Can the Diamondbacks finish .500 in 2022?

The Diamondbacks have been playing good baseball since the All Star Break, resulting in a 25-17 second-half record that is 8th best in MLB. Their overall record is now 65-69, giving them an outside chance to finish at .500 in 2022. After a 52-110 season in 2021, they will need to go 16-12 the rest of the way to reach that mark. It will be a challenge in the face of a very difficult September schedule.

Such a turnaround (29 games) would be the largest in franchise history. The 2005 Diamondbacks won 77 games after winning just 51 in 2004, an improvement of 26 games.

They are not without company in the category of huge turnarounds. In fact, the Baltimore Orioles, who had the same 52-110 record last year, currently have an astonishing record of 71-64. Both teams sit in 4th place in their respective divisions, but the Orioles are only 4.5 games behind in the AL Wild Card pursuit, while the D-backs are 8 games behind in the NL.

Nevertheless, the improvement in Arizona can only be called a success. So much so that the team recently opted for manager Torey Lovullo’s option.

What are the keys to improvement?

A combination of strong starting pitchers and a dynamic group of fast young positional players, plus a career season of veteran first baseman Christian Walker has created a brand of baseball that is disruptive and exciting to watch.

Merrill Kelly (12-5, 2.84 ERA) won the NL Pitcher of the Month for July and Zac Gallen (11-2, 2.42 ERA) won the same award for August. This hadn’t happened in Arizona since the days of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.

Zach Davies is averaging just over 5 IP per start while posting a 2.32 ERA over his last 6 outings to help provide rotational stability.

Rookies Tommy Henry and Ryne Nelson were called up and also gave the rotation a boost, especially Nelson, who made a stunning MLB debut on Labor Day.

The positional field is the 3rd youngest in MLB this year with an average batting age of 26.7 according to Baseball Reference. The MLB average is 28.3.

Walker’s season provided a stable balance for right-handers. Batting .296 with 8 HR since the break, he has a career-high 31 HR and 77 RBI, as well as 16 defensive points saved, easily the most among MLB first basemen.

The outfield is made up of some of the fastest players in the game today. Jake McCarthy leads the team with a .321 batting average and .387 OPS in the second half. He stole 12 bases and hit 4 homers and 8 doubles as well.

Daulton Varsho is having a Gold Glove-caliber season in the outfield and is second on the team in home runs behind Walker with 20 on the year, 8 since the break

Scroll to continue

Although he’s been through a few rookie adjustment periods at the plate, Alek Thomas has joined Varsho in making highlight reel catches night after night in center field and is impacting the game with his speed every whenever he gets the chance.

26-year-old rookie slugger Stone Garrett has been providing a much-needed right-handed punch since his promotion. In 10 games, he is 14 of 33, a 0.424 average, with 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 8 runs scored and 5 RBIs.

Emmanuel Rivera came in a trade from Kansas City on Aug. 2 and played a smooth third base defensive platoon with Josh Rojas. He’s also another right-handed batsman to bolster the roster, hitting .250 with an .847 OPS and 5 home runs since the trade.

Meanwhile, Rojas continues to be a stable disruptive player at the top of the roster. He hits for average gets on base and steals bases and always seems to be in the middle of all the havoc.

Corbin Carroll, one of the hottest prospects in all of baseball, was called up recently and provided some key hits and showed his speed on the base runs. He too is undergoing rookie adjustments right now though.

Areas for improvement

It hasn’t all been easy. The bullpen continues to be a sore spot and a source of frustration for the team and its fans. Arizona’s 32 bullpen losses are tied for the most relief losses in MLB. This includes 10 by moved closer Mark Melancon and 6 by his closer replacement Ian Kennedy. Five other losses belong to All Star reliever Joe Mantiply, who struggled in the second half after an off first half. Its most recent explosion was on September 4. A parade of young relievers rode up and down the miners and mostly struggled to throw strikes and avoid runs.

When asked recently if there were any thoughts on “what could have been” this season had he had a more reliable bullpen background, Lovullo said:

No, I didn’t. I know what’s going on, I know the numbers. We have nothing else to do. We have to look to the guys we have, and we’re going to pursue it with those guys. So I didn’t do that. When you’re sitting in my place, it can be crazy. I try to keep it really stable. We will review all this at the end of the year.

This is clearly an area that Mike Hazen and the baseball operations group will be working hard to improve this offseason. But it’s been a yearly challenge in recent years and few to no free-agent pickups have worked.

Madison Bumgarner is 6-13 with a 4.83 ERA and has been a shadow of the pitcher he was in San Francisco, frequently dropping out of a tough contract. Mired in a deep pitching slump in the second half, he was recently jumped into the rotation and has had a poor outing and poor rotation since that time. With the team now using a 6 man rotation for the next few weeks,

Ketel Marte signed a 5-year, $76 million contract extension but suffered hamstring injuries for the second year in a row and has fallen sharply over the past month, hitting just 0.188 in his last 25 games without a circuit.

Bumgarner, Melancon and Marte make up nearly half of the 2022 payroll and make up $42 million of the team’s $59 million guaranteed contract for next year. Getting more positive production out of those three players is key for a team that typically has a lower third payroll in MLB.

Can D-backs finish at .500? The odds may seem long, given how many games they have left against the Dodgers. But with this vibrant young core of providers, all it will take to get over the hump is some stabilization from the veterans on the stretch, especially from the bullpen, and anything is possible.

Kimberly B. Nguyen