It's time for the second half of the Baseball season to start. Since the Diamondbacks missed the bell for the first half, here's what needs to happen to get things headed toward the playoffs.
5) The KEEP IT UP Crew
Allow me to introduce the three-man crew. On the mound we have Mr. Wade Miley. Mr. Kubel handles things in left and Mr. Hill is the gentleman at second. These three will hit a skid at some point, but it needs to be fast. Every player goes through it but the D-backs need these three to keep their second verse as same as the first.
Anyone who questioned Kevin Towers' wisdom in spending money on Kubel was dead wrong. I questioned the signing of Kubel based on the needs at third base and thought he was a luxury. I couldn't have been more wrong. With the injury to CY and Justin Upton slugging worse than Marco Scutaro, Kubel is the only constant.
Aaron Hill is trending the way he did at the beginning of his Toronto career. Add on to that he's a perfect teammate, and you have an All-Star-caliber second baseman.
It's tough to predict what will happen with Miley. Ninety-seven percent of the time when you count on rookie pitchers to match solid first halves, you will be disappointed. The advanced scouting departments focus on you from opposing teams who are in the playoff race. Holes are exposed and exploited. Fatigue sets in from throwing more pressure innings than a rookie ever has. Inexperience clouds execution. If Miley is in that 3%, Arizona is still alive.
4) TAKE THE WEAK
The D-backs' second half starts with 12 of their next 23 games against last place teams. Not just bad teams, but last place teams. In addition, Arizona finishes the month with a 10-game homestand. Arizona must dominate July and take advantage of the weak schedule. The Dodgers' big lead to start the season was due to their talent, health and weak schedule. The Diamondbacks must establish themselves as contenders in the next two weeks before they leave for Los Angeles to prove their mettle.
3) PLEASE USE PROTECTION
The Arizona bullpen has been average. It's not the pen's fault the D-backs aren't in first place, but they certainly share the blame. As the rest of baseball looks for bullpen help this time of year, Arizona doesn't need it. They just need David Hernandez to dominate the 8th and J.J. Putz to be flawless in the 9th. With two rookies in the rotation, an inconsistent Kennedy, and a questionable Saunders, the biggest challenge to Kirk Gibson's managerial career will be keeping the pen fresh and effective.
2) THE TRUMP CARD
Ian Kennedy has not been the ace of the staff as he was the last year and a half. He's shown signs but has not been a force. The D-backs will not make the playoffs if Kennedy doesn't have a Cy Young-like second half. Sure, his first half makes it impossible for him to be in the running for a repeat top-five spot in the voting, but the second half of the season, however, has nothing to do with the first half. For Kennedy, that was then and this is now. The D-backs need their ace.
1) IS THE FUTURE HERE?
Far and away, the biggest factor that will determine the fate of the 2012 Diamondbacks is Justin Upton. If Upton's last three games are an indication, everything will be fine and he can carry the team. If he just got lucky to shoot some balls through the right side, then the slide isn't over. Getting four out of the five components the D- backs need for a good second half won't be enough if Upton continues his 2012 the way it started. Upton must turn it on now.
The days of looking at Justin Upton as a kid are over. He's a six-year veteran of Major League Baseball. He turns 25 next month. You do not pay $50 million and bat a player third in the order to get a .273 BA and 37 RBI for a below average-to-bad outfielder. Don't believe anyone who makes excuses for him. He's 19th in slugging percentage. Not 19th in MLB. Not 19th in the NL. His .401 slugging percentage is 19th among right fielders! He's holding his own versus great Cubs slugger David DeJesus. There are 18 other right fielders in baseball with better power numbers than Upton.
So what do the Diamondbacks do with him?
Let's read the tea leaves.
Luis Gonzalez was in studio and gave us 4 points on Upton:
1) Going to the right side with the pitch
2) Not swinging at bad pitches
3) Take your walks and trust Kubel and Goldschmidt
4) Use your experienced coaches
Gonzo never said Upton wasn't listening, but just by saying "use your coaches" can't we assume Upton isn't listening or trusting in the All-Stars and borderline Hall of Famers on the D-backs bench? Combining those statements with the benching of Upton in June, it's clear the maturity train still hasn't pulled into station for Justin.
The second tea leaf says the owner loves him. We heard about a long text conversation between D-backs owner Ken Kendrick and Upton. Owners who just blast players in the media usually shy away from direct communication. If Kendrick was having a one-on-one with Upton, it's clear he has a deep affinity for him. If Kevin Towers wants to trade Upton, he'll have to clear it with the boss.
The third tea leaf has the statements from Kevin Towers on the Doug and Wolf Show Wednesday. "We do have outfield depth and it's no secret we haven't been getting as much production from the corner as we would like." Since Paul Goldschmidt is at one corner, third base has been a big letdown. Towers also mentioned the lack of catching depth in the farm system is a concern. Who is the one player that could bring in a third baseman, a rookie ball catching prospect and be taken from a position of strength? Justin Upton.
The last tea leaf is the where would Upton go. Previous reports have said that Upton's old contract had a limited no-trade clause protecting Upton from being traded to four teams. ESPN's Buster Olney reported the old deal blocked moves to Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City and Oakland. The Diamondbacks gave Upton enough money that would have taken any leverage he had in negotiating a more extensive no- trade clause. However, the $50 million eliminates his arbitration years, so Upton would still have enough leverage to ask for limited protection. So my guess is the list is still four teams.
Which four teams is a little difficult to guess. No one wants to be traded to Oakland. It's a disgusting city. The future of the A's is up in the air. The foul ball territory is massive, so your average can plummet with all the foul-outs that accrue, so I guess Oakland is still on the list.
Out of New York and Boston, I bet two of the three teams are on the list. Upton's not a guy who can handle intense media pressure. Since he can't handle the fans of Chase Field booing him, I'm sure he wouldn't enjoy the scrutiny of the bright lights. Some players also like to put big teams on their list so they can negotiate new deals before they leave, since the players would have the right to block a move.
There would be no reason to put any of the NL West clubs on the list, because his agent could assume Arizona doesn't want to trade him within the division. Since Upton's from Virginia, it's safe to reason he has no issues with the mid-Atlantic states or the south in general.
By process of elimination, I'll guess Upton can't be traded to the Yankees, Red Sox, A's and Tigers, since Detroit is not a power hitters' paradise. The best bet of the remaining teams that need Upton are the Mets, Rangers, Marlins, Pirates, Braves, Orioles and maybe the Cardinals.
The team that best matches what the Diamondbacks need in a trade: Texas. A team that's desperate to win before their window closes: Texas. A team that would love to have Josh Hamilton and Upton in the same outfield: Texas. A team that has no replacement for Hamilton's power if he leaves: Texas. There's also one team that would love to leverage an outfielder who's under contract during the Hamilton negotiations: Texas.
This is a great position for Kevin Towers. He can jack up the price for Upton with Texas explaining to them that he needs the extra pieces to convince his owner. Which is completely true. If the Upton trade happens, it will come with serious reservations from Kendrick. If the Upton trade doesn't happen, it will re-focus Upton and enlighten him on just how fed up the organization is.
Justin Upton is no longer a part of the future. He either must become an immediate part of the present or he his three weeks away from becoming part of the past.