The Arizona Diamondbacks really don’t belong here. The club sits at 75-68, just a game and a half out of the second and final National League Wild Card position, despite trading their best pitcher, Zack Greinke, to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline. That deal followed suit with an offseason move that sent franchise cornerstone Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as losing A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin in free agency.
The D-Backs have won 11 of their last 13 contests on the backs of players a casual baseball fan has never heard of. What they’ve done in a very competitive NL West division, without many well-known, impactful players, is purely beautiful. But this is not a traditional underdog story: The 2019 Diamondbacks have always been this talented and capable of a postseason run, and they’re finally hitting their stride.
This club is consistent, complete, and getting considerable contributions from everyone on their roster. Albeit unlucky and undeserving of a large amount of losses earlier in the year, the D-Backs have made a late-season charge up the NL standings due to an underrated amount of talent in the clubhouse. If you have not paid much attention to the Diamondbacks thus far this season, it would be easy to miss what is special about this team.
Consistency Throughout Hard Season Speaks to Team’s Talent Level
Firstly, this current win streak isn’t an example of a volatile, variable team with ebbs and flows as they go along. The club’s performance from a month-to-month and run-to-run standpoint has been fairly consistent to this point in the season.
Their six-game winning streak (part of that 11-of-13 run mentioned) was their longest of the season, and their longest losing streak was also six games. Take the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers for example. Heralded as the best teams in Major League Baseball, their longest losing streak (in Houston’s case, seven games) either exceeds or (in L.A.’s case, six games) equals Arizona’s. The Diamondbacks aren’t a typical club that bounces around .500 for most of the season; they’re much more talented than that.
Run Differential, Expected Win-Loss Record Truly Show Team’s Excellence
Secondly, the club’s runs scored/runs allowed differential shows the talented group manager Torey Lovullo has in Phoenix. Through sheer unluckiness, they’re battling for a postseason spot — on the outside looking in — rather than being a solid and certain Wild Card Game contender.
The Diamondbacks sport the fifth-best run differential in the NL at +82 going into Monday night’s slate of games. Run differential is generally a good way to tell which teams should be winning the most, and the correlation between scoring more/allowing fewer runs and winning is an obvious one. That’s why the only teams with a better run differential are the Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Cardinals, and Washington Nationals, the teams with the four best records in the NL.
The Chicago Cubs, currently in the second NL Wild Card spot, boast a +74 run differential. Arizona’s mark is better, and their expected win-loss record (79-94), on account of that, is better than that of the Cubs. The Diamondbacks have underperformed their run differential by four wins, which would be enough to vault them above Chicago for the senior circuit’s final playoff spot. That’s just a lack of luck on their end, but they’re clearly playing exceptionally well.
Diamondbacks Might be the Most Well-Rounded, Versatile Team in MLB
Arizona ranks 10th in baseball in runs scored (737) and runs allowed (655). Along with the Astros, Dodgers, Nationals, and Oakland Athletics, the D-Backs are one of five teams to rank in the top 10 in both categories. Their versatility as a ballclub doesn’t stop there.
According to FanGraphs‘ base-running value stat, BsR, the Diamondbacks run around the diamond better than any team in the majors. BsR is based on a few other advanced stats that measure steals, caught stealing events, and batters taking extra bases on tag-up plays and stretching singles into doubles, and whatnot. Their BsR is +17.5, tops in the majors by over three points.
Arizona ranks second in baseball in FanGraphs’ defensive runs saved (DRS) with 89. Only the Dodgers, which we’ve established over time on this site as a Godless Killing Machine, have more with 127. The Diamondbacks lead the NL and trail only the Cleveland Indians in Fielding Runs Above Average with 32.8.
Lack of Game-Breaking Flaws Make Arizona Dangerous in a Variety of Ways
Now, every high-end team in the game has a main flaw, or a set of detriments that could signify trouble for them down the stretch. Arizona, on the other hand, really doesn’t. Whereas the Dodgers have dealt with some bullpen issues, the New York Yankees possess a questionable rotation, and the Astros have been taxed with injuries all around their lineup this season. Arizona has the depth, health, talent, and managerial imagination to beat you in many ways.
While their offense isn’t the best in the game by any means (97 wRC, .324 wOBA), their lineup card is built to maximize the very specific things each of their many solid depth hitters can bring to the table. They generally have some of that top-flight speed near the top of the batting order, with Jarrod Dyson, Tim Locastro, and Josh Rojas (acquired in the Greinke trade) all being first-inning anchors.
Ketel Marte will probably be a top-five finisher in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting, and the order is basically built around putting speed in front of his .330 average, .989 OPS, 32-homer self, while their more powerful threats are behind him. Breakout players like Christian Walker and Carson Kelly provide the punch needed behind the speed up front.
Zac Gallen has effectively replaced Greinke in the rotation and has provided a nice spark in the middle of Robbie Ray, Merrill Kelly, Mike Leake, and Alex Young. With Archie Bradley closing, relievers like Yoan Lopez and Kevin Ginkel have stepped up at the front of a pretty decent D-Backs bullpen.
Remaining Schedule Should Help Playoff Hopes
FanGraphs puts the odds of the Diamondbacks making the postseason at 14.2 percent, with a simulation model based on their Steamer and ZiPS models. Baseball-Reference has more confidence in the club, using their Simple Rating System (SRS) and giving the club a 34 percent chance of a Wild Card berth.
Their remaining schedule is very promising. After a series against the New York Mets beginning on Monday, the club has just one series left against a team above .500 in the 2019 campaign.