitting below the Mendoza line by the end of May. Bob Ray will make the adjustments necessary to bring him success again this season.

Dano: Goldschmidt, frankly, though I’m not spectacularly concerned about him at this point. Last night, Ray looked kind of like early-season Ray did last year, and in 2016. He figured some stuff out last year, and I fully expect him to do it again, though it might take a few starts. Goldy, on the other hand, just hasn’t looked right. He hasn’t looked comfortable at the plate. He took his walks on Opening Day, and I wasn’t at all concerned after that. Games 2 and 3, though, he’s been swinging more, and striking out, and not looking comfortable up there. Again, we’ve seen him be a bit out of sorts at the plate from time to time down through the years, and he always gets right eventually. So he will figure it out. The concern, for me, comes from the fact that we haven’t seen anything else from him yet, and that’s not the best note for 2018 to start on.

Jim: Ray. While Goldschmidt’s issues at the end of 2017 seem to be carrying forward, he has a longer track record of consistency to alleviate worry. While Ray had control issues at the start of 2017 - he walked 12 over his first three starts and 18.1 innings - he was also holding people to a .161 batting average, and only allowed two home-runs then. He gave up more HR than that on Friday night. He needs to keep the ball in the park better, obviously. He didn’t allow more than five runs in any start last season, so seven in his debut was not what we wanted to see.

The Dodgers and Cardinals arrive this week, each having dropped their opening series. Does that make it easier or harder for us?

Makakilo: It may make it easier for the D-backs to win the next series against the Dodgers because the Dodgers are discouraged:

  • In the first three games they outscored the Giants 5 to 2, and yet the result was 2 losses and 1 win.
  • They are not meeting their expectation to be in first place in the Division.

A reason for optimism is that the next series is at Chase. As I will talk about in my series preview for the series, last season at Chase the D-backs scored more runs per PA than the Dodgers.

Another reason for optimism is that the D-backs will likely have more fun and play better after their series win. I would be surprised if the Dodgers came close to matching that attitude.

Keegan: I would say if anything it makes it more difficult for the Diamondbacks. The Dodgers were held scoreless in their first two games, both 1-0 losses, but proceeded to emerge with a 5-0 victory in the series finale against the San Francisco Giants. They have high expectations on this season after a World Series appearance, and they always travel well here, so I anticipate a fiercely contested series. We could certainly use them having worse luck in games separated by 1 run than they did last season!

Dano: I think it’s good for us, in terms of both teams. I like that the Dodgers have started off on the wrong foot, and with largely the same team last year, we kind of owned them. Our game 3 loss to Colorado, and their game 3 win against SF, may shift the momentum slightly, but I feel like we’re good. As for the Cardinals, well. I’m not convinced that they’re all that this year, and I’m also not convinced that they think they’re all that this year. That they’ve dropped their first two to a deeply questionable Mets team can’t help, and it will be even worse if they get swept [The Cardinals avoided that this afternoon]. Winning is better than losing, especially this early, and even with our loss tonight I think we’ll be momenting more than either the Dodgers or the Cardinals going into next week.

Jim: The Dodgers series will be tough as ever, especially since we’ll face Kershaw and are sending up our (theoretical) #3-5 starters. They are the reigning champions, and have been for what seems like forever, so will present an early test of our credentials. If we can take two of three there, and the same against the Cardinals, that would be perfectly fine.

Why is no-one using the bullpen cart?

Makakilo: The idea of riding the cart sounds fun! Three possible reasons that pitchers are not using the cart:

  • The habit of jogging to the mound signals the mind to change into the mental state that is needed to pitch well.
  • Pitching requires precise movement for optimal pitch control. Riding the cart could slightly change the muscular-skeleton sense of how the body is positioned (proprioception) - and thereby impact pitch control.
  • The cart may not have enough legroom for pitchers to comfortably sit.

Keegan: Because professional baseball players like to ruin all of my fun, I imagine we will be able to count on two hands how many times the bullpen cart is utilized by season’s end.

Dano: It’s obviously (obviously!) a diabolically cunning Lovullo hack to offset the limit that’s been set on mound visits. He and Mike Butcher can’t go out to talk things over so much with the pitcher and the infielders, but in the dugout, they have a phone that connects them to the bullpen. So they can talk all they like about strategy and tactics and whatnot on a shielded landline. The reliever, then, has the added task of conveying all relevant strategery to the rest of the team on the field while jogging in from the bullpen, whether via shouted communications, coded sign language, or semaphore signalling. I’m certain of this, and when we finally see Andrew Chafin bust out the signal flags on his way to the mound, you will know I’m right. Seriously.

Jim: I wonder if the team ran the idea past any of the bullpen pitchers before getting sponsorship and announcing it to the world? Because, to this point, with nobody having used in in a regular-season game, it feels a lot like an idea that nobody wanted. It always did seem rather gimmicky, and I’m really not sure how much time it will actually save. I suspect this may end up going the way of the “Univision Wave” promotion: quietly dropped in moderate embarrassment!