NL West Report: Arizona Faces Decisions On The Corners

The Arizona Diamondbacks have managed to keep the ship afloat in the NL West as they try and ride out the Dodger wave in the early part of the season. After losing three straight series, the Diamondbacks bounced back over the weekend by taking three of four in Miami and now continue their Eastern swing with trips to Washington and New York (the way the schedule works out, if there’s any hockey fans on the D-Back roster, they could see the Capitals-Rangers series in both cities and do a little advance scouting if Phoenix ends up playing either team in the Cup Finals. But I digress.). Arizona is 12-11, but with some issues to work out and decisions to make at the corner infield spots as we head into May.

Arizona got a surprisingly good, albeit inconsistent, year at third base from Ryan Roberts a year ago in their run to the NL West title. Towards the end of the season they brought up 24-year-old Paul Goldschmidt at first place and he showed real promise as a power threat at first base. Both are struggling in the first month of the year, hitting below .200 and no signs of an emergence from the slump. Manager Kirk Gibson has already started to give some of Roberts’ playing time to 36-year-old Cody Ransom, who’s been the team’s hottest hitter over the last week. The manager is less inclined to take away at-bats from a developing player like Goldschmidt, but with a quality veteran like Lyle Overbay on the bench—and hitting .313 in the chances he gets—Gibson’s hand might be forced. This isn’t a rebuilding team where you develop the kid at the expense of the veteran. This is a team with a real shot to win the National League pennant and everything has to serve that goal.

Gibson can count his blessings—he’s got viable options for his slumping starters, and in the case of Ransom he can also play shortstop if Roberts starts to hit and Stephen Drew can’t make it back from last summer’s ankle surgery as planned. The original return date for Drew was late April. If your calendar reads the same as mine, we’ve passed that date and he’s still not back, and I don’t know how far you can go with Willie Bloomquist at short. What it all adds up to its lot of decisions to be made regarding the infield spots in Arizona as they continue to get their lineup settled and wait for the Dodgers to come back to earth.

The coming week will be about jousting for position in the division, as next week features some early showdown series, with the Dodgers hosting the Giants on May 7 and Frisco continuing their road swing by going to Arizona. Here’s a summation of where the rest of the NL West stands…

LA Dodgers (16-7): They won three straight pitchers’ duels from first-place Washington over the weekend. The offense is starting to come back to earth, and if the Dodgers are going to score runs over the long summer months, one player to look at is rookie shortstop Dee Gordon. He’s got the speed to create opportunities when bats are silent, but at the .125 on-base percentage he compiled last week. Gordon is a work in progress with his bat, and there’s nothing wrong with where he’s at right now, but it’s also a reason to keep expectations for the Dodgers reasonable in spite of their good start.

San Francisco (12-10): With eight wins in their last thirteen games, the Giants are doing what the D-Backs are trying to do and that’s just hold steady and let the Dodgers come back to the pack. Tim Lincecum gave eight shutout innings his last time out, giving strong hope that his early struggles are a thing of the past. Buster Posey continues to carry the offense and continues to need help.

Colorado (11-11): The Rockies have been hovering on .500 the whole month and have home series with the Dodgers and Padres this week. Colorado got it off to a good start by beating up LA’s Aaron Harang on Monday night and with a good outing by Juan Nicasio, perhaps he can join Jamie Moyer in being a decent starter. Carlos Gonzalez swung as a hot a bat as there was in the division over the last week, with a n average of .423 and four home runs—a big reason Colorado led the NL in runs scored in that timeframe. But how realistic is it for an offense to maintain that pace?

San Diego (7-17): Bud Black’s team has still yet to win a series. Yonder Alonso started to hit last week, but Chase Headley went into a slump, so whatever the name of the player is, it seems the Padres will only have one hitter producing at a time. The team has to hope Edinson Volquez’s strong showing in his last start marks a turnaround for him.