Two facts about the 2016 Diamondbacks: the rotation stinks and all is not lost.
It is a much easier path through the Major League Baseball playoffs to get in as a division winner instead of as a Wild Card team. Wild Cards must play the win-at-all-costs play-in game just to play the best team in the league. Since the expanded wild card format, only two of the 16 wild card teams have made it to a World Series. Division winners clearly have the advantage.
Since MLB added a second wild card team, the average wins it takes to make it in as a wild card is 91. In order for Arizona to hit the average they must finish the year 79-55. There is nothing the Diamondbacks have done in the month of April that should lead you to believe this team can leapfrog five teams and play at a clip of 24 games above .500.
The math might doom the D-backs already. Surprisingly, the best way to enter the playoffs is still very much in play, by winning the division. The NL West is strange and wide open. Every other division has very low floor while the West has the “best” last-place team, yet the West also has the “worst” first-place team. The Padres’ .407 winning percentage is best among the bottom-feeders while San Francisco brings up the rear of the front-runners at only two-games above .500. Every team in the West has warts so big they can’t run away, but the dermatologists are solid enough to keep the team from free fall.
May is the key. Arizona’s April opponents ended the month 10-games above .500. May opponents started the month 32 games below the break-even line. Atlanta, Houston and the Yankees are three of the four worst teams in Major League Baseball and they all have a spot on the Diamondbacks’ May schedule. Although Miami is above .500, the Marlins have the second-fewest home wins of any team, yet the D-backs have already lost one game in Miami.
Arizona almost kept its head above water in the toughest month of the year with terrible starting pitching. Shelby Miller has been so poor he’s not just losing games he pitches, but he’s killing the bullpen so those arms are worthless to help other pitchers in the rotation. A loss for a starting pitcher after seven solid innings is not the end of the world. Praying Miller makes it through five is a death knell for any team.
Of course, Miller isn’t the only rotational wart. If you want to spin it positive, with that much room to improve, Arizona can easily jump right into a weak division race and even thrive if the starting pitching comes close to expectations. The flip side is if the starting pitching can’t even handle the pressure of April, there’s no chance they have the mental toughness to handle September. If nothing changes, October is out of the question.
The Diamondbacks must dominate May or the question changes from Shelby and the rotation this month to Simmons and the Suns next month.
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