Despite consistent .500 play, 2019 Diamondbacks are a success
The Diamondbacks are less than a playoff team. They are more like a floating device.
Fourteen times in 2019, they have won a game that leveled their record, wiping the slate clean.
Twelve times, they’ve lost a game that dropped them back to .500, a team forever treading water.
So what now?
They are back over .500. They have a new and different momentum. They just completed a series victory over the Phillies, which followed a series victory against the Nationals, which followed a trade deadline that started off as a bake sale. They defied their garbage record at Chase Field, a home-field disadvantage that might be fueled by the humidor and the synthetic turf.
Their two new additions to the starting rotation paid immediate dividends. Mike Leake showed his experience and pedigree, weaving through rush-hour traffic and the gridlock of Phillies left on base. Zac Gallen raised eyebrows with his wholly composed, laser-focused effort on Wednesday, in just his eighth Major League start. Archie Bradley is suddenly a red-hot closer.
It all poses a vexing question:
Will the Diamondbacks finally declare? Will they seize the moment, create their own tailwind and finally learn to fly? Could they actually end up in the postseason after making a good chunk of their roster available at the trade deadline?
Skepticism is warranted, and it could be heard in a mostly-silent ballpark over the past two games.
Twenty-six times this season, the Diamondbacks have begun a new day with as many wins as losses. They’ve spent most of their time as a maddeningly average baseball team. A team that has made their fans feel gullible, angry, bored and detached.
The current playoff race defies the eyes. Our sensibilities scream that a .500 team does not belong in October, unworthy of watercooler discussion. The depth of “contenders” cheapen the feel of what a playoff berth should mean and how a playoff team should look. It contradicts the mission of a 162-game season, a marathon designed to separate the good from the average from the bad.
Now, the sport has become a hamster wheel. Run in place for five months without falling off the wheel entirely, and you will likely be in contention for a wild card berth in late September. It’s gratuitous and grotesque, and if the Diamondbacks want fans to truly embrace their postseason possibilities, they need to resemble the part.
They resume on the road, in Los Angeles. Then a trip to Colorado. They have an upgraded rotation and have undergone extensive surgery. They sailed through the public relations crisis of trading Paul Goldschmidt. They unloaded Zack Greinke and his massive contract for four real prospects. They’ve survived the loss of A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin.
Either way, this is also the truth:
All that matters has already occurred. The 2019 Diamondbacks are an irrefutable success.
They now have a nucleus of highly-productive players locked in at reasonable rates, notably Ketel Marte, Eduardo Escobar and Carson Kelly. They have a replenished farm system now ranked among the top five in the sport.
That’s a productive year. Maybe even an amazing year, if the Diamondbacks play suspenseful, playoff-caliber games in September. And if they somehow make the playoffs, I actually like their chances better without Greinke.
For all his flaws, Robbie Ray is an intense competitor who burns hot and could sizzle in a one-game playoff while Gallen’s performance in his Arizona debut might’ve raised the ceiling.
By contrast, and for all his greatness in 2019, Greinke was relieved when he didn’t pitch a no-hitter, freed from all that “nonsense” that goes with it. He withdrew from the All-Star Game for personal reasons. He wasn’t good in his only playoff start for the Diamondbacks. He wasn’t sharp in his highly-publicized debut for the Astros. His personality may not be conducive to the white-hot spotlight of October. We’ll see.
For now, the Diamondbacks have pulled off a sporting coup. They have a brighter future than they did at the trade deadline. They have a better chance to win a one-game playoff should they earn a wild card berth. While their fans aren’t exactly buying the dream or crowding the bandwagon, the team should feel no pressure at all.
Unlike the Phillies, Cardinals, Nationals and Brewers.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.