Arizona’s Struggling Offense

Scoring runs is not something that one thinks should be a problem for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Not with hitter-friendly Chase Field as their home and that hot desert weather that’s conducive for getting hitters in a good groove. But that’s exactly what’s been the problem for the D-Backs so far in 2018 and it stands to prove costly in an NL West race that nobody has yet taken hold of.

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Arizona ranks 13th in the 15-team National League in scoring runs. They still do okay at hitting the long ball and taking their walks, where they rank in the middle of the league. But when it comes to the basics of simply getting hits and driving the ball in the gaps, the Diamondbacks have been woeful. They’re the worst NL team in batting average and barely better when it comes to hitting doubles.

The most obvious symptom of the problems is Paul Goldschmidt. So far in ‘18, Goldschmidt’s stat line is a modest .344 on-base percentage/.429 slugging. Those numbers are respectable for a common ordinary yokel. But, if I might paraphrase Old Man Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life, Paul Goldschmidt is no common, ordinary yokel. He is a sharp, ambitious first baseman who’s finished in the top 3 of the NL MVP voting three times in the last five years, including last season.

A positive view of Arizona’s offensive problems says that if your biggest worry is Goldschmidt, that’s a good spot to be in. Taking a narrow view of his individual season, I’d agree. He’s the likeliest player in the majors to go on a summer tear. But a broader view shows us that players like Daniel Descalco are highly unlikely to keep producing stat lines of .354/.514. Players returning to career norms is likely to have an overall neutral effect on the Diamondbacks.

The only clear spot for improvement will be when A.J. Pollock, who was tearing it up for forty games, slugging .620, comes back from the disabled ist. Although it’s fair to wonder how fast he’ll regain after his power when the injury he incurred was a broken thumb.

Arizona has stayed atop a mediocre NL West through good bullpen work. The staff ERA is third overall and the bullpen specifically is second. When you break down the pitching staff individual, there’s reasonable hope for certain pitchers to do better work going forward, notably Zack Godley. But overall, it’s tough to see how the Diamondbacks do any better than third in the league in ERA.

That means the offense has to hit and it means both that Goldschmidt has to step it up and he’s got to get some help. I don’t see where that help is coming from. Last year, the front office acquired J.D. Martinez in a trade deadline move. Martinez went to Boston in the offseason and there’s no way to replace that kind of production.

That’s why it’s hard for me to be optimistic about Diamondback chances moving forward. They’re 32-29, tied with the Rockies right now and the Dodgers and Giants close behind. Los Angeles is just starting to roll and San Francisco has Madison Bumgarner back. Oddsmakers still have Arizona at a short 2-1 price to win the division, marginally behind LA, the 7-5 favorite. That’s a bad bet.