Returning Stars Could Launch Diamondbacks Into Pennant Conversation

The Arizona Diamondbacks are in first place in the National League West. Again, the Arizona Diamondbacks are in first place in the National League West. It bears repeating because the Diamondbacks often find themselves lurking under the shadow of the Los Angeles Dodgers regardless of their success.

The Diamondbacks have been dealt numerous heavy blows on the injury front so far this season, yet they find themselves in first place with a game and a half lead over Los Angeles. Arizona has weathered the injury storm admirably, posting a 44-34 record through the first few months of the season.

The Diamondbacks have leaned on veteran sluggers David Peralta and Paul Goldschmidt to carry them offensively, whom have accounted for 25% of Arizona’s total offense so far this year by scoring a combined 90 runs through the team’s first 78 games. Arizona’s starting pitching, meanwhile, has been largely mediocre over the course of the season, ranking 15th in the league with a cumulative 4.05 ERA. The Diamondbacks do, however, boast the best bullpen in the entire league, leading the way with an impressive 2.56 cumulative ERA. The stability at the back end of their bullpen has allowed the Diamondbacks to continue winning close games.

The good news for Arizona is that the cavalry is on its way starting first with the breakout star of 2017, Robbie Ray. Ray has been sidelined sine April 30th with a strained oblique but is set to make his return on Wednesday night against Miami. A healthy Ray could make a world of difference for a team that has struggled to find any consistency within its starting rotation. Ray had an outstanding 2017 campaign, going 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 162 innings. His activation from the disabled list comes just days after the team also activated Shelby Miller from the 60-day disabled list. Miller is coming off a fourteen-month layoff due to undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Miller is a total wild card for the Diamondbacks whom are desperately hoping that his 2016 performance is well behind him. After Arizona acquired him that year for Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson, in a deal that sent many Diamondbacks fans into orbit, Miller floundered with a 3-12 record while posting an appalling 6.15 ERA. However, he showed flashes of promise in 2017 before having to undergo season-ending surgery. The most promising development for Miller in 2017 was the return of velocity on his fastball. His fastball dipped into the lower 90s during his catastrophic 2016 season, but it has now seemingly stabilized and maintained within the 94-97 MPH range, according to FanGraphs.

The @Dbacks are on a roll once again, and are only getting better as they get healthier. If this trend continues, they could contend for the NL pennant.Click To Tweet

Ray and Miller will join a rotation which already includes Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin, and Zack Godley. Arizona’s starting pitching combined with its excellent bullpen makes the team a legitimate problem for opposing offenses in the National League.

Luckily for the Diamondbacks their cavalry includes more than just pitching as starting outfielders, A.J. Pollock and Steven Souza Jr., are also on the comeback trail. The Diamondbacks have managed to score plenty of runs despite the absence of these two players, ranking 13th in the league in total runs scored. However, Pollock and Souza combined bring more power to the lineup, as well as a natural ability to get on base, thus setting the table for the rest of the lineup.

Steven Souza has only played in 14 games so far in his first season with the Diamondbacks due to a pectoral injury. Souza, who hit 30 home runs in 2017, provides not just power but also the ability to get on base. Souza drew 84 walks last season which ranked him 12th among all players in the league. However, he also struck out 179 times in 2017 which was the 8th highest total among all players in the league. While the strikeout numbers can be a concern there is no denying that Souza’s power is real, and it makes him a legitimate threat in any lineup. Souza is slated to begin a rehab assignment in the minor leagues and could be back with the big league club before the all-star break.

The bigger chess piece that will soon be back on the board for the Snakes is Pollock, who has been on the disabled list since early may with a thumb injury. Pollock has resumed baseball activities which means that he could still be a few weeks away from returning, but it is still encouraging news nonetheless. Pollock, when healthy, is one of Arizona’s best hitters and was off to a good start in 2018, batting .293 with 11 home runs and 23 runs scored before the injury. The return of Pollock would fill the gaping hole that Arizona currently has at the center field position, which has been shared by Jarrod Dyson and Chris Owings in Pollock’s absence. Dyson and Owings are batting a combined .185 on the season, so needless to say the Diamondbacks are desperate to get Pollock back handling center field every day.

Everything is pointing in the right direction for the D-backs. The return of prominent players like Ray, Souza and Pollock has the chance to elevate the Diamondbacks as a legitimate contender for the National League pennant. There is a lot of baseball left to be played, and the ever-ambitious Dodgers certainly are not planning on going away any time soon, but Arizona has set itself up for a strong second-half run that could see the Diamondbacks becoming the most dangerous team in the National League.

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