Springtime Storylines: Is character and passion enough for the Arizona Diamondbacks?

7 Comments

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 2011 season. Next up: The new-look Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Big Question: Is character and passion enough for the Diamondbacks?

This is Kirk Gibson’s team now, and it only took me two days around Diamondbacks camp at the end of February to get that there is a new sheriff in town. A lot of managers talk about “playing the game the right way” and stuff, but Gibson lives it and breathes it. One gets the sense that, from the time he wakes up in the morning until the time he goes to bed at night — assuming he sleeps — that he’s making eliminating horsesh– baseball his overriding goal. Gibson doesn’t seem to be addicted to Ecksteinian grinders or anything, but clearly values a certain attitude. And he hates bad defense. Oh, and cell phones. Dude HATES cell phones.

There is a real emphasis on character on the Diamondbacks, and it’s not just a Kirk Gibson thing. GM Kevin Towers gave an interview to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick last week in which extolled the virtues of “character, passion and desire.” And in terms of how good and how respected they were as players themselves, the Dbacks may have the most notable coaching staff in baseball. Matt Williams, Alan Trammell, Don Baylor, Eric Young and Gibson himself were all guys that Gibson would have loved to manage and who, at one time or another, were likely described as men who “played the game the right way.”

But will this make any difference? Hard to see how, because with a couple of exceptions we’ll mention below, this is the same Diamondbacks team that lost 97 games last year. They shipped out two guys who didn’t fit the new mold in Dan Haren and Mark Reynolds, but those guys actually have some baseball value too. They brought in some veteran presence, but that veteran presence — Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, Henry Blanco and Geoff Blum — isn’t exactly going to make a competitive difference.

Which isn’t to say that the team didn’t need an attitude adjustment. Indeed, based on a lot of the stories that came out of the A.J. Hinch-era Dbacks, an attitude adjustment was necessary.  But it’s certainly not sufficient, and I fail to see how, exactly, the Dbacks are all that better off from a competitive perspective in 2011 than they were in 2010.  And I imagine in an unguarded moment that Kirk Gibson would admit that. Not that Kirk Gibson ever has any unguarded moments.

So what else is going on?

  • There are a lot of new faces at the corners, with first base looking to be some combination of Juan Miranda and Russell Branyan, third base some combination of Melvin Mora and Geoff Blum and left field some combination of Xavier Nady, Brandon Allen and, heck maybe even Wily Mo Pena.  Given how much Gibson is said to disdain strikeouts and bad defense, you might guess who among those guys will see the most playing time.
  • Ian Kennedy is probably going to be the Opening Day starter. Probably would have been Joe Saunders if he hadn’t missed time for being sick.  Not exactly an inspiring one-two punch. Really, though, Daniel Hudson — who I love — is poised to be the team’s ace.  This is a rotation that will miss having Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson around. It’s a staff that’s gonna get beat up a lot.
  • The bullpen was a crime against humanity last year. Thankfully, Kevin Towers has shown over the course of his career that he may be the best bullpen-building GM in the game. Adding J.J. Putz as the closer will certainly help, but he can’t do it all.  Towers’ kung-fu notwithstanding, the pen still looks to be a pretty weak spot.
  • Justin Upton took a step back in 2010, mostly in the power department. There are rumblings that he’s going to try to use more of the field this year rather than pull the ball and that he’s going to run more.  He’s still only 23, so it’s not surprising his power is still a bit erratic. I just hope this focusing on other stuff isn’t an effort to deemphasize his power game.

So how are they gonna do?

Badly! Last place in the NL West. But they’ll be playing badly The Right Way. And who could ask for anything more?

Angel Hernandez made a great call on a tough play

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
4 Comments

Fans, and even some writers, tend to jump on umpires when they make bad calls, but rarely if ever point out when they make good calls on tough plays. Angel Hernandez is one of those umpires who gets a lot of flack — and I may suggest even deservedly so — but in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, he made a great call on a very tough play during Thursday afternoon’s game between the Phillies and Marlins.

With a runner on first base and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Phillies leading 2-1, first baseman Brock Stassi laced an Edison Volquez pitch down the first base line. Michael Saunders, who was on first base, came around third base and attempted to score. The relay throw from second baseman Dee Gordon beat Saunders, but Saunders slid expertly to the back of home plate, avoiding the tag from catcher J.T. Realmuto just long enough to slip his hand in and touch the plate. Hernandez ruled Stassi safe with no hesitation because he was in a great position to get a look at the play. In real time, it was a bang-bang play. The Marlins didn’t challenge the call.

The MLB.com video doesn’t have the best angle, but still shows what a close call it was in real time. This .gif from Meghan Montemurro of The News Journal provides the best angle:

Hernandez also made this nonchalant grab of Andrew Knapp‘s face mask when the catcher tossed it attempting to catch a foul pop-up:

Yoenis Cespedes leaves game with pulled hamstring

Getty Images
2 Comments

The Mets and Braves are playing today and it’s not a great day for the Mets in the injury department.

First they scratched Noah Syndergaard with a “tired arm.” Now they’ve lost Yoenis Cespedes, who pulled up limping at second base following a double in the bottom of the fourth:

The team has announced that he has pulled his left hamstring.

Cespedes, of course, missed three games over the weekend due to hamstring issues. That was merely tightness, however, and following an off day and a rainout, Cespedes played last night without incident. But it now looks as though he’s going to miss some serious time.