The Dodgers got hot at the right time, as the Diamondbacks began to slide and play sub-.500 ball. Heading into this series, Los Angeles hopes to avoid five straight losses. Meanwhile, Arizona needs to win badly to make a late rally for the second wild card spot. Can Kirk Gibson pull off more heroics? We ask AZ Snake Pit's Jim McLennan about the series and the Diamondbacks chances down the stretch.
BEN: Who deserves to be the MVP and Cy-Young winners for the Diamondbacks?
JIM: The MVP has certainly been Paul Goldschmidt, who has blossomed beyond expectations to become the sort of player around whom you build a franchise. Teams have almost stopped pitching to him now: he walked 28 times in August, more than over the first third of the entire season, because pitchers know he will destroy anything on the inner half of the plate. His defense has improved, to the extent that he should get some consideration for a Gold Glove, and how many 1B lead their team in stolen-bases too?
Cy Young has to be given to Patrick Corbin, which is remarkable, considering he had to battle for the fifth spot in spring training. Damn glad he made it, considering the team is 21-7 in his start: we're well below .500 with everyone else, and he could easily have 17 or 18 wins rather than 13. His slider is just obscene, when it's on. Todd Helton called it the best he'd ever seen, and that's a man who faced Randy Johnson in his heyday, so knows about a good slider.
BEN: The NL MVP race doesn't have any clear front runners. Do you believe Paul Goldschmidt deserves the honors?
JIM: In terms of sheer performance, there are probably close to half a dozen players for whom you could make a credible case. Goldschmidt is among them, but I think he'll be hurt if the team don't make the post-season. Like it or not, that is a factor voters do take into consideration, and it is a fair point that without Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks would probably still be second in the division. He should certainly be on most ballots somewhere, but right now, I would probably say Andrew McCutchen is the front-runner.
BEN: Are fans still hoping and believing the D-back can make the playoffs?
JIM: Hoping, sure. "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." But belief is pretty hard to come by these days. It would take both a monumental surge by us, and a spectacular collapse from teams ahead of us. Personally, I think I more or less entered the fifth stage of grief ("Acceptance") after that hellish spell at the end of July and in early August, where the Diamondbacks plummeted from half a game to 5.5 back in nine games.
BEN: When the Dodgers began their hot run, the Dbacks slumped. Why have the Dbacks fell off compared to earlier in the season?
JIM: Our rotation imploded: they had a 5.36 ERA in June, and the Diamondbacks endured a streak of 24 consecutive games without a win by a starting pitcher. That has really been it. June is the only month where we have had a losing record so far. But it just came at the worst possible time, as the Dodgers embarked on a run, the likes of which hadn't been seen in my lifetime. Hard to stand up against that level of performance!
BEN: The off-season talk was about the decision to trade Justin Upton to the Braves. As the deal continues to pan out, do you approve or dislike the transaction?
JIM: It's been a fascinating study. I don't think there has ever been a more divisive trade in team history: the SnakePit will remember for ever the Great War of 2013, with the Uptonites battling the Pradoists across what seemed like every thread! April, with Upton going on a monstrous tear and Prado sucking, didn't exactly help. But since then, each have reverted and their full-season numbers will be around what was expected, both a little down on BA perhaps.
Once we got Prado signed to an extension, I was a lot more comfortable with it. I think we traded potential for reliability: Upton has always had an amazing upside, and has shown it in flashes since coming up. But he's so inconsistent, it's infuriating: Prado seems to have a higher floor, but a lower ceiling, and it's not long before Upton becomes pretty expensive for a player who is, overall, good to very good, rather than great. On the other hand, Chris Johnson, a potential NL batting champion? Who saw that happening? I think that tips the balance to the Braves for this season, but in the longer-term, I think the D-backs will catch up. Good for both sides overall.
BEN: The D-backs bullpen is amongst the leaders in blown saves. Who are they using to close out games now and which relievers are reliable?
JIM: Bizarre factoid. The Diamondbacks have a better record in games where they blow saves, than when they don't. Go figure. Currently, it's Brad Ziegler who's closing, but he has one save since August 7. He has been reliable, and can generate double-play balls almost at will, which makes me feel it's a shame he's now labeled as the closer, since that skill could be useful in the 7th or 8th inning. Otherwise, Will Harris has been a solid waiver-wire pickup and Josh Collmenter has been the go-to guy for all those extra-innings games we play. Everyone else has had fits of reliability and spells of absolute awfulness, without much middle ground!
BEN: Didi Gregorius is one of the better young shortstops in baseball that few people know about. What does he bring to the table?
JIM: He came in with a reputation of being all-glove, no-hit - and that was half-right. His defense is excellent, in particular he has a cannon for an arm, which allows him to get runners out from deep in the hole at shortstop. His offense has been a pleasant surprise: he does struggle against left-handed pitchers, but a .260 average is fine, considering his plus defense. With Trevor Bauer continuing to struggle, I think we got the better of that deal.
BEN: Patrick Corbin went into the All-Star break posting Cy-Young type of numbers. But as of late, Corbin allowed 15 earned runs over his last three contests. Why is he struggling? Also, do you think Corbin can be the ace of the team going forward?
JIM: There has been some discussion as to whether he might be tired. His innings are now creeping past the total number thrown last year, but against that, his fastball velocity doesn't seem to have been dropping. There's some suggestion his off-speed pitches have actually increased in speed - the smaller gap between them and his fastball decreasing their effectiveness. He did certainly pitch better on Friday night, throwing a complete-game but taking the loss, thanks to Yusmeiro Petit's near-perfect game. Excuse me, I think I just made myself very sad....
BEN: Catcher Miguel Montero cahsed in on a solid pay day, and deservedly so. Since then, Montero has been very disappointing. Do you think the Dbacks already regret the deal?
JIM: Not at this point. Montero had an awful first two months, hitting below the Mendoza line, but is at .274 since the end of May, which is decent enough. Catchers who do a solid job at the plate don't come along very often, and it made sense to tie Montero up rather than let him go onto the open market. Now, I do wonder about any long-term deal for perhaps the most physically-stressful position on the diamond, and the key question is whether Montero can stay healthy? He missed a month this season with back issues, and we can only hope that it won't be a recurring issue going forward.
BEN: Series Prediction?
JIM: Not as interesting as last time, when there was the whole Kennedy-Greinke kerfuffle. Neither Kennedy nor Eric "five games?" Hinske is with us any more, so I trust this will all be like dust in the wind. Which is a shame for both our sites' traffic, I suspect! I think it really depends if the D-backs can continue to grind out the "want", but I suspect the Dodgers will take two of three.