If I were to tell an Arizona sports fan back in March that the D-backs would be one game under .500 entering the All-Star Break, I'm guessing they'd be mildly upset. Okay, mildly is probably putting it lightly, they'd most likely be immensely upset considering the lofty expectations for the team following last year's surprise playoff run.
Yet, as we slowly emerge from this brief baseball hiatus, there's an odd, "eh, it could be worse" feeling lingering around the franchise. And when you consider the inconsistency the Diamondbacks have suffered through in a little over a half a season, it's quite understandable (Plus, ending with three straight home wins over the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers certainly helped).
Now only four games behind in both the NL West and wild card races, the D-backs are back in sniffing range of success once again. And I'm here today to make sure they capture it...provided they follow my simple, five-step program.
No, I'm not some sort of Billy Mays-like snake oil salesman! I'm legitimately concerned about the well being of this franchise! So follow me through the jump and while you're at it, you could also begin paying your three easy payments of $19.99.
Step One: Don't Trade Justin Upton, Build Around Him - First off, I'd like to say I get it. No one in sports should ever be untouchable and it wouldn't hurt to see what you can get especially when you can plug a Golden Glover (Gerardo Parra) in there as his replacement. But even with as badly as Upton has slumped in the first half, I'm still one of the loudest advocates in the keep J-Up camp.
Unless somebody is offering Mike Trout and a year's supply of honey butter chicken biscuits from Whataburger, it just isn't worth it considering the repercussions. Can you imagine the message it would send the fans? Even if they get a package that could help them win now, management would be forced to spend weeks in damage control mode justifying why they sold the face of the franchise in the midst of a playoff run. A move like that might not have the players throwing in the towel necessarily but it would certainly rub a lot of people the wrong way across the valley. And if ticket sales go down, team morale can only go down, especially if everyone feels like they could be on the chopping block.
Instead, the D-backs should go out and make an acquisition in the next two weeks to regain some trust and prove they're serious about going all in. Throwing another third baseman or arm into the mix would quickly dwindle any fire sale thoughts and instead boost confidence throughout the franchise as we approach the stretch run.
Step Two: Play With A Chip On Your Shoulder - It's no secret that most fans feel that the Diamondbacks were cheated out of a few All-Star representations so it's probably safe to say the feeling is mutual in the clubhouse as well. I mean come on; Aaron Hill was the only member of the NL All Star final vote NOT to make the final roster. I don't know if you heard, but the man hit for two cycles IN AN ELEVEN DAY SPAN. What does a man have to do to get some recognition around here? JK, that's a clown question bro. Obviously you have to wear an excessive amount of eye black and drop routine fly balls in the outfield (Yeah, I said it Bryce Harper).
Likewise, cases could have been made for Jason Kubel (third best RBI total among NL outfielders), David Hernandez's (13.74 K/9) and Paul Goldchmidt (second in doubles and OBP among eligible NL first basemen) to make the trip out to Kansas City as well. So at this point, the D-backs have two options: pout and play the disrespected card or spin this into motivation and transform into the silent killers they were for much of 2011. I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to go with the latter.
Adversity breeds camaraderie and that's exactly what the D-backs could use right now. Just remember fellas, popping bubbly in October feels better than dealing with Missouri's humidity in the middle of July.
Step Three: Get Ian Back On Track - Even as a sabermetric nerd, it's weird to pick out one man off a 25 player roster to call the X-Factor. But when it comes to Ian Kennedy, I can't help but think that's the case.
Kennedy was such an important aspect of the team's second half performance last year with a 12-1 record and 2.11 ERA. He consistently went deep into the game, giving the Arizona bullpen a rest while giving his teammates the confidence he'd put them in position to get a W.
This year, Kennedy has been a far cry from the good ol' red beard you've come to know, struggling at times with a 4.26 ERA to go along with his 6-7 record. But as we draw closer to the end, his services will be more demanded than ever in a rotation full of question marks. Yes, I realize that a 12-1 record is a lot to ask of anyone in such a short span but at least 10 wins will be necessary when you don't know what you could get from Joe Saunders, Trevor Bauer and Josh Collmenter on a start-to-start basis.
So no Ian, you wont be allowed to put allow four runs to a pitiful offense like the Padres. Every start is now more meaningful than ever and the Diamondbacks will need Kennedy to led by example as one of the few battle-tested arms at their disposal.
Step Four: Find their D again - Is it just me or does it feel like the D-backs' defense went from flawless to barely functioning in the span of about a week and a half? Okay, that's a slight exaggeration but we were definitely spoiled with the all around glove work of a supposedly offense first team up until some serious errors cost Arizona a win or two against Milwaukee and San Diego.
The facts are that the D-backs just can't afford to play the way they did defensively during that six game losing streak in early July. As hard as it is to admit it, the starting pitcher simply isn't talented enough to hide those kinds of faults. Furthermore, that clutch hitting that fans had come to know from late in 2011 game has almost entirely evaporated, making it more difficult to make up for a defense blunder than costs a run or two.
Sure, the D-backs may be tied for the best run differential in the NL West but that's only because of their tendency for a weekly blowout. Arizona hasn't found a way to win the close ones yet this season so it's more dire than ever that they don't cough up unnecessary runs.
Step Five: Take Advantage Of How The Schedule Plays Out - Arizona's second half schedule could be more supportive as over half their games take place away from from Chase Field but there are quite a few favorable elements in their remaining 77 games.
Facing a weak foe like the Cubs to start will help as the D-backs look to sustain the momentum they found in the last home stand. From that point, there are some bumpy patches along the way but it's the conclusion of the schedule that they should be most excited about. Thirteen of their final 16 contests have them facing off against either the Padres, Cubs or Rockies which should help pad some easy wins onto their record if their still in contention. Even better, the D-backs get to close with the Rockies as the Giants and Dodgers are making dents in each other in the final three game set.
So as long as the D-backs can make it out of hellish August alive, they'll be in prime position to make some serious noise with only divisional games and the lowly Cubs left on their plate.