If pundits are surprised by the Diamondbacks’ season, manager Chip Hale is not the least bit astonished.
Exercising a delicate balancing act to reach and cross the threshold of a .500 record, the Diamondbacks have teased their fans and surprised critics with a competitive season. Still, the team remains a work-in-progress, and should maintain a creative off-season agenda.
While lethal bats have essentially carried this team, a more refined and productive starting pitching staff could have been an important component for the Diamondbacks to emerge as legitimate contenders for post-season play.
With about 50 games remaining in the season, they remain in a faint, very faint, discussion for post-season entry. Yet, the realistic explanation lays in the effort to establish a core and foundation for future ascendancy. As early as spring training, Hale said he had a convincing feeling about his team, and his strong belief did not waiver.
“We knew what we had,” he said during a recent series at home with the Phillies. “I knew this team would play as hard as they have played. We are where I thought we would be.”
During the general manager’s meeting last November in Phoenix, Tony La Russa, the Diamondbacks Chief baseball Officer, told reporters, “I would be shocked if we do not finish at least at .500 (for 2015).”
That prediction came off a 64-98 record, the worst in baseball. Pundits snickered at La Russa’s forecast, and concluded the Diamondbacks would be no better off than their last horrid season under Kirk Gibson, whom La Russa fired in late September.
“I agreed with Tony’s assessment,” Hale added. “His view was based on the injuries this team had last season, and I felt the same way as Tony.”
Touching on a critical factor which prevented the Diamondbacks from rising as an important party to post-season discussion, Hale hinted starting pitching will be La Russa’s priority during this coming off-season.
Rubby De La Rosa, Jeremy Hellickson and Robbie Ray all came over in winter deals. Each has not pitched to capacity to help the Diamondbacks climb into a truly competitive conversation. Ray started the season in the minors, and Hellickson complained of “a dead arm” mid-way through spring training.
Coming into Hellickson’s start Aug. 11 against the Phillies, the three had a combined record of 20-20. That included De La Rosa’s 10-5 record. If the Diamondbacks expected production from these acquired pitchers, that did not happen. Add Chase Anderson (5-4) and Patrick Corbin (2-3) as the remaining two in the rotation, and the combined numbers have not helped to elevate the Diamondbacks as serious post-season contenders
“Guys are getting better,” was Hale’s overall team assessment. “We’re getting to where we want to be as an elite team.”
That may be easier said than done. While the Diamondbacks continue as one of the more productive teams in major league baseball, the starting pitching needs serious improvement.
Among National League teams, the Diamondbacks are third in team batting average, second in runs scored and sixth in home runs. If the club remains among the top offensive teams, the pitching staff has performed in the opposite direction. The club ERA remains just over four runs per game, and is one of the worst in the NL. Only the Braves, Brewers and Phillies have a higher team ERA.
The acquisitions of Ray, Hellickson and De La Rosa were supposed to address deficiencies among starters. Yet, the production, or lack of, from these acquired in the off-season seem to have little effect on the Diamondbacks’ quest to enter into a protracted, serious post-season contender.