At the start of May, the Arizona Diamondbacks held a six-game advantage in the competitive NL West above the second-place Colorado Rockies, and a massive nine-game lead over last year’s division champion Los Angeles Dodgers. As May comes to a close, the Dbacks now trail the Rockies by a game and a half and the Dodgers are hot on their heels. Even worse, there’s no sign that things are going to get any better any time soon.
Injuries to key players have played a major role. A.J. Pollack still leads the team in home runs, doubles, RBI and batting average despite being on the DL with a thumb fracture since May 15. The centerfielder won’t return until late June. Steven Souza Jr. was a surprise impact bat in 2017, but struggled prior to a pectoral injury putting him on the shelf. It’s a similar story for southpaw Robbie Ray, who is out with an oblique problem.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt had become a perennial MVP candidate back in 2013, finishing in the top five of the voting five times, winning three Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and being named to five All-Star games since then. In 2018, his power has disappeared. The .393 slugging percentage Goldschmidt has posted so far is the third-worst among qualified NL first baseman.
Goldschmidt’s struggles and Pollack’s absence have had obvious effects on the entire offense. Their 209 runs scored are the second-worst in the NL. The .215 batting average they have posted as a unit is the worst in all of baseball, as is their .291 on-base percentage.
The pitching, to be fair, has held its own. They are in the top 10 in baseball in ERA (3.40), FIP (3.92) and xFIP (3.75). Patrick Corbin and Zack Grienke are a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Corbin leads the team in just about every pitching category and trails only Pollack in WAR with a 1.6. Plus, Brad Boxberger has dominated at the back of the bullpen, saving 13 games in 14 chances and striking out 12.15 batters per nine innings.
The one thing keeping Arizona in the playoff race is their league-leading defense. According to Fangraphs, they lead all MLB teams with a 19.4 defensive rating and trail just the Indians with a 16.4 UZR. The Diamondbacks outfield is especially good, sporting an MLB-best 11.9 UZR and obliterating all other teams with 13.1 range runs above average. Bringing Pollack back into the mix will only improve these numbers.
All hope, however, is not lost. The Dbacks get to open up June with a three-game series against the Miami Marlins, one of the worst teams in the league. Then they travel to San Francisco to take on the Giants followed by a trip to Denver to do battle with the Rockies. The Giants have lost six of their last eight, and the Rockies are a sub-.500 team at Coors Field.
Pollack and Ray will be fit again in the next month or so, providing a major boost to the team. And Goldschmidt can’t possibly stay this bad all season. In fact, there are signs he is already turning it around. The 30-year-old is six for his last 20 with a double, triple, home run and two walks. Not to mention, June is the best month of his career (.322./428/.580 all-time in June).
The NL West may be one of baseball’s most competitive, but it’s not necessarily filled with elite teams. The top four clubs are all within four games of .500. They each have flaws and any one of them could emerge from the crowd to win the pennant. It was a rough May for the Diamondbacks, but they still have plenty of time to turn things around.