Well, here we are 68 fames into the season and the Diamondbacks are 29-39 and 12.5 games off the division lead. A.J. Pollock is still out for at least eight more weeks. Shelby Miller is on the DL, working on fixing himself enough that he can pitch himself to at least a second quality start on the season, having had only one in his first ten outings. Rubby De La Rosa is on the raggedy edge of permanent demotion to the bullpen due to arm health. David Peralta has missed 27 games. Chris Owings, a surprisingly adequate replacement in center field has gone down with plantar fasciitis. The team is a pathetic 13-25 when playing at home, making it difficult for even the avid fan to brave the summer heat to attend games. In short, this has simply been a miserable season for the Diamondbacks so far. No, they are not technically eliminated from anything so early in the season, but the reality is, they would need to make history in order to sniff the postseason this year. The saying goes, “You can’t predict baseball.” Sometimes you really can though. Sadly, this is almost certain to be one of those times. The Diamondbacks are now playing for pride, and to be ready for 2017.
As defeatist as that may sound, that is actually quite a lot to be playing for. How this team goes about playing the last 94 games of the season is going to tell the world a great deal about the character of this team. It should also serve to demonstrate to the front office precisely what needs addressing in the long, cold months between the World Series and Spring Training. With the return to health of David Peralta and (presumably) Shelby Miller, will the team’s bi-polar performance start to stabilize? When Chris Owings returns, will this help the performance out of the center field position? A.J. Pollock is still reported to be on track for a mid-August return. Can Pollock provide 4-6 weeks of all-star caliber performance to help the front office see what sort of true potential the team had before the season started? Or will he take the rest of the season just to shake the rust off?
For the team to even manage a finish equal to last year’s record of 79-83, this team will need to play much better than it has been, going 50-44 for the rest of the season. That would be a significant improvement over the start of the year. It would also be a very positive sign moving forward into next season. That winning percentage equates to an 86-win season over a full year. That still is not quite a playoff team, but it is clearly one in the playoff conversation – the sort of team that one-run games could make the playoff difference for.
The wins that an 86-win team needs to push for the playoffs are those always difficult (for most teams) marginal wins. Those are the wins that are found by knowing whether or not Jake Lamb is a platoon bat, whether or not Peter O’Brien is a big league ballplayer, whether or not Welington Castillo or Chris Hermann can take the next step and become a complete catcher. Is Shelby Miller going to take another developmental step forward, or is he “just another” innings-eating middle-of-the-rotation pitcher? Which is the real Robbie Ray? Can Brandon Drury hit enough to offset his glove? Does his glove play well anywhere besides possibly first base?
Some of the questions are more important than others. Some major decisions need to be made this winter, and the current budget is not in a position to answer those questions from outside the organization. The team has some very tradable assets right now. If the team is ever going to experiment with tweaks instead of a full-scale overhaul, this is the time to get started. The team needs fewer questions regarding heath and depth to begin the 2017 season. There are 94 games left in this season where the team can answer those questions while also providing a very dejected fan base a glimpse of the positive future that could lie ahead.