While the Arizona Diamondbacks are trying to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West title, they suffered a crushing blow on Sunday when Cody Ross dislocated his hip while running out a grounder. He will be on the disabled list for the rest of the season.
Throughout the first half of the season, the D-backs led their division despite having multiple injuries to key players. They found a way to win, staying above .500, and manager Kirk Gibson vowed not to make excuses for poor play. However, injuries to important relievers have undermined the team effort, enabling the Dodgers to pass Arizona in the standings.
Other than Paul Goldschmidt, who is having an NL MVP Award-caliber season, the D-backs have an ordinary offense. During the offseason, Arizona traded Justin Upton, weakening the offense. General manager Kevin Towers believed obtaining both Ross as a free agent and Martin Prado in the Upton trade would do more for the team than keeping Upton, who was a year removed from being an NL MVP candidate. Although both Ross and Prado have reputations for being hard-nosed players who will do anything to help their team win, their offensive production hasn't equaled Upton's.
Prado can play pretty much anywhere on the diamond, and this versatility appealed to Arizona. Before the D-backs acquired Prado from the Braves, they were a free-swinging team that didn't care about how many times they struck out. Management wanted the hitters to curtail their strikeouts and stop swinging for the fences. Although having a high on-base percentage can equate to more runs and scoring opportunities, the team won't change its philosophy overnight. Prado's batting average of .273 with 10 home runs is decent but not outstanding considering he plays more than half of his games in a stadium that favors hitters.
Although the D-backs needed to decrease their strikeouts and increase their on-base percentage to be perennial contenders, the management shouldn't have lost sight of the fact that they play in a stadium that promotes the long ball. Even though Chase Field is a big park, hitters find it relatively easy to homer there. Phoenix has dry and thin air similar to Denver, so the balls don't have much resistance. While Ross is a good player who gets everything out of his ability, his skills don't compare to Upton.
At 32, Ross has reached the age where his baseball skills will likely begin to decline and he will be more prone to injury. Throughout his nine-year Major League career, Ross has battled knee injuries. He began this season on the disabled list with a strained calf muscle, and this led to a slower-than-normal start to the season offensively. Even now, after playing 95 games, he has eight homers and an unimpressive .331 on-base percentage. Ross is a scrappy player who always has a smile on his face and an enthusiastic attitude for the game.
I understand the D-backs' desire to sign him to a contract to be an example for their younger players. However, giving Ross a three-year contract didn't make sense at the time with his advanced age, and it makes less sense now. When the organization wants more aggressive players, it should teach them the desired aggression and patience at the plate while they are in the Minor Leagues.
The D-backs don't have the pitching staff, especially without Trevor Cahill and Matt Reynolds, to support a weak offense. Trading the struggling Ian Kennedy further weakened the starting rotation, especially when Cahill went on the disabled list.
During Spring Training, many sportswriters chose the D-backs at least to challenge for the NL West title. However, the multiple injuries have undermined their efforts. With a 7 1/2-game deficit to make up to catch the Dodgers, the D-backs are also 5 1/2 games out of an NL Wild Card spot, and it doesn't appear likely that Arizona will make it to the playoffs.
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.