Healing Diamondbacks have decisions to make upon recent success
The Arizona Diamondbacks completed the first four game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in team history with a 3-0 victory Sunday. It was the first four-game sweep of any opponent in over two years, dating back to a sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies completed on June 20, 2016.
The D-backs are 16-6 in June and 8-1 in their last nine road games. They have scored 135 runs in 22 games this month versus 77 runs in all 27 games played in May.
Since May 28, the D-backs have the best record in the National League at 18-7, which is tied with the Houston Astros for the best record in all of MLB over that time frame.
After having a very successful April, the team record of 8-19 in May was arguably one of the worst months historically in franchise history. Or at least it seemed like it.
The erratic performance over the first three months of this season has left many wondering about the true identity of this team.
Are they contenders or pretenders?
While pitching stayed consistent throughout the ups and downs, you can link the overall team success as of late to Paul Goldschmidt getting back on track. Since May 23, Goldschmidt is batting .370 with 12 home runs and 28 RBI in 27 games. He has a slugging percentage of .806 and an OPS of 1.270.
In his last 17 games, Goldy is even hotter, hitting .429 with 30 hits, nine home runs, and 21 RBI. During that span, Arizona has a record of 12-5.
Goldschmidt struggled in his first 48 games this season, hitting just .198 with 34 hits, five home runs, and 13 RBI. Despite his slow start, the team was able to win in April with the help of A.J. Pollock’s hot bat — before the center fielder went to the DL due to a fractured thumb on May 14 — and David Peralta’s consistent offense.
Peralta has kept it up and is hitting .322 in his last 22 games with seven home runs and 22 RBI.
Injury also contributed to May seeming so grim. The D-backs lost Pollock, Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray, Jake Lamb, Randall Delgado, and Steven Souza Jr. for significant stints this season. While manager Torey Lovullo did what he could to patch the holes in the rotation, the injuries compounded to make May a difficult month.
But now with the team on a roll and Shelby Miller returning to the mound on Monday against the Miami Marlins — and with Ray’s return imminent — Lovullo and the D-backs are going to have some “happy problems” in regards to where players will fit into the starting rotation, the bullpen and the outfield.
Once Ray returns from a strained oblique, what does Arizona do with veteran midseason signee Clay Buchholz when he returns from his own oblique injury that put him on the 10-day disabled list on Monday?
Recently acquired veteran outfielder Jon Jay had a six-game hitting streak prior to Sunday’s pinch hitting appearance. He is hitting .408 in his last eleven games and ranks second in MLB in singles with 75, which makes him a very strong candidate to stay in the outfield when Pollock returns.
Complicating matters when it comes to finding playing time if everyone were healthy is Steven Souza Jr., who like Pollock is a few steps away from a return.
Yoshi Hirano and Archie Bradley continue to make solid cases for a possible chance at the closer role if Lovullo decides to go with someone other than Brad Boxberger.
Hirano extended his MLB leading scoreless game streak to 22 games in the Sunday win against the Pirates. He has now gone 19.2 innings without giving up a run, which is the longest streak by a rookie in D-backs franchise history. Hirano’s scoreless game streak is sneaking up on the franchise record of 24 games set by Brandon Lyon in 2008 and matched by J.J. Putz in 2013.
Hirano is tied for third in the National League for holds with 16, and he is ranked seventh for relievers in ERA at 1.32.
Meanwhile, 13 of Archie Bradley’s last 14 appearances have been scoreless. He also has a 0.77 ERA in 13 games when pitching on no rest.
Although Bradley is first in all of MLB in holds at 19 and second in games played, he has two blown saves this season in five save opportunities while Boxberger has four blown saves in 21 save opportunities, perhaps giving Hirano the edge based on how he has been pitching as of late.
Depending on the success of Miller’s and Ray’s returns along with getting back Pollock and others, Lovullo will continue to have some difficult decisions to make despite the recent roll this team is on.