Diamondbacks: Prove it, proven or problem
At 6-2 and leading Major League Baseball in wins, the Diamondbacks are one of the best teams in baseball. After one week, four different 75-win or less teams from 2016 are in first place in 2017. It’s hard to separate what’s real from what is hope with this year’s Diamondbacks.
I got six things that are very important to the D-backs’ success. I can see two things in the first eight games that I believe are not a fluke; two items that I don’t trust; and, two things that are already an issue. Here’s what’s proven, left to prove and a problem:
Arizona leads MLB in runs. Arizona is first in hits. No team in baseball has more doubles. Only Philly has more triples than Arizona. Although the D-backs are middle of the pack in HRs, Arizona is only two long balls behind Texas, Houston and Cincinnati, who lead baseball with 11. In the slash stats (AVG/OBP/SLG), Arizona is 1st/4th/3rd and second in MLB with an .827 OPS. The Diamondbacks are even in first place for hits by a pinch hitter, stolen bases and extra-base hits.
The offense won’t stay this hot all year but this is the strength of the team. It’s only been one week but this offense can carry the team through the heart of the season. This offense is for real.
He went hitless in the spring and in his first two games of the regular season. He’s batting .500 since. Tomas even ran down a ball in shallow left field in the first game of the current series with the Giants. After his bad start, Tomas finally started listening to every hitting coach he’s ever had. Now he’s raking.
Verdict: Prove it
I’m not buying anything Tomas sells for at least two months. He’s been hot before. As his confidence goes up, he thinks he can swing for the fences any time he wants. There have been too many examples of him not having any plan or clue as he approaches the plate. He even started this season as a free-swinger. If he’s still doing well approaching July, I’ll buy.
Brandon Drury made a play last week where he tried to pump fake a runner to death. Didn’t work. He turned a ground ball into an RBI single that never left the infield with no runner on third. In Monday’s home opener for San Francisco, Drury caught a deep pop-up in shallow right-center field with a runner prepared to tag at third. Although it’s up to the outfielders to call him off that, it should have been a run for San Francisco. Only braindead base running saved Arizona. Then, of course, there’s Monday’s meltdown with the bases loaded on the little league, 3-run infield “double.”
This is only the beginning. It can easily get worse. The offense’s job all year will be to score more runs than the infield defense gives up. The problem is the starting pitching is too fragile to pitch around big innings that are being extended by should-be outs gift-wrapped into base runners.
He’s picked up almost 5 mph on his fastball. He hasn’t learned to throw it harder. He’s holding nothing back since he’s not a starter. Instead of trying to pitch to 20 hitters through 6-plus innings, Bradley is focused on only one thing: getting the next batter out. This simple change in focus has benefited him, greatly. He looks dominant. He’s thinking less about the scouting report and more about just manning up while mowing them down.
Archie has struggled with his confidence for years now. Another trip to the minors to build confidence would have done nothing. He doesn’t need to learn how to get minor league hitters out. He’s been doing that for years. Bradley is pitching with an attitude that says, “I don’t care what you think.” He cares about his craft but no one else’s opinion. Archie Bradley will benefit greatly from the bullpen. As his confidence and production climb, his time in the bullpen won’t. He’ll be back in the rotation.
Against the Giants was 2016: Almost 90 pitches thrown but only four innings of work. 2013 seemed to appear against Cleveland with a 4-hit, 6-inning shutout. Getting in front allows for the slider to devastate. Corbin showed some signs that he can (potentially) return to form.
Verdict: Prove it
It’s still about recovering from injury, but last year had to be a wake up call. Patrick Corbin has always been the darling prospect, then he got hurt. Obviously, there was great patience and care taken with his rehab. Everyone thought it was important that he returned in 2015, which he did. Corbin had plenty of time to show he was back in 2016, and he didn’t. He’s a great person who completely deserved his demotion to the bullpen. Corbin took it like a man. Now it’s time for him to continue his growth from prospect to top-of-the-rotation on a weak team or a solid starter on a playoff team.
All of the fun of saying “D-backs in first place” will be over by mid-May if the pitch counts don’t come down. Arizona averages 97 pitches per starting pitcher, yet only gets 5.1 innings pitched. The efficiency of the staff is a disaster. Starting pitchers should be well into the seventh before hitting 100 pitches, but only one starting pitcher (Zack Greinke), in one outing (vs. Cleveland) has ever earned an out in the 7th inning.
It’s impossible for a bullpen trying to fall into place to keep the D-backs in games while waiting for the offense to mount their comeback if the starting pitching is continually calling it a day after 16 or 17 outs. The pitch counts are way too high. Every game has too many high-pitch at-bats and too many jams to pitch out of in the early stages.
If the Diamondbacks want to repeat week one of the season 15 more times out of the next 25 weeks, the improvement of the infield defense must go up and the pitch counts of the starting pitchers must come down.