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SnakePit Round Table: Is it over yet edition

We whip out our scanning electron microscopes and try to find reason for hope.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott Visits Melbourne Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Why is the season over?

Jack: They are playing their worst baseball of the season. The bullpen is a shambles, almost nobody is reliable, and the offense is inconsistent and is getting shut down way too often. Now their defense is failing them too? Look at the schedule! It’s over’s over.

Makakilo: Three pessimistic viewpoints:

Critical event view. After blowing an opportunity to build their lead against several weak teams, the D-backs played the Dodgers (30 Aug to 2 Sept) - a critical event. The D-backs lost the 4-game series and fell out of first place. That critical event provided a glimpse of the future that was not pleasant.

Recent games view:

  • Last four games: D-backs scored 5.25 runs per game, Yay! D-backs won 2 games, not so good.
  • Four games prior to last four games: D-backs scored 2 runs per game, Yukky! D-backs won zero games, Yukky!

Look ahead view. Down 2.5 games from first place and down 2 games from wild card. And future opponents are very strong except the Padres:

  • 14 games against first place teams, including the teams that won the World Series the last two seasons.
  • 3 games against the Dodgers
  • 3 games against the Padres

Charlie: Because given every opportunity to succeed, the Diamondbacks have instead decided pointing a loaded gun at every extremity is a better course of action.

Jim: That schedule. Going 10-10 against a stream of first-place and contending teams would be an impressive effort. But with the D-backs now playing catch-up, even that will not be enough to get a post-season spot. The offense has more or less given up, and the bullpen has all the reliability of a pair of rocket-propelled roller-skates from Acme.

James: Two things stand out, the upcoming schedule, and the quality of recent play. The Diamondbacks are about to face what might just be the most mentally challenging stretch of the schedule. They are tired from five months of play and the grind is still going. Every single game is a must-win at this point, meaning that the team needs to remain sharp and focused on every play in every game. Saturday night’s game was a prime example of what happens when a team is getting mentally exhausted. The defense gets sloppy. TOOTBLANS become more common. At-bats are not as sharp as they should be.The Diamondbacks are facing some of the very best teams in baseball over the final 20 games of the season. There simply is no room for mental errors, and this team seems to be playing while burnt out.

Wesley: Well, we are a couple games back, with one of, if not THE toughest schedule in the second half. It seems like the ship is sinking and we are going to blow our chance at making the playoffs. I think everyone else has summed it up better than I can.

Why is the season NOT over?

Jack: EDIT: I got Nuthin. (Sorry Mak)

Makakilo: As Jack outlined, regaining first place is possible. AND, regaining first place would fit the season pattern:

  • First place, up 6 games on 1 May, (season high point)
  • Lost first place in May
  • First place, up 3.5 games on 30 June
  • Lost first place in July
  • First place, up 1 game on 31 August
  • Lost first place in September

Charlie: There are still, technically, games remaining on the schedule.

Jim: Games remaining against the teams ahead of us. If the D-backs can do well there, then their destiny will be back in their own hands. We’re probably speaking about needing to take certainly four, probably five of seven from Colorado and two of three from the Dodgers. Go 7-3 there, 5-4 elsewhere, and we’re at 88 wins, which might be enough.

James: 10 of the Diamondbacks final 20 games are against the Dodgers (3) and the Rockies (7). With how close the division is, this means the team’s fate is still in their own hands. Going 2-1 against the Dodgers and then going 5-2 against the Rockies, probably puts the Diamondbacks back in first place for the NL West, assuming they can play .500 ball against the other opponents across the other 10 games. That means going 12-8, with some very specific wins mixed into the equation. That’s a tough ask, but a very achievable one, especially given the quality of Arizona’s starting pitching.

Wesley: James has summed it up quite well. Considering that half of our games left are against the Rockies and Dodgers, the team’s fate is very much in their own hands. If we go on a very very hot streak, we could retake the division league.

Makakilo: In September 2017, in my series preview I wrote, “Think about what could go right.” It can positively change perceptions (become aware of opportunities), emotions (from sad/anger to good energy), and actions (to tip the scales). Even if the D-backs don’t make it to the playoffs, by continuing to think about what could go right, they will avoid regrets that maybe they could have done better.

Who in the bullpen do you trust most/least, and why?

Jack: I hate to answer this question because as soon as I do, THAT guy is going to start sucking. But clearly Hirano is the only guy left standing from the original “A” bullpen that I still trust and feel confident when he comes into the game.

Archie is toast. Don’t need to write much more about him

Boxberger: He really can’t be used on 0 or 1 Days rest for the most part. So how do you use him as your “closer” ? (Note Numbers do not include today’s meltdown).

Makakilo: Based on scoreless appearances in their last ten games, I trust Hirano most, and Bradley least. News flash: Today Boxberger allowed 3 earned runs while getting one out.

  • Hirano, 9. 10 without earned runs minus 1 game when inherited runner scored (10-1).
  • McFarland, 8.
  • Chafin, 8.
  • Andriese, 7.
  • Diekman, 7. (8-1)
  • Ziegler, 7. (8-1)
  • Boxberger, 6.
  • Bradley, 5. (8-3)

Jim: Stats are for nerds. :) Trust is in the heart, not the brain, dammit! My order is Hirano, Ziegler, McFarland, Andriese, Diekman, Chafin, Bradley, the lemonade guy, a Cornish pastie, wadded-up chewing gum, Boxberger. But where the hell is Jimmie Sherfy? 0.57 career ERA, and hasn’t pitched since Sep 3 until the game was lost today.

James: Going with my gut, I have to go with Hirano. However, if the team is actually properly rested, I’m still not against Archie Bradley entering the game in a high leverage situation. But that young man needs some time off. So does Hirano for that matter. Why exactly did they bring up Sherfy and Lopez? Apparently, it isn’t to use them to rest the exhausted bullpen. Where are Barrett and Krehbiel to help with that same task? This is one area I have zero problem being critical of the management and coaching. The bullpen has been run into the ground and this team is not using the available tools to get them back up to snuff before October rolls around. If the team cannot get to October with some input from the arms that were brought up, then what does it really matter? These arms, even if they get the team to the postseason are going top be too spent to be effective in October against the very best lineups in the game

Why has the team struggled so badly in one-run games? Is it fixable?

Jack: A better question might be why is the team playing so many one run games? They have played 45 one-run games. Only the Giants (50) and the Brewers (47) have played more. Where is the nice easy dramaless victory? Where is our 8-2 piece of cake, no sweat win? Shouldn’t there be more of those for a team that is trying to win a pennant? BUT...since the model this team built around is pitching/defense/bullpen and winning the close games….that’s what they have to try to do

Give the closer’s role to Hirano. He’s earned it. He’s done it before in Japan. He doesn’t get rattled. Then just play the matchups from the 6th through 8th. Keep Archie away from high leverage, and only use Boxberger with 2 or more days rest.

Makakilo: The D-backs lost their last seven 1-run games. Prior to 25 August, the D-backs’ record in 1-run games was close to 50-50 (18 wins and 20 losses). Therefore, the problem has emerged recently.

So, what changed? My best guess is that a specific road trip took a physical and mental toll on the team. More specifically, it was their 7 game road trip to play the Giants and the Dodgers, a week after returning from a 9 game road trip. Joe Maddon, Cubs Manager and 2015 NL Manager of the Year, when talking about Murphy, Rizzo, and Zobrist, said, “It’s later in the year. They know how to take care of themselves.” Can the same be said about the D-back players?

Jim: Got to point the finger squarely at the bullpen, who have taken the loss in 20 of those 27 one-run losses (and three of the seven which went to the starter were by Matt Koch and Troy Scribner). All five of Andrew Chafin’s losses have been in one-run games. That’s kinda remarkable given his 2.51 ERA is the lowest of any “pure” reliever with 5+ losses in the NL. As Jack says, the team was built to limit opposing scoring, rather than score runs themselves. But that puts a lot of pressure on the relievers, and of late, they’ve been found wanting.

James: The simple answer is, the bullpen is no longer the rock it once was. The more complicated answer is, the offense has put the team into too many one-run games. This bullpen has the horses it needs to get the job done, if one assumes a decent, non-exhausting workload. That isn’t what they have been given though. The bullpen has essentially pitched 142 games of high leverage baseball. Up by six runs they couldn’t even get the night off because the game was a “must-win”. So the bullpen is coming out flatter than it should, allowing those one-run games to get away from them. This is the result of the offense simply being unable to score enough runs to give them a night off. Even in a blowout, the bullpen isn’t getting a night off, since the team keeps trying to crawl back into games, meaning that there are no nights of someone just giving three innings of pointless mop-up duty to give the rest of the bullpen a breather.

Wesley: I just don’t trust the bullpen at all really. I haven’t watched much of big club the last month or two, and the games I have seen have all been just some awful baseball all around.

What are you looking for over the remaining three weeks?

Jack: Better baseball in all facets of the game. They are at a point now where they are just about breaking down in every facet of the game except starting pitching.

Makakilo: Sweep the Rockies and Dodgers! Is that unrealistic? I won’t know until it happens, or not.

Jim: A comeback, the likes of which will be talked about through the ages, and become storied in baseball lore.

Failing that: Stop the Dodgers

James: Proficient, competitive baseball. This team is better than Colorado. I personally feel it is more rounded and complete than the Dodgers as well. If they can simply get through this mental funk they are in, they make the playoffs. Beyond that, whether the Diamondbacks make the playoffs or not, I want the Dodgers to be on the outside looking in when October rolls around, especially after all the moves they made.

Wesley: A sweep of the Dodgers, and well played baseball. Correction: baseball that will actually make me want to seriously watch, instead of this casual watching I’ve done all season.

The CIA are interrogating you. What genre of music would make you crack fastest?

Jack: Rap. It’s not a cultural or racial thing. It’s just never been pleasing to my ear. Country music is a close second.

Charlie: I work at a concert venue, I’ve heard it all. You can’t crack me. Now if “Lecture from theater director way in over their head” was an option…

Makakilo: Gangsta rap. It can be uncultured and ignorant. People have “…accused the genre of promoting crime, serial killing, murder, violence, profanity, sex addiction, homophobia, racism, promiscuity, misogyny, rape, street gangs, disorderly conduct, drive-by shootings, vandalism, theft, driving under the influence, drug dealing, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, disregarding law enforcement, materialism, and narcissism.” --Wikipedia

James: Going to have to go with rap music, especially the gangster rap. Although, I should specify that I find the more modern stuff more offensive than the old school stuff. I don’t mind a bit of NWA, Boogie Down Productions, or early Ice-T. It’s not what I am going to go out of my way to listen to, but I can appreciate it - to a point. A close(ish) second would be the tear-in-my-beer form of country music.

Jim. Hey, guess we’re a bunch of old white dudes. Who knew? :) Since they’ve started playing music over the PA at work, I’ve discovered what an intolerant bastard I am. After far too frequent repetition, bands I previously would have nodded at and ignored, now trigger irrational hate. Red Hot Chilli Peppers, for some reason, just rub me entirely the wrong way. But, jeez, country music. If they want a particularly quick end to the interrogation, three minutes of Carrie Underwood singing Before He Cheats, and I’ll confess to assassinating JFK.

Wesley: I will listen to basically any genre, and I’ve found myself even listening to country which I used to hate. [Jim: Subsequent political commentary filtered out!]