What are the keys to the D-backs sustaining the first-half success?
Spencer: Don’t try too hard and ignore the hype and fans. They’ve been hyped, the casual nature of sports fandom has turned on them quickly and often all season. Both of these things need to be non-issues for every member of the team. But mostly they need to relax and get back to playing for fun like they did early on. Those first few series against LA and SD were exciting and the peak of what this team can do in 2023, I think largely because expectations were non-existent. Do that and no matter what happens this season, they’ll be far more prepared for 2024 and beyond (assuming the goal is still sustained contention and not Gallen’s controllable years - it should be but you never really know when the GM is looking at a potential walk year).
James: Arizona over-achieved in the first half. They are probably better than a .500 team, but they are still not a division-winning team. That said, they should just keep doing what they have been doing. Get on base, use speed to create havoc, ride Gallen, Kelly, and the ‘A’ bullpen to as much success as possible. Enjoy the one season of Gurriel, Moreno, and Carroll all in the same lineup. Continue to develop the in-house talent they already have. It may not carry them to the Promised Land, but continuing winning habits and continuing to play the way they did when they were getting the wins is important. Play ball with a winning attitude and with attention to detail, and the small things are more likely to go their way.
Makakilo: Summary: Offense is the key, with a required support factor of average pitching. Details follow:
Pitching needs to continue to be at least average, thereby allowing the offense to win games. The offense needs to maintain at least 5 players with OBP of at least .340, and at least 5 players with RBIs per PA of at least 0.14. Those players were named in this article.
Special acknowledgement to Corbin Carroll and Geraldo Perdomo because their season OBPs of .363 and .382 exceed their ZiPS preseason projections.
After the All-Star break, in the first two games against the Blue Jays, the Diamondbacks were 2 for 10 with RISP. While 5 players frequently got on base (Kelly, Longoria, Gurriel Jr., McCarthy, and Rivera), only 2 players hit RBIs (Jake McCarthy and Gabriel Moreno). My conclusion is that recently the Diamondback RBI hitters are slumping.
Addendum. In the third game of the Blue Jays series, Ketel Marte hit a 3-run RBI.
DBacksEurope: I totally agree with Makakilo that the offence has been key for this Diamondbacks team. Pitching is each week on the edge of collapsing and that won’t change.
Dano: I’m with James here….we overperformed in the first half, and I think we’re seeing the team come back down to earth. Agree with Mak and DBE as well, in that our pitching isn’t reliable enough for us to win when we’re only scoring two or three runs a game. Our offense as a whole is slumping, and that needs to end if we want to see a resumption of something like the success we enjoyed in the first half.
Do you now expect them to make the postseason?
Spencer: About a month ago I did. Now I’m less certain. Gallen can’t replicate his home numbers as a visitor. The rigorous seasonal grind is catching up with young bodies. I will be disappointed if they miss the playoffs (spoiler alert: I’m disappointed every season they don’t make the playoffs, even the obvious duds like 2021). But in no way shape or form will I feel like this season is a disappointment if that happens. They have outperformed even my optimistic preseason prognostications. To label what’s happened in 2023 anything less than a huge success is disingenuous in my opinion.
James: Ask me again in two more weeks - lol. I put it at about 50/50 they make the playoffs. The expanded playoff field does create a much easier path for the team to get some October baseball in. Even if Arizona makes the playoffs though, I do not expect any sort of deep run, not yet, not with this current roster.
Makakilo: Yes, absolutely. And I suspect that the Diamondbacks will make a trade to improve the team.
DBacksEurope: Yeah. They should still have enough quality in the team to make the off-season.
Dano: Like Spencer, I was pretty sure we would. After the two weeks or so leading up to the All Star Break, then this deeply unsatisfying series against Toronto, I dunno. Depends on if it’s a slump or more the reality of the team’s sustainable capability against good teams. I’m still guardedly hopeful, but at this point I wouldn’t be shocked if we don’t get there.
Pick one player who’ll play a crucial role in the remainder of the season.
Spencer: Zeus help me…. Evan Longoria. The next two months are why we signed him. He’s mostly made a fool of my initial criticism on the field. But his leadership and hopefully level-headed approach to a playoff push (and maybe more!) could be the difference at any point. He’s been the Rookie of the Year during a surprise playoff push who got down ballot MVP consideration. He’s also been the prime middle of the order bat in tense situations. Here is where his Veteran Presence can make the biggest impact. His inspiration could lead to a surprise second half hero (a la Perdomo in the first half), like a Carson Kelly or one of the Dominics.
James: There are so many. This team’s success is riding on the shoulders of a select handful of players on the roster who are doing the heavy lifting while the rest try their damndest to avoid being dead weight. Picking just one, I’m going to go with Merrill Kelly. The team needs reliable starting pitching. It needs starting pitching that is both capable and eats up innings. It needs a starter that can rest the bullpen at least a bit and that can also take some of the pressure of Gallen. The better the rotation, the easier things get for the bullpen and the more the ‘A’ bullpen can be rested to be deployed at the most necessary times. The more confident the team can be in the bullpen, the less pressure there is on the rotation to win the game single-handedly. It’s a knock-on effect with a vicious self-perpetuating cycle. Merrill Kelly’s return will hopefully stabilize things somewhat.
Makakilo: Instead of one player, I pick one position that will have a crucial role – catcher. Gabriel Moreno and Carson Kelly are sharing that position. They will surprise to the upside in hitting RBIs and getting on base. They will control the running game of opposing teams. They will effectively block pitches. And their game calling will enhance the Diamondbacks’ pitching.
DBacksEurope: Ketel Marte. He has been one of the reasons why this team has been good and he stepped up after a couple of so-so seasons. I have a feeling that as long as Ketel keeps on popping, the Diamondbacks will keep on whopping.
Dano: Interestingly, nobody but James is focusing on pitchers, and I think that’s essential to our success down the stretch. I’m tempted to go with Merrill Kelly once he returns to the rotation, but I suspect he will round back into form sooner or later. So I think for me it’s Ryne Nelson….does he continue to show development and increase the consistency of his quality starts, or does he continue to show us the kind of Jekyll/Hyde thing we continue to see out of him at this point? The young pitchers continuing to develop and take steps forward is what I consider crucial for the remainder of 2023.
Want to revise your win prediction?
Spencer: I was at 85. I still feel good about that. If anything I’d be more surprised to see under 85 than over at this point.
James: Given how strong the team started and the fact that Kelly should be returning soon, I’ll adjust my prediction up from 79 to 84-85. Let’s go ahead and call it 85 wins now, assuming the team doesn’t have any further major injuries. The loss of Jameson and the IL stint of Merrill Kelly is not helping this team..
Makakilo: My prediction was 86.6 wins. No revision needed.
DBacksEurope: I had them at 78 and obviously the hitters have come up bigger than expected although I feel that my opinion on the pitching part still applies. The Diamondbacks will end over .500.
Dano: I think I had us at 84-78 or thereabouts. For now, I’ll stick with that, I think, as I wait to see whether the last few weeks are a slump or a regression to the new norm at this stage in our young team’s development.
How was the All-Star break for you?
Spencer: Um. It was kind of nice to not have baseball to worry about because life happened all at once. It’s the nature of my career though. The City of Columbus had 10+ water main breaks in about 5 days, two of which were in my neighborhood. And at work I helped close a serial Burglary case (8+ incidents between 5 jurisdictions) after I assisted in this massive case. There was a lot of stress involved and I appreciated not having a hobby draw my attention away from my citizens, coworkers, and friends’ needs. Although just before the break it was also nice to have baseball as an escape when time allowed too. It’s all in the balance.
James: I got a great deal of reading done.
Makakilo: I was thrilled when a pickleball player actually talked about watching the All-Star game.
DBacksEurope: Good. I am still with my parents in The Netherlands with my kids, reason why I have been absent on the AZSnakePit this past week although I have missed writing about baseball.
Dano: By the end of it Ramona and I were missing the baseball.
What “cheap” food would you still eat no matter how rich you got?
Spencer: Spencer’s Special Spaghetti. It’s just spaghetti noodles with butter, garlic, and Parmesan, but I was allergic to tomato sauce as a kid, so I was the only one who had the different plate. It’s super cheap to make and I adore it. McDonald’s if we’re going for a prepared meal. It’s my nostalgia fast food.
James: Not that the ones I eat are particularly cheap these days (no more $.25 wing nights), but chicken wings, mostly spicy garlic. Runner-up is probably Cornish pasties.
Makakilo: Ironically, the cheapest foods are the best quality. I’m talking about fruit, herbs, and vegetables grown in a home garden. They are fresher, tastier, and have not been sprayed with unknown chemicals. And watering and weeding the garden is a health benefit. No matter how rich, I will grow and eat garden food.
As another point, nothing is cheaper than no cost and no effort. My gym has a monthly lunch for seniors that is great for socializing and is at no cost to attendees.
DBacksEurope: basic food is good no matter what, so I will never give up boiled potatoes and other vegetables, sandwich filling like cooked ham, cooked sausages, etc. but if you look at prepared food things are definitely different. Can’t really think of any prepared food I would miss.
Dano: Cheapest way I found to eat at the various points in my life when I have been poor was to cook for myself and to shop carefully, and to make things in bulk that I could freeze and reheat. So lots of stews and things like that, using proteins like 80/20 ground beef or sausage or frozen fish filets or chicken breasts and things that one could buy in bulk. Fresh, unsexy vegetables like potatoes and onions. I’ve got a number of those sorts of recipes that I’ve devised over the years and that I still make from time to time. I’m never going to be rich, so I won’t be confronted with this dilemma in real life, but I will still cook for myself and will still make the various inexpensive dishes that I’ve been making for decades now. Also, I have at times made Spencer’s Special Spaghetti, and it’s really yummy. I might have to do that again sometime soon.