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SnakePit Round Table: Magnificent Seven

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21 games = seven series wins for Arizona. That’ll do...

San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

We welcome SmartPlays as this week’s guest round-tabler, and thank him for his input. If you’re interested in taking part, the first person to pipe up in the comments (who hasn’t done it before!) will be emailed the questions for the week next Saturday. So make sure you have an email address on file before putting yourself forward... And with that, on with the show!

We lost Taijuan Walker. What impact will that have?

Wesley: We have really good starting pitching and even with the loss of Walker, we have four really good starters. Matt Koch was quite good replacing Walker in his most recent start. Jon Duplantier made his debut, and though he was a little wobbly in the first, he had a very good first start if the season. If he can build upon each start and be as dominating as he has been in the past, I am a lot less worried knowing he’s in the pipeline. Shelby Miller is now coming back, and will hopefully be able to start by midsummer. Considering his history, I have no idea if he’ll good when he comes back, but I have a feeling he will be. So it’s not a dire situation right now, at least in my opinion.

Makakilo: As part of last season’s awesome rotation, his loss was huge. Koch pitched well enough in his start to make me uncertain of the impact. Another near-term option is Braden Shipley.

Jim: Harsh though it may be to say it, if we had to lose a starting pitcher, Walker would probably be the one to lose. There will be an impact, naturally - but as long as the rest of the rotation can stay healthy, the team should be able to handle it relatively well. My concern is that most of the alternatives have little or no track record at the major-league level, and as such, have to be considered somewhat a roll of the die.

Alexander: I think we all knew of Walker’s fate when the phrase, “forearm tightness,” was used. I think it will have a great impact, however I have not figured out if it is as horrific as I originally thought. While terrible, Walker’s injury allows the team to see what they have in terms of depth. Can Braden Shipley finally put it together, can Matt Koch be Zack Godley-esque?

Keegan: The loss of Walker serves as a reminder of how strong the Diamondbacks’ rotation is. Corbin is pitching like one of the best starters in the league right now, Greinke and Ray are each capable of ace- like performances, and Godley can be nearly unhittable with better control of his curveball. A lot of people don’t seem to high on Walker, I guess because they still hold a grudge against him for his NLDS Game 1 start, but they forget how often he was able to go out and shut down an opposing offense. This is a guy that put up a 136 ERA+ over 157.1 innings last season. That is not easy to replace.

SmartPlays: As long as Robbie Ray regains something close to his form from last season, Walker’s loss shouldn’t be too difficult for this team to overcome. We still have an embarrassment of riches, with four starters who would be top 3 in the rotation for almost every other team in baseball. With our quality defense, a decent stopgap like a Koch who pitches to contact should be able to keep us in most games. Play close to .500 ball out of your five-spot and the rest should take care of itself. Walker looked unlikely to be a postseason contributor as a starter this season anyways. Where this does concern me would be if it is followed up with any other injuries to the rotation, so it does bear watching.

Michael: It’s always a big loss when you lose a starter, especially after Walker finding some consistency last season. Walker finally had a year where he was able to stick in a MLB rotation for a full season and pitched reasonably well. Depending on how well Matt Koch, Braden Shipley, Shelby Miller, and/or Jon Duplantier do, the team can weather this injury like they did when Miller went down last year.

Turambar: Tough loss to be sure, but too early to know it’s impact. I’m confident we can weather this in some shape or form, and it’s certainly not as dramatic as losing some of our other starters. Still I , like others, had hoped this would be the year Walker had the kind of year Ray had in 2017. Not meant to be and time to see who can step up.

Should the team look for an experienced replacement?

Wesley: I don’t think that’s necessary yet. Maybe see how some of these replacements do. I don’t think we should sacrifice the farm to find a replacement. If the season goes south we should be blowing up the team and collecting prospects, not giving them away and going into win now mode.

Makakilo: An open rotation slot on a contending team (the D-backs) will attract pitchers with the right stuff. The team should use their situation to add promising pitchers (with high ceilings) at the AAA level.

That being said, this season may be their best chance of winning the Division for the next three seasons. If a significant opportunity happened (I trust GM Hazen will accurately make that determination), I would grab the opportunity.

Jim: I don’t immediately see anyone available on the open market who is guaranteed to be better than in-house alternatives like Braden Shipley and Matt Koch. I’d be inclined to give them a shot first. If they turns out to be short of the required standard, and Shelby Miller’s return also looks to be delayed, then we can perhaps look for something as we get nearer the trade deadline. But I have to say, Koch’s debut was very encouraging, and he looked far better than the pitcher who had an 8.20 ERA between AAA and the majors last year. Maybe not Zack Godley v2.0, but I’m hopeful he can be an above-average #5 starter.

Alexander: With the current farm system in place, I don’t think so. Paven Smith was a first round pick just a year ago and without hesitation became your number one prospect. I think that Mike Hazen and staff need to trust the depth that has been built. If that doesn’t work out, there are free agents to go after.

Keegan: Yes, they should, but they don’t really have the means to go out and land a starter that is better than any of the internal options whether it be through trade or free agency. Signing a free agent would require payroll to escalate even further, although marginally. Trading for an arm of Walker’s caliber honestly isn’t feasible or recommended by me. We will have to wait and see how this develops as the season progresses forward.

SmartPlays: At this time, and barring any further injuries to the rotation, no. Koch deserves more opportunities after his first outing and we get Shelby Miller back hopefully in a couple months. If we get to the trade deadline and this is a bigger issue than it appears to be now, then that would be a time to address it. What we need most is someone who can take the ball and go 6 innings most nights and keep us in games, while not overworking our pen.

Michael: I’m not sure a veteran that’s available now is a more reliable option than what the Dbacks have now. Matt Koch has looked decent in his opportunities to start so far, so until he proves he can’t be a MLB starter he should have the opportunity to get the ball every 5th day. Koch just needs to hold up until mid June to keep this team afloat while Shelby Miller works back from his own TJ surgery.

Turambar: The right offer comes around, then yea, why not. The rotation though has a very long way to go before any of us can even determine if that need truly exists. Any combination of Koch, Shipley or anyone else could spell T.J. in some capacity. Wait and see.

The team continues to lead the NL West. What’s powering the team?

Makakilo: Just like last season, Paul Goldschmidt (his WAA of 0.7 is 1st in the Majors) and pitching are powering the team (SP WAA of 1.4 is 9th in Majors, RP WAA of 1.1 is 3rd in Majors). An important improvement is the outfield, which has improved greatly from last season’s 11th place ranking (current WAA of 1.2 is 4th in the Majors).

The acquisition of Deven Marrero looks like a winning move. His UZR/150 at second base is 52.6 (2 games) and at third base is 29.5 (8 games). I am favorably impressed. He is under team control until 2023. I hope he learns to hit better.

Jim: The humidor. :) Coming into the season, the team stressed it would be all about the run prevention, and that’s exactly how it’s unfolding. Pitching and defense are carrying this team: they have held the opposition to two runs or fewer in 12 of 21 games: they’re 11-1 there, compared to only a 3-5 record when allowing more than two runs. They won’t outscore many teams - but they will stop you from outscoring them, if you see what I mean!

Alexander: The bats have yet to truly come alive, and I am not really bothered by it. The pitching and defensive brilliancy has been amazing. This team wins games by playing their best in the most crucial moments.

Keegan: Apart from the absolutely mind numbing defensive slaughter that was the 9th inning against the Padres on Friday, Arizona’s defensive prowess and top of the line pitching has been the biggest reason for the success. It takes me back to 2015 when the team had Ender Inciarte, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta patrolling the outfield. Hazen and his staff set out to build a team hell bent on run prevention, and it is a strategy more entertaining to watch unfold than a team that has to rely on out slugging opponents.

Jim: Superb pitching from most of the rotation, outstanding bullpen work when players have been used in their preferred roles, excellent defense and an offense that has performed well late in games. That’s the on-field side of it. Ultimately, I think most of what this team has accomplished this year (and last) comes from the top down. This team believes in themselves and one another, and they are empowered by Torey Lovullo to the extent that they don’t shy away from tough at bats or situations. It can sound cliched, because it’s not easy to back up with stats, but this team has each other’s backs, plays a team game and expects to be successful one way or another.

SmartPlays: Superb pitching from most of the rotation, outstanding bullpen work when players have been used in their preferred roles, excellent defense and an offense that has performed well late in games. That’s the on-field side of it. Ultimately, I think most of what this team has accomplished this year (and last) comes from the top down. This team believes in themselves and one another, and they are empowered by Torey Lovullo to the extent that they don’t shy away from tough at bats or situations. It can sound cliched, because it’s not easy to back up with stats, but this team has each other’s backs, plays a team game and expects to be successful one way or another.

Wesley: There’s not much I can add that hasn’t already been said. The team’s starting pitching and bullpen have been excellent, and we’ve had our lesser bats pick up the slack when we’ve been slumping. I think the chemistry and camaraderie between the players is one of the biggest things driving this team. They trust themselves, and they trust each other. That’s big.

Michael: Pitching and defense has carried this team although the offense has been opportunistic as well. Patrick Corbin has been arguably the best pitcher in the National League through 5 starts, his slider is almost Randy Johnson-esque. Zack Greinke has aged well, he’s pitched better than what the numbers say, being able to get guys out despite throwing 90 on a good day. His ability to mix up pitches and sequence hitters is what he’s living off of right now. Robbie Ray has been a bit shaky, but nothing unusual compared to last year and the results are trending positively. The back-end of the bullpen has been excellent save for two poor outings by Boxberger in tie games this week. Dbacks defense has been even better than expected with the acquisitions of Deven Marrero and Jarrod Dyson. Dbacks are 4th in MLB in DRS and 2nd in UZR/150 according to Fangraphs.

Turambar: Pitching. Amazing pitching. Starters and the pen have been amazing. Honestly, if our bats were not either injured or underproducing (looking at you Avila) we might be playing even better. That gives me even greater hope going forward, for once Lamb, Souza and Avila get back this will be a better team.

Do you have any areas of concern?

Makakilo: I worry about injuries, especially to the rotation.

I am not concerned about Boxberger’s two losses.

  • Perhaps his best season was 2015, when he earned 41 saves, and had a goose-egg conversion rate of 65%. This season, he is on track to match his save total, and his goose-egg conversion rate is 71%.
  • Boxberger’s second loss happened when he was pitching for a third game in a row. Instead, I would have tagged Yoshihisa Hirano that game. This season, Hirano has pitched very well. He allowed 2 runs, and the D-backs won both those games. Although it would have been his first appearance in the ninth inning, the pitcher roles would have remained clearly defined. Zach Buchanan had a different thought when he speculated that Lovullo did not have “faith” in Yoshihisa Hirano. He was wrong for two reasons: Lovullo said, “He fits in very well,” and Lovullo was likely concerned with clearly defined roles.

Jim: Stock up on Maalox, because tied in to my previous answer, I get the feeling there will not be many blow-out victories for the 2018 Diamondbacks. They’re going to need to play solid baseball on an everyday basis, and the margin for error will likely be small. But the good thing is, the offense should probably improve with the return of Lamb and Souza, although I’ll be happier when Zack Godley rediscovers the ability to locate his curveball, which seems to have gone AWOL.

Alexander: Injuries, plain and simple. The team has been able to play well while Lamb and Souza are out, however if the injuries continue to pile up I have a feeling that the depth will wear thin rather quickly.

Keegan: Strong starts from Corbin, Greinke, and Walker (before he went down with injury) have made up for shaky rebuttals from Godley and Ray. Ray hopefully appears to be finding his way again. Godley needs to start painting the zone again with his curveball because he just looks flat out wreckless on the mound right now. The Diamondbacks absolutely cannot afford another lengthy injury to any of those 4 men. Aside from that, I am concerned that the injuries to Lamb and Souza could turn out to be of the nagging type. If that turns out to be true, Arizona is going to have an anemic offense at times this summer. It was just reported today that Lamb will be shut down for a few days with tendonitis in his right elbow.

SmartPlays: The offense is prone to long periods of simply not hitting, especially against right handed pitchers. I expect that Lamb and Souza will combine to help fix that. Otherwise, I have no concerns with this team at all. This is just a good team, in every facet of the game. A lot would have to go really wrong for us to not be in the postseason mix all year long.

I do have concerns about the humidor and its apparent effect on offense at Chase. Winning is always exciting. But a lot of these home games have been snoozers until the late innings. On the bright side, I’ve found you can accomplish a lot around the house during innings 4-6, and you likely won’t miss much! Prior to today’s game, we were averaging 0.9 runs per game during those innings.

Wesley: Injuries are a concern with any team, especially one without a great farm system. The offense will improve with the return of Jake Lamb and Steven Souza, and the pitching I think will be fine. This is one of the best teams that Arizona has put together, so there’s really not a lot I am worried about.

Michael: The only concern I have is injuries to any more key players. Lamb is coming back soon and Souza about a week after him, so that’s good news for the team. Dbacks are getting great production out of Peralta, Goldy, and AJ right now, which has helped the team. If the team loses two of AJ, Goldy, Corbin, or Greinke to a long-term injury, there could be problems although the team has enough depth to weather an injury to one of those guys. This team has outplayed last year’s club to this point, the only question is if they can be healthy because the division is more winnable this year.

Turambar: Regression from the starters. That’s it. With the bats still only OK, we’ve still got room to improve. Basically I’m saying I’m wearing those Sedona red tinted glasses.

Jake Lamb and Steven Souza should be back soon. How will they slot in?

Note: the news of Jake Lamb’s tendinitis broke after this question had been answered!

Jim: That’s going to be interesting. Lamb will take over at third from Daniel Descalso and Deven Marrero. I’ve been favorably impressed with what we’ve seen from Deven Marrero, especially defensively, but think he’ll go back to Reno. I expect the “Should we platoon Lamb at 3B?” debate to re-open almost immediately, Souza might be tougher to fit in: Chris Owings has been solid as a fourth outfielder, but this would allow him to switch back to a broader utility role. Christian Walker, who has yet to get a start, seems the obvious loser of his roster spot there.

Alexander: 100% agree with Jim. While Marrero hasn’t been terrible, the numbers just don’t work out here. For Walker, he will be a valuable commodity if any injuries happen to the main power options of this team.

Keegan: See above. We might be without Lamb just a little while longer. I think Marrero and Descalso have done an admirable job to mitigate the loss. Souza can be brought back slowly, starting against lefties which Dyson absolutely should not be doing.

SmartPlays: Lamb and Souza should step right into the 4,5 and 6 spots depending on whether we’re facing a righty or lefty, and I expect each to play nearly every day. Marrero at 3B, however, has earned the opportunity to spell Lamb some against lefties, so I hope we keep him on the roster. Also, Chris Owings should take Souza’s spot vs some lefties. The addition of Lamb and Souza should make for a much deeper lineup, giving us dangerous hitters at least down to the 6th spot in the batting order on most days. I believe opposing pitchers will have to work much harder than they’ve had to so far this year in order to have a good outing against this team.

Wesley: Like Smartplays said, the addition of Lamb and Souza should make for a much deeper lineup, but there’s something worthwhile that I think hasn’t been said. The outfield defense should improve with the return of Souza. Chris Owings has actually been a positive defender in the outfield surprisingly, but he’s still learning on the job. So I think Souza’s return will positively impact our outfield defense regardless. Having Jake Lamb back at third will definitely be an improvement over Deven Marrero’s anemic .233/.250/.300 batting line.

Michael: The team proved they could survive an injury to both players with a 15-6 record to start the season. While their replacements are individually lighting it up, having their bats in the lineup allows for Marrero, Owings, and Ahmed to provide offense from the bottom of the order.

Turambar: Unknown. It’ll likely be changed often the week or so after.

It was Archie Bradley audio bobblehead night. What other great moments in team history do you think deserve their own night?

Jim: I think it would be a lot of fun to make this an ongoing series. Randy Johnson’s perfect game; Gonzo’s Game 7 blooper; J.D. Martinez’s fourth homer in Dodger Stadium. We’ve had the voice of the Gub’nuh calling virtually all the iconic events. Maybe even have some moments like the J-Up slide in the 2007 NLCS against the Rockies, which triggered the closest thing to a riot I’ve seen at Chase Field!

Alexander: I would love a “Randy Johnson KO-ing that bird” bobblehead. It would be orginial and it is still a moment that lives on.

Keegan: I was actually sitting along the first baseline for the aforementioned Chase Field riot. That was unlike anything I had ever experienced only being a teenager at the time. This is a difficult question to answer. Bradley’s triple had/has significant emotional investment from the fanbase given the circumstances of the do-or-die play in game. Micah Owings multi-homer night in Atlanta was significantly more impressive to me. And how about Brandon Webb’s consecutive scoreless innings streak? Are we allowed to define that as a “moment”? Tony Womack’s grand slam on Father’s Day will always stand out in my mind.

SmartPlays: Obviously Gonzo’s game winner in the 2001 World Series. RJ’s perfect game. Archie Bradley’s “this is our house!”

Wesley Baier: I want a Randy Johnson exploding bird bobblehead with sound effects and exploding bird action.

Michael: I think Tony Womack alone belongs in this category. Either the inside the park grand slam vs. Houston in 1999, the Father’s Day Grand Slam of 2001 after his father died a couple months before, or the game-tying hit of Game 7. My choice is the Grand Slam in 2001. While Womack wasn’t a great player, he had no shortage of big hits in his time in Phoenix.

What was your worst subject at school? Has that affected your life at all?

Makakilo: Recently, I watched a Madam Secretary show. In that episode, their son was named a National Merit Scholar. I felt very bad.

In high school my PSAT/NMSQT score was below the screening level, so I could not compete to be a National Merit Scholar. Someone I trusted told me [incorrectly] that anyone who does not win that scholarship has no legitimate reason to go to college.

I am grateful that an in-state college offered me a registration-fee scholarship, a loan, and work-study. I went to college and earned a bachelor degree and a master’s degree. My bad score on that test made my life more difficult, but it did not stop me from having a great life.

A positive lesson learned was thinking ahead and preparing are rare and valuable habits. Later, when it did not matter, I retook the test and scored 100% on the math portion. Today, an internet search provided an overwhelming amount of wisdom on how to prepare for that test, including mock tests.

Jim: Woodwork and/or metalwork. Whatever we were supposed to be making, ended up looking like a surrealist sculpture by the time I finished with it. That’s when I wasn’t being a positive danger to myself or others: I still bear the scar where I managed to plastic-coat a bit of my hand, rather than the coat-hook which was supposed to be done! I would like to be “handier”, I guess, simply because I am cheap and hate having to pay for work. On the other hand, the feeling of accomplishment when I do something simple like unclogging the garbage disposal is very nice!

Keegan: Hands down any kind of science or chemistry lab. I have a difficult time following step by step instructions. I always wanted to cut corners and reach the same end result. If you want something to be done efficiently, ask a lazy person to do it. That’s me.

SmartPlays: Art is the only subject I ever struggled with. It has not negatively impacted my life. Just don’t ask me to draw anything!

Wesley Baier: I was a smart kid who just struggled with paying attention and being bored by lessons I had already learned on my own time. The Arizona school system has no idea what to with intelligent kids.

Michael: I hate Art class. Also I agree with Wesley’s opinion having suffered through the same problem myself not too long ago and it got me into a lot of trouble. Also I hate doing mundane tasks like homework, especially if I already knew the subject through self-teaching.