The hottest team in baseball are the Arizona Diamondbacks, winners of seven straight and nine of their last 10. Their run has vaulted them into first place in the National League West, and as we head toward June, they head up the list of surprising contenders throughout baseball. How have they managed to go from abysmal failure last year to early season success story this year? Essentially, it comes down to one word — balance.
They aren’t being carried by an MVP candidate having a monster season; in fact, it might be hard to identify who their best player has been this year. Ryan Roberts leads the position players with +1.9 WAR, but the team has also gotten +1.2 WAR or better from the starters at every other position on the field besides first base, and even that “weak spot” is now being manned on a daily basis by Juan Miranda, owner of a .250/.370/.490 batting line.
Essentially, every regular on the team is bringing something to the table. Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, and Miguel Montero are bringing the offense, while Chris Young, Gerardo Parra, and Kelly Johnson are playing quality defense and hitting well enough to justify their spots in the lineup. Miranda has hit when he’s played, and Roberts is doing a little bit of everything.
The bench hasn’t been great, but when the worst players on your roster are all reserves, then things are going pretty well. The team has already kicked Russell Branyan to the curb, and it will be interesting to see how long Melvin Mora sticks around if he keeps struggling. If they feel like adding new life to the bench, they have a lot of options down in Triple-A; the Reno Aces are hitting .310/.389/.527 as a team, and while the PCL is a nice place to hit, there are reasons to believe that a guy like Wily Mo Pena could help the team as a bat off the bench.
Essentially, the Diamondbacks don’t really have any glaring weaknesses among their everyday players. They don’t have a black hole at any position on the field, and when you have a team full of players producing at above-average levels, you’re going to win a lot of baseball games.
Arizona has had some struggles on the pitching side of things, but both Armando Galarraga and Barry Enright have already been excised from the rotation, limiting the damage that they could inflict on the team’s record. Rookie Josh Colimenter has been a revelation since coming up from Reno, and Zach Duke showed yesterday that he can still pitch effectively when healthy. Colimenter is in for significant regression even beyond just the .163 BABIP that he’s currently sporting (his command has never been anywhere near this good before, for instance), but worrying about how long your #5 starter will keep pitching over his head is a pretty nice problem to have, especially when it passes for the biggest concern on the team at the moment.
This good-everywhere-but-great-nowhere type of roster can often outperform expectations from those who look for star power first and foremost, but it also presents a bit of a dilemma for Kevin Towers if the team stays in contention over the next few months — with no obvious glaring holes, it’s hard to make the team better at the trade deadline. An upgrade in the starting rotation and another trustworthy reliever could be on the shopping list, but that’s on every team’s shopping list in July, and Towers might not be able to outbid others when it comes to getting one of the few quality arms that will be available this summer.
That said, if the team keeps getting this kind of production from their position players, they might not need to upgrade their rotation in order to hang around in the NL West all year. The balanced approach can work, as teams like Cincinnati proved last year. The Diamondbacks might not have a Joey Votto, but they have a lot of players performing at a high level, and in a division without a truly great team, that might be enough to keep them in the race all year.
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