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Series Preview #29: Talking Diamondbacks with AZ Snake Pit

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Mug is off today while Kyle sleeps it off celebrates the holiday. It should return tomorrow. - KL




45-40 (T-1st place, NL Central) 45-40 (2nd place, NL West)

GAME 1: July 4, 2011 @ 3:10 p.m. CDT
(TV: FS-Wisconsin; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

: July 5, 2011 @ 7:10 p.m. CDT

(TV: FS-Wisconsin; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

GAME 3: July 6, 2011 @ 1:10 p.m. CDT
(TV: None; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

Miller Park   Milwaukee, Wisconsin

SBN Coverage: Diamondbacks vs Brewers coverage

A View from the Other Dugout: AZ Snake Pit

Game 1 Shaun Marcum (7-3, 3.16) vs. Daniel Hudson (9-5, 3.49)
vs. D-backs (0-0, ---) vs. Brewers (0-0, ---)
Game 2 Randy Wolf (6-5, 3.33) vs.   Zach Duke (1-3, 5.92)
vs. D-backs (0-0, ---) vs. Brewers (0-0, ---)
Game 3 Yovani Gallardo (9-5, 3.92) vs. Josh Collmenter (4-5, 3.17)
vs. D-backs (0-0, ---) vs. Brewers (0-0, ---)

In advance of the Brewers' series with Arizona I exchanged questions with AZ Snake Pit writer Zavada's Mustache. Be sure to head over to their site to see my answers.

NH: Closer J.J. Putz was just put on the disabled list with elbow tendonitis. This is his third trip to the DL with elbow problems in three years. Are you concerned that this could be a long-term problem for him? Who is the likely candidate to replace him while he's out?

ZM: Injuries were a major red flag for J.J Putz when teams were looking at him as a free agent in December, so when the D-Backs signed him, most fans figured that arm troubles would materialize at some point this season.  The team says the injury isn't serious, and that Putz should be back after the All-Star Break, but this injury puts extra strain on a bullpen that has been showing some wear lately.  He struggled in the second half of June, but in general Putz has been a reliable arm, and a revelation as a closer for a team that has struggled in that department the last couple of seasons.  In the meantime, set-up man David Hernandez will close in his stead.

NH: Heading into this season, I think it would be fair to say that expectation weren't high for the Diamondbacks. They had 97 losses and finished in the bottom of the NL West last season. However, halfway through this season they're 44-38 and just two games out of first place. What have been the major reasons the team has succeeded? Do you think they can continue to surprise through the second half?

ZM: In the interest of full disclosure, I predicted 74 wins for the 2011 Diamondbacks at the beginning of the season, so I'm just as surprised as you are.  In general, the rotation hasn't been spectacular, but it hasn't been the trainwreck that some fans expected it to be, either.  Daniel Hudson (3.49 ERA) and Ian Kennedy (3.01) have evolved into full-fledged aces and have kept the pitching afloat.  Additionally, the team has received decent production from positions such as first base and third base that were expected to be liabilities, with starters Ryan Roberts and Juan Miranda holding down the fort.  When their contributions are combined with guys like Justin Upton and Stephen Drew playing up to their potential, that's an above-average offense.

Can they keep it up?  That's a good question.  I'm probably more pessimistic than most, but I don't think this team has the pitching beyond Kennedy and Hudson to stay in contention.  Right now, I see the team finishing around .500, comfortably behind the Giants and probably the Rockies as well.  I'd love to be proven wrong, though.

NH: Last year, the bullpen was a major issue for the team as they finished the season with a 5.74 ERA, worst in NL history. This year they're better, with an ERA around 4.00. What do you think accounts for the improvement?

ZM: Last year's bullpen was so mind-bogglingly awful that it would be almost impossible to duplicate even if the team had brought back the exact same group of relievers.  But GM Kevin Towers has a reputation for building lights-out bullpens, and he began his work this year.  While trading Mark Reynolds for David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio (currently in Triple-A) wasn't terribly popular at the time, it gave the team a couple of electric arms that made the bullpen better right away.  For a pitcher to watch in the series, check out Joe Paterson, a shrewd Rule-5 pick by Towers who has morphed into a solid LOOGY (3.06 ERA) at age 25.

NH: The Diamondbacks have had 22 comeback wins this year, with nine of those coming in the final at-bat. To what do you attribute the late inning success?

ZM: In general, the Diamondbacks hit better as the game wears on.  The D-Backs have a collective .669 OPS the first time through the order, .705 the second time through, and finally .862 the third time.  While this trend is true for most teams, it is especially obvious for the D-Backs, and it is likely a credit to first-year hitting coach Don Baylor that the team is able to make the necessary adjustments as the game progresses.  Additionally, the back of the bullpen is much improved, and guys like Putz and Hernandez have generally been reliable when presented with a slim lead late in games.  Of course, luck is also a major factor in these sort of situations.

NH: With the trade deadline looming, do you see the Diamondbacks making any moves to shore up their lineup? What areas do you think they need to look to improve?

ZM:I'd actually be somewhat surprised if the team made a major move to shore up the lineup, outside of possibly picking up someone to help out the nursing home that passes for the Diamondbacks' bench.  The only position that really needs addressing on offense is first base, since Miranda has been slumping lately, and first base happens to be one of the strongest areas of the D-Backs' farm system.  I expect the team to acquire another arm before the deadline, either in the 'pen or in the back of the rotation.  Zach Duke and rookie Josh Collmenter have been struggling as starters, and picking up a veteran starter would give them the freedom to move one of them to the bullpen.


Thanks to Zavada's Mustache for taking the time to answer my questions.