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Snake Pit Sim Season Off-day Update: Race for the NL West

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The race for the NL West is on.

In the real world, the Diamondbacks just finished winning a series in Colorado against the Rockies, tightening up the NL West a bit. In the simulated season, today also marked the end of a four-game series against the Colorado Rockies (played in Phoenix). This is a game the Diamondbacks won, giving them a season record of 65-59 after 124 games of play. What is more important is, it placed them only 1.5 games behind the division leading Los Angeles Dodgers, with the Diamondbacks headed to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers for three over the weekend. After early struggles, the Diamondbacks turned themselves around in late-April and have spent the rest of the season in the driver’ seat when it comes to the Wild Card standings. Now though, they are poised to do the truly unexpected, unseat the Dodgers from their perch atop the NL West.

Josh Rojas continues to have a breakout season, having been called upon to stop the bleeding in right field. Should things continue on this path, Rojas will get consideration for NL Rookie of the Year.

Zac Gallen continues to shine in the simulation, much the same way he has been doing in real life. Gallen is quietly the team’s second-best starter on a team stacked with pitching solid pitching. That solid pitching now includes the return of Corbin Martin. Martin was activated from the IL and placed in the bullpen. Braxton Garrett has entered the rotation as a second lefty to Robbie Ray. Garrett’s performance so far this season has been that of a left-handed Gallen.

The bullpen is amazing. Archie Bradley and Will Smith continue to act as the killer duo at the back end of Arizona’s bullpen. The righty-lefty duo has created match-up problems for virtual managers across the simulated league. With both pitchers working as dominant closers, there is no way for the opposition to plan for the endgame. Furthermore, this pair has managed to keep the workload balanced, meaning that no games are being played where one pitcher or the other is “unavailable” To beat the Diamondbacks means the opposition has the lead before the seventh inning. That’s right, the seventh inning is where teams need to be winning. Kevin Ginkel and Yoan López are the seventh and eight inning arms. Sometimes they share duties with the Diamondbacks’ all-time lefty reliever, Andrew Chafin. The five-some of Ginkel, López, Chafin, Smith, and Bradley have allowed a grand total of five runs since the All-Star Game.

That brings us back to Robbie Ray. Opening the season, Robbie Ray looked very much like the real-world 2018-19 Robbie Ray. Now, with 28 games left in the season, Robbie Ray is legitimately in the Cy Young conversation, though Max Scherzer appears to be running away with the award. Ray is currently averaging 5.8 innings per outing. He leads all of baseball with 12.1 K/9. He is sporting a 135 ERA+. When Ray is on the mound, pitching into the sixth inning before handing the ball off to the lock-down bullpen for the final three innings, other teams just don’t stand much of a chance.

Offensively, the Diamondbacks are much improved over where they were in April, May, and even part of June. Third base, which had been a revolving door of suck, has stabilized in a very mediocre to average manner. Yairo Munoz is hardly setting the world on fire. He is, however, hitting well enough to be league average (OPS+ 102) while providing solid defense at the hot corner. Third base is still a position that will need to be addressed in the off season, but for now, seems to have stopped costing this team games. After a somewhat rocky big league debut, Brandon Marsh has settled in nicely as Arizona’s lead-off hitter and plus defense center fielder. He isn’t hitting for as much power as was hoped for, but he has been no slouch. His OBP of .363 to go with his OPS+ 106 works just fine, especially given how well he is performing in the field. Ketel Marte’s 2020 season is turning out to be even better than his 2019 season. Marte, David Peralta, Carson Kelly, and the aforementioned Rojas have established themselves as the core of this team’s offense. Slotting Christian Walker into the four-slot with these others hitting 2-6, the Diamondbacks have length in their lineup. It isn’t until reaching Munoz at seventh in the lineup that the Diamondbacks have an OBP below .330.

Unsurprisingly, the “weak link” offensively is Nick Ahmed, who bats in the eight-hole in the lineup. The term can only be used in quotes though, as he has continued to improve with the bat, making small strides all season long. He currently has a .332 OBP and an OPS+ of 99. Furthermore, his early season defensive “woes” have disappeared entirely. He is in a three-way race with Javier Baez and Trevor Story for best defensive shortstop in the NL. Ahmed’s continued improvement with the bat has him on pace for over 4 WAR on the season. Among position players, only Carson Kelly has more WAR. On the team as a whole, only Ray and Kelly have more.

The real world Diamondbacks are not off again until the 31st. We’ll check back in again at the end of the month to see just how things went in Los Angeles and how this new look Diamondbacks team is doing in their quest for virtual October glory.