Diamondbacks Wasting a Golden Opportunity to Run Away with NL West

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The Arizona Diamondbacks started this season off strong, but cooled off quickly. And while they’re still in the thick of playoff contention, the D’Backs are missing out on a golden opportunity to run away with the National League West.

Last season was an encouraging and bit of a surprising season for the D-Backs. Going 93-69, they finished second in the NL West and won the NL Wild Card Game against the rival Colorado Rockies. Granted they were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Divisional Series, the 2017 season was a glimpse of what could be to come in the Desert. And the D-Backs hit the ground running this season.

Beginning the year 24-11, they were out front in the division, went 8-4 versus the Dodgers, and were looking like a World Series threat. Then, they free-fell to .500, got back on their feet, but are still fighting for the division lead at 64-52. A big part of the D-Backs’ ability to stay in the division hunt is their starting pitching.

Zach Greinke is fifth in the NL in ERA at 2.89 and has been a steady force in their rotation. Lefty Patrick Corbin has come into his own as one of the best lefties and flamethrowers in the game. Clay Buchholz has reinvented himself and been a vital part of the D-Backs rotation over the last nine weeks. Righty Zack Godley has also seen his fair share of moments this season. On the other hand,  Shelby Miller was atrocious in the four starts he made this season, Taijuan Walker has been unable to stay healthy, and Robbie Ray has been a story of injury and inconsistency. The D’Backs starting staff has been a mixed bag, but, overall, they’re one of the best groupings in the game. The same goes for their bullpen.

Going into Wednesday night, the D-Backs’ pen was second in the majors in ERA (3.09). With Andrew Chafin, Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano, T.J. McFarland, and Brad Boxberger, among others, in their bullpen, the D’Backs have a plethora of reliable arms who can pick up where their starters leave things in the late innings. When you combine their bullpen’s reliability with the high-profile starters they’re throwing on the hill every fifth day, all Arizona should need is a mediocre lineup, at best, to resemble a championship-caliber ballclub. Instead, they have one of the least productive offenses in the game.

With their current roster structure and the struggles of divisional rivals, the @Dbacks should be running away with the NL West rather than sputtering, writes @RPStratakos.Click To Tweet

When you see names such as Paul Goldschmidt, David Peralta, A.J. PollockJake Lamb, and Steven Souza, you envision them coming together to form a respectable and/or high-octane lineup. But Goldschmidt is only hitting an uncharacteristic .276, Pollock has struggled to remain healthy, Souza has been a huge disappointment, and the D-Backs went into Wednesday night 26th in hits (923) and team batting average (.237) and 20th in on-base percentage (.315). Last season, this grouping was in the middle of the pack, or in the top-10 in those offensive categories.

Sure, acquiring Eduardo Escobar helps their offense, but the infielder’s presence hasn’t been able to propel the D-Backs order to relevance. But the fact that their offense has been anemic for the first four months of the season offers little hope that the next 46 games will be any different for the D-Backs to begin with.

This offense has been one of the more productive and dangerous lineups in the game in recent memory, and after making it to the first round of the playoffs in 2017, this season was supposed to be the year that Arizona takes the next step even with the departure of J.D. Martinez; they were playing and hitting at a high level before his arrival in July of last season. When healthy, the Snakes’ starting rotation can matchup with any team. In a five-game series, their starting pitching can keep them in games, and the pen can pick up the slack in any situation.

The D-Backs should have a comfortable lead in the NL West. Even with the acquisitions of Manny Machado and Brian Dozier, the Dodgers haven’t taken off, or shown that they’re a force to be reckoned with despite their success in years past. The Colorado Rockies have a fearsome lineup, but an overall erratic pitching staff. The San Francisco Giants are falling out of playoff contention, and the loss of righty Johnny Cueto is a significant blow to their chances of playing in October. The San Diego Padres are miles behind even the Giants for playoff seeding. This division should be sign, sealed, and delivered in the hands of the D’Backs, or at least in their favor by four-to-five games.

If the D-Backs end up playing in the NL Wild Card Game for a second consecutive season they will have squandered the golden opportunity to avoid the one-game playoff, potentially have home-field advantage in the NLDS, and finish ahead of the Dodgers — who are considered their real competition for the division. The Dodgers have seen struggles from multiple facets of their roster including their lineup and the role of closer with Kenley Jansen. But the D-Backs’ struggles have come solely from their lineup, and to a worse extent than the Dodgers. Yes, if they can’t beat out the Dodgers and/or Rockies, the Wild Card is an option, but the D-Backs would be wasting what was a great chance at winning the division if they’re back in the one-game playoff, or on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are one of the most talented teams in MLB, and they have been the best team in the NL West for the better part of this season, but they’re not playing up to what they could be, and that is a World Series threat.

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