After last night’s 5-4 win over the Reds, the Diamondbacks are one game below .500 (7-8). Now that they’re 15 games into their season, it’s a good time to run some early diagnostics on the club to see what’s looking good and what may need a tune-up.
Diagnostic: The D-backs offense seems to be the team’s only clear strength. Arizona ranks among the top four in the National League in every major offensive category. They are fourth in runs scored, tied for third in team batting average, fourth in home runs, third in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), third in stolen bases and first in slugging percentage.
Necessary tune-ups: D-backs second baseman Kelly Johnson (.177/.250/.323) has been very quiet thus far. Only two NL players have more strikeouts than Johnson –– who currently has 20 –– and, without a noticeable improvement, he may be moved from the top of the order to the either the six, seven or eight hole. If he continues to slump, manager Kirk Gibson may opt to play one of his hot-hitting utility men in Willie Bloomquist or Ryan Roberts.
Things to monitor: Save injury problems, don’t expect a significant drop off in the D-backs’ offensive production. Justin Upton, Chris Young and Stephen Drew are clearly showing to be the stars everyone thought them to be, and that shouldn’t change. While catcher Miguel Montero probably will begin to look less and less like Superman and more and more like Clark Kent, he’s not going to vanish altogether.
All in all, with a tune-up to the top of the order, the D-backs offense is on its way to an A+.
Diagnostic: With an NL-worst 5.39 ERA, the D-backs’ greatest deficiency is clearly its pitching. Their winningest starter, Armando Galarraga (3-0), has a 6.00 ERA and their ace* Ian Kennedy, gave up nine earned runs in his last start, which lasted three innings. The other three guys in the rotation are Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders and Barry Enright. Who?! Exactly. The days of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling and Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are gone. However, it looks like the days of Chad Qualls and Brandon Lyon may be gone just the same. (Juan Gutierrez and his 7.04 ERA are still around, unfortunately.) In his first year on the team, D-backs’ closer J.J. Putz looks to be legit. He has a 1.29 ERA and he’s perfect in four save opportunities, with nine strikeouts in seven innings.
Necessary tune-ups: This is a no-brainer –– starting pitching is the white elephant 0f the club. Only one starter, Daniel Hudson, has an ERA below 6.00. The rotation has a combined WHIP of 1.523, which ranks second to last in baseball. The D-backs’ bullpen (3-1; 4.50 ERA in 50 innings) could also use a tune-up, but starting pitching is the priority.
Things to monitor: Although it would be an understatement to say that the D-backs’ pitching has been sub-par, it is worth noting that they have mostly played very high-caliber offenses in the Reds, Rockies and Cardinals, who rank first, second and third in the NL in runs scored.
While the stats aren’t great for the starters, Putz is getting the job done, so the grade “jumps” to a D.
Overall team grade: Let’s split the difference and call it a C+.
*No disgrace intended to the term “ace.”
- At this time last year, the Diamondbacks were leading the National League in both home runs and strikeouts. This year, they’ve cut back on strikeouts (thanks in large part to the departure of whiffer Mark Reynolds) and continue to bop home runs. Three NL teams have more home runs; three NL teams have fewer strikeouts.
- Willie Bloomquist has had a hit in all but one game he’s played in for the D-backs.
- Through 15 games, Chris Young looks to be a major contender for a gold glove.
- Ian Kennedy is on the mound for the D-backs versus the Reds tonight. He last faced them on April 8 in the D-backs’ home opener and got a win, going eight innings, allowing six hits and one run, while striking out nine. With a win tonight, the D-backs will have two series victories versus the defending NL Central champs this season.