The Arizona Diamondbacks stayed quietly lurking in the first month or so of the MLB season. The Dodgers got the offseason accolades, the Rockies got the blazing start and the Giants had the respect that comes with winning two World Series in three years. But Arizona kept plugging away and they’ve now been holding steady atop the National League West. Are the D-Backs there for the duration or are they just another flavor of the month that will pass?
AN MVP/CY YOUNG SWEEP?
Arizona has legitimate contenders for both major awards. Paul Goldschmidt is having a monster season at first base. With a .332 batting average and 15 home runs, he’s translated that into a .411/.610 stat line for on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Goldschmidt became a stud immediately upon his arrival in the big leagues two years ago, and he’s now squarely in the middle of the MVP discussion.
Even Goldschmidt didn’t blaze on the scene like starting pitcher Patrick Corbin though. The rookie has made 12 starts in 2013 and merely compiled a 9-0 record and a 1.98 ERA. He’s sure to be a part of the All-Star festivities next month and at the forefront of the Cy Young debate.
OTHER KEY PLAYERS UNDERPEFORM
It’s a good thing that Goldschmidt and Corbin are electrifying the desert though, because several other players that manager Kirk Gibson needs to have come through are languishing. Miguel Montero, once of the bright young catchers in the majors, is hitting .199. Jason Kubel is having a poor year in left field, and Cody Ross is struggling on the opposite side of the outfield.
Martin Prado has been a disappointment at third base after coming over in the Justin Upton deal with Atlanta, and second baseman Aaron Hill has been hurt much of the year.
The starting pitching is an adventure on the nights Corbin doesn’t pitch. Ian Kennedy, two years removed from a 20-win season, has a 5.72 ERA in his twelve starts. Wade Miley has been shaky and Brandon McCarthy had been struggling along at 5.00 until he was put on the disabled list until the end of this month.
Right now, Trevor Cahill is the only other starting pitcher keeping things going, while Gibson has gotten a surprise year from shortstop Didi Gregorious, who’s put up a .386/.497 stat line. And Gerardo Parra has been a big part of the fourth-best offense in the league, at .375/.469.
THE BULLPEN MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
When you’re the ERA of your starting pitching ranks 10th in the National League, yet, the overall staff ERA is a solid sixth, it tells you something good about the bullpen. Gibson has an array of arms and they’re all good.
Matt Reynolds is the best, with a buck-71 ERA, while Brad Ziegler and Josh Collmenter are pitching very well. Tony Sipp, a part of some recent good bullpens in Cleveland, is getting it done in Arizona, and David Hernandez has quietly established himself as one of the NL’s better setup men, with a 2.73 ERA.
Heath Bell is handling the closer’s role, after being one of many disastrous veterans on the train wreck that was the 2012 Miami Marlins. Bell got a second lease on life in Phoenix, and he’s closed 11 of 13 save opportunities. Arizona will also get J.J. Putz back from the disabled list at the end of the month, giving Gibson yet another weapon.
Ideally, you want to see the starters take some of the burden off the relievers, because they’re all putting in a good workload right now. But with the depth on hand, Gibson should be able to balance out usage and ensure his relief corps can continue to pitch well.
WHERE’S IT ALL GOING?
I’ve never made any secret over the last two years that I really like this team. After a ’12 campaign were Arizona could never make a push every team it seemed like they moved to the perimeter of the race, Gibson has gotten his team in a good position this season.
I further think it unlikely that all the struggling players noted further up are going to continue that way. And while Corbin will likely come down to earth, at least a little bit, there’s no reason to assume Goldschmidt will. The first baseman has been building toward this kind of MVP-type year since he came to the majors.
If Arizona has to spend the year relying on Goldschmidt, Corbin and the bullpen, I would say that’s not sustainable. But I think what’s really happened is that package has kept the Diamondbacks going while other players—notably Kennedy in the rotation, Kubel in the lineup and Hill on the disabled list—got things worked out. I picked Arizona to win the NL West when the season began and feel even better about that selection today.
AROUND THE NATIONAL LEAGUE
NL East: The Washington Nationals are in an absolute free-fall right now, seven games out coming into Saturday. They can’t get any runners on base and the only team more inept offensively is the Miami Marlins. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage will have to do one of our closer looks at the Nats in the very near future to see if there’s any hope for keeping them as the pick to win the NL East.
NL Central: Johnny Cueto just can’t stay healthy. The Reds’ ace makes his second trip to the disabled list this season, and that’s music to the ears of fans in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, as this three-team horse race continues to show the Cards leading by a few lengths and the Reds/Pirates jostling for position.
NL West: I was never as high on the Dodgers as a lot of the media was, and consequently I’ve never been as down on them in their struggles. The electrifying debut of rightfielder Yasiel Puig has the potential to give this team a jolt, and they still do a good job getting a lot of runners on base. The 7 ½ game margin they face in the NL West is still manageable.