D-backs not content with first-half success
Despite leading the NL West going into the break, Arizona can perform better
PHOENIX -- The D-backs were happy with the way their first half of the season went.
Happy, sure, but far from satisfied.
The D-backs went into the All-Star break in first place in the National League West, but with the nagging feeling that they should have done even better.
"I don't think we've played as well as we can," third baseman Eric Chavez said.
The D-backs persevered through several significant injuries during the first half.
Before the season even began, outfielder Adam Eaton strained his elbow and missed the first three months. Cody Ross started the year on the disabled list and second baseman Aaron Hill spent more than two months on the DL, while closer J.J. Putz was out for almost two months.
In addition to the injuries, third baseman Martin Prado started slowly at the plate and catcher Miguel Montero was hitting below .200 as late as June 7.
And yet there the D-backs were, atop the standings at the break.
"We had major injuries to start out the year, and we thought it was going to hurt a lot more," Montero said. "Obviously it hurt, but the guys who were here stepped it up and did their jobs, and they definitely opened some eyes. We've been playing as a team, and that's why we're at where we're at right now."
The D-backs were led by the two players who represented them at the All-Star Game -- first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and left-hander Patrick Corbin.
|MVP: Paul Goldschmidt If the season ended today Goldschmidt would deserve to be in the conversation for the NL MVP Award. He has carried the Arizona lineup for much of the season and has played Gold Glove defense at first.|
|Cy Young: Patrick Corbin After winning the No. 5 spot in Spring Training, Corbin quickly became the team's ace. He won his first nine decisions and could have had even more wins with better offensive support.|
|Rookie: Didi Gregorius Though Gregorius' numbers tailed off after a hot start, he brought energy to the team when he was activated in late April, and he has played stellar defense at shortstop.|
|Top reliever: Josh Collmenter It's not often that a long man is a team's top reliever, but Collmenter has saved the bullpen numerous times by pitching as many as six innings at a time. He particularly saved the 'pen in extra frames, and he started off 4-0 in extra-inning games.|
Goldschmidt signed a five-year, $32 million extension this spring and made it look like a bargain with the way he played. He led the NL in RBIs for much of the first half and delivered clutch hits when the D-backs really needed it.
Corbin, meanwhile, earned the No. 5 spot in the rotation during the spring and then went out and pitched like the team's ace.
In his first 19 first starts before the break, the D-backs were 17-2. And while the rotation was inconsistent for much of the first half, Corbin was a model of consistency.
"We've had our ups and downs, but I don't think we've played our best baseball yet," Corbin said. "I think we're just going to get better and better as the season goes on."
And then there was outfielder Gerardo Parra.
For the second year in a row, the D-backs gave away his starting job during the offseason, and once again, Parra found a way to make himself indispensable.
Arizona manager Kirk Gibson has consistently preached team goals over individual ones during his time at the helm, and general manager Kevin Towers made putting together a team with that mindset a priority.
"If I was looking at personal goals, I would be miserable," Montero said. "I'm not looking at that. Obviously I'd like to be doing better, but as long as the team wins, I'm happy. I'm doing my best to help. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
The D-backs began getting some of their injured players back just before the break, which should help boost them in the second half.
Players to watch in second half
|Adam Eaton Eaton was expected to be a spark plug in the lineup, but he was on the disabled list until July 9. He brings a different dimension to the Arizona lineup, and if he can stay healthy and play to his potential, he will be a big boost.|
|Ian Kennedy Kennedy has struggled through a disappointing first half. He's shown flashes of the pitcher who won 21 games in 2011, but has struggled to find consistency with his command. If he can pitch like the Kennedy of '11, it would really help the rotation.|
|J.J. Putz Putz battled some health issues, which caused him to miss time, and it took him a while to get his arm speed back when he returned. The D-backs need him to regain his dominant form in order to stabilize the bullpen.|
And they will need to get more offensive production out of Montero and Prado to be able to remain ahead of the Dodgers, who closed the first half riding a wave of momentum.
"These guys have been around for a while, and we know what they're capable of," Corbin said. "That's why I think we can be that much better when we start playing together and get more in sync and get the whole team together and healthy."
The biggest area the D-backs will need to improve on in the second half is closing out games.
After Putz missed nearly eight weeks, his arm strength was not up to the closer's role when he returned, and the usually reliable setup man David Hernandez has struggled with his consistency. Heath Bell closed for a while in Putz's absence, and he, too, struggled.
With their position players now back and injured starters Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill due to return in late July or early August, the bullpen will remain the area of focus as the Trade Deadline approaches.
"How do we fix it?" Towers said just before the break. "What other things can we do to try and get guys in the right spots to where we can be more successful? Those are the type of conversations we're having right now. We'll probably have a better idea what our plan is when we open up [the second half] against the Giants."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.