With last night's win against the New York Yankees, the Arizona Diamondbacks finally secured their first home series win of the season. Yeah, it has been that kind of year for the boys in
Sedona Red and Sonoran Sand, make that black, white, and teal. Now 42 games into the season, the Diamondbacks are sporting a record of 19-23 and sit in fourth place in the NL West, 4.5 games behind the division leading San Francisco Giants. Last night marked only the seventh win in 23 games at home for the struggling franchise, making it even more difficult to sell this team to a fan base that is desperately looking for a reason to support this team.
This is obviously a far cry from where the team envisioned itself being when they added the likes of Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, and Tyler Clippard to an offense headed by Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Injuries have taken their toll on this team. A.J. Pollock was lost for the season when his elbow gave out two nights before the season started. Shelby Miller has started using the ground as a punching bag on his follow-through. Yasmany Tomás has had some leg problems. David Peralta was hit in the wrist twice and is now on the DL, trying to nurse that wrist back to health. Jean Segura and Jake Lamb have both missed time to nagging discomforts. Such is baseball though. Winning teams find a way to work through their nagging complaints and gut out victories here and there. The one exception this expectation might of course be losing A.J. Pollock for the season. That is not the sort of loss most teams are prepared to deal with. Yet, even though the team has obviously missed A.J. Pollock, the Diamondbacks outfield has by and large been just fine.
Given the talent the team possess and the expectations for the season, it would seem that the team might be in need of a drastic shift in approach. It is during unexpected and unfortunate slumps like this where it becomes commonplace to start second-guessing management, pointing out what the powers that be should be doing differently. But should the Diamondbacks really be doing much of anything differently?
Sure, there are individual decisions made on the season that could be questioned. When Shelby Miller left his third start of the season after having abused his pitching hand I suggested a trip to the disabled list for him, if for no other reason than to protect a valuable asset and to give him a zero-stress environment to get his mechanics figured out. When he essentially repeated the performance in his very next outing, I was shouting from the rafters for him to head to the disabled list. The team decided against such a tactic. Tonight will be Miller's third start since then, and while the performances have not been pretty, he seems to be once again back to getting results. Maybe tonight things will look smoother. This is not a change in direction or approach though. This is merely taking umbrage with one small portion of a very long season, because when it comes down to it, a successful 2016 Diamondbacks team is going to feature a mostly successful Shelby Miller. If the team sacrificed a bit early in the season with letting him get right in MLB games, that is not going to be the deciding difference in the season.
Likewise, there have been repeated calls for the team to bring up Peter O'Brien from Reno, despite having no place to play him on the field. Sure, Paul Goldschmidt has, until nine days ago struggled on the season. Chip Hale could elect to "send a message" to the team of perform or sit by benching Goldschmidt for a series and playing O'Brien over at first base for those three games. Under the very best of circumstances, O'Brien hits a pair of home runs and goes 6-for-12 across three games with only four strikeouts. What then? Do you keep sitting one of the very best players in baseball? Of course not. If this team is going to win, Paul Goldschmidt is going to be on the field for 145+ games this season. Once moved to the outfield, Peter O'Brien's bat becomes even more important though, as he is a well below average defender, ranking even lower than the defensively questionable Yasmany Tomás in corner defense capability. What O'Brien's bat giveth, his glove is likely to take away. This is best-case thinking. What if the message that is received is not the one that is sent? What if the message received by the players is that a small slump will result in the organization losing faith with a player, even one as gifted as Goldschmidt? The only real candidate for making room on the current 25-man roster is Rickie Weeks. I don't think anyone would mind him being released, but do we all want O'Brien up with the big club getting rusty filling in the 25th man slot and maybe seeing 5 ABs in a week if he is lucky? Probably not. It would be a gross disservice to his development.
Perhaps some lineup shuffling is in order. Move Goldy up a slot or down a slot in the lineup? Would doing so help protect the team from his current struggles? Perhaps, though this is a game-to-game decision, not a general approach sort of decision. Clearly, if Goldschmidt is performing to expectations, batting him up in the order is the right call.
The bullpen, despite being very much average on the whole, has been very solid late, with the likes of Brad Ziegler, Daniel Hudson, Andrew Chafin, and Tyler Clippard all getting the job done on a pretty reliable basis. The "weak link" of the bullpen at this point is probably Randall Delgado. If somone wants to make a case for dismissing him to call up someone else from Reno or Mobile, there will be few to argue against the move, but this is not a substantial change.
This season is shaping up to be as much about problems beyond the front office's control as anything else. For the Diamondbacks to compete in 2016, there are a handful of things that need to happen.
- Paul Goldschmidt needs to get going right
- Starting pitching needs to step up, most especially Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller
- David Peralta needs to get healthy and return with his quality left-handed bat
- Jean Segura needs to finish the season as strong as he has started
- Chris Owings needs to continue to improve, and not suffer a drop-off
- Yasmany Tomás needs to have the stamina to go a full 162 games
While management can help ensure some of these things happen by limiting playing time or making good use of the DL, the real onus is on the players, and the players only at this point.
The Take: If the Diamondbacks are going to be a competitor this year, it is going to be on the strength of an infield of Castillo, Goldschmidt, Segura, Ahmed, and Lamb. The outfield is going to be manned by Tomás, Owings, Peralta, and Drury. Phil Gosselin is going to continue to impress as a utility player. The rotation is going to get strong seasons from Greinke, Miller, Corbin, and at least one of De La Rosa or Ray, along with some good contributions from other pitchers in the organization to pick up the slack.
In short, as painful as it seems right now, this team needs to hold the course. It is either going to sink or swim based on the play of the cornerstone players of the team, Goldschmidt, Greinke, Miller, and Ziegler. Trying to rearrange the deck chairs is likely to cause more harm than good at this point.