The excitement over the new uniforms, prized free-agent signings, and splashy offseason moves has calmed down in the desert.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are just 12-18 after last night’s loss to the Miami Marlins, and Tony La Russa and company’s plan has not paid off to this point.
This past winter, the Diamondbacks front office made the decision that sparked excitement over the franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since back in 2011: they decided to go all-in. After unveiling a plethora of uniforms with seemingly endless combinations, the Diamondbacks handed 32-year-old righty Zack Greinke a six-year, $206.5 million contract to be the anchor of their pitching staff. And after signing Greinke, Arizona then traded 2015 first-overall pick Dansby Swanson, talented outfielder Ender Inciarte, and top pitching prospect Aaron Blair to the Atlanta Braves for right-hander Shelby Miller to be the complement to Greinke in their rotation.
The plan was to pair Greinke and Miller with Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, and Rubby De La Rosa to glue what looked like an above-average starting rotation with a loaded offense — highlighted by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and others — that carried a weak pitching staff to 79 wins in 2015.
That plan has not come to fruition.
Despite a major blow just before Opening Day, when Pollock went down with an injury, the Diamondbacks’ issue in their five-games-below-.500 start has been the same issue that forced them to take action this off-season: their pitching staff.
De La Rosa leads Arizona’s rotation with a 4.60 ERA, with an overall starting rotation of an abysmal 5.01. Greinke and Miller, the two the Diamondbacks gave a lot of dough and prospects for, have been the worst of the group. Greinke is slumping at 2-2 with a 5.50 ERA, while Miller makes even Greinke look like an All-Star right now at 0-3 with an 8.49 ERA. Those two pitchers’ ERAs last season? Greinke finished at 1.66 and Miller at 3.02, and both were All-Stars.
So, what’s going wrong?
Your guess is as good as mine. It’s certainly not run support. The Diamondbacks’ offensive production — while not quite as great as last year — has still been very good, as the team is hitting .263/.323/.452 through 29 games. The stars have done their part, with Yasmany Tomas cruising to a .286/.343/.510 slash line and Goldschmidt with a .421 on-base percentage. Even newcomer Jean Segura is tearing it up, hitting .339/.368/.527 to this point. The offense should repeat its 2015 dominance.
But if the Diamondbacks hope to turn it around and dethrone the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, the starting rotation will need to be the difference. Greinke needs to be the ace he’s being paid to be, Miller needs to pitch up to — or at least near — the talent level Arizona gave up for him, and De La Rosa, Ray, and (especially) Corbin need to be good.
The bullpen has actually been doing their part, so now it’s up to the rotation.
If Arizona wants to end a four-year playoff drought and have their offseason risks pay off, that same weakness that has recurred — pitching — needs to improve.