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The Bard’s Take: True Talent Level

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Is this tream really a cellar-dwellar? Or is this team a marginally competitive one that has been injured?

Oakland Athletics v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Back in March I wrote a piece where I tried to take a sober, reasoned look at the chances for the Diamondbacks to compete in 2016. I used the sports betting site TopBet to get a solid handle on the industry consensus, finding that my expectations were pretty much in line with those of professional odds makers.

If only I could get paid as well as the casino for being so terribly wrong. Both odds-makers and I had the Diamondbacks pegged as something in the vicinity of a .500 team. What a difference. Even such a modest goal would make. If the Diamondbacks were somehow managing a 55-55 record right now, they would be three games out of the Wild Card. Granted, the real goal should always be to make the playoffs properly, not target a crapshoot play-in game, but any reason to be discussed with postseason relevance is better than none at all. Some predictions have held. The Dodgers and the Giants are indeed the class of the division. Although, unfortunately for the Dodgers, they have finally discovered someone that can beat Clayton Kershaw here in what was arguably shaping up to be one of his best seasons ever – Clayton Kershaw. With their ace starter likely out for the season it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their share of first place in the NL West or their four-game lead on the Wild Card race. Likewise for the Giants. If not for the utter failure of the Diamondbacks this season, many more eyes in the NL West would be focused on the mid-season collapse of San Francisco, who, despite going 3-3 over their last six games is 7-16 in their last 24, having come out of the break 2-11. With the Giants also in freefall mode, the NL West is still clearly up for grabs, just not by the Diamondbacks.

With regard to the Diamondbacks, Castillo, Peralta, Pollock, Ziegler, and Goldschmidt have indeed regressed from 2015. The additions of Zack Greinke and Tyler Clippard were positive contributions to the pitching staff. Second base has indeed become a position of positive contribution this year, Jean Segura providing a boost that few expected. Chris Hermann has also been refreshingly decent this year, another bonus. With so many pluses and minuses adding up the way they were anticipated to, what happened to the Diamondbacks in 2016?

Tony La Russa does not like to use injuries as an excuse for a team’s poor performance. He does acknowledge that the can have a major impact, but he does not permit them to become a sole excuse for a generalized failure to perform. I tend to agree. Injuries, by themselves, are no excuse. Injuries, combined with underperformance from healthy players, that is something entirely different. A.J. Pollock has yet to suit up this season. David Peralta has been injured more often than not, and there are plenty of reasons to suspect he played at least a quarter of the 48 contests he was involved in with some sort of nagging injury. Rubby De La Rosa has been out since May 25th. Chris Owings missed a bit over six weeks due to injury. Zack Greinke missed a few weeks. Add all this up, and the team probably wins five or six more games with just these players remaining healthy. When you toss in Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin both completely imploding, the team’s rotation is now looking at four pitchers with underperformance issues of one sort or another. That doesn’t even begin to address the dumpster fire that has been the bullpen this season. It isn’t that Randall Delgado is the second-best arm remaining in the bullpen that is the problem. It’s that he is pitching just below league average and is the second-best option the bullpen has left to offer.

All this adds up to a terrible 2016 team. Early indications are, there will be few meaning ful changes (if any) for the 2017 team. That said, there are still reasons to be hopeful. Pollock, Peralta, Brito, Hermann, and De La Rosa are all returning healthy. Greinke came back last night and managed to pitch through six innings, showing his back issues to be, well, behind him. Shelby Miller can hardly be as poor moving forward as he was in 2016. Even Shelby Miller at 60% of what he was expected to be makes this team a better team. Simple health improvements and the return of an effective Miller, along with some improvements in game management could be enough to swing 10 games. Ten games is the difference between being a .500 team, relevant in August and September, and being in the running for a top-three pick in the next season’s draft.

This team, as assembled, is obviously not a contender for deep playoff runs – not yet anyway. There are no excuses for that, just poor performance. The true talent level of this team however, that just might still be a .500 team, and the closer the team is to making a playoff push, the better the chances are that La Russa, Dave Stewart, and the rest of the Diamondbacks’ brain-trust will make the moves necessary to put this team in the best position it can to win. Changes need to be coming in the upcoming offseason, but it is not yet time to blow things up and start over from scratch, not when the team is more likely poised to improve than it is to struggle so poorly again in 2017.