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SnakePit Round Table: The Downward Spiral edition

Cheer up! Things could be worse...

A Look Inside Elizabeth Tower Ahead Of Renovations Photo by Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Who do you blame for the current slump? Manager, coaches or players?

James: I put it on the players. This is largely the same group that was the best team in the majors at the end of April. Lovullo has been shaking things up a bit, but the results have been mixed, with only one win coming from those changes so far. Dave Magaden cannot go up to the plate and hit for the players.

Dano: It might be the coaching, it might be the players. I’m honestly not sure. I find myself increasingly thinking about this whole launch-angle thing that everyone seems to be obsessed with these days. I wonder if various players (and/or coaches, and/or hitting consultants), and what they’re doing with that, or trying to do, isn’t at least partly to blame. It seems, if one reads the baseball press, like everyone is trying to work this new thing into their approach at the plate, but I suspect that, like with most fad/trend crazes, nobody is on the same page about how to make it happen, and maybe because it’s just a baseball version of diet-craze nonsense. Most of the folks in our lineup hit perfectly well last year. Most of them, however, are not right now. I wonder if the latest trend has something to do with that.

Makakilo: Three areas to look at follow:

Reduced hitting was caused by injuries to Souza and Pollock, and Goldschmidt’s slump. Let’s note that the Rockies (first place in NL West) only have 4 hitters with OPS+ above 100. Even with Pollock and Souza injured, and Goldschmidt slumping, the D-backs have 4 hitters with OPS+ above 100 (Descalso, Lamb, Murphy, and Peralta). The good news is that the D-back hitting will likely improve.

Unlike March/April, and with Ray/Walker on the DL, the Rockies rotation is now outperforming the D-backs rotation in wins above average (2.6 vs 1.2). The replacement pitchers, Koch and Buchholz have pitched very well – so that is not the entire reason. The other reason is Godley gave up 4 or more runs in three starts in May – nevertheless he is an awesome pitcher. Let’s discover Godley’s issue and fix it.

The D-backs have the A bullpen (McFarland, Bradley, & Boxberger) and the B bullpen. When the D-backs are behind, the B bullpen pitches and my perception is the game quickly becomes hopelessly lost. The team will miss come-from-behind opportunities, especially when hitting is back at 100%.

Jim: I think it’s probably a combination of them all. I wonder if the team’s early success perhaps caused opposing pitchers to change their method of attack? It seems clear that something has changed, just based purely on the lack of success at the plate this month. Whatever it was, nobody seems to know how they can counter it. I yearn for the days when we were worried about the team’s ability to get hits with runners in scoring position - because that meant the team was actually GETTING runners in scoring position. Over the last 11 games, Arizona has been held to four hits or fewer in 7 of them. All last year, we only had 16 such games, so we’ve almost reached half that tally in two weeks.

What can be done to fix it?

James: It’s mostly going to take patience. The only immediate fix that seems reasonable at this point would be to make a trade for a bat. The problem with that is, there really isn’t a place to play a bat, other than second base. The candidates for plugging into that hole are few and far between. Most worth pursuing would also cost quite the haul.

Dano: What I’ve noticed in the games that I’ve watched closely of late is that longer plate appearances seem to turn around better results. So patience, again like James notes, but morte in the plate discipline sense. Chris Owings in particular should take this memo to heart, but so should everyone else who’s not hitting right now, which is pretty much, well, everybody. See more pitches. Make the opposing pitchers work harder. Don’t make their job easier by coming out swinging, especially against pitchers who aren’t throwing strikes. Don’t buy another bat right now, though--the bats we need, I truly believe, are the bats we have. They all work, from time to time, we’ve all seen them work (except, well, Alex Avila), but they’re not working right now, and they’re all not working at pretty much exactly the same time. Figure out what’s causing that (assuming it isn’t just a really bad run of dumb, bad luck), and fix it.

Makakilo: I agree with James that the biggest ingredient is patience. Second, I would explore whether a technical adjustment could help Godley. Third, I would explore an addition to the B bullpen. My first choice would be give an opportunity to a D-back pitcher in the minors. My second choice would be Mike Hazen acquires an inexpensive free agent or makes a reasonable trade.

Jim: Very little can be actively done. That’s the hard reality here. There’s no-one doing anything more than mediocre down in Reno. So for all the calls for players - most often, Alex Avila, but I’ve seen it demanded of everyone up to and including Paul Goldschmidt - to be sent down, it’s not as if we have a Ronald Acuna who is being blocked. The team will have a lot more data regarding the situation than we, as fans, are privy to, and I trust they are using it. There are just too many players on this roster who have far better track records than they are showing. Getting back to what they can do is key - but that’s certainly more easier said than done.

Your weekly state of the Goldschmidt…

James: He’s starting to show signs of coming around. Let’s see how he does over the next week. His OPS over this last week was .996. Sure, this is a small sample size, but if he can do that again next week as well, then I think he might finally be off and running.Dano: Definitely getting back to the business we’ve come to rely on over the last few years. Barrelling it up, hitting solid extra-base hits from time to time. His batting average is still hovering right around the Mendoza line, which continues to make me nervous, but I am guardedly hopeful at present.

Makakilo: I agree with James and Dano.

Jim: Cautious optimism. Friday night was his first multi-hit game since April 26, and his OPS is back up over .700, so is heading in the right direction. As noted earlier in the week, he seems to have been hitting a lot of balls hard, so all any hitter can do is keep barreling them up, and the results will eventually follow.

Should the team be looking to trade for an impact bat like Manny Machado?

James: Not at this point. Yes, the team’s offense needs an infusion. Machado would be a big plus. The problem is, Machado would require gutting the upper minors. I’m not against a win-now trade in a season where the team is poised to make a strong postseason run. Right now though, that simply isn’t the case. This team needs to prove it can win close games again before I am going to be ready to pull the trigger on a massive deal like that. It’s a catch-22. If they don’t trade for the bat, they probably continue to struggle for a while and might have to claw their way towards a playoff berth. If they trade now though, they might very well be trading away a pile of talent to still fall short. This team is not making the playoffs if Goldy doesn’t right the ship. I’m not making any massive trades until I see him do that.Dano: No, though I certainly wouldn’t mind a talent like Machado starting for us. Per above, we already have the bats we need. They’re just not working like they should right now.

Makakilo: Strong no. However, Mike Hazen is always searching for a trade/acquisition that improves the team without damaging future seasons. If he finds an opportunity and executes, I will have an open mind.

Jim: It might not take all that much to correct the slide. Of the last 15 defeats for Arizona, four were by one run and another four by two runs, so we were no more than a bloop and a blast out in most of them. There’s something to be said for adding a bat, but it need not necessarily be on the scale of Machado, whose price would certainly be expensive, in terms of talent. A left-handed bat would be best, as the team has been struggling terribly against RHP, hitting below the Uecker Line and with an OPS around the .600 mark after today’s shortfall. Virtually any position on the diamond would benefit from an upgrade there, so we do have some flexibiity.

Give us a reason for optimism

James: The Diamondbacks are still within a game of the Rockies. They are still two games up on the Dodgers. The pitching continues to get the job done, especially the starting rotation. Despite all these losses piling up, they have almost all been close games. Lamb has done what was expected of him since returning. Ahmed, Peralta, and Descalso continue to perform. There are now some early signs of Goldschmidt possibly coming around. The team will be getting Pollock and Souza back in a short while. If the team can just weather this storm and make it to the break within a game of the division lead, I think the influx of talent (Shelby Miller, Randall Delgado, A.J. Pollock, Steven Souza, possibly a trade) will be enough to make them dangerous in the second half.

Dano: Okay, so we aren’t, as a baseline, as good as we played in April. By the same token, we are not nearly as bad as we’ve played so far in May. We still don’t know where the actual baseline is with our roster and our talent, but I continue to believe that it’s closer to our April performance than to what we’ve done this month. The boatload of injuries certainly hadn’t helped, but none of those, aside from Walker and the TJ surgery, seem particularly catastrophic, and so the folks we’ve lost for awhile will be back soonish, at least. And law of averages, our lineup is going to begin to turn around in terms of performance sooner or later. Not sure at this point that we make the playoffs, but we still have a shot at it, and in any event, this team is nowhere near as bad as we’ve looked recently. Brighter days are ahead. How much brighter, I have no idea, but let’s face it, the bar is low at this point.

Makakilo: March/April proved the high potential of this season’s team. Reasons that the team will reach that potential:

  • With a little good-fortune, later this season the D-backs will have 7 awesome hitters in the lineup - Descalso, Goldschmidt, Lamb, Murphy, Peralta, Pollock, and Souza.
  • Rotation depth is awesome with Robbie Ray and Shelby Miller returning soon from the DL. In addition, two top prospects Taylor Clarke and Jon Duplantier will be ready by late 2018 or early 2019.
  • Mike Hazen, Torey Lovullo, and the coaches are sustaining an excellent process.

Jim: Our pitching. The team’s ERA is still at or near the lowest in the National League. Pitching alone may not be able to win games - we’ve seen that often enough! - but it does mean that we don’t need to turn into the 2018 Yankees to come out on top. The return of Ray and Miller can only help.

And why should we be pessimistic?

James: In the six-game season series against the Brewers, Arizona set a modern record for futility in terms of total hits. Despite hanging seven runs on Sean Manaea and the Oakland A’s, Arizona followed that up with a pitiful two-hit performance. Although Goldschmidt has at least started to show possible signs of life, he did that in San Francisco and Los Angeles too. Goldschmidt righting the ship is still far from a sure thing at this point. Also, the bullpen is starting to show more cracks. The constant stream of close games where the team simply isn’t hitting worth a damn is starting to take its toll.

Dano: None, frankly, as far as I’m concerned. We shouldn’t. I think we’ve seen the worst patch of our 2018 season already, and it feels a bit like we’re coming to the end of it. I could be wrong, of course...maybe we’re not. I fully believe that the Diamondbacks are capable, generally, of playing at least .500 ball on any given day, and the sad reality that we haven’t been doing so for most of this month doesn’t change that for me. We haven’t been playing a lot of competitive baseball recently, despite the continued positives from the starting rotation, but if our lineup was hitting, a lot of these recent losses wouldn’t have been one-run losses but something very different., We’ll be okay, at least, and maybe better. But the rest of the season certainly isn’t going to be the month of May.

Makakilo: Losing the series against the Athletics was disappointing because the D-backs are the better team. In May, the 6 wins and 18 losses is cause for concern, but not cause for pessimism looking forward. With the excellent players, GM, manager, and coaches, and in the absence of any additional season-ending injuries, I remain optimistic.

Jim: We may never win another series again. Oh, wait: @We may never win another series again@. It’s hard to see how things can get much worse. Mind you, I was thinking that before the series in Oakland!

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? What happened?

James: Either a second baseman for an MLB team, an chef, or an author and professor of English literature. I topped out at 5’8” and was only 140 pounds coming out of high school. I simply didn’t have the size to play much after that, though I did give it a go for a while. Then I joined the Navy. After I came back from my enlistment, I became a chef. Now I’m in school to get my doctorate, though things are starting to look a bit dicey on that front. At the very least, I’ll have my MA and can possibly go back to school in another 10 years (if I am lucky) to finally get the PhD.

Dano: This is supposed to be the light question, but winds up being surprisingly heavy. I did the early part of my growing up in the Philly area in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, so basically I wanted to be Mike Schmidt. I was an all-star little league shortstop, but I didn’t have a third baseman’s arm (nor any real power...I was more of a contact-and-speed guy), but, well, it was not to be. Moved to Arizona, discovered Doctor Who on PBS in junior high, was ostracized for retrospectively understandable though still deeply objectionable reasons, became a big ole nerd. A bit later in young life, I decided I wanted to be a fantasy writer, until I kinda got bored with the tired tropes of the heroic fantasy genre, and got interested in science fiction instead. Still haven’t had the novel published, or signed the contract for the five-book deal with Random House or Tor or whoever, but we continue to work on it, so this story’s not done yet.

Makakilo: My fanciful ideas had no basis in reality and often changed. I remember train conductor/engineer, scientist, oceanographer, trade-show person (giving away free samples is fun), business person with a windowed office in a tall building (until I learned about cubical desks), artist (a way to starve), teacher (a way to wish I had starved to death), and forest ranger (I love outdoors!).

At my core, I never gave up my early dream to be an engineer. Engineers pay attention to details and stick-with-it to complete complicated tasks. That’s what I do and who I am.

Jim: Thanks to the books of James Herriott, I wanted to be a veterinarian. This lasted only until I realized that, while I was fine with the smaller animals, you also had to deal with the larger ones like cattle and horses. I eventually decided that being woken in the middle of the night, and having to stuff your arm into areas of a cow that don’t appear on any menu, was not for me!