How Robert California Can Lead the D-backs to Success in 2021

Courtesy NBC/Sports360AZ

Opening Day 2021 started to feel like Opening Day 2020. After the Padres put up multiple runs against Madison Bumgarner, it seemed San Diego – a National League titan this year – would cruise to an easy win. 

The feeling of lopsided scoreboards in favor of anyone not wearing Sedona red came rushing back from last year. 

But then the Diamondbacks hit a home run. And then another. And another. Then one more. 

They were the first team to hit four home runs in an inning on Opening Day. 

For context, it took 12 games (20% of the shortened season) to hit four long-balls last year. 

The Snakes erased a 6-1 Padre lead in the fifth, but the Padres were able to eventually crack through and win this one, 8-7. The result on Thursday was the same as the Opening Day 2020, but the energy feels much, much different.

Let’s face it: The Arizona Diamondbacks are outgunned in this race in the National League West. The Dodgers have utilized their deep farm system to either bring up homegrown stars or trade off pieces for the likes of Mookie Betts. They also have the salary base to sign those stars to long-term deals.

The Padres quietly accumulated a somehow stronger farm system and made big move after big move over the last few years after being an afterthought in the division. Eric Hosmer. Wil Myers. Manny Machado. Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 14-year extension. Yu Darvish. Blake Snell. Joe Musgrove. Kim Ha-Seong. 

The Diamondbacks are the poker player in an action movie who pushes a big pile of chips into the center of the table, only to have the bad guys come in right before the river and the table gets flipped over for cover. 

There’s no way to know that’s going to happen, but it did with the coronavirus, and the financial losses linked to it.

It wasn’t long ago that very smart baseball minds were pointing to 2021 as a year where the Diamondbacks could be big spenders after trading out from under Zack Greinke’s deal and Yasmany Tomas’ anvil of a contract was off the books. With the addition of Starling Marte entering 2020, it felt like the time was now for the club to be a perennial playoff participant.

But the unforeseen happened. It hit every team, but the timing couldn’t have been worse for Arizona. 

Starling Marte’s $12.5 million dollar option all of the sudden looked a lot more steep and he was traded to the Marlins at the deadline. After Arizona was pretty aggressive in previous offseasons, the Snakes were relatively quiet entering 2021.

It has felt like Dodgers-Padres rivalry will be the headlining act with cameos, holograms and fireworks. The rest of the division seems to be viewed as the opening acts that get going before the sun goes down.

And it’s not lost on the team.

Torey Lovullo’s opening speech to the team focused on shocking the world. 

The team didn’t make the big-time additions or have the top-10 players in the league, but they’re confident some of the key players will bounce back. 

So what do that Diamondbacks do when it feels like two teams in their division turned on “force trades” on MLB The Show?

Adopt an attitude from noted philosopher Robert California of The Office. Played by James Spader, this dude was quirky, weird, intense and usually over the top.

But sometimes, between monologues about flesh and skinny-dipping at the company swim party, he actually made sense.

Take a look at the knowledge he drops until about the 2:09 mark. 

The National League West has a few steamrollers looking to make deep playoff runs.

At this point, most of the league knows they won’t be doing the rolling, but it will be up to the D-backs to not allow themselves to be flattened.

The first five innings of the season resulted in the Diamondbacks down 6-1. This followed the worst year in the Hazen/Lovullo era. It felt like a perfect time to be rolled over. 

But that didn’t happen. The team refused to be flattened, and despite losing, there already feels like more optimism about the team than there ever was in 2020 beyond the first game or two.

Who knows? 

Maybe the club messes around, becomes lizard kings and actually does shock the world.