Our Jays start a three game set in Arizona, against the Diamondbacks this afternoon. The Diamondbacks are 69-66, 11.5 games behind the Dodgers, sitting in second place in the NL West, but they are just 6 games back of the second NL Wild Card spot.
I sent off some questions to Jim McLennan from AZ Snake Pit, SB's Diamondbacks blog and he was kind enough to Answer them for me.
Are Diamondbacks fans feeling hopeful about a run for the Wild Card?
Personally speaking, no. The team needs to play significantly better in September than it has for any month this season (we haven't had one better than 15-12), AND also get help from elsewhere, most likely in the shape of a Reds collapse. I can't say I've felt hopeful since a bad week around the end of July, where we lost five games in the standings to the Dodgers, and the team hasn't performed consistently since, at a level to change that by much.
How is our old friend Aaron Hill doing? Speaking of old friends, how is Eric Hinske?
Hill had to miss more than two months this season, after being hit on the hand by a pitch. It wasn't initially diagnosed, but turned out he had a surface fracture and that took longer to heal than was originally expected. When he came back in late June, it took a little while to get back into the swing of things, but he had an excellent August, hitting .372. We can only wonder what might have happened if we'd had him fully healthy for the entire year.
Hinske, however, was a dismal failure as a platoon backup to Paul Goldschmidt; he was somewhat better off the bench, but in the end, wasn't doing anything close to justifying a roster spot, and was released in mid-July. I believe he has retired: to be honest, he could have done that before the season, and saved us $1.35 million.
Who is your favorite Diamondback to watch?
I can't say I have one, since there are different aspects I enjoy. Didi Gregorius is a lot of fun to watch at shortstop, and right now, it looks like we won that three-way trade, since Trevor Bauer continues to struggle as a pitcher. Gerardo Parra has a cannon for an outfield arm - we call it the Parrazooka - and runners challenge it at their own risk. And Paul Goldschmidt has blossomed beyond Keith Law's wildest dreams, becoming "that" player to other team's fans, the one you don't let beat you. On pitching, Patrick Corbin's slider was described by Todd Helton as the best he'd ever seen, and that's from a man who faced Randy Johnson in his prime.
Who has been the biggest disappointment this season?
If I had to pick one, it'd be Ian Kennedy, who went from a Cy Young contender with a 21-4 record just two seasons ago, to win only three times in 21 starts, with a 5.23 ERA this year. It has been a spectacular fall from grace, to see our Opening Day starter dealt by the deadline for a reliever and a relief prospect. However, other credible candidates include Miguel Montero, who hasn't lived up to our hopes, and Jason Kubel, who basically imploded this year, putting up the worst season ever by a Diamondbacks, as measured by Fangraphs WAR.
With Putz hurt and Heath Bell ineffective, who's closer? How much confidence do you have in the back of the bullpen?
Brad Ziegler has taken over as closer, and has been decent enough. He's a ground-ball machine, who can apparently generate double-play balls almost at will. It's a shame he is now only used in "save situations", since there are certainly times that ability would be very welcome before the ninth. The bullpen has been almost bipolar: they've blown more saves than any other NL team, but bizarrely, the team has a better record when they blow a save than when they don't, going 14-9 in those contests! With most of the our relievers, it seems they tend to be lights-out or terrible. There's not much middle ground.
Can you give us a scouting report on manager Kirk Gibson?
In one word? Old-school. [Or is that two words? Whatever...] Big fan of hard-nosed play - the "grit" storyline has been flogged into the ground mercilessly this year, to the extent it has most fans rolling their eyes. He rarely plays the same line-up two days in a row, but seems to prefer definite roles for his bullpen pitchers. Fairly aggressive on the basepaths, though unfortunately, we haven't been that good at executing. Not a huge fan of intentional walks or the sacrifice bunt by non-pitchers.
Anything else we should know about the Diamondbacks?
Don't fall asleep, but find a comfortable position, because the team seems to play better, the later the game goes. We have 12 walkoff wins already this year, and are 15-5 in extra inning games - we've had six games go 14 innings or more. We have now won our last eleven games, going back to 2006, where our pitchers recorded an out into the 15th inning.