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SnakePit Round Table: Let’s go streaking!

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Into the second week of September, and we still have playoff hopes! Winning 11 of 12 will do that...

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

We’re returning to what we used to do last year, with a guest contributor each week. This edition, it’s DbacksEurope! If you’d like to take part, speak up in the comments. It’s first-come, first served; questions are sent out on a Saturday, with replies needed by Sunday evening.

Are the Diamondbacks back in the wild-card race?

Turambar: Sure as hell seems like it. At the end of the Brewers series a couple weeks back they were toast, but now things are different. Much different.

2.5 games though is still a big hill to climb, but as others have posted here our next few series are mostly against more favorable opponents, so anything is still possible.

Keegan: Without a doubt, and it’s so much more fulfilling than September of 2018. They’re going to fight for this down to the wire. Now it looks like the Cubs are going to be without Javy Baez for the remainder of the season, so Arizona just needs to focus on one game at a time. This is insanely fun even if they fall just short.

Jack: We all had them counted out for dead two weeks ago. Yet they have risen. 1.5 Games out as of Saturday night. Yes, of course they are back in it. (Edit, blowing Sunday’s game hurt, there isn’t margin for that kind of error, but they aren’t going to win every game.

Dano: Apparently so? My brain is trying very hard to persuade me not to believe it so that I won’t be crushed if it doesn’t happen, but recent results are hard to ignore. We’ve won 12 out of our last 13 games, and as Jack notes, the Brewers were big damn heroes tonight and took down the Cubs with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth to bring us within 1½ games.

Makakilo: The fat-lady sang. Not-too-surprisingly the D-backs raged (11-1) against the dying of the season. Now, the D-backs are back in the wild-card race! Consequently the fat-lady will make a rare encore appearance. Optimistically we will not see her until the playoffs.

DbacksEurope: I know where the question comes from because hardly anyone of us, me included, thought we would get this close to a wild card. Technically though, we were never out and we should thank the, what the MLB would call competitiveness and I call mediocreness of the National League for that. There are a lot of mediocre teams in the National League, just like the Arizona Diamondbacks. Right now we are only 1.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs and a wild card is therefore a real possibility. So: yes, we are back in the wild-card race and we should enjoy these final weeks of the season; only a few weeks ago our expectations for these final weeks were, according to a SB Nation poll, to enjoy our prospects. Well, we can still enjoy that, but also Marte’s run for MVP and the Diamondbacks fighting for a wild card. And we probably will fight until the end of the month, because our schedule is just too easy and that of the Nationals too tough.

How many wins for: a) The second wild card, and b) The Diamondbacks

Turambar: 90? 88? Unknown. I can’t even guess on this one because it feels like the team is coming in to their own, but they could be just ready to fall on their face. I feel like we all know the Dbacks are a .500 team, but could be more. Now we see them being more but we’re all wondering when the dream will end.

Keegan: I’d say the 88 mark that was thrown around commonly is the most accurate. As for where the D’backs will finish, we’ll just have to stay tuned. While it shouldn’t be taken for granted, after this current series in Cincinnati Arizona has 6 reaming against San Diego, 3 against Miami, and 3 more against Cincinnati (not in exact order). If I’m Arizona, I’m looking to go 12-0 there right now. Get greedy.

Jack: As of Saturday night 88 gets you into the 2nd wild card slot. They need to go 13-7 to get to 88. Feels like 89 would be a lock.

Dano: Well, we’ve got 20 games left after the Saturday night game, and if we play .500 ball from here on out we end with an 85-77 record. That seems plausible to me, given how comfortable we have been all year right around the summit of Mount 500. No way that’s good enough for the second wild card....I’d imagine that, barring unexpected injury or other catastrophe, both the Cubs and the Nationals are gonna be doing better than that down the stretch. I’d say 90 wins gets us, or whoever, at least the second WC. For us, though, that means playing .750 ball, which is a tall order. My guess is that we finish around 87 or 88 wins, and we’re going to be scoreboard-watching right on down the line to see if we get in. It’ll certainly come down to the final week, and might well come down to the final day. One-game playoff to get into the one-game playoff, anyone?

Makakilo: Currently, it looks like a battle between the Cubs and D-backs for the second NL wild-card. My prediction is both teams end the season in a tie for the second wild-card with 87 wins.

Cubs, currently 76-65:

  • 1-0 Brewers (UPDATE - the Cubs lost this game, I’m not changing my prediction)
  • 2-1 Reds
  • 4-2 Pirates
  • 2-2 Padres
  • 2-5 Cardinals (the Cardinals will play aggressively to win their Division)
  • 87-75 at end of season

D-backs, currently 75-67:

  • 3-1 Reds (UPDATE - D-backs have the loss; next Reds series D-backs need to sweep)
  • 3-0 Marlins
  • 2-2 Mets
  • 3-3 Padres
  • 1-2 Cardinals (the Cardinals will play aggressively to win their Division)
  • 87-75 at end of season

My predicted win-loss records are consistent with the 538.com model of simulated seasons. On the morning of 8 September, it predicted: Cubs 87-75, D-backs 86-76. Obviously, only one extra win or loss could change the outcome. Interestingly, it predicted Nationals at 90 wins (first wild-card) and Brewers at 84 wins (behind the D-backs by a couple games).

DbacksEurope: I took a look at a few stats and the remaining schedule. I think the Dbacks are the better mediocre team if we look at the teams behind them: Phillies, Mets and Brewers. So, the wild card is really about: can we overtake Cubs and Nationals?

The Cubs have a similar schedule as the Dbacks, facing losing team as the Pirates, Reds and Padres but also the Cards in two series. Their rotation is strong (Darvish is good, Hamels has struggled since returning from the IL but was good before) and I think better than ours, their reliever corps is not horrible. Their offence is not bad, although Javier Baez is struggling with injuries lately. I expect the Cubs to win 13 of their remaining games which is more or less the current winning percentage of Braves and Dodgers. The Cubs end up with 89 wins.

The Nationals have a tough schedule, facing the Twins, Indians, Cardinals and Braves. They also have to play the Phillies and cannot make any mistake when facing the Marlins. It is unlikely that they will be able to stay much above .500 for these final weeks. Their rotation is strong as is their offence, but their bullpen is bad. I give them 10 wins, a bit below 0.500. The Nationals end up with 88 wins.

When the season started I predicted the Diamondbacks would end up with 83 wins, if I remember correctly. I am pretty sure we will get over that amount with the remaining schedule: Padres, Reds and Marlins should be no problem, Cardinals and Mets could go either way. We could win 13 games which would leave us tied with the Nationals according to my prediction: 88 wins. Do I think we will reach 88 wins? No. I still think our rotation is a mess and unreliable. Kelly and Leake do not inspire me with confidence and our offence is still too streaky and depends almost entirely on Marte, so I take away one win away and predict we end up 1 game short. I hope I am wrong.

What has been the key factor in their second half surge?

Keegan: Ketel Marte being the best position player over the second half has to be the key factor, but also high wire act trade deadline deals that appear to have set this team up for the future. While I think his baseball IQ still needs some work, I think that Josh Rojas can be a key contributor for years to come and right now. Zac Gallen filled the 5th spot in the rotation which was a bit of a black hole for the first half.

Jack: #KMVP is the catalyst. They are getting good performances all over, but Marte has been so consistently great. It’s him

Dano: Marte, definitely, though our offense has been pretty strong all year. I would say the real key has been Gallen, Ginkel, and the rest of the pitching reinforcements we got at and around the trade deadline, in both the rotation and the bullpen. All year our offense has seemed to me to be plausible for a postseason team; the pitching is what has been holding us back from getting there (or getting close). Seems like that’s changed in the last month or so.

Makakilo: The key factor was team-effort. Team-effort replaced All-Star effort.

DbacksEurope: Attitude: never give up. The fact we were hovering around .500 the whole time, never getting further away from it than 2 losses or 2 wins, that says a lot. If you look at the Diamondbacks you never know what you gonna get but they always put up a fight. I think that reached its climax in the series against the Dodgers that started August 29. Before that we were basically still doing what we do best: being mediocre. We had two tough series losses against the Giants and Brewers. But in that series against the Dodgers, which I missed almost entirely, it seems the team stepped up and is surfing on the waves of that series ever since.

Who has been their unsung hero?

Keegan: So up above I list Ketel Marte as the key factor. The unsung hero has to be Alex Young. He leaves his Saturday Cincinnati start with a 3.38 ERA in 12 starts as a rookie. I hope that he has some true staying power in the rotation because he’s been fun to watch. He just held the Reds offense to 2 hits and 12 strikeouts in the middle of a playoff chase.

Jack: I’ll go with Kevin Ginkel. Not only does have the lowest bullpen ERA since August 1, (1.55 in 17.1 IP), he is also tied with Archie for most innings. And get this: He has quickly started to take over more high leverage innings and helped stabilize the bullpen. He’s faced 14 batters in “High Leverage” and allowed zero runs, just 2 hits, and 1 walk. He’s due for some regression, but if we are talking results and unsung heroes, Ginkel is mine.

Dano: It pains me to be typing this, and part of me is actually sitting outside of myself watching bemusedly as I do, but I think it might actually be Archie Bradley. Archie’s definitely unsung at this point...he has been broadly reviled by many of us over the last year and a half, and rightly so, I think--partly for the contract ask, also his decay into a homer-happy one-pitch wonder, his utter failure over long and consistent stretches to fail when put into any sort of high-leverage pitching situation.

And yet. Since Greg Holland’s arm fell off and, for want of anyone else, we started consistently giving him closing opportunities, Archie’s converted 13 out of 14 of them, which is awfully close to the 12-of-13 record the Diamondbacks as a team have enjoyed since being shut out by the Brewers on August 24. He gives us all terrible anxiety, still, every time he’s on the mound, but he’s gotten the job done, and since the All-Star Break we’ve desperately needed someone to do that job.

Proceed to eviscerate me in the comments, by the way. That will be absolutely fair, and as I say, I’m sitting outside myself right now, so I’m prepared. Please no poop emojis, though...those make me tired, and I think we have all, collectively, done that particular Archie failing to death.

[braces for an avalanche of poop emojis in the comments]

DbacksEurope: Yeah, I am gonna pick a very unpopular choice and say Archie Bradley. We have been very unfriendly to him on this site this year and I am pretty sure he will not ever unblock Jim on Twitter. We were all screaming for him to get demoted to Jackson and shave off his beard, but nobody listened to us. Perhaps that was good. I am not saying Bradley is reliable again, because he allows too many baserunners for that, but since July 30 he has converted 13 saves and blown just one. That is getting the job done and we needed that. He is one of the guys who has been able to turn himself around 360 degrees in this second half and he deserves to get the credits for that. He is a fighter, just like the rest of the team.

Makakilo: Let’s look at highest WARs for 25 August to 7 September (corresponding to a D-back win-loss record of 11-1):

Batting:

  • 1.0 Ketel Marte
  • 0.6 Eduardo Escobar
  • 0.3 Wilmer Flores
  • 0.3 Josh Rojas
  • 0.3 Carson Kelly
  • 0.2 Tim Locastro

Pitching:

  • 0.6 Alex Young
  • 0.5 Zac Gallen
  • 0.4 Merrill Kelly
  • 0.3 Kevin Ginkel
  • 0.2 Jimmy Sherfy
  • 0.2 Mike Leake
  • 0.2 Matt Andriese
  • 0.2 Robbie Ray

Keegan had a good argument for Alex Young (who had 0.6 WAR during the winning streak), but I considered him too noticed. Jack had a good argument for Kevin Ginkel. Others whom I considered were Carson Kelly, Tim Locastro, and Jimmy Sherfy.

My pick is catcher Carson Kelly, who contributed to both pitching and batting. During the streak, he excelled in a physically demanding position near the end of the season.

Like Alex Young, Carson Kelly has been noticed, but not enough to be well sung.

  • On 20 August, before the streak started, Jim McLennan wrote, “Carson Kelly is already tied for the most ninth-inning home-runs in a season by any Diamondbacks’ hitter.”
  • On 29 May, Zach Buchanan wrote about Carson Kelly’s hitting breakout with 5 homers in May [1.147 OPS for May].
  • His OPS fell to 0.791 in August. “During the long course of a season, you go through ups and downs. How short can we make those downs is the name of the game.” -- Carson Kelly

Predict the 2020 Opening Day outfield and bench.

Keegan: Really the only player I don’t see returning as a possible non tender candidate is Jake Lamb. I’d go with Wilmer Flores over Lamb with projected 2020 contracts being equal and for the positional flexibility. I think Marte will remain in centerfield, as well as Rojas in one of the corner outfield spots. Peralta and Souza May be splitting time depending on how healthy they both are. Whoever Carson Kelly’s backup is will have a spot too, and I wouldn’t be opposed to Alex Avila returning for that role.

Jack: I said earlier I think they’d like to move Marte back to 2b. I could be wrong on that of course. They don’t have an obvious replacement for CF. But I won’t be surprised if they find one. Barring that, then look for Peralta in Left, Marte in Center, Souza in Right, Rojas and Locastro on the bench.

Dano: I gotta believe that both Dyson and Adam Jones are gone. Peralta back in LF, I hope, Marte spending more quality time in CF (I continue to be so impressed at how he adapted to learning and mastering the position). If Jack believes Souza will be ready to return to baseball in 2020, then okay, but I recapped that spring game where he destroyed his knee, so I will believe in his return, and his capability upon return, when it happens. I could see Rojas starting there in 2020, actually, or at least competing for (and perhaps winning) the starting job. From what I’ve seen so far, I like the kid a lot. Or maybe we go combing the bargain basements of late free agency again and plug someone into either LF or RF that we find there...shopping in that part of the marketplace is, after all, one of Mike Hazen’s favorite pastimes. Maybe (God help us) he’ll find us a 2020 closer while he’s at it.

As for the bench (and I am assuming the question is mainly regarding the OF bench), I’d guess that some cheap rebound-prospect veteran will be in the mix, as well as Locastro--I hope so, because I love that guy--and maybe also Abraham Almonte. It’s a very small sample like this month--five games, 7AB, most of which came when he started this past Monday’s game--but I recapped that one, too, and was very impressed. Besides the hitting, he did a lot of things right in the field. I hope he gets a chance in Spring Training.

Makakilo: My prediction:

  • Marte, CF
  • Peralta, LF full recovery from injury
  • Rojas, RF
  • Locastro, bench
  • Souza Jr., bench due to injuries

DbacksEurope: I have been giving this quite some thought lately and my thinking is heavily influenced by the free agency market for center fielders. Peralta will not be going anywhere this off-season after his injury riddled season so he will be a lock for next year’s left field. Apparently with Rojas as a back-up. In right field we will have Steven Souza Jr. back and he is not going anywhere either, at least not this off-season. Locastro is his back-up. Center field is tougher to predict. Dyson is still fine defensively, but his bat is weak. However, I would be fine with the Diamondbacks extending him but free agents in center field are so scarce this off-season, that I believe Dyson should try the market to see what is out there. It will be tough to sign a reliable center fielder, so I guess we will need to give Marte more time in the outfield next year than this year. So, for opening day: Peralta, Rojas, Marte, Souza, Locastro, Almonte or some other pick up.

The NFL started this week. Do you care?

Keegan: I was discussing it this morning catching up on the jackassery surrounding Antonio Brown. The older I get I just can’t get interested anymore. My obsession with baseball grows while my interest in the NFL wanes. I can’t relate to the fan base or the antics of the league. I know people who stopped watching altogether because of the “controversy” surrounding the national anthem and I find that to be silly. I took part in my fantasy football draft last weekend for a league I’ve been in for 5 years and all I cared about was getting home in time to watch the D’backs. On top of all that, even the players are becoming more educated about the risks they’re taking playing football and the detrimental effects it has on their health. If baseball doesn’t go on strike in the next few years, I think the NBA and MLB will be more popular than the NFL in two decades. That’s my hot take.

Jack: CTE has taken me off football. In the meantime, anecdotally, I know so many parents that won’t let their kids play football now. It seems Soccer has been the biggest beneficiary, but I have to think youth baseball is benefitting too. This may help with the next generation of fans. Baseball aint dead yet.

Dano: Not as such. Partly my growing disinclination to pay attention has been due to what Keegan mentions regarding the national anthem “controversy,” along with the unacknowledged blackballing of Colin Kaepernick, partly as well in line with Jack. Once you begin reading about CTE, what it is and what it does to a person, it quickly becomes kind of sickening to watch American football. At least it did for me. I’ve dabbled in online fantasy football for years, but I haven’t even thought about drafting a team this year.

That said, I did wind up watching the first few episodes of this year’s HBO “Hard Knocks” show, because it focuses on the Raiders. I don’t give a crap about the Raiders, really, and given how focused it wound up being on Antonio Brown drama, I got tired really quickly. But.

There was a kid I taught, though, back when I was in grad school in Mississippi named Jalen Richard. I gather he grew up poor in southern Louisiana, got a football scholarship to USM, he was in a fall semester Freshman Comp class that I taught, and he wrote one of the best research papers I read that year, arguing that NCAA Division I athletes deserved to be professionalized, and to be paid. He often showed up late to class, and sometimes he didn’t show up at all, especially on Mondays--he was a RB, and he was only 5’9” or something, so I think he went through that period of his freshman year in a lot of pain, and I expect the subsequent years as well.

But he did his work, he did it well, he was a great student and a pleasure to get to know. He kept playing football, and he also finished his four-year degree at USM. He went undrafted in the NFL draft, but was tried out and got signed prior to the 2016 season by the Raiders. He’s still with them and still getting playing time.

Apparently the first time he ever attended an NFL game in person was the first time he took the field for Oakland--as a kid, he couldn’t afford to go. So I’m rooting for him, and I was hoping that HBO might give him some screen time. But nope.

Anyway. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Raiders, anyway. But overall? Baseball is far, far more interesting, especially these days.

Makakilo: Not interested in NFL.

DbacksEurope: I am participating in an NFL Fantasy with some people I know from a baseball game I play, so I care a bit more than I used to care, just for the fun of seeing how many points I score from week to week. Therefore, last Friday I thought “let’s watch a resume of Packers vs Bears” and after two minutes I got bored and turned the video off.

The Rugby World Cup is going to start on the 20th of this month, so those of you that want to see a real sport: put that date in your calendar. Some games will start around 10pm your time so please take note. I am sure the Cornish Pasty will broadcast the games and, if you do not mind staying up a bit longer on Sunday, I recommend Wales vs Australia and Ireland vs Scotland as the most interesting games to watch in the first round.