Although the Arizona Diamondbacks have suffered many injuries to key players -- the latest to closer J.J. Putz -- they remain competitive.
When the D-backs came to Los Angeles this week, they had lost five consecutive games. However, they swept the three-game series from the last-place Dodgers. Paul Goldschmidt dominated the series with four homers, two of which came in the late innings to score the deciding runs. The D-backs also received excellent pitching and defense.
This year, the D-backs are the only Major League team that hasn't suffered a shutout. They have scored the fourth-most runs in the National League. Though they play in a power-friendly stadium at home and have the fifth-most homers in the league, the D-backs employ every aspect of their offensive attack to score. Being aggressive on bases and using their speed prevents prolonged offensive slumps. Knowing that their teammates will score some runs allows the pitchers to concentrate on their game.
The D-backs' offense should get stronger when Willie Bloomquist, Adam Eaton and Aaron Hill return from the disabled list. Neither Cody Ross, who began the season on the disabled list with a calf strain, nor catcher Miguel Montero have yet hit the way they ultimately will this year.
The offseason acquisition of Martin Prado from the Atlanta Braves in the controversial Justin Upton trade has added aggressiveness to a team that in the past waited for a home run to score. Prado's ability to play multiple positions has helped the D-backs to survive their many injuries.
The surprising emergence of shortstop Didi Gregorius has helped the D-backs overcome of the loss Bloomquist. Gregorius, known as a superior fielding defensive shortstop in the Minor Leagues, wasn't expected to hit much while filling in for Bloomquist. However, in 11 games Gregorius has hit .405 with three home runs. With terrific running speed, Gregorius turns every grounder into a possible hit. If he continues to play well, the D-backs will need to find another position for Bloomquist.
Goldschmidt, in his second full season with Arizona, is making it known that he will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come. He's proven that when the game is close and in late innings, he will deposit any mistake in the seats. If Goldschmidt keeps hitting the way he has and the D-backs win the NL West, Goldschmidt should be a candidate for the league's Most Valuable Player Award.
The third-place D-backs have the best defense in the NL, and this helps with the wait for Hill, a great second baseman.
Despite having no household names in their starting rotation and Heath Bell as the only star in the bullpen, the D-backs have the fourth-best ERA in the NL. Playing half their games in Phoenix represents a challenge for the D-backs' pitchers, as Chase Field has the second-highest elevation of any Major League stadium, resulting in thinner air in the dry desert. This type of air doesn't provide much resistance for the balls, so they go farther and the pitchers have trouble throwing breaking balls.
To combat this problem, general manager Kevin Towers assembled a pitching staff of sinkerball pitchers with great control. Mostly, it has worked.
Obtaining Matt Reynolds, whom Jim Tracy used to call "a strike-throwing machine," from the Colorado Rockies was brilliant. Reynolds has provided outstanding seventh-inning relief from the left side.
Towers had the foresight to obtain Bell from the Miami Marlins, who had another fire sale last offseason. Although Bell struggled in Miami in 2012, he can still be an outstanding closer. He has the best changeup in the league, to go along with a nasty split-finger fastball that can produce many strikeouts. While with the San Diego Padres, Bell dominated the NL West.
So far with the D-backs, Bell has struggled, but in a more familiar role, he should pitch better than he has in the eighth-inning setup man role.
Despite having several injuries, the D-backs remain highly competitive. When the injured players return, Arizona should battle for the lead in the NL West. Manager Kirk Gibson's leadership style demands his players to give their all, which should enable this team without superstars to earn a playoff berth.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.