The Jays start a two-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight.
The Diamondbacks are 4th in the AL West with a 33-39 record. Better things were expected of the Diamondbacks this year.They got off to a slow start, but have been playing better lately (sound familiar?).
They are 10th in the NL in runs scored per game, at 4.56. We are 7th in the AL at 4.69.
On the defensive side, they are 9th in the NL allowing 4.68 runs per game. We are 3rd in the AL at 4.18.
We have a bit a change from the norm, this time around. I sent questions to folks at Az Snake Pit, SB Nation's Diamondbacks blog, and I got answers back from two of their writers. Nate Rowen and, blog manager, Jim McLennan. Since I hate wasting good work, we'll use both.
I guess the obvious question is....The Diamondbacks looked like they were building up to make a run at the top of the division this year, but it hasn't happened, what's gone wrong?
Nate: The biggest problem holding the team back has been the starting pitching. In April, the rotation had an ERA of 5.62, and in May it was 4.92. June has been much better, at 3.10, but a big part in the improvement has been Zack Greinke returning to an ace level. On the offense side, the stars fell flat on their faces to start the year. A.J. Pollock broke his elbow in Spring Training, and Goldy was barely staying above the Mendoza line.
Jim: A combination of suck. We lost All-Star CF A.J. Pollock for the season just before Opening Day, and Paul Goldschmidt had a very slow start. But it has mostly been the starting pitching: Zack Greinke also began sluggishly, Shelby Miller has been horrible, while Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin have both regressed from last year. The resulting short outings cascaded down into an over-taxed bullpen, and suddenly, we were 10 games back.
I don't know much about your manager Chip Hale. What do Diamondback fans think of him? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Nate: Well, with the way the season has gone, the majority of fans are not too pleased with him. The biggest complaint is some very questionable bullpen usage. If you look at any gameday threads over on the SnakePit, you'll be sure to see some complaints about that. Overall, I'm a fan of his, though I can't put my finger on why.
Jim: We were more impressed last year, when he took over a team with the worst record in the majors, and helped improve it to close to .500. This year, we have a few more qualms - an apparent reluctance to let Jake Lamb, one of the most valuable young players we have, even see left-handed pitching. He also seems to have an unfortunate knack for leaving starting pitchers in too long, or pulling them too soon, depending on who you ask. But personally, I think he's been not too bad: most of the real problems this year have been largely outside his control. Now, don't ask me about our pitching coach...
Can you give us a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we are likely to see?
Nate: Patrick Corbin was an all-star back in 2013, had TJ surgery in 2014, was out for most of 2015, and has struggled to find any consistency this season. His signature pitch is a big, sweeping slider that gets a whole lot of whiffs. His last 3 starts have been solid, so I'd expect a 6 inning, 2 or 3 run game from Corbin. As for Robbie Ray... meh. He has never been able to go deep into games, frequently failing to get out of the 6th. He has some good stuff, but he struggles to get put guys away quickly. Expect around 5 innings from Ray.
Jim: You get Corbin and Ray, mentioned above. Last year, they were likely our two best pitchers, but neither have put up as good numbers this season. Corbin is a left-hander with a particularly good slider. Last time out, he was hurt by a three-run homer after getting into trouble in the sixth - which was ironic, as he'd gone public with comments wishing Hale trusted his starting pitchers more. Ray edged Archie Bradley for the fifth spot in spring, but has been hurt by the long-ball, surpassing last year's total in half as many starts. His main problem is efficiency: his pitches per PA are close to the highest in the majors, so we've seen too many cases where he's throwing pitch #100 in the fifth inning.
Paul Goldschmidt looks to be having yet another great season. How should the Jays go about pitching to him?
Nate: This is a tough one to answer. I'd suggest just walking him. For the past month, he's been absolutely crushing the ball. Nobody has found an effective way to get past him.
Jim: Don't? Or possibly get a time-machine and go back a couple of months, for Goldie was only hitting .220 on May 8. There was genuine concern at that point, and speculation he was carrying an injury, but since then, he has roared back to All-Star form. There really isn't any good way to pitch him, unless you consider "Don't make any mistakes" as meaningful advice. For those pitches tend to become souvenirs.
You have one of our old friends, Kyle Drabek, in you minor league system. What do the Diamondbacks think of him, have they figured out how to get him to throw strikes? Any chance you'll see him in the majors this year?
Jim: He got a cup of coffee - literally, one appearance, on April 7 - with Arizona, when our bullpen was being churned almost daily, but is now back in Triple-A as part of the Aces' rotation. That's a notoriously unforgiving place to pitch, but his 6.93 ERA isn't doing him any favors either. With a K:BB ratio of 35:30, it doesn't look like the strike-throwing problem you mentioned has been fixed. If he gets the call, it's probably not a good thing as far as the D-backs are concerned!
Who is your favorite Diamondback to watch?
Nate: You won't see him this series due to injury, but David Peralta is a fun one. He has been given the nickname "Freight Train" due to how he runs the bases, and that name sums up his playing style. He also started the tradition of "driving the bus", which you'll see after extra base hits. It's also fun to watch Brad Ziegler, the closer, pitch. He tops out at 85 MPH, and it's fun to see him easily work through hitters with all his off-speed stuff.
Jim: Outside of Goldschmidt, obviously! Nick Ahmed is a defensive wizard at short. But I like watching the back end of our bullpen, Daniel Hudson and Brad Ziegler. Hudson missed more than two years, after consecutive Tommy John procedures, but reinvented himself as a reliever, and nobody bleeds Sedona Red more than Huddy. Ziegler, meanwhile, has an ongoing streak of 43 consecutive saves. He is far from your prototypical closer, but has a sinker that's almost impossible to square up, and he generates double-plays almost at will. Those two are largely why the D-backs are 29-0 when leading after seven innings.
I see Shelby Miller is on the DL, and before that was pretty crappy, what's happening with him, will he be back soon?
Nate: What hasn't gone wrong is the real question. The biggest problem has been walks. He has walked 5.72 batters per 9, completely unacceptable. It seems that some lingering injuries were part of the reason for that. He made his return on Monday, going 6.2 innings and allowing just 1 run, so some rehab time may be just what he needed.
Jim: Miller's mechanics were out of whack from day 1, with as many walks as strikeouts. The official reason for the DL stint was he hurt a finger, literally banging his knuckles on the ground in his follow-through, but it was really as much mental as physical, I think. The minor-league rehab assignments were fine, and he actually came back up on Monday and beat the Phillies. But obvious caveat: it was the Phillies, so was a light challenge at best. His next start is against the Rockies. In Coors Field. Ask me if he's fixed after that one!
Thanks Nate and Jim.
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