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SnakePit Round Table: Sweeps week

Well, save for Saturday anyway. But a very solid start to the season, considering everything. Let’s see what the panel has to say...

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Special announcement. We’d like to open up the round table to a “reader representative” each week. If you’re interested, speak up in the comments, and I’ll email the first qualifying person to post, the questions on Saturday (so, obviously, you need to have an email address attached to your account!). You’ll need to be able to get the answers back to me by Sunday evening, so a timely turnaround will be necessary. If you miss out this week, try again next - we’ll aim for a different person each time. And with that said, onto this edition...

How much fun was sweeping the Dodgers?

Wesley: It was fantastic. My hatred of the Dodgers knows no bounds. The Dodgers are now off to their worst start since 1976, when they started the season 2-8. Regardless, It’s nice to see the Dodgers suck, because, you know, the Dodgers suck.

Steven: After seeing much of Chase Field filled with Dodgers fans in this series, I love seeing them leave the game in such sad sorts. I can’t wait for the next series with them.

James: There are few things more fun during the regular season than beating up on the Dodgers. Sweeping them was just icing on the cake. As much fun as it is though, it will feel even better once those victories start coming in the postseason.

Michael: You can never have too much fun in that. First they outslugged, then outdueled both Kershaw and Wood. In the 2nd game, Kershaw getting beaten by 2 lefties going deep on him was awesome. Definitely a confidence booster for the club.

CumulusChoir: It was awesome. I’ll never get tired of Dodgers fans filling my Twitter mentions with Goldy striking out to end game three of last year’s NLDS. The individual performances were great too. C.O. slugging a three-run dong to cap a two-out rally off of Kenley Jansen is the stuff of legends, and Godley and Corbin were absolutely dominant in their starts. Good times all around.

Keegan: Zzzzzzz… sorry I’m still sleep deprived from the 15 inning Monday marathon. On a more serious note, whether we want to acknowledge it or not it was huge to not only win the first series but sweep them as well. If Corbin can pitch as he did in the Wednesday finale for the majority of the season, we should be in very good shape. Last year the Diamondbacks surprised all be winning a wild card. Perhaps they should up the ante and win the division?

Jim: It’s possible we may look back, later in the season, and see Chris Owing’s’ last-out home-run as one of the defining points of the year. The momentum seemed to carry forward into the rest of the series: if we had lost that game, I can see things potentially having unfolded in a very different way. On the other hand, maybe that’s because I just finished watching Run Lola Run...

What’s up with Paul Goldschmidt?

Wesley: Well, I’d say the .133 batting average on balls in play (babip) is the real indication of ‘what’s up with Goldschmidt’. His career babip is .352, so he has been extremely unlucky. I expect him to return to form once things regress towards that mean. On the other hand he has looked anemic at the plate, and he was plunked in the head in spring training, so maybe there is cause for concern?

Steven: While I’d say it’s very early in the season, he usually “struggles” in the early parts of the year, hitting around 10% worse than he usually would. Getting hit in the head in Spring Training didn’t help much either. It’s one thing if we were losing these games, but with the team seemingly picking up the slack, maybe he’ll get better pitches to hit going forward.

James: A combination of things. For one thing, pitchers are not giving him much of anything to hit. Another thing is simply bad luck. As Wesley points out, his BABIP is in the one-hundreds. That’s simply not sustainable. Even Nick Ahmed, in his struggling days, had a higher BABIP. Once that number starts to correct itself, so will Goldy’s more traditional numbers.

Michael: As James alludes to, it’s the perfect storm of suck for Goldy. Slumps happen to even the best hitters and Goldy is no different. The team being 7-2 despite Goldy having one of the worst slumps of his career is very telling.

CumulusChoir: It’s hard to say for sure. Like James said, he hasn’t gotten many good pitches to hit and his BABIP is just so gross like ugh how even. At the same time, when he HAS gotten good pitches he’s simply watched them go by without so much as a cursory check swing. I’m hoping that this is just a prolonged slump and that he’ll be back to destroying the hopes and dreams of baseballs everywhere very soon.

Keegan: I’d say he is being a tad bit too patient at the plate, taking pitches inside the zone he should be swinging at and missing those he does offer at. I’m not overly concerned because he was performing well in Spring Training, and we all know his prior history. He’ll come around in due time.

Jim: I’m more concerned because it’s not just this first ten days. He also finished last year badly. All told, since Sep 1, and including the post-season - a spell now of 35 games and 128 at-bats - he is hitting only .156. He does have 20 walks in that time… but also 36 K’s. Certainly, there will be some BABIP regression, when he stops hitting the ball at people. But here’s something. From 2012-17, when he swung at pitches in the zone, his contact rate was never lower than 79.9%. This year, it’s 65.2%. The weird thing is, his out of zone contact rate has spiked the other way - never even at 70%, it’s 84.8% this season. Insert shrug emoji here.

Who has impressed you most among the hitters so far?

Wesley: Speaking of BABIP, some of these stats are completely unsustainable. Nick Ahmed has gotten off to a torrid start and has been on our best hitter so far. The fact that it’s Nick Ahmed should tell you right there something is up… he’s sporting a .538 BABIP and his career .266 BABIP is almost exactly half that number. So Ahmed has impressed, but his hitting has been a mirage. I do think that he’s possibly improved for the better this season. I’ve actually been quite impressed with Jarrod Dyson. His speed is absolutely ridiculous and he is definitely a great addition to the team. It’s also good to see Pollock and Peralta both healthy and getting off to a good start this year after a couple down years from both of them.

Steven: Chris Owings is the star of the show for me, showing solid pull power (56.3%) and an ability to not hit the ball soft (12.5% soft hit rate). Nick Ahmed’s been great and David Peralta has been about as perfect a leadoff guy you could want, getting on base 41% of the time. The biggest factor for me is the walk rate, which the D-backs are leading the league. I would like to see more power from them going forward, but that should improve once guys get into the 162-game rhythm.

James: He’s been ill for so long, that I almost forgot about NIck Ahmed, but he’s among those I have been impressed with so far in terms of production. I’m also liking what I have seen from Jarrod Dyson so far. Chris Owings is also making the most of the opportunities he is getting with Ahmed out sick. It’s nice to see the role-players stepping in and performing when called upon.

Michael: Peralta and Pollock have been carrying the offense so far, with Owings and Ahmed chipping in big hits. Peralta has been great from the leadoff spot and I was skeptic about him being a successful leadoff hitter coming into the season due to low walk rates and frustrating ABs happening too frequently. Pollock has been the team’s best run producer with 8 XBH in 9 games this season. Owings and Ahmed early on look much more disciplined at the plate than in the past and it’s no surprise that’s why they’re off to a hot start. It will be interesting to see if both players can step a step forward with the bat this season, it’s a very-welcomed addition to the lineup if the bottom half aren’t easy outs.

CumulusChoir: Nick Ahmed is the easy choice here. He leads the team with 8 RBI and has shown off much improved power at the plate and a better eye. Will he bat .350+ all season? No, of course not, but he’s still been darn impressive and I’m hoping that his early season success is a sign of things to come.

Something else that has impressed me doesn’t apply to a single hitter in particular, but instead the team as a whole: refined plate discipline. David Peralta and Chris Owings are especially notable examples, with each swinging at significantly less garbage and having nicer, more meaningful AB’s than we’re used to seeing from them. I’m not sure if this is sustainable either, but it’s been a nice addition in the absence of Goldy’s offensive presence.

Keegan: Pollock was my only individual “over” pick in the Snake Pit Casino, and I would love nothing more than to see him return to his 2015 caliber of play. Weird things happen to guys in their contract year prior to reaching free agency, so I think we can anticipate a memorable performance from him this season.

Jim: If you’d told me nine games in, that Souza, Goldschmidt and Lamb, who combined for 96 home-runs last year, would not have hit a single one, Goldy was batting a buck even, and Nick Ahmed led the team in RBI… I would not have expected the D-backs to be 7-2! Credit to the rest of the team for taking up the slack. The plate discipline has been amazing almost all round: their 13.2% walk rate is best in the majors. Hell, even Owings is in double digits.

What about the pitching staff?

Wesley: Out of the starting pitchers, I have been very impressed with Patrick Corbin. He’s taken things to the next level, and this article from fangraphs explains why. Corbin has increased the usage of his slider, while varying the speed more frequently. Godley appears to have carried over the success from last year. Robbie Ray is Robbie Ray, what else can I say? Besides Corbin, Godley and Ray, I’ve also been impressed with Brad Boxberger, who has some absolutely filthy stuff. He’s been a great addition to the bullpen.Steven: Corbin is going to see a lot of recognition for his early season performance, with good reason. He’s been dominant in a contract year. For me however, Godley was outstanding against the Dodgers, pitching to contact and getting weak contact from an always dangerous team.

James: That’s a fairly easy one for me, Patrick Corbin has impressed me the most out of the rotation. He has not just been solid, he’s been mostly dominant in his two outing now. Against the Dodgers, one could see that hitters were at the plate looking for Corbin to throw the slider and still not able to hit it when they did. Boxberger has not disappointed out of the bullpen thus far. It’s nice to have some low-stress ninth innings. Of points for concern, so far the biggest one for me has been Ray’s wildness, but this is nothing new for Ray, and he’s still striking out tons of hitters. I’m not actually concerned yet.

Michael: Corbin has taken a step forward to start the season. Godley, Greinke, Ray, and Walker don’t look too different from how they started last year. Corbin ended 2017 strong and carried it into 2018. He’s changing speeds with the slider, which essentially operates as the 3rd pitch he’s never had any consistency finding, since it’s coming in mid 70s vs. low 80s with the harder slider. I think at times in the past, he would be too predictable as a 2-pitch guy who operated on 1 side of the plate. Now that he’s working arm side and changing the speed and shape of his slider to great success, Corbin is a legit All-Star caliber pitcher again.

CumulusChoir: Patrick Corbin looked unstoppable against the Dodgers last Wednesday. When he has his slider going, he’s practically unhittable. If he can keep churning out performances like that one, he’s going to earn himself a juicy contract in free agency. The bullpen as a whole has also been super impressive. Yoshi looks like he’s adapting well to the Majors, Boxy is restoring some of the color that Fernando Rodney stole from my hair last season, and Salas has been a surprisingly effective NRI signing.

Keegan: Keep throwing successful offspeed pitches while limiting the usage of less successful secondary offerings. As the aforementioned Fangraphs article pointed out, Corbin took that philosophy to another level by increasing the velocity variance of his best pitch, his slider. I tabbed this strategy as being the most likely way the Diamondbacks pitching staff would repeat their success of 2017 prior to the start of the season.

With that being said, Greinke concerns me the most because opposing offenses have exploited a significant weakness in his game. Because his velocity has continued to decline over the past few seasons, he has had to increasingly rely on whiffs outside of the zone. You’ll notice that his most challenging outings come when hitters aren’t swinging at his pitches out of the zone while hammering those that are.

Jim: Corbin aside, I want to praise the bullpen instead. So far, the back-end trio of Brad Boxberger, Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano have been awesome: they’ve combined for 17 innings, a 1.06 ERA and a K:BB ratio of 19:5. That’s getting it done, especially when the starting pitching has come up short.

Any causes for concern, apart from Goldy?

Wesley: I’m not terribly concerned about any of the slow starts, since it seems like it is largely due to just a little bad luck on our hitters part. Fortunately, we have guys like Ahmed who are on the opposite end of the spectrum, hitting out of their minds and lucky with a lot of balls falling in for hits. As those guys cool down, I know Goldy, Avila, and Marte will start heating up and hitting more along the lines how they have in the past.We really need Lamb to come back. Lamb coming back will be a boon to the offense, as Devin Marrero doesn’t seem to be able to hit at all and is an ill suited replacement. Injuries are a concern with any team, especially those lacking in a lot of depth like we do.

Steven: Every time Greinke pitches poorly I’m expecting him to never pitch well again, saddling us with a massive contract that makes Tomas’ look like a bargain. I’m still convinced the best time to trade him was last offseason. The MLB caliber depth has been suspect, especially in the infield. We’re regularly playing games with 4 middle infielders out in the field, so it’s surprising how well the team is actually playing.

James: Jake Lamb’s injury concerns me. I’m not terribly hopeful for a quick return. If he misses a significant portion of the season, this offense is going to have to continue to rely on the role-players stepping up. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, but role-players are usually in that position because of a lack of sustainable performance. If they were more consistent, they would be starters themselves. Lamb’s left-handed power is going to be tough to replace in the long term.

Michael: Injuries will be the biggest concern, the team is stretched thin across the board. Souza and Lamb are out and I think that’s affecting Goldy although Pollock has been great hitting behind Goldy so far. It’s sounding like Souza will be back on the next homestand and Lamb not too far behind. If this team is healthy, they will win 90+ games. Good pitching, defense, and baserunning wins games especially with the hot/cold nature of hitting in general.

CumulusChoir: Injuries are the biggest concern for me, but that’s about as standard a concern as they come. Jake being out for at least another week blows, but our bench has done a nice job at making sure his presence isn’t missed too much and Steven Souza Jr.’s return is right around the corner. Alex Avila sucking at the plate is high up on the list as well.

Keegan: Outside of what I just mentioned above for Greinke, Jake Lamb’s injury concerns me the most. I’m worried that the AC joint injury will linger for a majority of the season and limit his ability to drive the ball with authority. Luckily the roster is constructed with many interchangeable pieces to cover his absence. It would be best to not rush him back from that particular injury.

Jim: So far the team has weathered adversity pretty well, but I’m wondering if Robbie Ray is going to take the next step forward we (mostly) expected. His outings so far have been consistent only in their inconsistency. Inning to inning, batter to batter and even pitch to pitch, you just don’t know what’s going to happen next. Could be something good… could be something bad. Spin the Wheel o’ Robbie Ray Roulette!

It’s back to the NL West again, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. How will Arizona do?

Wesley: I think they will do well, and I think a winning roadtrip is likely. However, I don’t think the Dodgers will stay this terrible, so taking 2 out of 3 in San Francisco and at least one game in Los Angeles would be a positive. Anything better than that is just bonus,

Steven: I think 3-3 against those teams would be excellent, with us winning the series against San Fran and taking a game against LA.

James: I think it’s hoping for a bit much to have the Diamondbacks sweep the Dodgers again, especially in Chavez Ravine. The Giants are looking their age though, so that will help. I’m looking for a 4-2 swing through Los Angeles and San Francisco, with Arizona winning each of the series.

Michael: Meeting expectations would be splitting the 6 games between SF and LA for a 5-4 roadtrip, neither series will be easy. The Dbacks are catching the Giants at the right time with no Bumgarner and Samardzija, but they still have to execute. I think they win ⅔ in SF and lose ⅔ in LA.

CumulusChoir: Our rotation for the series in San Fran is Godley-Corbin-Ray. Unless all three of them somehow churn out forgettable performances one after the other, a series win seems like a given, if not a sweep. As for our series in LA: those are crapshoots and are impossible to accurately predict, so I’ll just hope for a series win. They’ve been ice cold to start the season. If we’re going to do any damage to them on the road, that would be the time to do so.

Keegan: Send the Giants to a retirement home and the cellar of the NL West along with the Padres. I peg that as the series where Goldy breaks out of his slump and single handedly carries the team to their fourth consecutive series win to open the season. If the Dodgers are still struggling when we arrive there, and it’s a big if, we have to keep the pressure on them and take 2 out of 3.

Jim: With the series in St. Louis won, I’d settle for 3-3, though more would be nice of course! I don’t see the Dodgers rolling over again, and we’ll face Kershaw again, which is never easy. I’m with Michael: two of three in San Francisco, one of three in Los Angeles, but that’s a winning roadtrip, and I’ll take that any day.

What would you name your boat if you had one?

Wesley: I’ve always wanted an ocean worthy, powered sailboat, and it’s one of my dreams to have a yacht with all the amenities when I retire. I’d probably name it Gnosis or The Pursuit of Knowledge.

Steven: Boaty McBoatface of course

James: I’ve thought about this more than once over the years and have never been able to settle on any one name. It would depend on the type of boat and how I came to own it. One recurring name in my musing though is Solitude.

Michael: I don’t plan on ever owning a boat in my lifetime.

CumulusChoir: What kind of boat are we talking here? If it’s a dinghy or something equally disappointing, I’d probably name it Lil’ Sebastian for no other reason than Parks and Rec being one of the greatest TV comedies ever written and vastly superior to The Office don’t @ me. If it’s a yacht or a big ‘ol sailboat, S.S. Heck Yeah I’m Happy to See You.

Keegan: Jenny… Lt. Dan as my greenhorn.

Jim: Slice of Life. I’d freak people out by taking it for midnight trips and dropping large, black plastic packages over the side.