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SnakePit Round Table: The End is Nigh

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We enter the final week of the season for Arizona, not quite how it was drawn up...

Budget Day Demonstrators In London photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images

Is the D-backs’ better record of late meaningful?

Jack: “Winning may not be everything, but losing has little to recommend it”

It would be great to see them win out the rest of their games, or at least win more than half of them. But it would be better if the winning took place due to outstanding performance by the players that are supposed to be part of the next good Diamondbacks team.

Steven: I think most fans have tuned out the D-backs in the midst of this awful season but I’m happy for those who have and will stick it out until the last game because they deserve it. Ownership and FO probably enjoy it, knowing their larger contracts are playing better and in turn will be easier to flip in the off-season.

Makakilo: No. More important is player development and evaluation, especially for younger players. More important is clarity in identifying weaknesses so that work can be done to fix them.

Michael: It’s a matter of how the players that will be here next year are playing. You want them ending the season on a good note, especially considering some core players seem to have lost their way in 2020.

Dano: For me and other fans, yes, because games are more fun to watch when we don’t suck, and we’re running out of games. For the future of the team, probably not, per Kilo and Michael.

James: I think it is really only meaningful in that the team is no longer in line for selecting 1:1 for a third time. I would like to see the success coming because of better play by the youth movement. So far, that has not been the case. I do think that the team is starting to play closer to its true talent level though, right around being a .500 team. The wild swings the team has gone through were simply amplified by the shortened season.

Where do you see Daulton Varsho’s future with the team?

Jack: It’s really tough to say at this point. There is no denying that he has not looked good behind the plate for most of his starts there. But then last night he actually caught a pretty good game. It’s very reasonable to hold the opinion that he’s not likely to improve enough there to hold down a semi full time role as a catcher. But I’m willing to let it play out over more time. Most likely he’ll continue in a utility role next year, and get plenty of opportunity to establish himself. But he’s going to need to hit for a higher average and OBP or it won’t matter.

Steven: He’s still 24, seeing his first big league action after seeing sporadic big league arms while with the development roster. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that this season is a strange one and he’ll be ready to go as a utility guy next year.

Makakilo: Instead of catcher, I predict he will start next season at center field. Four reasons:

  • The Diamondbacks have plenty of catchers. In addition to Carson Kelly and Stephen Vogt, at the alternate site is John Hicks whose OPS was between .620 and .766 in 2017 to 2019.
  • His defense at center field (2 DRS and 35.3 UZR/150) is good!
  • His hitting improved in September (.635 in September compared to .490 in August). His OPS is in the same ballpark as Peralta (.752) and Locastro (.713), while better than Jay (.329).
  • Further improvement is likely at Center Field.

Dano: Kilo’s numbers are persuasive, but he hasn’t entirely sucked behind the plate either. I’d guess we see him next year as our primary center fielder, with some spot starts as catcher as well. Which would be an interesting “utility” role.

James: I suspect he eventually ends up in left field or as a super utility player. His arm just isn’t going to get the job done at catcher, right, or third. However, he has the athleticism and instincts to play second, left, and center. He’s going to need to start hitting more to stick though.

Are you in favor of expanding the playoffs permanently to 16 teams?

Jack: My biggest issue long term is they are going about it in a half pregnant manner. They want to maintain the “integrity” of the regular season, but chase the T.V. revenues and excitement that new fans demand with more playoff and more elimination games. If you are going to have 16 teams in the playoffs, you need 32 teams in the league, AND you need to restructure the whole damn thing, season length, balanced schedule, playoff structure, advantages for division winners, etc. so it makes sense.

Steven: Only if they lower the 162 game season. I experience fan fatigue all the time, knowing my team plays again and I need to watch another 3.5 hours of baseball deep in August/September. Shorten the schedule, expand the rosters, and just quit it with the unwritten rules.

Makakilo: Yes. It is an incentive for teams to avoid tanking, which most fans do not enjoy.

Michael: 16 is too many teams in MLB’s current structure, it means more than half the teams in each league make the playoffs every year. They’re never going to drop the number of games from 162, neither the owners nor players are for that. I remember reading something on here that MLB should consider reducing the season to 120 games, eliminating interleague play, and a 7 game series in each round and I’d be for that. However such a change will never happen.

I’m fine with a 12 or 14-team playoff structure though, but I would not guarantee a bid to a second place team like they are this season. I’d rather have the 7 best records in each league make the playoffs, even if it’s a 4th place team in their division. MLB is in danger of turning the regular season into the NBA where it’s almost a given that you can easily guess between 4 teams to make the World Series (last year you would have said the Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, and Astros were the favorites). Fortunately, baseball is more random a game than basketball and one player doesn’t necessarily make a huge impact for their team.

Dano: Absolutely not. When more than 50% of extant teams wind up making it to the playoffs, they cease to be “playoffs” and become more of a participation trophy. And that’s just stupid and lame. I’m inclined to agree with Jack—if you want 16 teams in the postseason, you need to do a league expansion to get the number of extant teams to 32, at least.

James: I am not, especially without further expansion to 32 MLB teams.

How do you feel about Jake Lamb’s success in Oakland?

Jack: I’m happy for him, he’s a good guy. Of course we are overreacting to it. But it’s good theater, interesting narrative if nothing else. I’m glad he’s in the AL West. I hope he stays in the AL. I really don’t want to deal with him coming back and hurting us like so many former D-backs do.

Steven: I’m the same as Jack, I never want players to perform poorly, especially if they’re on my team. I’m happy he’s in a low-leverage/expectations situation in Oakland and can go back to being the Lamb we all know and enjoy.

Makakilo: I’m glad for his success. It is an opportunity for the Diamondbacks to gather clues on why Lamb improved. If it was more than just a change in scenery, then it is important to discover the causes.

Michael: Lamb likely needed new scenery after how the last 2 seasons had gone. I do believe the team did a poor job of preparing for the truncated season in every facet of the game, which is why they’re almost collectively performing under expectations.

Dano: Like everyone else who responded above, I’m happy for him. I’m with Jack, in that I’m perfectly happy to have him remain in the AL West, where we no longer have to see him frequently. I’m also with Michael, in that I think the Diamondbacks did a crappy job preparing for this weird excuse for a season, and Lamb’s dismal performance with us was as much as anything an ancillary consequence of that. Glad he’s gotten a fresh start somewhere else, glad he’s having some success. Sad, also, that we couldn’t have made that improvement happen here, but I suspect that’s a failure on the team’s part as much as it is Lamb’s.

James: It’s a small sample size so far. I do hope he continues to do well there. I wouldn’t mind if he managed to pick up a ring this year, especially if he was a solid part of the playoff stretch.

Looking back at this year, what do you see was the turning point?

Jack: March 12th. Spring Training was canceled, and the Diamondbacks season was halted in its tracks. When they finally restarted, the team stumbled out of the gate and never recovered. The time off impacted Madison Bumgarner more than any other player. As the team’s marquee off season acquisition, one they are committed to for another 4 years, $79 it’s been a devastating series of events. Every team faced similar and in some cases even worse circumstances. This team was not able to respond to those circumstances well at all.

Steven: Yeah once Spring Training was canceled the momentum of the off-season (Bumgarner signing, Marte trade) halted. It didn’t help the MLB and owners low-balled players and led us to only a 60 game season.

Makakilo: The peak: On 18 August, the Diamondbacks were 2 games above 500, riding a 6 game winning streak. Robbie Ray had his first good start of the season two days ago, raising hopes for a great season. Bumgarner had been on the IL for 9 days and he was expected to return quickly.

The turning point. On 19 August two things happened:

A. Hitters lost their mojo for 6 consecutive games, scoring 1 or 2 runs each game. Was it too much pressure? Did opposing pitchers find Kryptonite?

B. Confidence in starting pitching began to fall, and it continued to fall over the next 4 days.

  • On 19 August, Merrill Kelly pitched his first bad game of the season.
  • About 20 August, it became clear that Bumgarner would miss more than 2-3 starts.
  • On 21 August, Robbie Ray pitched poorly, meaning his one good game was not a trend.
  • On 24 August, Merrill Kelly was scratched from his start an hour before game time.

Michael: The Giants series on August 21-23. The team split 4 games against Oakland, who has pretty much led the AL West all season, so I’m not using that series as where it started to go wrong (team record was 13-13 at the time). However, the team then went on to San Francisco and laid an egg there. Pretty much every player not named Zac Gallen stunk in that series and the team never recovered. Since that Giants series started, the team is 7-20 and struggle to pair up good pitching with hitting.

Dano: Yup, March 12. The truncation of Spring Training, I think, was the first domino to fall in this cascading chain of sadness and mediocrity, and just about all the bad we’ve witnessed this “season” has its origins in that initial disruption.

James: The day COVID-19 shut down spring training and the season.

What is your favorite TV show of all time?

Jack: As a child, The Flintstones of course. As an adult, The West Wing. I like fantasy.

Steven: King of the Hill.

Makakilo: The original Star Trek.

Michael: I grew up with Dragon Ball Z and still watch clips of that show on YouTube from time to time. I’m not necessarily a fan of TV these days, especially the news (all the network and cable news channels suck, IMO) although I find myself watching a lot more Food Network competition shows.

Dano: Oooh, that’s a difficult question. The first answer that sprung to mind was “Firefly,” but it only ran 14 episodes, and if I recall correctly only 11 of them ever aired in the US, so I think I’m playing on potential here. It was good; it could have been great. Fox kneecapped it, so it never got the chance to achieve that.

So, I think I’m going to go with “General Hospital.” Daily soaps, especially the ones that have survived into 2020, are underrated. They air a new episode every day, and even they have always been pioneers of serialized storytelling—a recent archvillain fell off a cliff, presumably to her death, but you know she’s going to be back somewhere down the line. No body was recovered, so of course she’s gonna come back around. But daytime soaps, more than any other dramatic form, embrace and celebrate the fictionality of fiction, which is great.

Also, I’ve continued to follow it, even when it sucked, since 1981. So.

James: I have a truly massive media library, so this is a difficult question for me. As a kid, it was The Flintstones and Star Trek. As I got older, it was M*A*S*H and Cheers. Now, the only show I go out of my way to watch immediately, without delay, brooking no delays, is Lucifer. Anything else coming out these days, I sometimes watch right away. Sometimes I wait weeks until the show is nearly done and then catch up. But all-time? Hmmm…

I suppose, if I look at shows which I can just randomly decide to watch an episode and go through and just pick and choose episodes to rewatch a specific scene or story arc, that would come closer to answering the question. There are two of those shows which I am almost always ready to sit and watch random episodes of. The problem becomes not spending hours binging the show once I get started. Those two shows are The West Wing (especially the first four seasons) and the criminally underrated Lie to Me.