Introduction - TolkienBard
It’s that time of year already – after Sunday’s meltdown loss to the Atlanta Braves, the Diamondbacks have officially put 81 games into the books. So, what have we learned over the first half of the season? And what does the future look like?
The team starting the season for The Arizona Diamondbacks of 2013 only vaguely resembled the Diamondbacks of 2012. Gone was the longest tenured Diamondback, Chris Young; traded for glove-first utility infielder Cliff Pennington and reclamation project closer Heath Bell. Gone was the Diamondbacks number one prospect, Trevor Bauer; traded for "The Next Derek Jeter," Didi Gregorious, a supposedly no-bat, slick fielding shortstop. Free agent Cody Ross was signed to a sizeable contract. Kevin Towers also took a flyer on signing free agent pitcher Brandon McCarthy to a two-year contract despite the fact that McCarthy had a history of injury and had not thrown a pitch since being hit in the head by a come-backer; an accident that required life-saving emergency brain surgery. Then, after all those changes, came the big one. Gone was the Diamondbacks star right fielder and potential MVP candidate, Justin Upton; traded to the Atlanta Braves along with Chris Johnson in exchange for the versatile Martin Prado and a package of prospects highlighted by RHP Randall Delgado.
The drastic changes to the team ushered in a new era of baseball to the desert, one that was supposed to be marked by its "grittiness". The team was going to rely on hard-nosed play and determination to score runs and win. Solid, error-free defense, combined with a quality pitching staff was going to be what made the difference in close games. The offense was no longer going to rely on the home run, but would instead rely on small ball, with the threat of the long ball.
Going into the season the experts almost unanimously picked the Arizona Diamondbacks to finish in third place in the NL West with a record right around .500. The team was expected to hang around in the race for the second wild card while putting just enough pressure on San Francisco and Los Angeles to make it a 2-3 team race for the division pennant. But Arizona was not expected to win.
However, from the first game of the season, things went sideways. The Diamondbacks lost preseason presumptive pick for the NL ROY award, Adam Eaton to a ligament tear in his throwing arm. He has yet to play a game this season. Diamondback fire-baller Daniel Hudson suffered a re-tear of his UCL in rehab. His career may be over - a stunning blow to the team. Utility infielder Willie Bloomquist went onto the DL with an oblique strain and, after a few games back, was hit in the hand and appears to be headed back to the DL. Quality backup Eric Chavez, after putting up some surprisingly solid production also went to the DL with an oblique injury.
Cody Ross and Jason Kubel also both spent early time on the DL, with Jason Kubel coming back earlier than he probably should have simply to try and lift the struggling Diamondback offense. Martin Prado, the key piece in the Justin Upton trade found himself struggling to reach replacement level play. Miguel Montero struggled to bat .200 and seemed to have lost his ability to throw out runners at will. The pitching staff, considered a strength of the team, was pedestrian at best, horrible at worst. In the first month of the season, the team blew seven save opportunities before J.J. Putz also headed to the DL before coming back Saturday. (He has not had a save opportunity since returning.)
Perhaps the most telling stat of all is that, after Sunday’s game, the Diamondbacks have gone 24 straight outings in which the starting pitcher failed to get a win.
Looking at all of that, it is in no way surprising that the baseball analysts and experts were dead-wrong when they picked Arizona to finish third in the NL West. Any team would be hard-pressed to deal with that sort of adversity. What is surprising is that not only were the experts wrong, but they were wrong in the opposite direction one might expect.
Carried by MVP–caliber performance by emerging superstar Paul Goldschmidt at first base, and Cy Young-worthy performance from young pitcher Patrick Corbin, the Diamondbacks have reached the halfway mark with a record of 42-39 and sit two games in front of the surprising Colorado Rockies for first place in the NL West.
So let’s have a closer look at just how the Diamondbacks have managed to get where they are.
Starting pitching - Jim
It’s probably symptomatic that none of the SnakePit authors wanted to write about our starting pitching, which has been an increasing vortex of suck of late. Things didn’t start off the season too badly, with our rotation through the end of may having a 19-17 record to go with a 3.74 ERA. But June has been a series of struggles for one reason or another: Brandon McCarthy getting hurt (admittedly, not exactly a surprise), Ian Kennedy being suspended, Trevor Cahill imploding, Tyler Skaggs being sent down. That has led to the lengthy, previously-documented winless streak, and in June, our starters have gone 3-11 with a 5.36 ERA.
There have been some bright spots, most obviously Patrick Corbin. Considering he had to compete for a fifth spot in the rotation, we can only thank the baseball gods that he won it. Arizona have gone 15-1 when he takes the mound, and he has truly been a revelation. Which is fortunate, because hardly anyone else has performed even close to expectations. I think the struggles of Kennedy have been most consistent and disturbing, but Cahill has been totally rotten in June (27 ER in 24.2 IP). However, Randall Delgado has provided some signs for hope thus far, and Wade Miley has turned things around of late.
For the second half, we are limited, because the pitchers most in need of replacement are those without minor-league options. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Skaggs back up, as he seems to have sorted himself out in Reno and been pitching well (2.22 ERA since going down); perhaps an "injury" will manifest itself, particularly for Cahill, to open up a slot*. There’s always the possibility we trade for someone like Yovani Gallardo, but I don’t want it to be a one-year rental, or cost us the farm. Maybe a package built around someone like Chris Owings? But, really, what we need is for the current guys to perform to the level of which we know they are capable.
* - I would like to point out this sentence was written on Sunday, well before today's news of exactly that happening. If I'd scheduled this post for half an hour earlier, I'd look like freakin' Nostradamus about now.
Bullpen - kishi
As Jim summed up last week, our bullpen is not as bad as it seems. Yeah, we’ve seen some pretty awful outings, some awful blown saves, and some games where they let them turn to blowouts. It happens to every bullpen, unfortunately. We’re not to historic levels of bad yet- we’re not even below league average- our 3.20 ERA from our relievers ranks us a pretty respectable fifth in the National League, and that’s without factoring in that our boys play half the season in Chase Field. So while we’re seeing a lot of blown saves- again, look to Jim for a discussion of that- that might be on the shoulders of the offense a little bit, too. If you’re worried about blown saves, I’d counter with this fact- the Diamondbacks bullpen has come together for 20 wins, most in Major League Baseball.
Looking at individual contributions, let’s take a moment to talk about how great Josh Collmenter has been for the Diamondbacks this season. Remember back in the 2011 playoff season, when Micah Owings got moved to the bullpen, put together a weird, streaky run and managed to go 7-0 as a reliever, plus another win in the playoffs? Well, if Micah epitomized that season, Josh Collmenter may describe this season even better. Collmenter has been the cornerstone of this bullpen- he’s put up a 2.23 ERA in 44.1 innings, third most for a reliever in the National League. Let’s be honest here- with the struggles our starting rotation has been facing, the main reason we haven’t seen him get a start has been that we don’t know what our bullpen would look like without him.
Next in line of the heroes list is Brad Ziegler. Ziegler’s actually been racking up the innings, too- his 38.1 innings puts him at eleventh in the NL, and he’s got a 1.88 ERA, which means he’s one of the few names that gives me a sigh of relief when we hear he’s warming up in the bullpen. A 0.939 WHIP means that Ziegler’s pretty good at rewarding our hopes, too- that’s the best of anyone we’ve got on the team right now. If he keeps it up, maybe he’ll finally get to turn the Moulin Rouge into a real theater.
Will Harris is the next name on our good list, sitting at a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings, which comes as a surprise to pretty much everyone, I think. But the problem is that, after this? It’s rapidly downhill for the bullpen. After this, guys fall into two categories- guys who have been injured (J.J. Putz and Matt Reynolds) and guys who are giving up more than a run per two innings on average. You know the names of this list- Heath Bell, David Hernandez, Tony Sipp. The problem is that some of these are the guys the team was looking to for a more productive season, and it’s where we’ve got some payroll sunk into- about $18 million, most of it on Putz and Bell. So while we’re seeing some surprises from a few players, I think we’re also extremely underwhelmed by the value we’ve seen from our big players. The bullpen may not have been as bad as our reactionary memories seem, but I’m not sure that’s something we can sustain unless the big money guys come back and start making a positive impact.
Infield - Clefo
When one is wandering through the desert, alone and lost, one must try to find something to hold on to, something to give guidance and stability through the turmoil that surrounds them. What people need is someone to chant the acronym of "Most valuable player" at said person.
Paul Goldschmidt has been that person for the 2013 Arizona Diamondbacks. Whether you are a traditionalist ( A plus .300 batting average, high RBI total, lots of dingerz) or a reformer (154 wrc+ and 3.2 fWAR at the time of writing.), you should be able to recognize Goldy as the offensive savior of the Diamondbacks halfway through this season, and we should recognize him as such in some way.
The thing about the preceding paragraphs is that in the view of the 2013 Diamondbacks, they were not that melodramatic. Paul Goldschmidt is the team leader in Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, Walks, Stolen Bases, Runs Scored, OPS, OPS+, RBI, and dashing smiles. (He also leads the team in double plays, but let’s plug our fingers in our ears and yell "LA LA LA LA" about that one.) Oddly enough, he does not lead the team in intentional walks received. If you can tell me who does I’ll give you a prize. No, wait, stop looking at Baseball-Reference. You’re ruining the fun!
You found it? Yeah, I was surprised too. I lied about the prize. You just learned a valuable life lesson.
As far as RBI totals go, Goldy is way ahead of everyone else on the team. As is the nature with batted in runs, that speaks well of people who hit ahead of him in the lineup. One of those people is Didi Gregorius.
The circumstances of Didi’s arrival on the Diamondbacks are well documented. He was called up on April 16th, and has more or less been the starting Shortstop since. The first pitch he saw as a Diamondbacks was deposited into the glove of some douchebag at Yankee Stadium (cue angry e-mail.) for his first career home run. He hit over .400 in April, and a decent .293 in May. He’s cooled off in June some, but it’s become apparent that at this point, his bat seems to be better than his reputation as an "all glove, no bat" player had been before.
"HEY MAYBE HE IS THE NEXT DER-"
I swear to God, if you finish that sentence, bad things will happen. It’s not really even a fair comparison. Unlike a certain true Yankee, Didi actually has range that can be defined as "pretty darn good" by both the eye-test and using those fancy defensive metrics. (Jeet’s UZR over his career looks like a score a panelist gets on QI.) And just because you’re dying to know:
- Didi Gregorius fWAR 2013: 1.5
- Trevor Bauer fWAR 2013: -0.3
After breaking his hand from a hit-by-pitch from James McDonald (who is totally the worst person on the planet using Dodger logic) early in April, Aaron Hill spent most of the season on the disabled list. He came off the DL last week in Washington, and seems to have picked up where he left off. Hill’s presence in the lineup is vital to the team’s success this season, and he will be one of the second half storylines to watch for the Diamondbacks.
And now, I will say some mean things about Venezuela.
"HEY VENEZUELA, CARACAS? MORE LIKE CRAP-CAS!"
"HEY VENEZUELA, A PETROLEUM BASED ECONOMY IS FOR SUCKERS."
Okay, not the entire country, but the D’Back infield contingent from the fine nation has not quite been up to snuff so far in 2013. We’ll start with Martin Prado.
The expectations for Prado were always going to be elevated, considering who he was traded for, but I would gander that most people figured he would hover around his career norms of being a + .300 hitter with a .350 OBP. He’s approaching the scary side of the aging curve, so being slightly lower than that could be understandable. However, to put it mildly, Martin has been a tire fire that has had gasoline poured on it. His line of .243/.295/.348 is even worse than his previous career lows in 2011.
People are not too sure why this is. I would point you to the excellent fanpost by shoewizard which goes in depth on Martin’s problems at the plate. Some have suggested that the pressure of being the guy traded for the previous face of the franchise has gotten to him, and he’s pushing too hard at the plate to try to live up to that.
One could suggest that he has lost his raison d'etre in life, and that he realizes that he is just a passenger on this great journey towards the darkness, and that nothing he can do can save him. "We approach a coffin as soon as we are born" he thinks, and his performance at the plate suggests this new outlook of nihilistic suffering. He looks at his life and baseball and just decides to plead nolo contendere to it all. He needs to get his weltanschauung back to the levels he had in Atlanta, for him to succeed, and for the Diamondbacks, but mostly for his soul....
Or not, I’m just spitballing here.
Finally, we come to Miguel Montero. Apparently he and Prado had both been reading Tristan Tzara on team flights for a bit, as he also started off the season in a terrible fashion. However, before I try to top the pretentiousness of the paragraph about Prado, Miggy has hit a line of .271/.357/.341 in June. I know what you’re going to say: "Wow, that’s a terrible slugging percentage." Yes, it is, but it’s still higher than previous months, and the fact that he’s getting on base quite a bit seems to indicate that he’s on the right path back to being a semblance of the Miggy we know and love.
There have been some rumblings that Miggy has also been on the "trying too hard" wagon because, well gosh darnit, he just loves those free tacos so much. I mean, nevermind that he signed a new deal last season which could pay for the most excessive of taco habits, but I believe there is something to that and we should form a taskforce to look into it.
The Diamondbacks offensive future may rest on Miggy continuing his improvement and Prado having any improvement. If they do that, then the team will become an offensive juggernaut, and then win the World Series, and then the Super Bowl (33-17 over New England), and then transcend to another state of being, and then I’ll find a bunch of money under the floor of my apartment, and then Ritzy Bryan would call me up and then everything will be great.
It will totally happen, book it.
Outfield - Zavada's Moustache
More so than most things, your opinion on how things have gone in the outfield for the Arizona Diamondbacks has to with personal perspective. As such, I’ll be dividing this into two parts: one for the debbie downers and one for the hopeless optimists.
Sad Pandas: I bet you think I can’t do this without mentioning the Upton trade, don’t you? Watch this, oh ye of little faith.
Let’s start with some numbers: members of the D-Backs outfield currently have a combined wRC+ of 93, which is tied for 24th in baseball. Tied with the Marlins and Royals, I should mention. It’s nowhere near any of the other outfields in the NL West.
And it’s certainly not for lack of trying, given that they sunk a fair bit of money into this unit before the season started. They went out and signed Cody Ross for 3 years/$26 million before the year started, and they’re on the hook for just under $8 million for Jason Kubel as well.
The results? 0.2 fWAR and offense that’s about 15 percent below league-average from a position (corner outfield) that’s supposed yield offense. You want to complain about why the offense is struggling? Ross and Kubel are pretty good places to start.
I’m going to do everyone a favor and not mention Alfredo Marte outside of this one sentence.
A.J. Pollock’s season looks pretty solid on the surface, until you look a little closer and realize that he’s walked all of 11 times all year. That’s how you end up with a .280 OBP, and a .677 OPS. The power has dried up a bit, and the BABIP has fallen off, and we’re left with a rather below-average starting outfielder.
Not that that’s his fault, of course. He wasn’t even supposed to be in this situation, if not for injuries. Adam Eaton tore his UCL just before the season started, and just when it looked like he was on his way back, he had a complication. That’s no ABs this year for our de facto starting Center Fielder. It’s not anyone’s fault, but the injury created a domino effect of guys like Pollock getting more time than they probably should. It’s been a mess, and it’s a mess that probably isn’t going to get resolved until Kubel and/or Ross start hitting, and Eaton comes back.
Glad Pandas: This is Gerardo Parra’s reaction to your skepticism:
Really, I could just stop this section right here. Even factoring in his recent slump, he’s been the Diamondbacks’ second most-valuable position player by pretty much any metric you want to look at. His offense has been outstanding, with an OPS of .822. He’s hit for power, hit for a solid average, and he’s been surprisingly good at taking walks when it helps the team.
But talking about offense sort of misses the point with Parra. His defense has just been spectacular, from the outfield assists (this one comes to mind) to the diving catches, Parra does something spectacular almost every night. When we’re old and gray, we’ll entertain ourselves by writing comments on whatever succeeds AZCentral about how everyone playing these days are lazy bums and back in our day players used to play the outfield like Gerardo Parra.
I’ll leave you with this:
- Gerardo Parra: .303/.364/.459, 2.8 fWAR
- Justin Upton: .242/.354/.451, 1.4 fWAR
Parra makes $2.53 million this year. Upton makes almost four times that amount.
And as long as we’re talking about defense, I should note that Fangraphs tells us that the Diamondbacks’ outfield leads the majors in defensive WAR among outfields. Hence, despite being near the bottom in wRC+, the D-Backs’ outfield is right in the middle of the pack in total fWAR.
Somewhat surprisingly, Pollock leads the way, with a UZR of 10.6. That gives him an fWAR of 1.4, which (/checks two paragraph above this one) makes him exactly as good as a certain Atlanta outfielder. And given that he’s flashed some power to go along with the glove (ISO% of .197) he’s been aight despite the lack of walks. He might be trade bait, but until then, he’s a decent enough starting Center Fielder until our actual starting Center Fielder returns.
So really, it ain’t as bad as all that. Kubel and Ross should come around, and even if Eaton struggles when he gets back, Pollock’s defense means that Center Field isn’t going to be a liability this year. And Parra has been fantastic.
Bench - Jim
The outstanding performers have been Eric Chavez and Wil Nieves. The former has been an excellent platoon option at third, even if he was "broken" for a while - likely with over use a contributing factor, when Hill’s absence forced Prado to play second and Chavez became our everyday third-base guy. But Eric has destroyed right-handed pitching with an OPS close to 1.000. Nieves, of course, hasn’t seen much playing time, but probably got more than expected during Montero’s slump at the plate and has acquitted himself admirably there, considering he was a defense-first signing.
Eric the Other Corner Infielder proved much less successful. Eric Hinske was a semi-decent option as a PH, with numbers not far off NL average for the role, but was effectively useless as a backup to Goldschmidt, and deemed surplus to requirements. Josh Wilson got a third stint with the team, but saw precious little playing time as the 25th man, with only 14 PAs from May 13 until he was DFA’d on June 21. And the only bench option in the outfield (which has been more of a four-man rotation), was when Alfredo Marte showed up and proved, nope, not ready for prime-time.
In between those two extremes, sit Cliff Pennington and Willie Bloomquist. The former started off as the regular shortstop, but lost his spot to Gregorius. Pennington’s value has been very much with the glove - his slugging and on-base percentages are both below .300 - but his defense has been close to stellar. Bloomquist, meanwhile, lost a lot of time due to injury, and will likely see his playing time eaten into, now that Hill is healthy. With Aaron and Didi set as our middle-infield at this point, both Willie and Cliff will have to try and keep fresh with spot starts and working off the bench, unless health interferes again.
Defense - blank_38
If you’ve had a chance to watch the D-Backs on TV, you would realize how often our booth has lauded our team defense, and with good reason. The Diamondbacks rank 5th in ARM with 4.8 runs saved (which estimates how runners react to the Outfielder’s arm), 4th in RngR with 14.3 runs saved (which is determined by how much the fielders can cover), 7th in ErrR with 4.8 runs saved (which is the amount of runs saved from not making errors), and 2nd in team UZR/150 with 8.6 runs saved per 150 games.
I get what you’re thinking, "OH GREAT, MORE STATS" or "DO THESE STATS SHED ANY LIGHT ON THE SITUATION?" Well, as a matter of fact, they do and merely try to quantify what happens on the field. And what they quantify is the D-Backs are very good at defense.
Catcher: 30-year-old Miguel Montero has started 70 games this year and so far has seen him play just about league average defense. He’s thrown out half of the amount of would-be base stealers from last year at 21%, and is on pace to see more wild pitches and past balls than in any of his other seasons. It seems to me he’s a little more sluggish behind the plate. Remember last year when you could count on him blocking almost every bad pitch and throwing out almost half of his runners? Maybe he’s bringing his offensive struggles to the defensive side or maybe he’s feeling the effects of age, but whatever it is, the new contract he signed sure is looking to be an already questionable one in Year 1.
1st Base: Paul Goldschmidt has not only seen his batting ability improve, but his defensive ability as well. According to Fangraphs, he’s the 5th best defensive 1st baseman this year. Nick Piecoro and many other writers have raved about his defense and with good reason. His range, or positioning at 1st, has been incredible, he saves his other fielders with his digs out of the dirt, and his throws from the various areas of 1st base are always spot on. As a righty who played 1st base in high school and college, I have an appreciation for the defense he’s played. It’s not an easy position, and to see the improvement makes me excited at what else he can do.
2nd Base: Aaron Hill in limited time has been a negative on defense. Now whether that’s because of his injury or him slowing down because of age, it remains to be seen. It seems to me he’s just a step away from fielding those balls in the holes that he made look routine last year. Fortunately for him, he has half a season left to get healthy and/or improve on that. Other than that glaring weakness, he’s been his same steady self. Willie Bloomquist has seen the most of his playing time at 2nd base and played about the same as Aaron, nothing too spectacular but steady enough to not look like a fool. Martin Prado was a surprising negative at 2nd, which isn’t what I expected at all. I saw him make all the plays he should have, and do nothing that made you shake your head. Cliff Pennington and Josh Wilson have been good to great at their time at 2nd, which is what you expect from glove-first infielders.
Shortstop: Cliff Pennington saw most of the playing time at SS at the beginning of the year and didn’t disappoint. He has amazing range and a solid arm to back up his glove-first scouting report. Based only on defense, you can’t do much better than Cliff as your starting SS. But when Aaron Hill broke his hand, the wave of the future came up and did not disappoint. Didi Gregorius has been everything we’ve wanted and more. He not only matches what Cliff does on defense, but has, in my opinion, a better arm. And yes, he makes some very daring moves (him going out to the outfield with his head straight up in the air), it for the most part works out for him. Fangraphs has both of these players as positives on defense which backs the eye-test.
3rd Base: Coming into this season, both Eric Chavez and Martin Prado were both very good defensive players at 3rd base and this season has been no different. Martin has performed just as well as we expected him to at 3rd base. He’s a solid yet unspectacular fielder who does just about everything well. He fields well, has a decent arm, and has the range to get to some difficult balls. But at times, he seems tentative and out of position (A great shortstop will do that to you). Fangraphs has him playing just below league average defense at 3rd, which I think reflects what he has shown thus far. Eric has performed just about the same as Martin in his limited playing time thus far. He’s a tremendous fielder, but his range and arm are currently what bring him down. At least he’s got funny gifs and can hit.
Outfield: Without a doubt, the reason this team is as great defensively as they are is because of the defense displayed on a daily basis by the like of AJ Pollock, Cody Ross, and especially Gerardo Parra. According the Fangraphs, AJ has been the 4th best fielder in all of baseball. How many of you expected that coming into this year? I think we all knew he was a good fielder, but the 4th best? Incredible. His production in the outfield reminds me of CY; great range in centerfield but a below-average arm. Cody Ross has a solid arm for a corner-outfielder, and his range is good enough to get to most balls.
Jason Kubel surprisingly has been about as league average as you can get. He’s made some great diving plays on balls most others would catch normally and has a solid arm that still surprises some would-be baserunners. I think we’d all take this defensive production from him. And lastly, the MLB’s 6th best outfielder, Gerardo Parra. Amazing arm, improving instincts in CF and just flat-out an amazing fielder wherever you put him. You can honestly understand why the front office sees him as a 4th outfielder, he’s amazing wherever you put him in the field. After a relative down defensive year for him last year, he’s proving he belongs in the discussion with top defensive outfielders this year and hopefully for many years to come.
Base-running - soco
The Diamondbacks might be kind of incredibly terrible at stealing bases. They haven’t attempted it very often, only 44 times, but they’ve only been successful 52.3% of the time. Yes, that is the worst in all of baseball. I suppose we should take consolation that the team doesn’t run like the wind, but maybe they should stop running into outs.
If we’re going to engage in some real talk, the problem can be laid at the feet of one man: Gerardo Parra. His stolen base success rate of 40% isn’t the result of limited opportunities, like Martin Prado (20%). No, not only does Parra have a truly atrocious stolen base success rate, but he’s also the one most likely to attempt a stolen base, so far rolling the dice 15 times.
Luckily, there’s more to baserunning than stealing bases, and when you take a more expansive look at outs on the basepaths, the Diamondbacks fare better. They’ve made 24 outs so far on the basepaths, while the league average is 25.3. Most teams seem to be around the 25 outs, though imagine how bad it would be to watch the Astros all the time. They’re the worst in baseball for outs on the basepaths, with 34 so far.
The Diamondbacks have stressed improving the running game, and bring pressure on the opposition through the running game, yet we still haven’t seen evidence of it paying off. Either the team has improved (which makes it a bit frightening to consider how bad it could be otherwise), or it’s all been a scam.
So far the Diamondbacks get a solid D for baserunning. Yes, they’ve been about average for non-stolen base outs, but they’ve also been the worst at basestealing success. Is the team, and its individual players, just bad at making decisions, or are they bad at preparing to know when best to take a chance?
Either way, the D-backs need to get this sorted out so they can stop leaving outs on the basepaths.
Health - Jim
I think the baseball injury gods have been more than a little harsh on the Diamondbacks in the first half of the season. It wasn’t that long ago we had seven players on the disabled list, including our closer and best hitter from last season. Things are at least heading in the right direction again, with the returns of J.J. Putz and Aaron Hill, as well as Eric Chavez, and right now, the team is probably an Adam Eaton comeback away from being the healthiest it has been since Opening Day.
There are still some remaining issues, and the set-back to Daniel Hudson, who has just started his second Tommy John rehab, was one of the worst kicks to the guts I can remember in team history. The relatively long-term loss of Matt Reynolds has definitely hurt the bullpen as well, limiting the left-handed options there. And the way the rotation has been pitching of late, it could certainly use help from the return of Brandon McCarthy, who had a much better May (3.23) than April (7.48).
It’s the most unpredictable of all areas, and there are several nightmare scenarios possible, which could derail the team completely. I’m not even going to list those, for fear of giving the baseball injury gods ideas ("A brick wall... A brick wall... I must think of a brick wall... A brick wall..." Bonus points if you recognize that quote) - you can probably come up with your own. However, the odds are that the team won’t be quite as badly hurt in the second-half as they have been thus far, and that can only improve their chances of staying competitive in the ever-interesting NL West.
Looking forward - TolkienBard
So there you have it. Perhaps it might be fair to say that the Diamondbacks are still in first place despite of themselves in the month of June. But there is no denying one simple fact, they are still two games ahead of the pack in first place in the NL West. With the healthy return of Aaron Hill and Eric Chavez, as well as the recent return of Miguel Montero’s bat, things are looking up for the offense that has struggled mightily at times this season. J.J. Putz has returned and, with the time he has had off, should still be strong to finish the season. Heath Bell has apparently worked out his mechanical issues and is back in the first set-up slot, a role he is probably better-suited to and one in which he can dominate.
Should the Diamondback struggles continue, Tyler Skaggs, David Holmberg, Archie Bradley, Zeke Spruill, and Charles Brewer all continue to dominate in the minor leagues, giving the team a number of enviable options from which to address rotation and perhaps even bullpen issues without going out and relying on a mid-season rental. Matt Davidson continues to hit in Reno at a clip that makes one wonder just how much longer before he is promoted to the bigs to see what he can do over at the hot corner. And as if Davidson wasn’t enough, Chris Owings is hitting so well it’s a wonder anyone even bothers pitching to him anymore. The very young middle infielder is currently blocked from promotion to the majors by Didi Gregorious at short, and silver slugger Aaron Hill at second, but there are other ways in which Owings’ bat may be able to help the team, especially with the trade deadline coming up.
With the team returning to health, and with time off coming up at the All-Star break, it is difficult to imagine that, moving forward, the Diamondbacks could do any worse than they did during their June swoon. The Arizona schedule is weighted heavily in their favour in the second half with 17 home games in July and 44 home games over the rest of the season and they have only one road trip longer than a week remaining on the schedule.
Despite themselves, the Diamondbacks are still in first place after playing rather mediocre baseball. An improved, rested offense, and possibly some fresh blood added to the 25-man roster bodes well for the team’s future. It won’t take adding much to the likes of Patrick Corbin, Gerardo Parra, and Paul Goldschmidt to keep the Diamondbacks in first place, headed for a rematch against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.