Springtime Storylines: I am obliged to ask if Brandon Webb can help the Diamondbacks

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Diamondbacks.


The
big question: Brandon Webb, of course.

This is my 29th preview in the space of just over a week, so I feel I’ve got some leeway to go a little meta here. Bear with me.

I couched all of these previews in some “burning question” for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I’m a product of a law school that still leaned heavily on the Socratic Method, so I’m just sort of wired to analyze things in terms of questions. For another, questions tend to encourage people to click and comment because they often think they have better answers than I do. Which they usually do. Both clicks and interactivity matter here, so yeah, questions are good.

But I gotta admit, some of these questions are forced. It’s one thing to ask questions about a team that is challenging for the division, because the answer to any single question — or many questions — could mean the difference between making the playoffs or not. Are the Twins going to be able to overcome the loss of Joe Nathan? Is the Dodgers’ rotation good enough? Those sorts of questions suggest themselves.

But for many teams — like the Diamondbacks, for example — the questions are a little on the boring and repetitive side, usually dealing with team health or whether there’s, generically speaking, enough pitching or enough hitting. These things matter, of course, but they don’t exactly plum the depths of insight. Flawed and non-competitive teams have lots of questions. More questions than answers, really.

Which makes Brandon Webb’s shoulder an utter godsend. To prepare for these things I try to read as many other previews and offseason analysis as possible. A lot of them use the “burning questions” model too, and I couldn’t find a single one of them that didn’t lead with “will Brandon Webb be healthy enough to contribute?”  I banged my head against the desk for a long time this afternoon trying to avoid asking that myself while also avoiding the “is there enough pitching” kind of thing as well.  I’m sure Diamondbacks fans could tease out some subtle nuance of this team that lends itself to some other point of analysis, but as a generalist I couldn’t do it. Upton good. LaRoche new. Scherzer trade perplexing. Reynolds strikeouts. They all bored me, frankly, because at the end of the day this team seems laser-locked into fourth place no matter what happens.

So let’s get this over with: yes, Brandon Webb will contribute this year. Probably not until May at the earliest though, and his entire 2010 season will be an audition for a make-good contract once he hits the market next fall. He’s from Kentucky and has said he wants to be near home, so maybe the Reds will spend some of their freed-up Harang and Arroyo money on him.  A pretty nice fit, actually.  

So
what
else is
going on?

  • Webb aside, I think the rotation will be pretty interesting to watch. Dan Haren is one of my favorites, Edwin Jackson certainly has his moments and Ian Kennedy has the potential (please note the word “potential”) to be an above average starter one day. But interesting does not mean good, and I think that Dbacks fans will really miss Max Scherzer, Doug Davis and even Jon Garland this year.  As a whole, the group is decidedly worse than it was last season, and I think that’s the case with or without Brandon Webb. 
  • Conor Jackson and Chris Young are a couple of guys the Diamondbacks really need to return to form if the team is to be respectable this season. Newcomer Kelly Johnson can be added to that list too.  If all three play to their potential they could make some noise. If they don’t, the Padres are lurking.

  • The heart of the lineup is pretty darn respectable for a team that should lose more games than it wins.  Justin Upton is a stud, of course. Mark Reynolds is probably the least-appreciated 40+ home run guy in baseball because strikeouts are all socialist and evil and everything. Adam LaRoche is no slouch, and I think he’ll avoid that whole first-half slump thing he’s famous for due to Arizona’s refusal to participate in daylight savings time.  It’s science.
  • I’m pulling for A.J. Hinch. He caught a lot of hell when he was named manager last year with a lot of the players and one departing coach famously taking shots at him for his lack of experience. I know experience matters in most walks of life, baseball managing included, but as anyone who has ever looked for a job or tried to do something new in life can tell you, being told right out of the gate that you’re hopeless or unwanted because you lack experience sucks. Hinch isn’t some nepotism case or anything. He’s just coming to the job with a different background than you usually see and I’d like to think that people would give him a chance to fail before they call him a failure.

So
how
are they gonna do?

I just don’t see them having the starting pitching to make a credible run at even third place in the West. If things get ugly San Diego could sneak up on them, but I kinda doubt it because there is a lot of talent here, even if there isn’t enough to contend. I’m still scratching my head at their involvement in the Curtis Granderson trade.

Prediction: Fourth place in the NL West.

Wade Davis? Greg Holland? Who needs ’em?

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 21: Joakim Soria #48 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on August 21, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The story of the two-time defending AL champion and current defending World Series champ Kansas City Royals cannot be told without talking at length about their bullpen.

In 2014, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera formed a shutdown brigade that not only made it next to impossible for the opposition to mount late rallies, but managed something which seemed utterly impossible before 2014: they turned Ned Yost into a tactical genius. Indeed, the only time Yost got criticism at all that fall was when he messed with the autopilot formula that had that three-headed monster handling the 7th, 8th and 9th innings.

Much the same happened in 2015, of course, despite Holland’s sharp decline and eventual injury. Davis and Herrera continued their dominance. They were joined by Ryan Madson and a cast of other effective relievers who, along with timely hitting, great defense and good health, helped propel the Royals to the title.

This year had not been quite the same story. Holland has been out all year and Davis, while effective when he’s pitched, has missed time due to injury. As has longtime contributor and presumptive next-man-up Luke Hochevar. Herrera is basically still Herrera, but Ned Yost has been presented with a decidedly different set of choices. Lots of choices and Ned Yost don’t always go together well, but lately that hasn’t mattered.

Last night the Royals’ bullpen came in to a close game and tossed three scoreless innings. That set a franchise record with 32 straight scoreless frames, besting the previous record set back in the club’s inaugural season in 1969. The streak is a huge part of why the Royals have won nine games in a row.

Unlike the success of 2014-15, the streak is not a three-man show. As Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star notes, eight different relievers have appeared for Kansas City during the streak, with Joakim Soria and Matt Strahm leading the crew with five and a third innings pitched. Herrera has tossed five scoreless. Otherwise it’s been a group effort with even Peter Moylan offering a couple of scoreless frames. And here you thought Moylan was, I dunno, gearing up for the upcoming Brisbane Bandits season. Nope.

The Royals are still not, in my view anyway, a lock to make the postseason. It’s a a crowded field right now. They’re seven and a half back in the AL Central and four back in the Wild Card with a bunch of teams in front of them. But they’re certainly playing themselves back into the conversation. They’re interesting. And they’re doing it in much the same way they’ve done it the past two years. Only with different dudes doing the do.

Video: Mookie Betts made a ridiculous throw last night

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 10.16.51 AM
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Mookie Betts was an infielder once upon a time and the knock on him both then and since his move to the outfield was that maybe his arm was not fantastic. As an infielder there was talk that he was better suited to the right side than the left. As an outfielder people were saying that, with work, his arm could be average and/or serviceable. Not bad, of course, but not anything to write home about.

Maybe we need to reassess that, because last night he uncorked one from right field that would make Dwight Evans says “dang, man.”

 

And the throw mattered, as Kiermaier represented the tying run in a game that, at the time, the Sox were leading 2-1.

Betts is a dangerous middle-of-the-order bat at age 23. And now he shows that he’ll nail a fast runner with a frozen rope if he has to. The guy is going to win an MVP award some day. And maybe not just one.