The Tigers kick-off a short two-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks this evening. To assist us in familiarizing ourselves with this surprising Diamondbacks team, Keegan Thompson of AZ Snake Pit was kind enough to answer a few questions.
BYB: The Diamondbacks are currently 39-26 and in a three-way fight for first place in the NL West. How does the team in its current state stack up against the expectations people had for them coming into the season?
Keegan: I do not ever want to wake up from this dream of a season. I am on record in the preseason claiming that the Diamondbacks would be a 76-win team. They are currently on pace to win 60 games at home(!) after only winning 69 games all last season. Best case scenario projections had this team hovering around .500 and missing the playoffs. Quite honestly they are playing better than best case scenario while missing contributions from key players. A.J. Pollock has already missed a month. Shelby Miller is out for the season and looked poised to post a strong bounceback season prior to [Tommy John Surgery]. Randall Delgado, a guy who has never had success as a major league starter, has filled in nicely for Taijuan Walker. Paul Goldschmidt has largely recovered from a down year in 2016 by his standards and is leading all Senior Circuit position players in WAR per Fangraphs. The pitching staff has been the biggest key after being the worst in the majors last season with a 5.09 ERA. Life is good in Arizona!
Keegan: Definitely the Dodgers as a result of their seemingly endless depth. It always appears that they have someone ready to step in and fill a role after injury. In my opinion, they are better constructed to sustain current performance over the long 162-game season. The hope in Arizona is that this current road trip is kind to the team and we head into Colorado for a first place showdown putting .500 play on the road in the rear-view. Arizona could have managed at least three more wins against the Rockies earlier in the season by avoiding mental mistakes in the field, a blown save from Fernando Rodney, and by providing more run support to Robbie Ray. Their pitching has to come back to Earth at some point. Perhaps Arizona starts that downward trend for them in the upcoming series in Colorado. Regardless, avoiding a one game wild card playoff on the road against either team would be ideal.
BYB: Could we maybe get Robbie Ray back?
Keegan: Certainly, right after you pry Max Scherzer back from the Nationals and return him to Arizona where he belongs. Remember when his arm was supposed to fall off due to poor mechanics? Still waiting. Robbie Ray has been a pleasure to watch for the past month. He has sped up his delivery to the plate and added a curveball to his repertoire. No longer is he carrying a pitch count in the neighborhood of 80 in the fourth inning. His largest issue in the past was putting hitters away after getting ahead in the count because of his poor pitch tunneling and lack of a solid secondary offering. This season his fastball and curveball appear to come out of a similar arm slot while obviously breaking differently after the hitter's decision point to swing.
BYB: Which Tigers player are you most concerned with facing in this series?
Keegan: Not to be a biased homer, but it has to be Justin Upton. The kid appears to be in incredible shape, and I have particularly taken notice in his apparent drop in body fat. No doubt he plays with a chip on his shoulder against the Diamondbacks, and I fully expect at least one home run from him in this short two game series. Hard contact % (42.5%) is currently a career high for him. Trade Yasmany Tomas for Justin Upton straight up? [Editor’s note: lololololololol. No.]
BYB: So what's it like having a pitcher in Zack Godley who has posted a 1.9 WAR, a 2.44 ERA, and 0.992 WHIP over seven starts and 44 innings, and knowing he might get sent down as the odd man out in the rotation? Again, allow me to reiterate, if you have too many good pitchers, the Tigers will take that Ray fella back.
Keegan: The embodiment of a spoiled rotten rotation in Arizona this season. It would be nice for the front office to acknowledge the fact that Patrick Corbin does not currently belong in the rotation and move him to the bullpen, giving his spot to Zack Godley. [Godley] is pitching out of his mind with extreme confidence. Unfortunately, he is one of the few pitchers on the roster with minor league options remaining meaning he can be shuttled to and from the rotation freely provided he spends the minimum time requirement at Triple-A Reno in between. Godley has said all of the right things maintaining a positive attitude the entire time despite the uncertainty. He is perhaps the only pitcher Torey Lovullo can rely on to handle the constant movement psychologically. The fact of the matter is that Godley currently deserves a spot in the rotation. Make us an offer for Patrick Corbin!
BYB: In recovering from his most recent injury, center fielder A.J. Pollock has started running the bases again, which I'm guessing makes folks in your neck of the woods happy. What kind of impact will he make on the team when he returns, and do you think it's possible to keep him healthy for the rest of the season?
Keegan: Getting him back midseason is similar to acquiring All-Star caliber talent at no cost. It is comforting to know that Arizona has performed this well in the past month without his contributions. That signifies to me that this team is a legitimate contender, and the current performance is sustainable. With that being said, future success for this team will largely depend on him remaining on the field. His talent is not questioned by almost any fan in Arizona, but his inability to remain on the flippin' field is becoming exhausting. Pollock is a weapon leading off at the top of the order and was near the league leaders in stolen bases prior to going down again. Lovullo has stated that he will ask Pollock to ease up on plays that do not require him to give 100% as that contributes to some of his ongoing injuries. Whether he chooses to follow that directive remains to be seen.
BYB: Fernando Rodney — a name not unfamiliar to Tigers fans — signed a free agent deal with Arizona in the offseason. He is currently tied for fifth in Major League Baseball with 16 saves and has a 5.56 ERA. Explain this to me. Also, how are you liking your newly acquired closer?
Keegan: In April, he was having significant issues with his command likely as a result of over-throwing. He has since dialed back the velocity and regained success in May and June. Arizona has never had success signing or trading for a closer, so we are collectively sitting on the edge of our seats when he enters the game despite recent success. Saves are a rather poor indicator of quality as a closer in my opinion. To be honest, I would much rather see Archie Bradley in a multiple inning closer role. However, if Rodney were to continue his recent results that would be acceptable performance closing out games going forward. Kudos again to Lovullo for not pulling the plug on the Rodney experiment as quickly as I would have.
BYB: Since we're in the thick of the draft here, I'm gonna ask you to tell me which prospect in the Diamondbacks system is going to make a substantial impact at the major league level next, and your thoughts on this year's draft.
Keegan: What in the world are we doing drafting a 1B with our first pick in the draft? I am going to remain patient and trust Mike Hazen's process. He has not let me down yet. I pray that this does not foreshadow the end of Paul Goldschmidt's time in a Diamondbacks uniform. We desperately need this draft to be successful in order to rebuild a rather poor farm system. The farm is currently filled with wild cards and question marks. Anthony Banda still has to demonstrate sustained success in the minors and refine his craft as a pitcher. Jon Duplantier has been a pleasant surprise but still has quite a way to go as he is only in High A. The position player side is rather depressing as most of the guys with success in Triple-A Reno have already had a taste in the majors and profile as AAAA type guys. Ildemaro Vargas or Ketel Marte will likely replace Nick Ahmed in the infield in the coming seasons. I rarely put any stock in the draft because so few of these players make it to the major leagues, and it is largely unpredictable. I feel that an organization's ability to develop talent is more important than the players who are drafted. The 2009 draft is honestly my favorite to go back and look at. 24 teams passed on Mike Trout that year, and the best position player to ever put on a Diamondbacks uniform was selected in the 8th round.
A big thank you to Keegan for talking with us. You can find Keegan on Twitter at @k_man5000. You can read his work as well as that of his fellow Diamondbacks writers over at AZ Snake Pit, and follow them on Twitter at @azsnakepit.