So far, so good
I think we'd all have settled for sitting 7-6 at the end of the first two weeks of action. We possess a winning record against both the World Series champion Giants and the reigning National League West winning Dodgers. Considering we combined to go 10-28 against that pair last season, our record to date of 6-4 will certainly do as a start. Even when we lose, it has been close: there's only been one defeat which hasn't resulted in a save situation, the 5-1 loss in San Diego on Tuesday. And with a run differential of +11, having scored 60 runs and conceded 49, I'm not getting the sense we've been a "lucky" team.
With 26 of our first 31 games coming against the rest of the division, I think it's particularly important to make a good showing early on. The early schedule was almost as NL West heavy last season (24 of our first 34), but by the end of that stretch, we were sitting at 11-23, already 10.5 games back, and basically dead in the water. Early on, the Dodgers are looking tough once more, but there's only 2.5 games between them and ourselves, and we showed in the series at Chase Field that they are mortal. Our first trip to Chavez Ravine - where the home team have an 8-1 record - opening May, will let us see if that was a fluke, or we can really hang with the big do(d)g(er)s.
Hotter than the sun
Paul Goldschmidt doesn't have the best line among our regular hitters. That belongs to Jake Lamb, who has a triple-slash line of .414/.514/.690, for a 1.204 OPS. He's second on the team behind Goldie for RBI, with nine, which is impressive considering Jake is only ranked 10th for at-bats. Quite why he was sat yesterday is a mystery. He has proven himself capable of handling the bat, and the legitimate concerns about his K-rate during his debut last season, have been addressed conclusively, with a K:BB ratio of 3:6. Yep, you read that out. The man who fanned in 27.8% of plate-appearances last year, has walked twice as often as he has K'd. He should play every day.
The rotation was a big question-mark coming in, and while some of these appear justified, that hasn't been the case for Archie Bradley. You don't get a much tougher starts than facing the reigning Cy Young and World Series MVP in your first two games, but if the bullpen had done its job, Bradley would have gone 2-0 against them. He's clearly a [in your best Mark Grace impression, please] big-league ball-player. I am a bit concerned about the walk-rate - six in 12.2 innings - and that .161 BABIP is certain to regress. But a FIP of 2.83 shows it's not all smoke and mirrors. Next up: facing another Opening Day starter, in the Rangers' Yovani Gallardo. Piece of cake.
Early signs indicate the Diamondbacks defense has been playing better than it did in 2014 - not that this is exactly difficult. Our fielding percentage is up to .990 from .983, and our Defensive Efficiency [the % of balls in play converted into outs - it's quite heavily park-dependent] has improved from 67.7% to 68.8%. Fangraphs concurs, rating the Diamondbacks as the third-best defense in the majors overall at this point. I'm hard pushed to think of too many times when we've embarrassed ourselves, and there have been some outstanding plays: A.J. Pollock, for my money, has particularly impressed, showing great range and a better arm than I expected.
Causes for concern
Despite Bradley, I'm still bothered by our starting rotation. The numbers have certainly calmed down a bit, but that's thanks largely to facing a woeful Giants offense in AT&T Park: our four starters allowed six earned runs in 28 innings of work, a 1.93 ERA. But we saw in the opening homestand how rough things could be, the rotation reaching the end of the sixth once in six attempts. Jeremy Hellickson has very little margin for error, and Rubby De La Rosa still lacks the ability to control his (undeniable) stuff with any degree of consistency. Mind you, based on Trevor Cahill's first start for Atlanta (2.1 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 4 ER), things could certainly be worse.
Aaron Hill looks broken, with a .445 OPS. I suspect the only reason we're seeing so much of him, is that Chris Owings has hardly been any better (.476), striking out more than one-third of the time (44 PA, 16 K's). However, Owings was late into spring-training due to the after-effects of his shoulder surgery, which may have damaged his approach at the plate. There have also been hopeful signs recently for Chris, going 6-for-18 in the Giants series. Hill? Less so, those game-winning RBI in the 12th notwithstanding. After picking up a couple of hits on Opening Day, Hill is 4-for-31, and just 2-for-26 since the start of the set against Los Angeles.
"From what I understood from talking to Mike Scioscia, he's a much better right fielder than he is in left." So said Dave Stewart about Mark Trumbo, but if there has been any marked improvement in Trumbo's defense, I must have missed it, probably while closing my eyes rather than watching him lumber around after another ball in the corner. Early days yet, but DRS has him the worst right-fielder in the majors. Which I could take if he was banging the ball out of the park, but the only AZ outfielder with fewer home-runs than Trumbo is Ender Inciarte, and Ender's OPS is still 79 points higher. Trumbo has now had 44 AB and zero walks, the most by any NL hitter without a free pass.
This is my unsurprised face
Paul Goldschmidt for MVP. Yeah, we knew he'd be good, but admit it - you were just a little worried there would be some kind of hangover from having his hand broken last season. He's batting .313, getting on-base at a .421 clip, and already has as many home-runs as he had through the first 35 games of last season. Perhaps the scary thing is, Goldie has traditionally been a bit of a slow starter. Even including this season, his April OPS is almost 60 points below his career figure (.849 vs. .908). If that's the case this season, Tim Lincecum should go get himself an entire pallet of clean underwear, because he's going to need it.
Oh, look: our catchers have been a gurgling vortex of offensive suck, hitting .180/.241/.180. However, the resulting .421 OPS isn't actually the worst in the majors: the Mariners (.401) and Reds (.398!) are actually worse. However, it's still more than two hundred points below the franchise low-water mark for the position, when the 2005 catchers for Arizona hit .218/.306/.325 for an OPS of .631. This is the only area where we've been affected by injury, the loss of Gerald Laird leading to Jordan Pacheco taking over as Tuffy's back-up. But I doubt anyone can blame that with a straight face. On the other hand, Tuffy has been battered by more balls than [insert off-color reference here].
Making Aaron Hill and our catchers look like Babe Ruth, is Nick Ahmed and his line of .135/.238/.135, for an OPS of .373. I know he's slick-fielding 'n' all, but for comparison, National League pitchers last year had a .312 OPS - and nobody was pitching around them because they were batting 8th. At .155, they actually had a better SLG than Ahmed has this season. I don't care how good a glove you have - and there's no doubt Ahmed is a wizard defensively - he'll need to get those offensive numbers going in the right direction if he wants to stick around. Nick has also been striking out at more than a 30% rate (13 K's in 40 PA).
To infinity, and beyond!
So far, it has mostly been the D-backs' position players who have contributed to this strong start: their 1.9 fWAR is fourth in the league. The pitching is more middle-of-the-road, ranking eighth: as noted, it has looked better on the road-trip, but let's see if that is sustained after the next ten days, covering another home-stand, followed by our first trip to Coors Field of the season. If Bradley can sustain his initial success, De La Rosa can continue to develop, and Hellickson can have more starts like his last appearance, rather than the two which preceded it, I'll be happy, at least until we get Corbin and Arroyo back.
At the plate, I'd settle for more of the same, but if Hill is going to play virtually every day, he needs to justify it soon, especially if Owings continues to improve. Let Lamb show what he can do, even against left-handed starters, because right now, that seems a better option than Hill. The news that Gerard Laird needs surgery could well open up a 40-man roster spot, and if that's the case, don't be surprised if someone like Nick Evans is called up to provide right-handed pop on the bench, with Yasmany Tomas returned to Reno for the further everyday experience I think he still needs.