There was a whole lot of optimism in Arizona this offseason. After winning just 64 games two seasons back they climbed all the way to 79 last year, and they had a very strong offseason. The season win total was set at 84.5 this year, and it seemed reasonable to believe that there was value in the "over". There still could be, but the start certainly hasn't inspired. They are below .500 at 17-18, and they have had to win their last five just to climb to that level. Things are obviously brighter lately, but this is not the healthiest team in the league right now.
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So, is it just a rough start? Or is this a sign that the Diamondbacks haven't made the progress that it looked like they had? Here are six factors to consider when pondering those questions:
Greinke's woes: The Diamondbacks have a fairly modest payroll of about $85 million for their active roster. Zack Greinke makes $34 million this year. When you are paying a guy 40 percent of your payroll you are right to expect big things from him. So far Greinke isn't delivering. His 5.15 ERA is the highest for him since 2005. His WHIP of 1.44 is his highest since 2006, and in a totally different stratosphere from the 0.84 of last year. He's 3-2 in his seven starts, so he hasn't been a total disaster, but statistically - and visually for that matter - he has been a shadow of the guy we have seen in L.A. and beyond. A player like him carries a massive burden for the fate of their team. Given his lackluster start it's no surprise that the team is mostly limping along, too. The good news is that he is getting better, and his last two starts have been solid - though not spectacular. There is still a long way to go if he wants to set the tone for the team going forward, though.
Shelby Miller: Greinke was the big addition of the offseason - by any team - but the acquisition of young stud pitcher Shelby Miller from Atlanta was almost as important in terms of building the foundation of this team going forward. In the face of massive expectations, though, this season to date has been a disaster. Miller's ERA of 7.36 is miles above his career high of 3.74 in three earlier seasons as a full time starter in St. Louis and Atlanta. His WHIP of 1.77 is really ugly, and a full half a walk or hit per inning higher than his previous high of 1.27. His strikeout rate is down, and his walk rate is way up. Opposing hitters have never hit better than .238 against him over a season. This year they are hitting .274. I could go on and on, but the point is obvious - Miller is not good right now. It's a problem, and another big reason that this team has been so generally underwhelming.
Defense: So, Greinke and Miller aren't carrying their weight. Rubby De La Rosa is okay but hasn't exactly overwhelmed the hitters he has faced. The same goes for Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray. This has not been a rotation that is doing the team any favors. It is no surprise, then, that the defense has really been an issue for the team -- the biggest issue. Their 172 runs allowed is more than any team in the American league, and only Colorado, Cincinnati and Milwaukee have allowed more in the NL - and those teams are all terrible. They trail the also underwhelming Dodgers by just a game in the NL West, but L.A. has allowed 47 fewer runs in 33 games. The Diamondbacks just can't contend until they allow fewer runs - simple as that. Their current five-game winning streak has come thanks in part to better defense - just 2.6 runs per game allowed. There is a big asterisk there, though - the wins have come against Atlanta and Colorado, so they are just beating up on really bad teams.
Offense: If there is a bright spot it is that the offense is doing just fine. Their 161 runs scored is in the top five in the NL, and is more than good enough to be a viable team with a better defense. There are some small concerns - Jean Segura and Welington Castillo are both hitting better now than they likely can over a whole season, for example - but the foundation for a solid offense is in place.
Out-of-division performance: Outside of the sweep of the Braves earlier this week the team has faced a tough schedule outside of their conference, and they have not done well against it. They dropped three of four at home against the Cubs. Also at home they lost two of three to the Pirates and got a split in a four gamer against the Cardinals. Then they got swept in Miami. Add it all up and that's 4-10 0 far from good enough to get anything done. They have had to rely on success in the division to keep them relevant, but that can't be relied upon long term.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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