Baseball Notes: DBacks Disappointment in the Desert
There aren't a lot of Diamondbacks fans in Phoenix compared to fans of the Cubs, Dodgers, and maybe even Giants who all have comparable fan bases in the valley. There have been a few high points, their amazing World Series victory in 2001, and their playoff teams of 2007, and 2011. This was supposed to be a year with those kinds of hopes, and those hopes seemed to have been dashed just before the season started.
I was lucky enough to see both number retirement ceremonies for Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson for the Diamondbacks. I wasn't around Arizona for 2001 when Gonzalez and Johnson lead the BDacks to win the World Series but the dorm hall I lived on was very invested in the series against the Yankees. I grew up and went to college half way between Boston and New York and spent a lot of time in the fandom battle ground that are the Red Sox and Yankees.
I believe it was the early innings of game one of the World Series, Randy Johnson was on the mound and the excitement of the game permeated through the building with groans on every pitch by Yankee fans and anti-Yankee fans. I watched the game by myself in my dorm room but when the camera cut to a sign in the crowd that read "it takes more than 25 Yanks to beat this Johnson," laughs could be heard from all around. Drama truly reached a peak when the cable for the building cut out in the middle of a Randy Johnson pitch and it felt like the whole state lost its mind with anger.
The Red Sox were in the midst of their curse and the Yankees seemed unbeatable. When Luis Gonzalez broke his bat in game 7 to score the walk off series winning run off of Mariano Rivera. Rivera was thought to be unbeatable before that moment, and from then on there was at least a glimmer of hope for Red Sox fans when facing him in the future.
There were a lot of fond stories from native Arizonans for that run, and quite a few have claims of being at that game but by the time I came to AZ in 2010, Phoenix had become a fair weather city for baseball. The DBacks have had swings between not very good and very exciting, and those exciting years fill Chase Field.
After the run up to and just after 2001, the DBacks didn't make the playoffs again until an electric run in 2007. That team succeed from energy players Orlando Hudson and Eric Byrnes as Brandon Webb was the ace of the team. Webb was third in rookie of the year in '03, won the Cy Young Award in '06, finished second in '07 and '08, then had one start in '09 before suffering a career ending injury. He had one of the best three year stretches of any pitcher but only had 6 full seasons in the majors before getting injured and retiring.
I was able to make it to the only playoff game I've ever been to when the DBacks went to the NLDS in 2011. The stadium was packed and a relatively unknown rookie 1B who had hit .250 in under 50 games that year, Paul Goldschmidt hit a grand slam to drive the stadium crazy. That wasn't based around Goldschmidt, he was an unknown not even prominent on prospect lists. It was based around Justin Upton, Gerardo Parra, Miguel Montero and the top of the rotation of Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy. Everyone but Hudson ended up moving on from AZ within a couple of seasons and Hudson transitioned into a reliever after injuries.
This year was supposed to be the bounce-back year for the DBacks. In the off season they traded away the first overall pick they drafted just last summer, Dansby Swanson, and another top prospect for Shelby Miller from the Braves. They also managed to sign Zach Greinke as a free agent and dump Aaron Hill on the Brewers for middle infielder Jean Segura. Tyler Clippard was the final free agent pick up to bolster Arizona's strong parts of their roster. Going into the season the DBacks had holdover stars of Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, Welington Castillo, Yasmani Tomas, David Peralta, recovering former ace Patrick Corbin, and dark horse closer Brad Ziegler.
The problem was that unlucky things happen, and a whole lot of them happened at once. A.J. Pollock got injured just before the season started and still doesn't seem on track to get back on the field. Chris Owings, a former middle infielder has taken over CF in his place and has not been hitting and has been having a terrible time reading the ball in the field. Miller recently went on the DL but he had such a bad start to the season (7.09 ERA in 10 starts) there is reason to believe he was hurt from opening day.
Greinke hasn't had the dominant start he had last year with his 4.29 ERA in 12 starts after he had a league leading 1.66 ERA last year with the Dodgers. I have been impressed by watching him this year because I didn't know he was such a good hitter, hitting nearly .300 as a pitcher, and an excellent fielder as well. At least he seams to be turning things around.
Who's Your All-Star
Greinke certainly has the skill set to be an All-Star this year but his ERA hasn't kept pace with the 10 SP's with an ERA under 2.50 in the NL so far this year. Goldschmidt is a two time runner up for MVP in the last two seasons he has played a full season (he had one season in between where he only played 109 games although he did hit .300 with 19 homers that year). His batting average has been low compared to the last three years although it is inching up and his power is on pace. Compared to the other 1B's in the NL, aside from the Padres Wil Myers, he either has a higher avg or more HR's than anyone else and his recognizable name might push him into the All-Star game, although Cubs voters will probably push Rizzo into starting despite a down year for him.
Jean Segura is having a great first year with the DBacks after starting the year with a big opening day. That might not be enough for him because of the overwhelming offensive output of Daniel Murphy and the popularity of Josh Harrison and Neil Walker might push Segura out of the game. As much as I like UConn's Nick Ahmed at short, he's hitting .202, and that's not even Partial-Star, let alone All-Star material.
Welington Castillo has turned his career around since joining the DBacks midseason last year and he has kept pace this year. At another position he wouldn't have as much of a chance but this year only Wilson Ramos and Jonathan Lucroy are playing better. Unless Buster Posey is voted in as the starter, Castillo will have a nice shot as a 3rd catcher. Another addition last year was Yasmani Tomas who has hit his stride this year as a power to the opposite field hitter who has played like a star in the lineup but his average is just a little low.
The one break out player that might be fun to see get a chance at the All-Star game would be Brandon Drury. He is not on the ballot and has played RF, LF, 3B, and 2B. In 52 games he is hitting .282 with 8 homers, and has been a nice right handed spark plug in the lineup. Chances are it will just be Goldschmidt as an All-Star, unless any of the fringe players have a hot couple of weeks.
The Rest of the Year
The DBacks could have a shot at getting back into the NL West race. Greinke and Goldschmidt will be better this year, Pollock could come back and turn their line-up around, and David Peralta could show more power than his four home runs. The young pitchers Robbie Ray and Archie Bradley have very high K/9 rates and they could turn into some dominant pitchers (although if they ease up on their velocity they could both become elite). The danger for this team could be that Chase Field give up a lot of home runs and that could discourage their young pitchers that they will need to deliver for the DBacks to get back into the playoffs.
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