08 April 2011
The Arizona Diamondbacks completed the first week of the season with a 2-3 record, splitting a pair with Colorado and winning only the final game of a three-game series with the Cubs. But despite the losing record, the first week has been encouraging, as the Diamondbacks have pitched much better than last year, and the team has had a good chance to win in all three defeats. In this article, let's recap some of the Week 1 Developments.
First Base - Juan Miranda has been named the primary starter at 1B, starting 3 of the first 5 games. Manager Kirk Gibson has praised Miranda's plate disciplne and defense, and seems to like having Russell Branyan available to be the team's primary pinch-hitter. Branyan did start one game, and Xavier Nady started when the team faced a left-handed starting pitcher.
Left Field - Gerardo Parra has started all five games in LF, and looks to be the everyday starter for now. He has hit well in both Spring Training and the Regular Season, and is by far the best defensive option in LF.
Shortstop - Stephen Drew has not started the first five games due to abdominal soreness, but he is hoping to play in the first home series this weekend. Drew did appear as a pinch-hitter in Game 3 and drew a walk in the 9th inning. But the story of the first week has been Willie Bloomquist, who has hit .348/.400/.522 with a league leading 5 SB. Bloomquist has hit so well that many fans are trying to find ways to keep him in the lineup once Drew returns. But it's worth remembering that Bloomquist is now in his 10th season with a career mark of .265/.318/.339, and has never finished a season with an OPS above .680. Let's enjoy his great play while he's hot, but deciding to make him an everyday player at LF or 3B is probably not a good idea.
Third Base - Melvin Mora started on Opening Day and had a horrible game, going 0-5 and grounding into 2 DPs. Because of that, or more likely because he had a stomach illness, Mora sat the next three games for Ryan Roberts, who hit a HR and drew 2 walks in his three starts. But Mora was back in the lineup in Game 5, and probably will be the regular 3B going forward. Offensively, Mora and Roberts should be about even, but Mora has the edge on defense.
Catcher - With off days and rainouts, Miguel Montero has been able to start all five games, and has been the team's best hitter so far at .474/.524/.842. Defensively, he has not been as good, with 2 Errors, 1 Passed Ball, 3 Wild Pitches, and 0 for 2 in catching base stealers. One error, in particular, was costly - with two outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd, Montero tried to pick off the runner on 2nd on Ball Four, and the throw went in CF and allowed the runner from 3rd to score. Still, Montero will be the primary catcher as long as he's healthy. Backup Henry Blanco is the only player on the roster who hasn't played yet, but he will probably get a start in Sunday's day game.
Starting Pitching - After one time through the rotation, the starting pitching has been OK, with a 4.65 ERA. All five starters managed to give the team at least 6 Innings with 4 Runs Allowed or less. Through 31 IP, the group has struck out 19 while walking 13, so the walks are a little high and the K/BB ratio is a little low.
Relief Pitching - The bullpen, which was the team's biggest problem in 2010, has been quite effective so far in 2011. The group has a 2.77 ERA, and has struck out 15 batters in 13 IP. Only 3 of the 10 Inherted Runners have been allowed to score. Closer J.J. Putz has earned Saves in both of the team's Wins, striking out 3 in two perfect innings. David Hernandez looks to be the 8th Inning pitcher, with Juan Gutierrez for the 7th. Aaron Heilman and Sam Demel have also been used in high leverage situations, as has LHP Joe Paterson. Paterson was brought in to face one batter in the second Cubs game, and unfortunately issued a bases-loaded walk on 4 pitches. Gibson will probably give him a few more chances to show he can be effective against LHB.
Strikeouts - The Diamondbacks set a Major League record in 2010 with a team total of 1529 strikeouts, or an average of 9.4 per game. Through the first five games, the team has cut that number down to 7.4/Game.
Baserunning - Manager Kirk Gibson promised that this team would be aggressive on the bases, and they have been, with mixed results. The team has been successful on 8 of 9 stolen base attempts, but has also made some costly mistakes on the bases. For example, Willie Bloomquist was thrown out trying to stretch a leadoff double into a triple in the Opening Day game, and Gerardo Parra was easily thrown out in Game 5 trying to take second on a bloop single. Miguel Montero was also thrown out at second while trying to advance on a passed ball. But Gibson has been pleased with the aggression - when Justin Upton broke for home on a ground ball and was thrown out, Gibson praised Upton for "playing his heart out."
Managing - Manager Kirk Gibson has done a good job of getting the team to play hard, and getting everyone on the team involved. Four of the bench players (Roberts, Nady, Branyan, Bloomquist) have already started a game. To me, the only notable strategic mistake by Gibson in the first week was in the opener of the Cubs game. With the team down 2-1 and the bases loaded in the 8th inning, Gibson allowed Ryan Roberts to bat against tough right-hander Kerry Wood, and Roberts struck out. Stephen Drew was available to pinch-hit (and later did bat to leadoff the 9th inning) and would have been a better choice. The only reason not to pinch-hit for Roberts is if Mora was not available to play 3rd Base, but there was no indication that Mora was unavailable.
Summary - Overall, the team played fairly well in the first week. The pitching has been much better than last year, especially the bullpen. The offense hasn't really clicked yet, but Kelly Johnson (.174/.208/.261), Justin Upton (.182/.217/.364), and Chris Young (.227/.261/.409) should start to pick it up. Willie Bloomquist has filled in well for Stephen Drew, and Drew should be back within the next day or two.