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SnakePit Round Table: Eve of the War

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In which we look back at summer camp, and forward to the season starting on Friday.

“The War Of The Worlds” Launch Photo by Patrick Riviere/Getty Images

So, how’s it going?

Jack: Somewhat belatedly, I have just now entered the bread baking phase of my Pandemic response. Everyone in our household and immediate family are healthy.

James: I’m getting better at taking things day-to-day. Other entities taking their sweet time to decide my future is something I am currently coming to terms with in ways that do not require moderation.

Isaiah: I’m doing great, thanks for asking. Working out and writing has been fine. I’ve used this unprecedented time we’re in to better myself and I’m excited to keep improving.

ISH95: My MIL got a moderate case of COVID about two weeks ago, and is recovering slowly. Unfortunately, she seems to have gotten her elderly mother sick (they live together) so it’s pretty nerve wracking

Makakilo: I masked often, ate delicious vegetables, and exercised in five Zumba classes this week. I felt especially great watching the Diamondback intrasquad games and helping give away cucumbers from a farm.

Dano: I’ve been running silent and running deep for about 135 days now, but I’m still alive, still not infected (knock on wood), and fairly confident that I have the mental fortitude and coping mechanisms to survive another 135 days of extreme isolation, should that be necessary. When I go out, I mask. I rarely go out. I’m actively trying to not be stupid, because given my age and medical history and certain lifestyle choices, if I get covid, I will die. And oddly, in a lot of ways, I’m happy and content in my life. I’ve gotten back in touch with a lot of people who I’d lost track of in recent years, I have a new (sorta) and genuine love interest in my life now, and baseball appears to be coming back so I’ll get to write about it again soon. So, all things considered, it’s going okay for me.

Turambar: Doing pretty solid. Been adjusting to the new job, and learning a complete new industry on the fly has been wild. Doing good at it so far and thrilled I don’t have to where suits anymore.

What did you think about the pre-season?

Jack: Compared to most of the rest of the league D-backs seemed to have been a little more affected by positive tests, test delays, and the “protocols”. At the same time they seem to have averted disaster up till this point. It’s been fun to watch a couple of the intrasquad games. I have not attended any of the workouts or games as yet. We’ll see how it goes but I don’t envision heading up to the press box before Mid August.

James: Somehow, it just does not feel real. Maybe it is because they are playing intrasquad entire season. I appreciate that the players are getting their work in. Some of it has been fun to watch. However, I just feel very disconnected from the entire product right now.

Isaiah: I think the intrasquad games were very interesting. Whether it’s been Robbie Ray looking like a Cy Young candidate, or several young prospects making some eye-opening plays. It’s been a bit weird without any fans in the stands, but the product on the field was great.

ISH95: I’ve struggled to muster up more than a passing interest, definitely less than I have for a normal Spring Training. However, my excitement for Opening Day isn’t far off from what it normally is, which is an odd feeling, since that makes it seem as though we entirely skipped Spring Training.

Makakilo: At this point, my baseball writing is at a high pace. Because of that pace, and because of the intrasquad games, and because I submitted my prediction for season wins, I feel the pre-season is ending. I’m excited that the season will soon start.

Dano: I actually got to the beginning for July before I realized that baseball had a chance of actually happening this year, so that was weird. I watched the intrasquad stream that Ray started on Wednesday night, and he looked great. At the same time, I found it disturbing and scary seeing so many people (just the players, I know) standing and sitting so close to each other without masks. It made me question whether MLB and the teams will actually manage to get through this 60-game thing. There are, in addition, some moral issues for me about the amount of fast-track testing that MLB players are getting, when in so many parts of the country testing lags have resulted in the whole “contact tracing” aspect of pandemic mitigation becoming impossible. But it also made me really happy, because I’ve missed baseball. Weird and complicated times.

Turambar: Like some of my peers above I’ve had trouble really focusing on or caring about this ….warmup? It was good to see some real baseball on tv though and I’m super pumped to finally be doing some recaps soon. Many beers will soon flow!

Pick one D-back to exceed expectations this year.

Jack: James Sherfy. Probably more wishcasting than anything, I’ll cop to that. Although reports are he’s looked good in camp. EDIT: Well he was sent over to Salt River, So he won’t be on the initial roster. Expectations are a tricky thing anyway, kind of like overrated, How about Merrill Kelly then ? He’s looked pretty good. He’s capable of going deep in games and getting on a hot streak. With only 10-12 starts, a hot 6-8 start stretch could position him for the over achiever award.

James: I have one pitcher and one player. On the player side of things, all reports are that Ildemaro Vargas has figured out how to tap into more in-game power at the plate. If he can replicate in the season what he has been doing in camp, that would be an amazing boost for the Diamondbacks. Jack stole my other one already. Given the way rosters will be constructed early in the season, this is James Sherfy’s chance to shine and to prove whether or not he actually belongs.

Isaiah: James gave a great answer with Ildemaro Vargas, he’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen in person covering the Reno Aces. With that being said, I’m going with Jon Duplantier. I have faith he cracks the 30-man Opening Day roster and proves himself as an established pitcher at the next level. Injuries have slowed his progress, but if he stays healthy, his arsenal on the mound will take over. Another sneaky answer is Kevin Cron, who could take advantage of the universal designated hitter.

ISH95: I’m going to go with Lamb. Like Jack, might be more wishful thinking than anything, but I feel like with the DH, this will be his chance to provide real value to the team.

Makakilo: Saturday, Trayce Thompson was sent to minor league camp, which lowered fans’ expectations for him. But with Jon Jay and Tim Locastro as backup outfielders, it’s unlikely that Trayce Thompson will get a chance to exceed expectations.

Instead of Thompson, I pick Zac Gallen. His over/under was 2.5 wins in this AZ SnakePit article. That low expectation will be easily exceeded if he pitches like 2019. His 156 ERA+ was higher than any Diamondback starting pitcher.

Dano: Oddly, because I know last year that I was repeatedly vocal about my increasing contempt and dislike of Jake Lamb’s presence on our roster, but from what I was reading during spring training, and from what I’ve been reading and occasionally seeing during Summer Camp, I have a sense that he’s maybe figured enough out that he’ll stop sucking. So I’m with ISH on this one: Jake Lamb.

Turambar: Cron. He’s got a chance to mash as DH and he’s gonna mash.

Can Ketel Marte repeat his 2019 breakout?

Jack: Can he? Certainly. He could even exceed it perhaps. Projections say he won’t, but they are usually behind the curve with ascendent players. Takes a couple years in a row of sustained high level performance before those systems will spit out a high projection. Still, his 1.5 WAR 2020 projection at Fangraphs is 12th best in the NL.

James: As long as he does not get off to a slow start, yes. The season is simply going to be too short for him to have any chance of replicating 2019 if he has a rough week or two at the start of the actual season. Given how things are developing, I would be happy if he can just finish the 60-game season without spending any amount of time on either of the ILs and he still shows numbers comparable to 2019, whether they are slightly better or worse. So long as he shows that he is still essentially the same player, I’ll take it.

Isaiah: Having a 60-game sample size will make it a bit tougher to get in a rhythm, but I believe he’ll produce at a high level this year. Obviously, I’m not expecting a 30-homer season with a .329 batting average like last season. If he can hover around .280 with 15 homers this year, I think that will be a success.

ISH95: I think he will, and I’ll go so far as to say that we will spend the off season wishfully projecting what his numbers would have looked like over a full season.

Makakilo: Yes. The acquisition of Starling Marte to play center field will allow Ketel Marte to play second base where he shines brightly. That acquisition will have a great positive impact on Ketel Marte’s performance.

Dano: Absolutely. I honestly don’t recall how he was doing in spring training, lo these many days ago, but from the headlines I’ve seen since summer camp has started, he’s been launching dingers like nobody’s business. And from what I observed on the intrasquad stream I watched the other day, he very much seems to be the genuine article. It’ll be a short season, and slow starts are possible, but I’m pretty much certain that he’s gonna do the business.

Turambar: Hell yea he will! I expect he’ll have another amazing year, and would not be surprised in the least if he finds a way to get the MVP…..assuming they’ll have one this crazy year.

What will be a key to Arizona success?

Jack: Of course avoiding injury and/or illness to key players will be the number one key, not only for the D-backs but every team really. Beyond that I think the bullpen is the key. They simply can’t afford blown saves and blown leads late in games, especially early in the season. There is no time to make up for it, and blowing early games that should have been won could deflate the team. But a “hot” bullpen over these 60 games will make all the difference in a season where margins for success or failure are so thin.

James: The key for every team in this season is going to be the IL. The 60-game season just does not allow for any sort of significant time missed by a team’s regular starters. The Braves are getting Freddie Freeman back just in time for the season to start. It will be interesting to see how he holds up, given he experienced respiratory symptoms while he was positive. The Diamondbacks need to avoid any serious IL stints and then lean heavily on their starting pitching depth if they are going to compete deep into the season.

Isaiah: I think it all comes down to starting pitching this year. The D-backs invested heavily in Madison Bumgarner this off-season to add to the rotation. From there, can Zac Gallen continue to improve after his breakout year? Can Luke Weaver and Robbie Ray stay healthy? If all of it comes together, Arizona may be in for something big based upon how much talent this team has.

ISH95: The team that stays the healthiest will win the World Series. Health, both COVID and regular issues, will be the biggest enemy of all teams this season. In one of his articles for the Athletic, Jayson Stark did the math and a five game losing streak is going to be equivalent to nineteen game losing streak under normal circumstances. Lucky is going to play a huge factor in that, but if you can stave it off by keeping the key players on the field, that’s going to do wonders for the teams chances.

Makakilo: Isaiah is on-target. Starting pitching is the biggest key to success this season. To add to Isaiah’s reasons, my thoughts were the very short summer camp, new pitcher-batter matchups, and possible impact of pitchers placed on the COVID injured list.

Dano: I’m with Isaiah and ISH on this. Dodging COVID will be key for the entire roster, but especially in a short season, the health and short-term performance of our starters will be essential. I like our rotation, even with Mike Leake opting out (hat tip to him, honestly, for doing so, in fact…and I might actually like our rotation better now that he’s not there), but it’s gonna be a crap shoot—slow starts, short season, etc. But, like Isaiah notes, if it comes together we may be in for something big.

Turambar: With how key every single game is gonna be this year I’d say pitching, and along with that, defense will be HUGE this year. Each error and each bad outing will have far more weight to it than any normal season, so both the pitcher and the mitts behind him need to be on point each and every game. Like others mentioned above a losing streak that world seem small last year is catastrophic in 2020.

What is your biggest non-COVID 19 concern?

Jack: The flip side of my key for success is also my biggest concern.

Can Archie repeat his strong finish from last year ? Consistency has not exactly been his thing. Kevin Ginkel does not yet have the track record in the majors for us to feel fully confident he will repeat last year’s success. Yoan Lopez had some of the worst batted ball metrics in the league last year, and his expected wOBA against was the worst on the team. As a result his projection is quite poor. Junior Guerra and Hector Rondon are the veterans that were brought in that DO have track records, but those track records are spotty and also result in very mediocre projections.

Andrew Chafin projects once again as the team’s best reliever by ERA, by FIP and by fWAR. While he is definitely a better reliever than a lot of fans wish to give credit for, if he’s indeed our best reliever, then the bullpen is shaky at best.

There is opportunity amongst all this uncertainty for a couple of the young arms the team has on the 40 man roster and even the non 40 man player pool guys to step up. They’re not included in the projections table below. But perhaps Jeremy Beasley, J.B. Bukauskas, or even Levi Kelly gets a taste and has one of those unexpected rookie reliever runs. Baseball, and especially bullpens can be highly unpredictable that way.

James: I would say that my biggest concern is that the team has too many players play down to their floors, rather than up to their ceilings. If the Diamondbacks get the poor versions of Jake Lamb, Nick Ahmed, Starling Marte, Ildemaro Vargas, Yoan Lopez, Robbie Ray, Jon Duplantier, Merrill Kelly, and Archie Bradley, this could easily be a 45-loss team. So few of the Diamondbacks have track records both long enough and strong enough for me to have absolute faith in them. Even MadBum still worries me just a wee bit, as this is a new home for him, in uncharted waters as far as season circumstances go. He’s also a year older, something that is rarely a positive among pitchers.

Isaiah: I’m a bit worried about just how much offense Arizona has in the tank this year? Can the D-backs survive without huge seasons from Marte or Eduardo Escobar? They need other players to step up with consistent production over the year. 60 games will go by in a flash, it’ll take more than a group effort to clinch a postseason spot.

ISH95: My biggest concern is kind of a follow up to the last answer. These guys are all competitors, and they know the importance of every game better than we do. I’m afraid that we are going to see players playing through things that they normally wouldn’t have, just to avoid missing time. The consequences of Ketel Marte playing through a back injury or Luke Weaver ignoring pain in his throwing arm, just to pick up a couple more wins in this screwball season could have devastating consequences for the long term future of this team.

Makakilo: At the start of the season, will teams that do poorly trade away their best players, reducing the teams in contention? Just as bad would be the Dodgers acquiring those best players.

Dano: I was mulling over my response to this until I read Makakilo’s response, and while everyone is articulating utterly legitimate concerns that I share, yeah, I think that’s mine as well. The Diamondbacks have been doing, in my opinion, so well building up the farm system and also developing the Major League club over the past couple of years (basically, since Hazen/Lovullo). I think we’re in good shape, strategically and over a fairly long time horizon, in terms of talent development and ongoing franchise viability, and we haven’t needed to go into full rebuilding mode, for which I am grateful.

But yeah, if we get off to a slow and disappointing start, is a fire sale gonna happen? I frankly don’t care enormously about who actually gets the rings in October, because this season’s always gonna be an asterisk. But I do worry, a bit, that if we’re sucking (or, perhaps moreso, if we’re kinda contending) at the truncated trade deadline, we’ll make some ill-advised moves in response to whatever situation we find ourselves in, and the future prospects of the franchise will suffer.

That said, I think Hazen/Lovullo are far smarter and more committed to the long term than a lot of the Diamondbacks’ previous regimes, so I’m not exactly losing sleep. But it is on my mind.

Turambar: Besides the ever present fear of (non Covid) injuries I’d say my biggest fear is some combination of Weaver or Gallen taking a step back. Those two represent the future of our starting pitching while the farm continues to develope. Either one of them regressiving (see Godley) represents a problem both now and especially going forward.

Predict the World Series participants and winner

Jack: Mets over Rays in 6. I like the Mets bullpen actually, but this is just a dart looking to pick an upset. Nationals and Braves look to be struggling with their personnel. (I rescind this if Jacob deGrom turns out to have an actual back injury, but it looks ok on MRI)

I figure the Rays get in as they’ll be least affected among AL teams trying to adapt to all the echoes. They actually have a pretty good team projection for 33 wins, same as the Mets. So these may not be all that novel picks.

James: Rays over the Dodgers in the World Series. This is precisely the sort of season the Rays are built for. On the NL side of things, even with David Price opting out of the season, the Dodgers just have disgusting amounts of talent depth. I see them as the most capable of weathering the potential IL storms on the horizon while also having the most accumulated overall talent of any team on the senior circuit.

Isaiah: I’m going straight chalk with Yankees and Dodgers in the World Series. Both teams look loaded from top-to-bottom on paper and I believe it’ll translate to the 2020 season. I think New York’s pitching staff and offensive firepower outlasts Los Angeles, giving the Yankees their first championship since 2009.

ISH95: You know what? I’ll go for it. 98 Expansion Series, Dbacks and Rays. The Dodgers are built to bludgeon the league into submission over a 162 game season. That won’t work in a 60 game season. Plus, there is precedent for the Dbacks winning it in seasons affected by national tragedy.

Go Dbacks!

Makakilo: Well said ISH! I will not attempt to improve on your answer… Dbacks over Rays in 7 games.

Turambar: Dbacks over Angels in 5.

Dano: I have no idea. As Jack notes above, answering a question like this is basically throwing darts, and I suck at darts, especially when considering how deeply weird a “season” is this is shaping up to be. But/so I’m gonna get on board with ISH and Makakilo, not just because it would be pretty to think so but because I genuinely believe it’s plausible: Dbacks over Rays in 7 games.

Much love to you all. Be safe and stay healthy. Cheers.